Theme groups


Civil Disobedience and Environmental Action

facilitated by Stephen Hancock and Melanie Jarman

The aims of the group were: to uncover the environmental concerns of anti-militarists; to explore the links between militarism and environmental destruction; to compare methods being used; and to learn from each other as anti-militarists and environmentalists.

Day 1 explored the connections between environmental destruction and militarism and identified relevant questions to bear in mind during our discussions.

There were two case studies for day 2: a video and presentation on the campaign against nuclear transport in Germany and a presentation on Genetix Snowball, a UK campaign against genetic engineering.

Two questions were posed for Day 3 (Gender Day): To what extent are gender concerns part of your movement/group; and do your ways of organising attempt to address gender concerns or do they reinforce these? To what extent are gender concerns linked to militarism and environmental destruction? (discussed simultaneously in a men's group and in a women's group).

Day 4 had a discussion around prompt questions, including the following: "Patriarchy is the root cause of both militarism and environmental destruction"; "We do not have time to address sexism within our movements because our ecological system is on the verge of collapse"; "A trade-off between jobs and a healthy ecological system is inevitable"; "Our economic system is a form of war"; "Multinational organisations cannot be reformed"; and "Civil disobedience should always be the last resort". A case study looked at the campaign against the construction of a cellulose plant in Chile.

Day 5, the final day, looked at how nonviolent strategies differ between Western Europe and Chile; considered points for future civil disobedience actions; looked at how we can support one another in different countries, and at how ecological concerns can be brought into WRI's work. Members of the group took on individual commitments: in addition, parts of the group's recommendations have been incorporated into the WRI Strategic Plan.

Evaluation comments included the following:

  • Good stuff: diversity of participants; size of group; the group showed which way we have to take in the future; level of interaction; so much outcome; that the group existed; to be able to be together and know the work of others in the ecological effort; hearing the case studies; good group dynamics.
  • Bad stuff: not much depth; size of group; didn't have much discussion about strategy; little information available beforehand.
  • Could do better: discussion / background paper in advance; get info out between ourselves; knowledge of case studies in advance to have known better how to compare them; begin preparation earlier; more assertive facilitation.
Report written by Melanie Jarman. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.

Grassroots groups and peace processes

facilitated by Rafa Sainz de Rozas, Sni, and Rob Fairmichael

We tried to give each morning a similar format, and break the heaviness by doing things a bit creatively or having a game, a break or some music. Each day we spent some time looking at particular aspects of the theme and a particular geographical conflict; on the latter we were able to 'do' Euskadi (Basque Country), Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo/a, Chad, and Northern Ireland; sometimes it was a general exploration, sometimes more focused on our theme. The participants in the theme group were mainly European. More general aspects of the theme which we tried to explore included stages of peace processes (a list of stages was developed specifically for this group and used for a barometer/spectrum exercise), gender, the possibility of influencing political processes, the role of NGOs, economics etc.

'Neutrality' or impartiality was an issue of importance. No one really went for the term 'neutral', and 'impartiality' did not necessarily fit in all cases, or was not appropriate to the work some people were doing. Economics was felt to be an area which was ignored by peace activists but could be more fruitfully explored. The importance of strengthening indigenous grassroots groups in conflict areas rather than assuming 'we' had to rush in to intervene was an important point. On gender, we shared the different situations of women in relation to power and grassroots groups in our varied situations.

Even ten or eleven hours is short for dealing with a topic of this nature, and many questions were left not dealt with. Concluding questions and comments included:

  • Our position on military intervention in Kosovo/a. While people were not going to call for NATO intervention there was a realisation of the limited possibilities for 'us' at this stage.
  • Nonviolent interposition in the process of nonviolent action.
  • Co-option of peace groups into government agendas. Northern Ireland was particularly in mind in this regard.
  • Peace work with both sides (the oppressor too). The need for work on the 'side' of the 'oppressor' came across quite clearly. But then there are 'oppressed' within the side of the 'oppressor' too, and it may be more useful to talk about 'oppressor elites'.
  • Worn out activists' involvement in other conflicts--share their experience and resources.
  • Strategic planning on conflict prevention to efficiently prevent war. That is, intervening when we can actually have an effect rather than too late.
  • What are the channels and bridges for peace groups and mainstream society? Schools, churches etc.
Report written by Rob Fairmichael

Identity and Conflict

facilitated by Biljana Kasic and Maggie Helwig

Report back

There were about 35 people in our group, which was diverse both geographically and in terms of theoretical understanding or experience with the theme of identity. Much of the discussion stayed at quite a preliminary and exploratory level. Nevertheless, many of the participants found this valuable, since they had hardly explored the issues before at all. It is clear that this is an area that is still new ground for much of the peace movement and should continue to be explored.

