Mennonites work with soldiers who turn their backs on war

By staff writers
June 26, 2006

Mennonites work with soldiers who turn their backs on war

-26/06/06

Years of war convinced a young soldier in the Balkans that long term peace is best achieved through non-violent means. Now he is helping others understand how fear and hate lead to war ñ writes Gladys Terichow of Mennonite Central Committee, the North American inter-Mennonite development and advocacy agency.

ìI found out after the wars that there is another way to deal with problems in the Balkans,î said Adnan Hasanbegovic, an ex-combatant working for the Sarajevo-based Centre for Non-Violent Action (CNA).

Hasanbegovic was 19-years-old upon joining the army in 1992. When the war ended in 1995 he started working for peace organizations. Seven years ago he began working for CAN, where he identified the opportunity to involve ex-soldiers in educational programmes that improve inter-ethnic relationships and promote non-violent ways to deal with conflict.

In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) the center has developed a training programme that creates a trusting atmosphere where people can talk about sensitive issues. MCC staff assisted in developing training curriculum for the center.

ìWhen ex-soldiers talk about peace and non-violence, people listen,î said Hasanbegovic in a telephone interview with MCC. ìOur hard experiences with war motivate us to focus on peace. Non-violence is the only way for long term peace.î

The Yugoslav wars, a series of violent conflicts in the 1990s, were the bloodiest conflicts on European soil since the end of World War Two.

Understanding the issues that created deep ethnic divisions in the Balkans is the basis for reconciliation among people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, says Hasanbegovic.

He continues: ìIt is very important for us to understand our historyóto understand the fear and hate that goes back many generations. It is important to understand how fear and hate leads to future wars.î

An essential aspect of peace-building is understanding trauma, specifically the connections between trauma and reconciliation, declared Hasanbegovic.

ìWe realized we needed more education to try and understand this, he explained.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, about 50 per cent of men are war veterans, said Hasanbegovic, adding other countries report different percentages.

Many war veterans are experiencing post-traumatic stress but the devastating effects of trauma are not easily recognized in societies where such large numbers of people have been affected, he said.

ìIn Sarajevo all society was involved in the war. My wife and I had similar experiencesóI was in the front lines and my wife was in the basement during the bombings.î

Ex-combatants throughout the region share similar experiences and problems. ìPeople here have a lot in common. About 80 per cent of our lifestyle is the same.î

But when group discussions turn to the waróîwhy was the war, who is guilty, who is responsibleî the atmosphere becomes tense. ìThat is the critical point,î Hasanbegovic explained.

ìThe problems are very complex,î acknowledged Amela Puljek-Shank, who along with her husband, Randy, serves as Mennonite Central Committee regional representative for southeast Europe. ìThey are dealing with trauma that goes back 600 years. The war is on the surface but there is so much more behind the surface.î

The Puljek-Shankís both have Masterís Degrees in conflict transformation. They welcomed the invitation from CNA to develop a training curriculum for trauma and reconciliation.

Two training sessions have already taken place to help local trainers. Many are ex-combatants who learn more about trauma and how to incorporate this information into community educational programmes on peace and reconciliation.

An upcoming training session will deal with restorative justice, said Puljek-Shank. ìThis is very sensitive work,î she explained. ìIf you have lost 11 family members, what kind of justice can heal the pain?î

Restorative justice, she said, requires people to ìcome to the difficult realityî that each ethnic group must accept responsibility for its part in the war.

That is a difficult message for workshop participants to share in their home communities, she added. ìThis is a brave act,î she said. ìIt often brings stigma to themselves and their families.î

Sharing a message of restorative justice, Ms Puljek-Shank added, is especially tough for former soldiers who may be dealing with emotional and physical disabilities because of the war and are having problems finding jobs.

ìIt is even harder for a former soldier to get a job when he says, ëwe also have committed something wrong hereí.î

[Also on Ekklesia: European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God 22/06/06; Christian peacemakers stay committed to Iraq 19/06/06; Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment 13/06/06; Christian peace worker says al-Zarqawi death will not halt violence 09/06/06; Iraq hostage Tom Fox remembered by UK peacemakers 08/06/06; Norman Kember talks about life beyond his Iraq kidnap ordeal 07/06/06; UK Christian Peacemaker Teams meet to plan future 06/06/06; Christian Peacemaker Teams remain in Iraq with new plan; Briefing on Christian Peacemaker Teams; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview to the BBC ; Christian peacemakers can make a difference, Vatican Radio told; Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams; Archive of comment and features on Christian Peacemaking; Christian peacemaker Tom Fox killed in Iraq; Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages; Getting in the Way: Stories From Christian Peacemaker Teams; Christian peacemakers report killings of women and children by US; Joy as Christian Peacemakers are freed in Iraq; Baghdad demo planned for Christian peacemaker hostages; Christians defend Iraq non-violence tactics against critics; Peace workers hold a key to Iraq solution, says think-tank; ëPeacenikí initiative will fund peacemakers to enter hotspots; Colonel Collins' attack on Kember misplaced, say Christian peacemakers;Churches urged to consider more radical peacemaking following Iraq; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemakers' role in Iraq; Peacemaker vigils in Washington and Toronto focus on Iraq policy; Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation; Religious leaders call for end to detention without trial in Iraq; Military expert says peacemakers didnít imperil soldiers; What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages; Think-tank questions 'ungrateful peacemakers' media allegations; The Simon Barrow column; Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers; Christian peacemakers demand entry to Guantanamo Bay]

Mennonites work with soldiers who turn their backs on war

-26/06/06

Years of war convinced a young soldier in the Balkans that long term peace is best achieved through non-violent means. Now he is helping others understand how fear and hate lead to war ñ writes Gladys Terichow of Mennonite Central Committee, the North American inter-Mennonite development and advocacy agency.

