About 40 workshops were held during the five days of the open conference. A full list of workshops and their convenors is available in the WRI archives.
Individual workshop reports
Africa Working Group
Matt Meyer opened the meeting, discussing the history of the WRI AWG, with its origins at the Brazil Triennial. He explained the process by which preliminary contacts were established, both in French- and English-speaking countries, and noted the difficulties in making and maintaining contacts.
South Africa Report: South Africa today, Farid Esack exclaimed, is "in a mess." One consequence of the armed struggle has been the cheapening of life, the de-humanisation of society. In post-apartheid South Africa, a person can be killed over a pack of cigarettes. On the other hand, South Africa is an amazing country -- the only country that has willingly destroyed its own nuclear arsenal, the only country where peace activists have regular dialogues and open forums with the Minister of Defence, where the government supports the transformation of gender relationships. There is a serious problem with arms production and sales -- the toys for the boys that make up the Defence Forces -- but there are efforts to look at utilising alternative methods, and the arms industry faces serious economic cuts every year. These aspects of the new South Africa help promote the broader struggle for humanisation.
The Commission on Gender Equity which Farid heads is one part of this broader humanisation project. Though generally in partnership with government, the Commission has the power to investigate, subpoena, search and seize documents -- including those of government offices and officers.
Chad Report: Koude began by discussing the thirty years of civil war that Chad experienced. "Even today," he stated, "we live in a culture of violence." Despite the fact that nonviolence is very difficult to achieve, the Chadian civil society (which includes Tchad Nonviolence [TNV] and many other groups) proposes to forbid the carrying of arms by all people, throughout Chadian society. "There are so many guns, knives and traditional weapons, it is easy for any fight to break into violence."
Since 1990, Chad has officially been in a process of democratisation, but most civic organisations don't think it is for real, it's just words coming from above. At the beginning of 1993, after a national conference of civil society, demands were put into place calling for curricula on peace education and human rights. Since the government didn't respond, however, TNV and other groups started doing this work on a voluntary basis.
At the Triennial closing plenary, Koude highlighted the importance of a WRI-Africa link. "This conference has provided a real framework for exchange," he noted. "In Chad today, there are only two ways to become famous -- to become war lord or to engage in the anti-politics of empty words. The time has come to put a stop to that. We may start from a small seed, but that seed will grow. We must continue to work together, so that we may reap the benefits of these seeds."
Additional WRI Africa Work: Michel Monod reported on his work with groups in Congo-Brazzaville, most recently travelling there in January 1997. It was a tense time because of the elections, as arms were being brought into the country in large numbers. Michel conducted a small workshop in nonviolence, and brought a greeting from the president of the Congo Nonviolence Association.
Bindi mentioned that she had just come from working in Niger, conducting two-day conflict resolution trainings under the auspices of CARE.
Future work: Group members conducted a brainstorm on two major areas of work -- publications/education and conferences/action support. As far as publications and education work, it was agreed that, where appropriate, members would place articles in national and regional publications geared towards expatriate African communities.Report written by Matt Meyer. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.
A special workshop, led by Maurice Montet (UPF, France), was held at the Triennial, covering the topic of harsh conditions for conscripts and deserters in Algeria. Campaigns for asylum have developed in several countries, with WRI members involvement in some cases.
The following proposals were agreed upon:
- Maurice, René Burget and UPF will serve as a collection point for information about the status of Algerians abroad, and national policies on asylum and treatment of Algerian military deserters;
- René, Jan and Rudi Friedrich (Connection e.V., Germany) will put together a booklet utilising this information; interested WRI members should forward collected data to UPF by the end of January 1999;
- International C.O. Day 1999 (May 15) should focus on the issues relating to the Algerian situation; and
- articles for PN and various publications should be prepared.
Patricio led us in an exercise used in his country to help empower people to act despite their fears during the dictatorship. He asked us to think of a time we felt very afraid. In silence we were to express our fear through the position of our bodies. He then moved us into pairs. We were asked to try to remove the other person's fear in silence, while still feeling your own fear. We were then moved by the facilitator into fours, and then into contact with the whole group. Most people felt like it was hard to keep feeling your fear when you were in contact with others, especially with the whole group caring for one another.
