"The Berghof Foundation
," our speaker, Beatrix Austin, says, "does work from mediation to training to peace education." Our organizers prefaced our session today by saying Beatrix is going to link two of the main threads going through our sessions: memory/narratives and peace work/conflict management.
Berghof does a lot of similar work to the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue
, where I participated in my first summer school of the season. The language is similar: creating space for dialogue, working through stories. Making sure everyone is heard.
"Over the years," she says, "we've come again and again to the issue of the past." Especially when it comes to shaping our ideas of what the present and future mean – this is something we've been talking about quite a lot. How WWII has shaped East Europe, for example, both then and now. How policies today are justified by grievances from seventy years ago. How we drag ghosts above ground and put them to work for the cause.
But some of the most powerful work Berghof does, the most person-centered work, is with stories and the ways we connect them together. We'll be doing exercises related to this.
The first one is a question: what does your name mean? Is there any kind of association or story that goes along with it?
It might seem a bit trite to start, but in certain conflict zones Beatrix has worked in she's found that, sometimes, people's names reveal where their families were from or some important part of their history. Or of their traditions, religion, culture. This can humanize someone from the start. It's a glorified icebreaker. And, we're told, this works.
How much hope lies in our names, she asks, and how much generational burden?
This goes into a session on what it means to deal with the past – what associations do we have with the phrase? Do we think of it as a problem to be solved and put aside? Is it a negative thing that just needs 'being dealt' with? How do we construct what we carry with us in memory? And then how to go about it is a big deal, because some ways of dealing with the past can be conflict-fuelling.
For example, there was an American session she was at where there were groups of German and Jewish young people. For many of the young Germans the Second World War was something that felt far away, not really connected to their lives and choices today. They wondered: is it possible to move on? The other group of young people were somewhat not very on board with that. Each one, we're reminded, experiences the past in a different way: the group of Jewish people felt the reality of the war still in a practical way, and how either side brought it up could resurrect certain tensions and bring them back into the room. So questions need to be asked: how long ago was the past? How long ago was the war, really? How heavy is the burden of responsibility on third or fourth generations? Is it okay to let go and become normal again?
For her, being a practitioner and facilitator is a hybrid role: she's been in the business for fourteen years, and she's concerned with both the process of conflict transformation as well as the theory behind it. There's a lot of work out there on helping individuals, groups or societies heal and move on from violent pasts, and Berghof's come up with a few propositions about how they understand the connection between conflict and the past: