Are the reconciliation initiatives working in democratic western societies? The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it may seem. Without the obvious restrictions concerning freedom of speech there seems to be no problem in engaging communities, even societies in peace-building actions. However, it may be argued that as a result of that freedom and democratic stablity, the civic mobilisation, especially of younger generation, is declining (Dahlgren, p.23).
From another point of view, since the usage of ICTs has triggered many changes in socialization and alternatives in post-conflict communication and conflict management processes (Costigan & Perry, 2012) (Dahlgren, p.23), there is no surprise that new technilogies have been increasingly employed in the North-South cooperation which is crucial in building a successful dialogue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Both societies can be considered democratic, liberal, with realtively transparent media and growing alternative media sphere (See also: http://rccs.southernct.edu/political-blogging-in-northern-ireland-a-post-conflict-society-in-the-virtual-world/). However a very recent violent history makes this region is an interesting and important example of using ICT for the purpose of cross-border citizen peace-building initiatives.
Ethical storytelling – the “Border Lives” project
Managed by Conor McGale’s, this new media project aims to capture and share the stories of the “extraordinary lives of ordinary people” (Source: http://borderlives.eu) from the Northern Ireland border region during and after “The Troubles”. Six short documentary movies starring 90 people tell stories that are shockingly far from the mainstream media coverage. They paint a moving picture of everyday life in a time of conflict, with violence, isolation and chronic uncertainty on the one hand and a strong sense of community belonging and hope on the other.
The film’s preview:
By using an extensive number of ICT tools with a special focus on the internet-based channels (Facebook and Twitter feeds, free app for iPhone and Android, Youtube channel), followed by 36 public events, the authors wanted to influence a narrative of reconciliation, especially among young people growing up conflicted areas. For me, the particularly interesting element of the project is its focus on education. The e-learning course Border Lives Rethink covering various topics such as: how conflict shapes people’s identities and narratives evolution of conflict or different aspects of leadership.
The encouraging result of McGale project’s emphasis on innovation in storytelling and in capturing different angles of the conflict and post-conflict reality is that it have created an effective platform for other societies/communities recovering after conflict. It is, indeed, possible to connect and share people’s experiences in an interactive and inclusive ways. Also, it seems to me that no matter where the armed conflict occures, the willingness to share the stories and to nurture collective memory is similar. At the same time, Border Lives focuses on the future, just like the second programme I’d like to talk about today.
ICT in education – Dissolving Boundaries
Because, in the end, what can be more ambitious and future-oriented than focus on children’s education and tolerance-building? That was the main goal of the recently concluded Dissolving Boundaries Programme.
Reconciliation can be understood in the context of social and cultural procesess aiming to introduce and develop new believes and emotions, potenitally providing new opportunities for a long term peaceful coexistence of conflicted groups. In that context, educational initiatives seem to have an important role in building mutual respect and challenging the “cycle of conflicting ethos” (Vrasidas et al., 2007).
“The availability of ICT is important in bringing people together and improving teaching and learning among diverse populations” (Vrasidas et al., 2007).
The main focus of the programme are teachers, who were encouraged to use ICTs in their everyday work to promote cross-border intercultural learning among pupils from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The idea was to pair two schools – one from the North and one from the South. During the school year children would work together on curriculum, while interacting mostly online. Teachers, trained in and equiped with a wide range of ICT tools like: video-conferencing, online forums and blogs, Moodle or Marretech, have been able to introduce innovative techniques in their everyday practice.
“[…] the single best example of cross-border educational links anywhere in Europe, let alone Ireland.” Andy Pollak, (Source: Maynooth Univeristy website)
Started in 1999 and concluded last year, the programme permitted the youth from more than 200 participating schools (about 50000 pupils aged 8 to 18) to learn how to use new technological devices in communication and and to establish new, cross-border friendships. According to the programme director, professon Roger Austin, Dissolving Boundaries had a particularly positive impact on schools from isolated rural areas in the South. ICT not only faciliate pupils’ learning process by allowing them to take initiative, but also develop their social skills and cognitive skills, like group work, critical thinking and concentration.
Some authors emphasise that educational reconciliation initiatives have a limited impact on the actual, structural social change (Bakerman, cited by Vresidas et al., 2007). For democratic Western societies praising themselves for their socio-political stability, the impact of such programs risks to be mariginal. That is why I find applying ICT so important in approaching and “activating” young people’s and their open and critical thinking about questions sucha s citizenship, social dialogue and, in a long term perspective – a conflicted past.
The impact of Dissolving Boundaries on these young people’s lives seems undeniable. The importance of such initiatives regarding usage of ICTs in reconciliation, lies in their innovative way to open possibilities for cross-border dialogue, while maintaining their educational nature. Andy Pollack, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, states that “the technology had allowed the pupils to build trusting relationships before they actually met” (Source: http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/06/30/bringing-schools-together-in-ireland-through-ict/). Such interactions directly influcence developement of new, positve narratives and challenging the existing mistrust between the two populations (Vrasidas et al., 2007). While working together on mutual projects, those young people have a unique chance to develop their own opinion about their pupils coming from the other side of the border – to acknowledge their similarites and respect differences. That, in my opinion, is he most important lesson from the programme.
For more details, check out the two project’s websites:
http://borderlives.eu/ and http://www.borderlivesrethink.eu/
Costigan S.S. & Perry, J. [Eds.] (2012) Cyberspaces and Global Affaires. Ashgate
Dalhgren, P. (2006) Civic participation and practices: beyond “deliberative democracy”. In: Carpentier, N., Pruulman-Vengerfeldt, P., Nordenstreng, K., Hartmann, M. and Cammaerts, B. (Eds.) Researching Media, Democracy and Participation. Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Vrasidas et al. (2007) ICT as a Tool for Environmental Edaucation, Peace, and Reconciliation. Educational Media International. Vol.44, No. 2, pp. 129-140.