Mediation – why?

Revenge is easy when atrocities have been committed. Hatred comes suddenly like a tornado when your house has been shelled or your family killed.

To talk about reconciliation is hard, and to consider forgiveness is unbearable – yet this is the only way forward after acts of war. When words fail or emotions and principles get in the way of peaceful cooperation, mediation might be an option. Mediation is a peaceful and powerful tool, using third parties to help start the dialogue between enemies. The underlying principles are restoring dignity, recognition and empowerment. Acts of war leave those affected with a feeling of hopelessness, victimisation, revenge and futility while reconciliation gives hope for a better future.

Mediation brings only benefits - a return to a peaceful society, where government agencies can work without corruption, where the economy can grow, education is available and where citizens sleep soundly at night.

The case for mediation in Ukraine

Ukraine has been at war for five years. After the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and backed a separatist movement in the east of the country. Ukraine became divided by real and imaginary borders.

Reconciliation would take organised effort and tenacity to be achieved. Many say it is impossible, but that is not true. There have been successes at reconciliation after war despite all odds, for example Guatemala, South Africa, Åland in the Baltic, Aceh in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Georgia, to name but a few. Northern Ireland finally came together in mediation, reconciliation, circles of dialogue and changing policies in a sustainable agreement after centuries of violence. In Aceh much of the credit can be accounted to Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and founder of Crises Management Initiative, CMI. In 2005 he negotiated peace between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian Government.

Mediation can be implemented on different levels in society simultaneously for maximum positive effect. Where that is not possible it might be done first on a governmental level spreading downwards to a grassroots level or the other way around.

In mediation dialogue needs to happen with everybody, including local agencies and politicians. This requires individuals who dare to think outside the box and who hope for a peaceful Ukraine - a peaceful and rich Ukraine where parents can send their children to school and know that they will come home alive for dinner, where people can freely travel to work and where business can flourish across borders.

Georgia – conferences and training on mediation

In Georgia a multidisciplinary group of judges, chief justice, prosecutors, members of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Crime Prevention Centre, mediators, penitentiary, probation officers and social workers were trained in mediation. The aim was to raise awareness about dialogue, mediation and other restorative justice practice to further the democracy process. The initiative is part of a series of activities organised by EU4Justice with the help of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. The cooperation between EU and Georgia has been ongoing for the past three years. The same model could be put in place for Ukraine.

Individual nations and international NGO’s can be allies in the peace process. For example The Open Society (George Soros foundation) works for democracy, Human Rights Watch, national initiatives like the Swedish SIDA, Styrelsen för Internationellt Utvecklingsarbete a national agency or private initiative like the Sigrid Rausing Trust, currently support a number of projects in Ukraine.

How does mediation work?

The definition of mediation is a, step-by-step process where impartial third parties help disputants build their own agreement.

When individuals have failed to talk with each other, and direct negotiation no longer is an option, third party mediators are needed. To make peace work when there are many stakeholders involved; all of them need to be represented at the table. The aim of mediation is to allow all stakeholders in a conflict to be heard, recognised and empowered. For peace to last, stakeholders from all walks of life need to come together, sit together in circles, share their experiences by telling each other how they feel as a consequence of what has happened. What happened when the war started? What date was it? What did I do? What did you do? What happened next? Where do I live now? How do I live? What do I do now? What are my fears, hopes and expectations for the future?

In these processes women need to take a central role. Very often they are marginalised and excluded; their voices not heard in the peace process. Mediation walks hand in hand with democracy and democracy processes must allow women to be part of shaping the future. They may even need to be initiated and carried by women. A recent example is a training in dialogue and mediation by Folke Bernadotte Academy, FBA (Sweden) for women in Colombia, a country slowly recovering from a long civil war.

Folke Bernadotte Academy use women mediators who teach mediation in Sweden and abroad. One woman who participated in the training in Colombia said: “Although many of us already work with mediation, locally, in the family setting and in between victims and perpetrators of the civil war as well as nationally, this training gave me new competencies and tools to continue to support a more peaceful Colombia.” She continued: “Meeting others from different areas and fractions in Colombia gave me insight into the need for helping people respect each other so we can continue living side by side in peace.”

Ana Mercedes Pereira after “Training for peace builders in Colombia”.

“When women’s voices are brought to the peace table, they often raise economic and social issues and advocate for a more equitable peace.”.

International Peace Institute, 2013.