The first day was spent in a go-around asking people to say how they identified themselves, which of their possible identities were important to them; then in small-group discussion of the question, "When people look at you, how do you think they identify you?" At the end of the session, we had people write down their thoughts and feelings about "group identity" and "individual identity".

The second day focussed on national identity and conflict. The day began with discussion in pairs asking people to think of a time when they wanted to stress their national identity or felt it to be important to them.

Gender day began with a go-around on the question, "When you woke up this morning, were you aware of your gender?" After a short role play and a discussion, participants were then asked to divide into small groups and each identify a situation of conflict in which their gender played a role. Interestingly, when the groups reported back, none cited any specific experiences; all made general reflections on gender and particularly on how they had felt about the discussions earlier in the day.

The fourth day began with a continuation of the discussion from gender day, which was probably more intense and more constructive than the discussions that happened on the day itself. We also came upon the interesting question of what kind of "collective identity" this theme group had so far developed. Then we spent quite a long time in small group discussions--each group was given one intentionally provocative statement about identity to discuss, then report back to the group.

The final day began with people who had been relatively quiet in the discussions being asked to make comments if they wanted to; then moving into some group discussion about these comments; followed by a brainstorm on how WRI could continue these discussions; and ending with a short evaluation.

Evaluation comments

We had a lot of positive feedback about the group; I think people found it very enjoyable, and for most people it seemed to be interesting and valuable. There's no question that the theme group developed a distinct "group identity" of its own, and people were using the ideas generated as a frame in which to view other discussions in which they participated.

However, I don't think we got very far in a discussion of the dynamics of identity, and, as someone observed, "we spent so much time trying to understand identity, we never really had time to talk about its relationship to conflict." The considerable differences between the participants and the relative novelty of the topic for many of them were probably the main reasons we didn't get any deeper.

Issues around "privilege" proved particularly sensitive, and gender was probably the most explosive single topic--but national/ethnic identity was also hard to discuss in much depth. Issues of, e.g., religious and class identity were barely raised. Perhaps discussion in very small groups would take us further

The Triennial Business Meeting agreed in a general way that this was an area WRI should continue to explore, and keep in mind when formulating agendas for future meetings, but no specific plans were made.

Report written by Maggie Helwig. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.

Nonviolence and Social Empowerment

facilitated by Howard Clark and Vesna Terselic

Report back

This was the largest theme group, beginning with perhaps 60 people. It was also the most diverse group, with a substantial group from Bosnia and Croatia, and three Chileans. The first session began late as all the theme groups had to be formed and shown to their meeting rooms, and interpretation arrangements had to be made.

The opening session was simple: a go-around of names, organisations, countries; a name game (throwing a cushion and calling the name); language group meetings on why people had chosen this and what they expected/hoped for; setting an exercise for tomorrow: "a moment when I sensed my/our power"

The second day began by sketching out the rough progress we wanted to make in the week, moving from micro to macro, from personal to societal. Then: in groups of 4, first, a round telling each other a story "a moment when I sensed my/our power"; second, a round asking "what did this sense of power consist of?", "what factors made it possible to behave?" and "was it real or an illusion?" A brainstorm and discussion followed.

On Gender Day--the third day--we examined the cultures of obedience, solidarity, and resistance. In our introduction it was noted that similar exercises could be carried out through the lens of race or class.

The fourth day examined the characteristics of Social Empowerment. Conclusions and evaluations were made on the fifth day. Written outcomes included lists of factors giving sense of power and factors demotivating/reducing sense of power; list of characteristics of social empowerment; and a list for WRI future work on social empowerment.

Evaluation comments

This is a huge topic and this was a huge group to try to tackle this through participatory and "elicitative" methods. We welcomed the rich diversity of experience within the group. However, the difficulties of bridging the Latino-Hispanic and Western peace movement contexts were much less than those of making a good connection with the Bosnian-Croatian context.

