International Peoples College: A Dialogue of Peace with Introspection
A Dialogue of Peace with Introspection
[Image (by the author): what would one wish to see at a Peace Festival?]
Publication date: 2022-05-03
Update 2022-05-04: A re-write of this article is now available. Introspection is removed. More detail of the seminar is provided.
The International Peoples College in Elsinore (of Hamlet fame) held its centennial on April 30th, 2022. Their choice of event was timely, an International Peace Festival. The morning speakers were inspirational and the day’s activities embraced the culture and pedagogy of the school.
I learned of the event when meeting a school teacher who encouraged my attendance. As a writer interested in geopolitics and geoeconomics the event, to be held in English, was too good an opportunity to miss. Thus, registration and preparation were executed, including visiting the college before the event to learn routes between the 7 sites at which events would concurrently occur during the afternoon.
Empowerment via Humility
During reflection before the event, it was clear that the focus of the event should be the students. During my career working at a University department, of the many outstanding things said, one is ever unchanging; there is no department without the students.
I carried this with me into the day, though still expected to spark interest from my questions. What became immediately clear was that I was sitting in front of speakers who are deeply thoughtful and extremely experienced. The nine questions went back into the jacket pocket.
A Seminar at the Folk School
Before the parallel afternoon activities, which will be covered in a following article, the day began in the school's UN Hall. It had only been opened a few days previously, as can be witnessed during the video (see Sources) by observing the ground outside. Not one blade of landscaping can be seen.
The hall was at capacity. Principal Søren Launbjerg opened proceedings by welcoming attendees and signaling remaining seating . He would then run the sound system as a "hands on" leader; a natural role for a person who is also a locally appreciated vocalist. The session was skillfully moderated to keep to schedule, with 15 minutes allocated to each of the four speakers.
The first speaker was Mogens Lykketoft, a consummate Danish politician who rose to the rank of President of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. With an historical overview of the UN from its inception to the current day, Mogens described the role the UN plays in international conflict mediation. As with any political and administrative body there are imperfections and weaknesses. One of Mogens' key points was the UN’s success. It has outperformed all of history in its inclusiveness, with well over 95% of all national governments represented. The UN is a body of member states which are expected to at least converse with one another.
The point at which I decided to forget about my prepared question list was during Ellen Margrethe Løj’s presentation. She represented Denmark when it had one of the rotating seats within the UN Security Council (UNSC) during the early 2000's. She was later asked by the UN to run two UN peacekeeping missions and pithily observed that UN Security Councilors should run a peacekeeping mission before representing their nation at the council.
The challenge is distance.
The New York bound body does not see what happens "on the ground" during far flung missions. Ellen was not speaking of geographical distance, but that of understanding complexity. Every peacekeeping mission is different, though the councilors tend to cut/paste the mandate text between missions. A peacekeeping mission is constrained by the terms of the mandate text.
I hope, dear reader, that you can now understand why pre-prepared questions needed to be shelved. My ears were the best choice of equipment.
The most incisive presenter for this author was Dan Smith, an academician at a Swedish University who studies international conflict resolution. His role was to provide data. He described a period in which the number of ongoing conflicts worldwide had dropped dramatically from 50 to 30 while at the same time total international arms purchases dropped from 1.5 to 1 trillion USD. This hope for increasing peace has recently been dashed by conflict numbers now rising beyond 50 and the arms trade exceeding 2 trillion USD.
[Image (by the author): the speaker at the podium is Alberto, soon to be introduced. In the foreground from the left are Dan, Ellen and Mogens.]
Later during the Q&A session, while the challenges of the exclusive veto powers of the 5 permanent members of the UNSC awarded to the victors of WWII were being discussed, Dan took the wind from the sails of those tacking towards UNSC reform. Post WWII, Russia refused to join the UN unless she had this veto power. She saw the body as dominated by the USA and other nations now aligned against her despite their very recent allied status. Dan and others also spoke of changes in the evolution of the culture of use of the veto power. He clearly argued that without these veto absurdities the UN would neither have been created nor persisted.
The exclusive powers are not a contradiction of the UN, but a paradox within it.
The morning's fourth and final speaker, before we took a short break to rejoin the Q&A session, was Alberto Fergusson. The Professor of Psychiatry from Colombia spoke of the conflict resolution process between the Colombian government and FARC (and other) rebels. It was during his presentation that the already pocketed questions were buried. During the day preceding the event I'd listening to Dan Cohen speaking about a documentary he is completing on the Colombian peace resolution process. Cohen described how many FARC "rebels" who had laid down their arms to join the political process in Colombia have been murdered by the Colombian government. When Alberto confirmed this, and spoke of his work with the Colombian Truth Commission, I resoundingly settled on "shut up and listen".
I had even prepared this question, which screamed to be asked of Alberto:
Rhode Island University Professor Nicolai Petro has given several presentations to other USA Universities recently focusing on resolving the social conflicts which will remain following any political and military settlement in Ukraine. His question is, will the use of a version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, used around 50 times internationally, be valuable to Ukraine in resolving the damage done to its social fabrics?
How do you see prospects for this mechanism, either in Ukraine or other conflict areas like Yemen or Afghanistan?
But, no, the question would lie quietly in a pocket.
Its All About Student Questions
A most interesting question asked during the Q&A was by a student from The Netherlands. Following a declaration of why he supported delivering arms to Ukraine to help its soldiers defend themselves against Russian aggression, he asked what will happen to these weapons when armed conflict concludes?
These types of observant questions from students are a trap for teachers. An obvious response could be:
Many of these weapons will be destroyed and some portion will be sold on the black market to profit criminal enterprises and potentially resurface in other places to create death and political instability.
While addressing the question, this is a poor response. A better response might be:
You have identified an intrinsic problem in arms sales and provision. Is sending weapons to a war zone to support the defenders against an invasion wise? Other questions include "how does one track individual weapons so that their sale in a black market can be studied?" One could also ask “why is money being spent on weapons rather than being invested in diplomatic efforts to cease hostilities?” Should we adjust this course to discuss these questions?
Society Builds and Maintains Peace
The conclusion of the Q&A session addressed the question of the role of civic organisations in establishing and preserving peace. The most authoritative response was by Ellen Magrethe Løj. Having run two UN peacekeeping missions, first in Liberia and then in South Sudan, she informed the audience (paraphrasing, see the video for exact words):
The foundation of peace is having the local community own it.
The International Peoples College is an example of a local organization pursuing peace.
Peace is facilitated by listening.
Note: Time offsets for the video will soon be annotated into the text.
IPC Peace Seminar - 100 Year Celebration, International People's College (IPC) / Den Internationale Højskole, 2022-04-30
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 | Daniel Barenboim & the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (complete symphony), 2020-12-31
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