by Hartley Millar
The event was convened by the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and the Centre for Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery of the Central European University with the support of the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Additional hospitality was provided by the the Embassies of Switzerland and Norway.
The attendance was drawn from a wide variety of dialogue practitioners and experts, with strong participation from those working with the organizers of the event. Contributions to the debate came from several international and intergovernmental (UN OSAPG, UNDP, UN DPA, OSCE and OECD ) and civil society organisations with specific involvement in, or knowledge of, dialogue processes in the context of impending, current, or recently past conflicts.
The event was held under the Chatham House rule and specifics of the cases discussed are not covered here since most can easily be attributed to particular participants. At a more general level however the types of case reviewed by the meeting ranged across post conflict dialogue in the Balkans, dialogue with and about Roma groups, peacebuilding dialogue in Northern Ireland, challenges of dialogue in Africa, the situation in the Ukraine, and media and civil society dialogue in the southern Mediterranean.
Alongside the discussion of cases there was a broader analysis of the principles and techniques that were effective in difficult dialogue situations. Although most situations needed to be looked at in their historic, social, economic and political contexts, there were a number of frequently valuable techniques, particularly when in the hands of facilitators with appropriate personality and skills.
Attention was also given to situations where the past or expected unacceptable behaviour (extremism, violence, terrorism, criminality) of relevant actors raised questions as to whether they should be brought into the dialogue. What limits should be placed on talking to terrorists and criminal organisations? There was wide support for as inclusive a process as possible – but with the understanding of all parties that dialogue is distinct from negotiation and mediation (although each may be elements in finding a solution to a conflict).
On the second day the rise of extremist parties in some European countries in the light of the recent elections of the European Parliament and dialogue as a tool for enhancing democracy were taken as a case for consideration. There was also discussion of how to react to political environments where in effect all voices except that of the regime and more extreme allies were excluded. Lack of genuine media plurality was seen as a direct threat to the democratic process; it could, and was often intended to, frame discussion and debate in such a way that dialogue involving significant alternative voices was invisible or irrelevant to political developments.
The colloquium proved a valuable first step and contribution to exchange of ideas and techniques about dialogue in difficult situations. A number of issues still remained to be discussed and there was strong support for further meetings to exchange experience of facilitation techniques and to address the tricky questions about ensuring that dialogue was timely, was inclusive, and that funding arrangements allowed the dialogue to be thorough enough, long enough and not tied to ‘deliverables’ of a sort more appropriate for other types of intervention (e.g. negotiation, conflict resolution, propaganda and values promotion, capacity building, training or peace-keeping). Funding for follow-on meetings will be sought.
Download the programme: Programme – Difficult Dialogues
Download the concept: Difficult Dialogues – European Colloquium on diaolgue facilitation – May 2014
Read our post on dialogue and mass atrocities prevention