Community: culture of peace


Dieter Lünse

The biggest base for nonviolent action lies in our social community. The community is formed in villages or districts. The relationships between the people are built up of a personal level, a group level and structures that are made of a state level or other conditions like cultural agreements or habits.

There is a fourth position of big importance in the cooperation of the social community: the general public. It is produced by all people involved by the media and other possibilities of communication.

Conflicts and interruptions of the community take place on all levels. They can veer towards the dominance of violence or the non-violent ways of solving a conflict.

Non-violent action, civil disobedience and resistance against violent conditions are often in the focus of non-violent ginger groups when life gets destroyed by the power and egotism of a few. There is not enough thought put into the dimension of how much the violence is reflected by the community or even being borned by it. Being borned by deliberately, in joint knowledge or without knowledge and experience on how counter-actions could be organized. Out collective narratives are still playing the game with us of only accepting violence as a structural feature. The development is headed in a different direction.1

A local culture of peace by the community mediation is also among those. In doing so, the whole system in the public space is built upon constructive conflict solving, starting at the roots. This has worked in a neighbourhood mediation.2 In Europe, the first projects where set up after some very inspiring news about different developments in the USA.3 Saul D. Alinsky has also given some important impulses for peace in social communities. The communities could learn helping themselves by a local democracy.4

There are currently mediators on the streets of Hamburg that simply approach the people. These three examples all create a basic culture for peace by their local abilities.

Where the Conflict Mediation is on the street

The resident population in big cities in its structure is partly changing rapidly since many years. After the turnaround between Eastern bloc and the Western bloc states worldwide refugee movements increased. For many countries there are new questions of togetherness as well as challenges for Conflict Mediation grow tremendously.

Example Hamburg in Germany: here, in some cases the resident population in certain districts changed about 20% in a short amount of time due to the influx of German Russian influx. As well as parts of population et al. From Italy, Turkey, Afghanistan, Ghana shape the structure of the country. Impoverishment and the big gap between rich and poor are coming additionally. For schools, social work and police the processing of conflicts and violence increase. Parental homes cant handle the problems on their own or are even causer of the problem. Challenges for the Conflict Mediation grow due to these relatively fast changing conditions not only in its number of cases but rather in the scope of a very typical problem. Most people wait to long if a conflict is looming. The conversation with the girlfriend, a sarcastic comment among colleagues are mostly just valves to avoid and to defer. When it comes to violent or psychological burdens that are so high that nothing else works Police or a lawyer are called or it escalates till third parties intervene. Not least many conflicts keep an independent life even hough there is urgent need for change. Another situation in a community can be, that violence has the upper hand and the situation is all the more tense, so fear reigns in the social community.

The Institute for Conflict management and Mediation in Hamburg (ikm) started an office for neighborhood conflict mediation and found so one answer against increasing conflicts. But during the build up it appeared that an office alone would not be enough. The whole district needed to be involved in the constructive conflict management.

Roots for Conflict Mediation

So it is important, that the concentration of different people and projects gives the chance for fundamental improvement of the dealing with conflicts. One area in Hamburg is a good example for a common beginning developing to a integral concept which includes and empowers youth, children, parents, professionals, and citizen into a conflict mediation system. It emerges a new quality of Conflict mediation and violence prevention.

The area wide (extensive) work and the sustainable quality of these methods is however new. After the program was stared in 2000 by now there has been 40 districts developing their own local methods against violence. This shows that through participation and involvement of many social environments in a big area with the the same basic concept it emerges a new quality of mediation and violence prevention.

One area closely examined

The development in Harburg Süd can be transferred on all areas. There, a interdisciplinary preparation group for the process of violence and conflicts between children and youth formed 8 years ago. The group planned the networking. The first measures yet seemed ambitious. Previously monthly two hour long meetings for two way exchange were known. For the kick off now weekly four hour long meetings should take place for one month. Initially it seemed like the different groups would not sustain this. But it turned our differently. Week to week it showed that the concentration of representatives of the schools, organizations, the social work sector, the police, parents, the political parties and superior facilities increased. The first tasks for a professional discussion was fulfilled: Networking and Exchange. This changes the given anonymity principally. Anyone enjoys staying in its “own box” and participants don't really come together. Or the experience with violence is so high that many close their mind out of fear. The experience in Harburg Süd shows that the merging of different professional groups and sectors (scopes) leads to assuming responsibility. New forms of of teamwork are necessary to build up other perspectives. Power for own local projects grows with mutual recognition.

