Conflict zones moving forward
29 September 2009
LONDONDERRY has joined forces with three equally divided cities – riven by conflict and violence in the not-so-distant past – to forge a joint future through mutual learning and non-violent methods.
The cities of Mitrovica, Kirkuk and Nicosia are all cities that witnessed some of the fiercest sectarian and ethnic strife seen anywhere over the past half century.
And as the Protestant and Catholic communities have been largely segregated along sectarian lines in Londonderry, so too Serbs and Kosovans (Mitrovica), Kurds and Arabs (Kirkuk) and Greek and Turkish Cypriots (Nicosia) have been divided in their respective locales.
So last April a delegation from Londonderry joined their counterparts from Kosovo, Kurdistan and Cyprus to attend a conference in Boston and to sign a communiqué proposing greater links between the four former conflict zones.
Last week Derry City Council endorsed a draft A Call to Action document endorsing the policymaking principles of respect for the dignity of every individual and for the value of leadership in building trust and confidence across and within communities.
It also upheld respect for human rights, equality, fairness and adherence to the rule of law, including fair treatment of minorities and respect for the value of dialogue between conflicting parties according to context.
Representing Derry City Council at the Boston seminar were the then Mayor, Councillor Gerard Diver, Councillor Maurice Devenney and Councillor Maeve McLaughlin.
They were accompanied by Brian Dougherty (St. Columb’s Park House) and Michael Doherty (Peace and Reconciliation Group) as well as by NIHE and PSNI delegates.
During the April conference the remarkable similarities that existed between the various conflict areas were duly noted. Whilst the situation in Mitrovica is much worse than that in Londonderry inescapable parallels exist.
The fact that the River Ibar splits the Serb and Albanian sections of the city of 85,000, and that few people ever cross the single bridge uniting them, certainly resonates in this city, which is also divided albeit to a much lesser extent by the River Foyle.
Witnessing the ethnic-Albanian Mr Sadri Ferati of the Kosovan administration and the ethnic-Serb Dragan Spasojevic of the Citizens Movement for Kosovska Mitrovica find agreement moved the then Mayor Gerard Diver to state: “I’m sure I’m speaking for all of the delegation (when I say] how moved we are by the leadership demonstrated by our colleagues from Mitrovica. They have shown that the true value of the conference has taken root in work done over the last few days.”
Amongst the findings of the conference were that city to city workshops of this sort are effective, productive and valuable and that learning from each other’s successes and challenges is immensely empowering.
Delegates also agreed that external actors can act as an obstacle and a barrier to promoting joint working and problem solving. The conference undertook to create a Forum for Cities in Transition and that the Forum’s purpose shall be to address common problems through expanding the pool of knowledge from which to draw practical lessons.
It pledged to develop and maintain an active network of individuals and cities present for mutual benefit and to deepen and broaden the network by taking ownership of the Forum’s future.