This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Eric Herst from Augustana College, Sioux Falls.
During our peace seminars we, as a class, have read about and discussed many causes of violence: nationalism, geography, greed/grievance, as well as collective thinking and evil that lead to genocide and ethnic cleansing. All of this has led to reflections on how to end conflicts once they do occur, as well as how to try and prevent them from happening in the first place. Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement is a good example that helped bring an end to the large scale violence during the “Troubles.” John Hume, a leader for the Catholic side, and David Trimble, of the Protestant side, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in 1998.
I had an amazing opportunity to visit Belfast in the spring, and get a tour from a former Black Taxi driver for the Catholic side during the conflict. He was directly affected by the conflict. When he was a young boy, his family was forced to move out of the apartment complex where they were living so British Soldiers could turn it into a command post. He also lost eight friends to assassination during the violence as black taxi drivers. What really struck me about him was that, although he had been directly impacted by this violence and had lost close friends, he did not have hatred towards the other side. He said all he wanted was peace within the community, and for the kids not to know the hatred he had experienced – for them to live in a city where they were defined and judged by their character, not identity.
While Northern Ireland is touted as a success, there are still many problems. I did not know this before I went, but there is a wall that divides the two communities in Belfast. It is gated and heavily fortified. Passage is allowed during the day but the gates are closed at night. The houses that border the wall have barriers to protect them from fire bombs which are still occasionally lobbed over. What this showed me is that while the agreement did end the large scale violence, it did not solve all the issues. It is a constant effort to bridge these divides. The communities are still largely segregated, especially the working class neighborhoods. Just like how in the Balkans there has been a push to increase the desegregation of schools as a way to integrate society, this is also trying to be done in Belfast.
This example can be applied to many conflicts. It is important to end the violence, and peace accords can help this happen. However, the processes does not end there. A divided community can create the space for competing narratives and makes it easy to “Other” the opposing side and to keep the hatred simmering. Constant efforts need to be made to find ways to bridge the divides, as the Nansen Dialogue center does. Peace is never easy, and it requires constant effort. But it is a goal worth striving for.