After the exercise we had a real-life opportunity to support someone experiencing great fear, when a participant suddenly joined the group and told how members of his organisation had received death threats after a misleading article about them was published in a local paper in the Krajina region, where they were working in support of (Bosnian Croat and Croatian Serb) refugees. As a group we were able to listen actively to this participant, share ideas, experiences, and resources, and at the end we made a loving and supportive circle around him.report by Vivien Sharples. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.
We formed small groups of three or four, and were given three minutes to creates three situations which would portray stereotypical male/female body language. We then presented the situations as a tableau (no movement or speech) to the group, who guessed which characters were supposed to be men and which were women, and tried to guess how each character might be feeling. This technique brought out a lot of laughter and discussion very quickly, and is a great tool which could be adapted to other types of issues. It's fun, very participatory, and can lead to interesting insights. The workshop leader showed us photos taken at a railway station without the subjects' knowledge, which showed consistent gender differences in body language.
The point was made that our body language affects our feelings, and therefore our behaviour, and vice versa, so one way to change ourselves is to consciously change our body language, which can lead to different feelings. For example, if you want to speak out in large meetings, it's hard to get up the courage to do that if you're holding your body in a shrinking and hangdog manner. If you change to an open and upright stance you make room for more confidence to emerge, and your voice can be louder. Imke told us that European studies have shown that body language tends to fit most with gender stereotypes during the ages of 15 to 25, when people are trying to show that they are a "real" man or woman.report by Vivien Sharples. A longer version is available in the WRI archives.
The Organising Circle is a structured method developed by German activists to help activists plan their work so that aspects often overlooked are actively considered. It names stages to work through: the beginning, the analysis, the goal, the strategy, the development of activities, the realisation of activities, and the evaluation. These stages are laid out on a grid, with the stages across the top and other aspects listed down the other axis: group members, group values and principles, resources, structure and process, problem and solution, communication, and environment. The group then systematically fills in the grid. For example, if a group starts to clarify its beginning, the question of "resources" is important: "What resources do we have?" (eg time, money, rooms, materials, contacts, technology, volunteers, etc) . In the "goals" stage, the personal goals of the group members should be made known, and during the development of the strategy, a group has to answer the question of which target groups or constituencies they want to reach with their project.
We tried out some parts of the Circle using a situation faced by Triennial organisers in real life, concerning visa denials and people stuck at borders. I found it a helpful tool, although it seemed like it could be a trifle compulsive to go through the entire grid, because it would take a really long time. But most groups I've worked with don't do enough of this sort of conscious planning and strategising, or don't do it well enough yet because it's so difficult, so I appreciated learning about this way of doing it.report by Vivien Sharples. A longer version is available in the WRI archives. More information on the Organising Circle can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ten people attended this workshop, which analysed and reflected upon the effects of obligatory military service on both the individual and on the society in which they live.
One of the main issues to be highlighted was the role that military instruction has in either reaffirming or building upon forms of social indoctrination already started by other institutions. Military training imposes conditions on the articulation and organisation of the "psychological system" of the individual. It turns the individual into an object, conditions towards mechanical learning, into accepting without arguing, and emphasises standard rather than multiple responses. This is all added to a mix which includes discipline, denial of the individual, ritualisation and other actions designed to encourage submission to power.
From the discussion that followed, it was evident that awareness of the military's role is a function of an individual's personal historical experience, in particular the relationship between civilians and "their" military. Some people from the ex-Yugoslav countries had a different perspective -- not expressed openly but otherwise evident -- which understated the characteristics and consequences of military training. This is probably because of the recent experience of war: their armies are frequently conceived of as an ally which defends them from external aggressions.
Themes such as "Peace Armies", "Actions for Continental Integration", "Consolidation of Military-Civil Relationships", etc. have recently been introduced into the public debate in many countries. This often makes it difficult for us to reframe the debate around the more fundamental question of why armies exist in the first place.Translation: Roberta Bacic