International Seminar 2014

International Seminar on Memory, Trauma and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding
4th April 2014
Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace,
Brighton. UK.

The aim of this seminar entitled ‘Memory, Trauma and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding’ was to explore the healing of traumatic memories in post-conflict recovery, reconstruction and peacebuilding. Our invited key speaker, Professor Vamik Volkan, drew on his nearly 40 years’ experiences in the field of international relations and peace-related diplomacy and investigate the inextricable links between large group identity, conflict and dehumanisation of the other. Vamik analysed the formation large group identities, the shared traumas of mass violence and the societal/political consequences of such atrocities. He also examined the need to interrupt the trans-generational transmissions of trauma by healing past memories, as well as the imperative to develop psychoanalytically informed diplomatic strategies for dealing with associated peacebuilding challenges.

For discussion, we critically engaged with these topics, and examined how to remove the ‘sting’ in individuals’ memories of trauma so that they no longer serve as an impetus for continued violence.

Here are some of the questions that the seminar set out to explore:

(1) What are the effective approaches to enable individuals and groups to break away from the hold of traumatic memories?
(2) What kind of structural processes must be in place in order to engage in healing of memories?
(3) How can individuals have healthier conceptions of their group identities that do not involve making potential enemies of the other?

Professor Vamik Volkan is an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; an emeritus training and supervising psychoanalyst at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute; and the Senior Erik Erikson Scholar at the Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Amongst his many posts, Vamik also headed an interdisciplinary team and conducted years-long unofficial diplomatic dialogues between Arabs and Israelis, Americans and Soviets, Russians and Estonians, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, Georgians and South Ossetians, Turks and Greeks and studied post-revolution or post-war societies such as Albania after the dictator Enver Hodxa was gone and Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion was over. After September 11, 2001 he was a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association’s (IPA’s) Terror and Terrorism Study Group.

The Seminar’s discussant was Professor Nigel Young who has been active in transnational peace activity for at least a half century. He is presently Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Oxford International Encyclopedia of World Peace’ (a four-volume reference work). He is active in the Balkans Peace Park Project, UK (B3P). He has authored numerous publications including six books (two co-authored), and edited or co-edited others. A co-founder of the first Peace Studies department in Britain (Bradford, 1973/4), he was also the first endowed Peace Studies Chair-holder in the USA. As Professor of Peace Studies he was director of one of the earliest university Peace Studies Programs in North America (Colgate University, New York 1984-2004) where he retains the title of Research Professor. Professor Young has held academic positions in sociology, politics and peace studies, at over a dozen universities and colleges worldwide, and was a Senior Peace Research fellow in Oslo, Norway (1981-84). He is currently working on books on Historical Memory as related to peace, and the community basis of resistance. In 20l2 he received the Dayton Peace Prize for outstanding scholarly achievement.

Seminar attendee Biographies

Prof Volkan is Founder of the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI) which aims to facilitate dialogue between representatives from various large groups, states and cultures for the purpose of learning about differences in perspective and finding peaceful solutions to inter-group relationship problems.

International Seminar 2013

International Seminar on Healing, Forgiveness and Reconciliation
25th October 2013
Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace,
199 Preston Road, Brighton, BN1 6SA UK.

Background..
Healing, Forgiveness, Reconciliation. These concepts are often used interchangeably in discussions, for example about post-conflict peacebuilding. The distinctions between the terms is not clear by nuance, how they relate to each-other, and how such relationships are played out in the dynamic of interventions towards peace. It is therefore necessary to develop an appropriate clarity of understanding of these terms to help shape our work in fostering harmonious relationships and in analyzing the task of rebuilding communities in divided societies.

Furthermore, for peace-building processes aimed at healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, there may be a whole range of contiguous analytical factors to identify and understand.  For instance, in looking at the nature and roots of conflict, it is necessary to acquire a workable comprehension of the local cultural norms, power relationships, historical narratives and memories, politics, social policy, and religious and spiritual practices. All these invariably affect the individual and large group identities, which could further determine people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards the other, and the ways they related to each other in post-conflict societies.

Additionally, the dimensions of moral and ethical principles must also be considered in framing any emergent culture of peace, and in working towards underpinning relation-formation within the society, including the perennial tension between justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. So, showing with clarity how all these factors are interrelated can help us to determine actions and interventions aimed at healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

There is, moreover, a wide diversity of perspectives and disciplines from which and through which a professional practitioner on the ground could approach post-conflict situations. These can be simultaneously psychological, therapeutic, socio-political, educational, communal, theological, spiritual, legalistic, or rights-based. These all require deliberation, contextual understanding and professionalism.

While such terminological and analytical complexity may fascinate us, it can also serve to obscure our ideas in theory and our practice. The complexity challenges us to reach for more profound insights into post-conflict peace processes and to work on developing deeper understanding to guide our practice.

The GHFP Seminar on Healing, Forgiveness and Reconciliation
For over a decade, the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace (GHFP) has been exploring some key concepts in peacebuilding, including those mentioned above. Throughout, for example, our ‘Garden of Forgiveness’ project, the ‘Healing the Wounds of History’ programmes, as well as the narrative strands in our work, we have been concerned with seeking new understanding and clarification. We would like, at this time, to explore these notions through discussion with distinguished colleagues.

So the aim of the seminar is two-fold:

a. To develop a shared understanding and observation of these concepts.
b. To explore how this understanding can be translated into practices and actions on the ground, and what challenges and opportunities are involved.

Questions explored were:

1. Why are these three concepts important in post-conflict peace-building? Does one need to come first before the others can follow?
2. What kind of intervention work well and what doesn’t with a focus on healing, forgiveness and reconciliation help transform conflict and develop trusting relationships amongst individuals and communities?
3. Are there ways in which the same transformation could take place in a conflict situation before violence breaks out?
4. What shared understanding do we have of the three concepts for post-conflict reconstruction, and peacebuilding in general?

It is very unusual for a national government to initiate a nationwide campaign aimed at reconciliation, so the nearly twenty years of accumulated experience of the Rwanda National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) is unique and has a global importance. This is why we have invited Dr Jean Baptiste Habyalimana to give the opening presentation. At the same time, we hope that Jean Baptiste’s reflection on the Rwandan journeys could also provide a nudge to help us expand our thinking and to initiate a conversation around the key questions.

Read the notes from the seminar