Conflict transformation for the next generation: peace education and dialogue processes
Title: Civil Peace Service / Special Initiative on displacement: Peace education measures to support the overcoming of social polarities in Eastern Ukraine
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Overall term: 2017 to 2023
In November 2013 the Ukrainian Government announced that it would not be signing the Association Agreement negotiated with the EU. This resulted in mass demonstrations in Kyiv and other cities. People were protesting against this decision and against corruption, as well as the restriction of fundamental rights. Particularly in Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), violent clashes occurred in which some people lost their lives. The former rulers and their allies interpreted the subsequent flight and deposition of the president followed by the formation of a transitional government and announcement of new elections as a coup. The Russian Government took advantage of this confused situation to annex the Crimean Peninsula, which belonged to Ukraine, in March 2014. At the same time, separatist groups backed by the Russian Federation began to mobilise on the eastern border. These separatists then declared the independence of the two eastern Ukrainian regions Luhansk and Donetsk, which was not recognised internationally. Since then, there have been armed conflicts between the Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army, in which some 13,000 people have lost their lives so far. Three million people have had to flee their homes and now live as internally displaced persons in other parts of Ukraine, in Russia or in other countries. Despite the 2015 Minsk peace agreement negotiated with international support and the presence of OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observers on the front line, there is no end to this violent conflict in sight.
Tensions between the local population and internally displaced persons, between pro-European and pro-Russian sections of the population, and between citizens and the governmental institutions burden the overall civil climate. Civilians have poor economic prospects and scarcely any opportunities or indeed any culture of social self-determination. In many cases, civil society organisations such as associations and foundations have effectively taken over the tasks of state institutions.
A positive approach to diversity and eliminating prejudices and stereotypes counteract social polarisation in Eastern Ukraine. Conflicts between population groups are increasingly resolved without violence as part of a dialogue process.
The project prioritises the younger generation which is growing up in an extremely tense environment characterised by tremendous prejudices towards other population groups. This generation is, however, comparatively open to questioning the assumptions underlying these stereotypes. The project is working with schools, children’s and youth facilities, initiatives and state education authorities to develop approaches to peace education that emphasise what different groups have in common and underscore the value of diversity. These approaches are currently being tested in regional and nationwide school trials. This includes SEE learning (social, emotional and ethical learning), a concept that combines western and eastern education concepts. Another approach is ‘peaceful school’, which is based on peer mediation and restorative practices. Additional exchange formats are used for teaching staff as well as approaches such as conflict transformation through art, theatre and music.
Staff from the Civil Peace Service (CPS) and its partner organisations support teachers, psychologists and school administrators with implementing the peace education measures. In the long term, the peace education content is to be used in other educational institutions in addition to the project schools.
Involving the country-wide university administrations is already creating awareness of the necessity of peace education work, which it is hoped will also result in it being mainstreamed in teacher training. The project also promotes exchange between polarised societal groups such as internally displaced persons and the populations in the host communities, or ex-combatants and local administrations. Participatory dialogue forums, in which all population groups are equally represented, are intended to enable people to resolve existing and future conflicts in their communities without resorting to violence. CPS staff provide methodological, technical and logistical support for these dialogue processes and also help in networking with relevant stakeholders. The regional focus of the project is on the three eastern administrative districts (oblasts) Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia, which directly border the disputed oblasts Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass region. In the future, the project activities are also to be expanded into the border regions of Donbass.