Harburg Süd found its working forms with the first events and is meeting three times a year since then. A core group prepares meetings and evaluates them afterwards, sustains the communication and frequently provides a mirror for the commonly decided projects through evaluation. Thus the work is being improved continuously.

Violence prevention weeks in the entire district

Firstly the forum Harburg Süd decided on implementing a matter for all youth from the age of 14 to 15. One week for violence prevention for all students. Since 8 years now 6 schools dispute with recent happenings as well as educational structures in this project. The principles of the schools are put across, places in the social enviroment of the students become known. Methods for constructive social intercourse are developed. Through certain codes of conduct and rules as well as participation of the students violence in schools and in the whole district can, step by step, be reduced. And new forms of cooperation can develop because of very different schools working together. Unusual methods make the project known. Thus a start of a project week was organized in the cinema in the City. Thereby a clear signal was sent that violence is beeing seen and will be reduced. Two of these six schools introduced a project of student mediation in their schools. This is beeing enhanced through changed circumstances because the mediators helped shaping parts of the project week, presented their work and became known. What was isolated and scattered before becomes public property.

The sport and culture fest “The south is living”

As a second big method violence prevention was brought from the schools into the public space. Because of the difficulty of bringing non-violence into all parks, to all bus stops and last paths Harburg Süd invented the slogan “The south is living” for themselves. Often there are only few mutual activities for a new non-violent social networking happening in these outlying districts. But it is shown that youth and children especially in these areas need their room, their safety and constructive offers. A sport and culture celebration carries this purpose out in a local park for 7 years now. With slogans like “The south is living – Fit for fairness” advertisement is being done over a long time period. With this advertisement, the implementation and documentation it is conveyed where Harburg Süd sees the problems and where it is strengthening through constructive behaving.

Meanwhile the poster competition is implemented as a third method. Thereby students and secondary schools participate equally. And everybody can see that youth themselves bring forward non-violence when they see the posters hanging out at schools, businesses and other public spaces.

Recent Cases and stabilization of social peace

In 2010 Harburg Süd experienced to cases of murder. While other urban areas don't even address such cases, over there it was immediately clear that civil-courage needs to be established in the public sphere. This is a distinct sign that the coalition and the qualified work over 8 years enables alertness, responsibility acceptance and agency. Like in a single mediation with two persons is here the neutral third person an instance that always again works on the steady changing circumstances for social peace. The anonymity is changed in favour of more communication and transparency, and the parties are not left alone at home with their feelings because a place for understanding and debate was created.

The conflict mediation is not only lying on the street anymore. It was here like in many other districts of hamburg brought up on a mutual stage so that big groups learn the basics of dealing with conflicts. The change of the society's structure can be be overcome. In many individual cases mediation is used.

Districts and areas in other regions

Examples like Harburg Süd can be found all over the world. Because peace does not count so much they stay less known than areas with a high violence rate. Newton and Hilbrow in Johannesburg have experienced both: lot of violence and a return of non-violent conflicts. The infrastructure was improved through a program for urban upgrading. Residents started taking up responsibility for their community again because they improved social closeness and communication like in the example of Harburg Süd. The engine were artists that had the braveness to bring out the community out of the anonymity. Through projects like a public cinema on a wall of a building because there was no other room broke through a typical dilemma of many people. “One can't do anything, everything is rundown and I better take care by myself – even if more crime is created”, is what many say then. In theses situation it sometimes takes more braveness to come back together and unite then just to give in to the power and violence structures. If single persons start, groups join and then a whole area (whether rural or in urban areas) experiences how non-violence establishes in the public sphere, then are all 4 levels of coexistence reached. The basic needs can be restored commonly and without external help. The power gets that big because its a model for others and people in the similar regions start to imitate. And from this point you can start projects like neighborhood mediation, community organizing as Saul D. Alinsky or street mediators.




1 see Dr. Erica Chenoweth und Maria J. Stephan, Why civil resistance works?, New York Colombia University Press 2011

2 Ullmann, Sonja, Stortz, Christine: Mediation bei Nachbarschaftskonflikten als Dienstleistung einer Wohnungsbaugesellschaft, Mannheim 2001

and see Nachbarschaftsservice Graz,

3 Metzger, Tilman: Gemeinwesenmediation. Von der Analyse der Justizkrise zur modernen Mediation, in Perspektive Mediation 1/2004, page 37ff

4 Leo Penta (Hrsg.): Community Organizing. Menschen verändern ihre Stadt. Edition Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg 2007


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