Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dialogue becomes important tool for peace

By Kelsey Hilmes, Guest Writer

Reunions have a reputation for being bitter sweet. Family reunions and class reunions are traditions that people may dread or love. However, PLU students were introduced to a different kind of reunion: a reunion for dialogue between war victims from both sides of a conflict.

Steinar Bryn, a peace builder and lead architect for the Nansen Dialogue Network, came to PLU last week to discuss his work with communication and Norwegian classes as well as his film.

A screening of the documentary Reunion took place in Ingram March 8.

Bryn, who has had a longstanding relationship with PLU, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

He hopes sharing the movie with PLU students will help students understand the need for dialogue. Around 70 people attended the screening.

“I don’t think this movie is a good commercial for the result of dialogue,” Bryn said, “but it is a commercial for the need of much more dialogue.”

After premiering with a standing ovation in 2011, the documentary film has already hit the film festival circuit, winning the Norwegian Amanda Prize for best documentary.

Reunion is the story of the societal division between Serbians and Albanians, and their start down the road of dialogue in an attempt to ease political tension. War interrupted this process, until the participants in the dialogue were invited to meet again years later.

The film shows the transformation in the lives of Serbians and Albanians after the war and the suffering each group has dealt with.

The film began in 1999 when filmmaker Jon Haukeland was invited to film a dialogue session mediated by Bryn in Kosovo held between local Albanians and Serbians.

The goal of this dialogue was to find commonality between the two groups and ultimately decrease tension and avoid war in former Yugoslavia.

NATO bombings began in the region and the film was never shown 10 days after the session.

After the victory of the Albanians 10 years later, Bryn contacted Haukeland about the possibility of reuniting the original group from the film. The new film would allow them continue the dialogue they had started, and watch the original film from the previous decade. This new film became Reunion.

“I think, for the participants in that particular dialogue, they’re hoping for the world to understand their story,” Assistant Professor of Communication and colleague of Bryn Amanda Feller said.

Because the film is still screening in festivals, it is only being shown discreetly with great limitation, mostly on college campuses.

First-years Cherish Downing and Helene Beck agreed that they saw new insights into the use of dialogue.

“I think the most of what I learned is that there are always two sides and you never hear both,” Downing said after the screening.

The issue of political propaganda is also addressed in the film when the two groups in dialogue find themselves caught in conflict over the number of causalities in the conflict.

“I learned about the importance of long dialogues in order to solve conflicts,” Beck said. “It allows people to see different perspectives.”

In the film, the participants in the dialogue talk about the role reversal that took place when Albanians won. Both sides agree that they are both victims today.

“The movie helps us to really understand what that war was about,” Feller said. “The case for dialogue, to say why it’s important and what happens when we don’t have it. If the dialogue had continued, violent armed conflict wouldn’t have happened.”

The film has also had an effect on the participants themselves. All of the participants came to the premier of the film, where Bryn said they acted like good friends.

“I think that, for participants definitely, it has built a much better relation between them,” Bryn said.

While only a small portion of the PLU population came to the screening, Feller hopes the film made an impression.

“I think PLU students are driven to make the world a better place, they’re driven towards service, driven towards global issues,” Feller said. “On campus my hope is that the screening of the film draws a lot more attention to the work of dialogue.”