Recognition and empowerment are two principles at the core of mediation. These principles may take different forms, but it means that through the process, the stakeholders are being listened to respectfully and their need to feel heard is met. Reality and perception of reality are not always the same thing. As you feel recognised you are being touched at the very core of being human. This also satisfies a very basic hunger, that of being unconditionally seen.

To be empowered means feeling stronger and more energised through the process of being actively listened to and taken seriously. Being able to influence your life and deciding your future makes you empowered but also carries responsibility to do what you promised when negotiating. When you feel you can influence decision making, you tend to be more inclined to keep to the solutions/decisions. Talking about your experiences is healing. By forming the words and having an attentive and respectful listener it is possible to put old ghosts of hatred, revenge and hopelessness to rest and to live a life of hope and belief in the future again.

The step-by-step process of mediation helps people to define their problems and to identify and express their feelings and needs, and to hear the feelings and needs of the other person. It allows people to visualise ideal solutions, create options, negotiate and agree on a course of action and to write and sign agreements.

Mediation seeks to maximise the common ground and minimise the differences between people. It doesn't ignore the differences but accounts for them. When people are not given the chance to have their feelings heard they are more likely to cling to those feelings and less likely to find common ground solutions. Mediation can be a transformative experience that empowers participants, giving them new skills that can be of use in all of life.

There are three factors -issues, positions and interests- that one needs to be aware of and work with during the mediation process. The issues are the topics or subjects of the dispute that stakeholders need to talk about, like the safety of the children when going to and from school, how to be able to go shopping or go to work. The solution may be a ceasefire or withdrawal of tanks. It could be talking about how to get from A to B without going through laborious check points etc.

The positions are the disputants initial presenting statements about the conflict. They are usually broad, generalised statements that use blaming language, like: “You always break the cease fire!” “You started it!” “This will never work!” “One cannot trust so and so...!” etc.

The interests are the underlying concerns, worries and fears. Interests represent the background to a dispute; the actual triggers that have caused the conflict. Fear of loosing territory, loosing the summer house, the land for farming. Fear of loosing (or never having had) freedom of movement or of being able to voice opinions.

Not all conflicts or aspects of conflicts are clear-cut. People may attribute motives, feelings, behaviours, events to the other side which are based on misunderstanding or mis-communication.

The job of the mediator is to help disputants to find win-win solutions. This is not always simple but it is possible. When both sides can win something, then both are tied to the solution. Win-win doesn't mean you have to be an altruist - it just means conflict resolution for mutual gain – a successful strategy.

What mediation is not

Mediation is not about finding out who is right and wrong, apportioning blame or deciding what ought to have been done. Many are caught in the notion that If only this or that had not happened, I would... But we cannot change the past, we can only reconcile with what has happened and our own actions and possibly with those of others. When we accept our past, however evil and painful, we can step into a future where we can make a difference. Even though that difference might be minutely small and we may be hampered by borders, laws and oppression - we can make changes for a better future.

The judgement of what has happened belongs to the Justice system. Mediation on the other hand is what happens between people on a personal level, involving feelings and thoughts and peaceful behaviour.

How could it work?

With local and/or national support, a group of interested parties come together for a training to learn the methods of mediation and dialogue. The participants spread this knowledge and invite others they know to form more circles of dialogue. From these training groups where basic dialogue, communication and mediation are taught, democracy can grow and permeate all walks of life, with time and dedication.

Lobby work can be done towards those with influence, the justice system, politicians and social workers. Informal leaders are often as important as political and entrepreneurial leaders. Grassroots level need to meet national level regardless of ideology or politics. Police officers, prosecutors, judges, politicians, teachers, doctors, mothers, shopkeepers, lawyers and others are community leaders who can be recruited in the mediation effort in Donetsk, Avdivka, Luhansk and other frontline towns.

Every mother and father, sister and brother, daughter and son want to see their family and friends grow up and develop in peace. Mediation is an inclusive method that can be used successfully in all contexts of society and with all people regardless of age, education and gender. It is never too early to start mediation although it might be difficult without international support when the warring sides have no means of direct communication.

It is never too early to start peace.

Eleonore Lind, August 2019

Text by Eleonore Lind, August 2019

Photoes by Anastasia Taylor-Lind from 5k from the Frontline 2019

In this article I have used the term mediation throughout, although nowadays the term Restorative Justice is just as often used.