Most participants expressed appreciation for the work on Day 2. However, what we produced were lists, containing some items that needed to be taken deeper. Above all, a list is not a structured analysis, does not bring out the patterns or suggest the tools for analysis of specific cases.

The Culture of Obedience part of Day 3 was also widely appreciated, although one woman told me it was just another "sharing" go-around without deepening anything or addressing difficulties. During the reporting back, there was some tension between men and women. The different methods followed by the groups meant that the women reported back a more discursive list of points, including more personal experience, while the men produced a shorter and more pointy list, having discussed the most personal elements in pairs or trios. This accentuated the difference perceived by one woman that "women feel a pressure to conform, men a pressure to perform".

The men's group had an interesting detour into whether conforming to a masculine role model should be seen as "disempowered behaviour", as in some senses it is "overempowered", taking power from women.

People enjoyed our "elicitative" methods to begin with, but I think to get beyond their existing limits needed to concentrate on some specific cases and to be offered some specific frames for analysis. This means more theoretical input, either that comes from the convenors and is implicit in some of the exercises, or from a resource person in the group. (Even getting participants to fill in a particular grid around power implies some theory.)

Some of the talks at the start-of-day plenary session could have contributed to our discussion, especially the one from Yeni from Indonesia, which described how they built their movement up. Perhaps it would be good for each theme group to begin with a brief round, offering people the opportunity (but not obliging them) to report back on things they'd heard elsewhere in the conference that added to our discussion.

Report written by Howard Clark. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.

Peace Action and the Modernisation of the Military

Facilitated by Rafael Ajangiz and Orlando Castillo

We are witnessing today some structural changes in the armed forces of all our countries -- more visible in the North than in the South -- which seem much more serious than just another reform.

Territorial sovereignty is no longer the main concern of our rulers and the military. The main concern today is how to achieve national--or regional--interests in the fierce competition that results from globalisation at all levels. That means intervention abroad whenever and wherever it is needed, political, economical and, why not, military intervention--both warmaking and peacemaking military intervention.

But globalisation has also meant pressure from below, from a civil society who has a say about issues such as the environment or the war and the human rights situation elsewhere; this has already compelled some state governments to engage in some interventions which do not match their doctrine of national interest.

Our societies hold a certain number of values that naturally clash with those of the military: non-discrimination on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, religious, ethnicity, race, and so forth; environmental protection; respect for human rights, both group and individual; social justice; the arms trade; and so forth. These values appear to be more widely held with each new generation, so it is reasonable to think that better opportunities for peace action will open in the future.

The armed forces themselves are trying to adapt to these new values. Concerns over gender, sexual orientation, and environment are already acted on in some armed forces today -- if only to refer to them when more recruits are needed. This adaptation is two-sided. For example, in some states soldiers are able to refer their concerns to an ombudsman: this has resulted in less arbitrariness and, consequently, in a greater legitimisation of the military. At the same time, however, the armed forces cannot replicate civilian values entirely, because in doing so they would cease to be armed forces. A certain tension will always exist between the traditional military values and the new emergent civilian values. That tension, or confrontation, is our mobilisation potential.

Women are now admitted to many armed forces, including in specialist and combat programmes, but the admittance criterion is that they behave just like men, that they do exactly the same things and meet the same requirements. We are happy to observe that this kind of integration is posing some problem to the military institutions, but clearly this is not the way to deal with gender issues. Our concern is not that the military have equal opportunities policies, or that an individual's right to a particular career is maintained. Rather, we are trying to move towards a non-patriarchal society in which, very obviously, armies have no place.

Another issue we examined is conflict between the social and the military spheres over public expenditure. The military has commonly attempted to resolve this conflict by reinventing its role, for instance accentuating its role in natural disasters or presenting "humanitarian intervention" as a cost-effective alternative to accepting war refugees.

Directions for WRI work

The final goal of WRI is abolishing the army, all the armies. Definitely, it is an ambitious goal, but we can slowly bring it up if our peace action is addressed to delegitimise the military and their activities.

