By Jack Sorensen, Focus Editor
The international spotlight focused on Pacific Lutheran University this week as a three-time Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize nominee returned to campus.
Dr. Steinar Bryn’s campus visit Wednesday and Thursday was the latest segment of a decade-long relationship between PLU and the Nansen Dialogue Network (NDN) based in Lillehammer, Norway, Bryn’s international peacebuilding organization.
The Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue, NDN’s headquarters in Lillehammer where Bryn serves as senior adviser, is an international organization fostering dialogue and peacebuilding talks. The organization aims “to empower people who live in conflict situations to contribute to peaceful conflict transformation on the basis of democracy and human rights,” according to the NDN website.
The network, with 10 Nansen Dialogue Centers based across the Western Balkans, has work for almost two decades promoting peace and intercultural communication in war-torn countries, Bryn said.
Bryn continued the longstanding tradition between PLU and Lillehammer, the location of one of the Wang Center’s “gateway” programs, at the height of international media attention circulating around Bryn and the center’s 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nomination and an upcoming documentary premier.
But Bryn’s primary contact at the university is Dr. Amanda Feller, assistant professor of communication who spearheaded the School of Art and Communication’s conflict & global peacebuilding major.
“You have a strong Communication Department and PLU has something to contribute,” Bryn said. “PLU can show that a stronger focus on the communication part in a conflict can help ease and improve the possibility of peacebuilding.”
Bryn, who has been previously nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes in 2009 and 2011, delivers guest lectures to Feller’s communication courses and advanced Norwegian language classes during his tours at PLU. This week’s visit culminated with a showing of NDN’s award-winning documentary, “Reunited: Ten Years After the War” in Ingram Thursday.
Bryn’s wisdom may fall short, however, outside of the communication community, where notions of peacebuilding dialogue are less applicable for the general student.
But the NDN’s work speaks for itself, and Bryn’s instruction at PLU harkens to the university’s much-publicized focus on global education and development.
Arbitration and accolades
The NDN began in 1994 when Lillehammer hosted the 2004 Winter Olympics.
1994 was a big year: the U.S. and Russia agreed to end their nuclear missile duel, genocide tore Rwanda in two and Bosnia and Herzegovina was embroiled in an ongoing war, with Sarajevo seeing the most violent saga of the war in February, 1994.
In what seemed fate to peace leaders in Lillehammer, Sarajevo, now a center of conflict, hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics a decade prior. A relationship seemed imminent, so the fledgling NDN invited individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Lillehammer to engage in peace talks.
“Serendipitous,” Bryn called it. “We can invite people to come sit and talk about what happened and why it became so brutal.”
Since 1994, more than 2,500 people from former Yugoslavia have visited Lillehammer and met in the Nansen Dialogue Room, Bryn said.
Though the NDN has opened dialogue centers across the world, including in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the majority of NDN’s work has focused in the Balkans and former Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. The NDN has 10 dialogue centers between these nations.
Bryn’s work focuses on cultural integration on three levels: dialogue in schools, dialogue at home and dialogue in the media and politics.
“When you have a segregated school system, which we have in these [Balkan] areas—like the Deep South in the 1950s—when you have segregated school systems the enemy image is so brutal,” Bryn said. To demonstrate in his courses, Bryn draws a whiteboard image of two faces: a normal face representing “us” and a one-eyed face representing “them.”
“Here on our side we are normal, but on the other side people only have one eye,” Bryn said. “That’s an old Norwegian myth.”
NDN’s school-integration program has been tried, tested and validated by successful results across the Balkans, but the network’s education reforms in Macedonia have earned Bryn his most recent Nobel nomination.
Bryn and his colleagues worked on a small scale to bring integrated education to a school in Macedonia, bringing together formerly segregated Macedonians, Albanians and Turks. What began as a small-scale Nansen project soon became a national model, with the education minister of Macedonia proclaiming NDN’s school the model for all future education in Macedonia.
“We have accomplished to bring the integrated educational system up on the national level where it has been accepted by the parliament,” Bryn said about NDN’s work in Macedonia.
Bryn said the Nobel nomination rides on the backs of recommendation letters from Macedonia, Lillehammer and even parliamentary leaders of other Balkan nations where the NDN has previously worked.
But the Nelson dialogue model is not without criticism. Bryn said critics of NDN have questioned the viability and fruitfulness of the simplistic dialogue model.
“One diplomat said, ‘it’s too womanish, it’s something women do,’” Bryn said. “Some say everybody will dialogue as long as Norway pays for the coffee.”
Bryn said his experience was the opposite, however, and the most difficult aspect of his work is getting countries to even agree to talks in Lillehammer.
“The most different part of my work is recruiting,” Bryn said. Countries do not request NDN mediation. The NDN approaches nations requesting their cooperation.
Bryn said nations frequently ask, “Why should I spend two hours with my enemy?”
Peacekeeping at PLU
Bryn and Feller’s collaboration began with Bryn’s 2004 PLU visit, when he worked with the Communication Department to develop curriculae for the new peacebuilding major. The two re-engineered the program to focus on the method of dialogue on a global scale, Feller said.
Since then, the NDN has hosted PLU students in Lillehammer for short seminars during Wang Center Gateway Programs.
But both Bryn and Feller agree the methods of dialogue should be applied locally. Between frequent seminars in international settings, Bryn said he has worked extensively in local Norwegian municipalities and schools, fostering dialogue between Norwegians and indigenous populations, such as the Sami.
“We’re trying to get them to think about how they could do that here in Tacoma or in their hometowns,” Feller said. She said there have been communication students who have attempted to redefine the Nansen model to help foster local dialogue in the Parkland community.
Feller said she hopes to see future projects focusing on PLU’s community in the next few years of curriculum development.
“I hope to stimulate the ongoing conversation at PLU about the relationship between communication and conflict,” Bryn added.