ìI found out after the wars that there is another way to deal with problems in the Balkans,î said Adnan Hasanbegovic, an ex-combatant working for the Sarajevo-based Centre for Non-Violent Action (CNA).

Hasanbegovic was 19-years-old upon joining the army in 1992. When the war ended in 1995 he started working for peace organizations. Seven years ago he began working for CAN, where he identified the opportunity to involve ex-soldiers in educational programmes that improve inter-ethnic relationships and promote non-violent ways to deal with conflict.

In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) the center has developed a training programme that creates a trusting atmosphere where people can talk about sensitive issues. MCC staff assisted in developing training curriculum for the center.

ìWhen ex-soldiers talk about peace and non-violence, people listen,î said Hasanbegovic in a telephone interview with MCC. ìOur hard experiences with war motivate us to focus on peace. Non-violence is the only way for long term peace.î

The Yugoslav wars, a series of violent conflicts in the 1990s, were the bloodiest conflicts on European soil since the end of World War Two.

Understanding the issues that created deep ethnic divisions in the Balkans is the basis for reconciliation among people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, says Hasanbegovic.

He continues: ìIt is very important for us to understand our historyóto understand the fear and hate that goes back many generations. It is important to understand how fear and hate leads to future wars.î

An essential aspect of peace-building is understanding trauma, specifically the connections between trauma and reconciliation, declared Hasanbegovic.

ìWe realized we needed more education to try and understand this, he explained.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, about 50 per cent of men are war veterans, said Hasanbegovic, adding other countries report different percentages.

Many war veterans are experiencing post-traumatic stress but the devastating effects of trauma are not easily recognized in societies where such large numbers of people have been affected, he said.

ìIn Sarajevo all society was involved in the war. My wife and I had similar experiencesóI was in the front lines and my wife was in the basement during the bombings.î

Ex-combatants throughout the region share similar experiences and problems. ìPeople here have a lot in common. About 80 per cent of our lifestyle is the same.î

But when group discussions turn to the waróîwhy was the war, who is guilty, who is responsibleî the atmosphere becomes tense. ìThat is the critical point,î Hasanbegovic explained.

ìThe problems are very complex,î acknowledged Amela Puljek-Shank, who along with her husband, Randy, serves as Mennonite Central Committee regional representative for southeast Europe. ìThey are dealing with trauma that goes back 600 years. The war is on the surface but there is so much more behind the surface.î

The Puljek-Shankís both have Masterís Degrees in conflict transformation. They welcomed the invitation from CNA to develop a training curriculum for trauma and reconciliation.

Two training sessions have already taken place to help local trainers. Many are ex-combatants who learn more about trauma and how to incorporate this information into community educational programmes on peace and reconciliation.

An upcoming training session will deal with restorative justice, said Puljek-Shank. ìThis is very sensitive work,î she explained. ìIf you have lost 11 family members, what kind of justice can heal the pain?î

Restorative justice, she said, requires people to ìcome to the difficult realityî that each ethnic group must accept responsibility for its part in the war.

That is a difficult message for workshop participants to share in their home communities, she added. ìThis is a brave act,î she said. ìIt often brings stigma to themselves and their families.î

Sharing a message of restorative justice, Ms Puljek-Shank added, is especially tough for former soldiers who may be dealing with emotional and physical disabilities because of the war and are having problems finding jobs.

ìIt is even harder for a former soldier to get a job when he says, ëwe also have committed something wrong hereí.î

[Also on Ekklesia: European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God 22/06/06; Christian peacemakers stay committed to Iraq 19/06/06; Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment 13/06/06; Christian peace worker says al-Zarqawi death will not halt violence 09/06/06; Iraq hostage Tom Fox remembered by UK peacemakers 08/06/06; Norman Kember talks about life beyond his Iraq kidnap ordeal 07/06/06; UK Christian Peacemaker Teams meet to plan future 06/06/06; Christian Peacemaker Teams remain in Iraq with new plan; Briefing on Christian Peacemaker Teams; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview to the BBC ; Christian peacemakers can make a difference, Vatican Radio told; Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams; Archive of comment and features on Christian Peacemaking; Christian peacemaker Tom Fox killed in Iraq; Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages; Getting in the Way: Stories From Christian Peacemaker Teams; Christian peacemakers report killings of women and children by US; Joy as Christian Peacemakers are freed in Iraq; Baghdad demo planned for Christian peacemaker hostages; Christians defend Iraq non-violence tactics against critics; Peace workers hold a key to Iraq solution, says think-tank; ëPeacenikí initiative will fund peacemakers to enter hotspots; Colonel Collins' attack on Kember misplaced, say Christian peacemakers;Churches urged to consider more radical peacemaking following Iraq; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemakers' role in Iraq; Peacemaker vigils in Washington and Toronto focus on Iraq policy; Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation; Religious leaders call for end to detention without trial in Iraq; Military expert says peacemakers didnít imperil soldiers; What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages; Think-tank questions 'ungrateful peacemakers' media allegations; The Simon Barrow column; Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers; Christian peacemakers demand entry to Guantanamo Bay]

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