By delegitimisation we understand a diminution of the people's co-operation and compliance. This is the key criterion against which we should assess any strategy developed. Some areas to examine are:

  1. Carrying out specific campaigns to further the idea of the abolition of the armed forces and the comprehensive strategies which will make it possible, including regional campaigns such as "Europe without armies" and the like.
  2. Campaigns directed at the involvement of the military in contemporary conflicts:
    1. Campaigns to make the public understand the failures and limitations of military intervention
    2. Campaigns for asylum laws in every country;
    3. A campaign against NATO and its satellite organisations
    4. A campaign to outlaw the "School of the Americas" and similar training centres
  3. Campaigns on military expenditure:
    1. awareness campaigns on the true level of military spending and its integration with the arms industry and the arms trade;
    2. an extensive tax resistance campaign, in cooperation with development NGOs to give the larger picture of the need to reallocate resources away from the military and towards social development;
    3. a campaign to promote unilateral disarmament, e.g. broadening the strategy of the antipersonnel landmines campaign to all kind of armament, holding an International Day Without the Pentagon, and/or denouncing our own country to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for having produced, sold and used war armaments, a clear violation of human rights;
    4. a campaign against all production and trade of military armaments.
  4. Campaigns to resist military recruitment, forced or not:
    1. in the promotion and experiencing of civil disobedience as both a strategy for action and a value to replace the militaristic countervalues such as patriotism, discipline, hierarchy and consent;
    2. in the opening of anti-war museums;
    3. in the promotion of a pledge about non involvement in war to be signed by members of the public, especially in those countries involved in an armed conflict.
Report written by Rafael Ajangiz. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.

Women Crossing the Line

Convened by Shelley Anderson and Ellen Elster

Approximately 18 women participated in the theme group (from Bosnia, Britain, Chechnya, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Spain, the Ukraine and USA).

Although there are dangers inherent in colluding with traditional roles played by women in caring for the vulnerable, and in building relationships and communicating, it was apparent that women's particular skills developed in these domains should be acknowledged, valued, supported and drawn upon by the peace movement at large.

The first day we introduced ourselves by telling who we were, what we were doing and our expectations. We also added a few words about the meaning of our names. Then we drew briefly the history of women in WRI, Helga starting telling us about Sibyl Morrison and Myrtle Solomon. Then Ellen, Shelley, Casha and Carmen each told their story from the WRI women's working group. We ended this day by discussing some points about the specific of women in peace, or if there were anything which was specific.

The second day Karoline from Norway told about her experiences from film-making, working with women in conflict-situation and especially women who had from suffered concentration camp during the second world war. We saw pieces from her film "The time of darkness", which also was shown in its whole later that week.

The third day Shelley, Netherlands/USA, told about her project in IFoR Women's Peacemaking Programme, especially the empowering part of the programme. Shelley presented the full programme in a workshop later and showing a video from the first consultation in Europe. After her introduction followed a discussion on women's strategies in their work, strengths and weaknesses both personally and organisationally.

The fourth day we had a go-around to sum up from the Gender Day. This report will be included in the report from the women's working group which were held later that week. Sara told about her experiences in the organisation of the disappeared in Chile and how women played a special role in that work.

The fifth and the last day Irina from Ukraine told about her work before we summed up. Shelley and Ellen had drafted a report from the group which was discussed. Then we evaluated the week's work by going around. Maia from Chechnya came in at the very end and gave us a brief introduction of the situation in her country.

From the evaluation it was pointed out that the mixture of presentation and discussion in an affective atmosphere, gave possibilities to listen and learn from each other, and to go home inspired and empowered to go on with our own work at home. The networking was important, also for future work. It was also mentioned by several that friends from Belgrade and Kosovo/a were missed in the group.

Report written by Ellen Elster. The group also wrote a joint statement, which is available in the WRI archives or through the office.

Reconstruction and Democratisation

Facilitated by Jørgen Johansen and Vanja Nikolic

This group examined the dynamics of social reconstruction at the grassroots level, where it is often necessary to construct institutions (and ways of working) which never existed before. It was abundantly clear to the participants that international agreements -- not just in the Balkans but in other contemporary conflict zones -- only put a lid on conflicts. Issues included impunity, bringing to light the crimes of a regime or of war, and finding a just basis for future peace.

Programmes & Projects

Add new comment