President and Founder of Peace-Tech
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: In dialogue projects like that personal transformation is important, that seems to be the focus of the dialogue, but the difference between personal transformation and the social transformation that you are talking about, it seems like there are a lot of steps in between that.
A: A lot of that is serendipitous. You can't program it. There is not a formula that says if you do step A, B, C, D you will get this result. We couldn't predict who in our first 2, or 3, or 4 groups would step forward to carry this on ten years later. In some cases the people that did were not people who we would have anticipated at all. We couldn't anticipate the snowball effect with the other countries seeing the success of that work and saying well we want to sponsor some groups too. We couldn't predict the interface of all of that with the desire of Turkey and Cyprus to become part of the EU. When the Turkish Cypriot government applied for membership way back when, they did so in part thinking this will be a leverage, this will open the door to our getting a solution to the Cyprus problem, that hasn't actualized yet but it certainly set some things in motion that had a resonance with some of the peace building work that made it more viable that gave it an environment where it could flourish in a way that no one would have imagined. In part it is good luck, but in part it is also strategic, it was part of our goal in the beginning. It wasn't just our goal at IMTD going in, it was the goal of the first people that we worked with in a steering committee of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Their stated goal was to be agents of change in their society. To not just get a workable agreement, but to change society so that it would be based on a new understanding of peace both on the island, in the region, and around the world. That was there goal, to be change agents and to create societal change. It was strategic in the sense that with that as our goal, we made an effort to contact the key players in the political arena, in the whole multi-track system. We tried to work with the business leaders, the government officials both in Greece and Turkey, the Greek Cypriot government, the Turkish Cypriot government, the media, the youth, and educators. We strategically said who are the leverage points that can change society.
Q: Where those leverage points based on the work that you and Ambassador McDonald had done on the various tracks, Track I through IX?
A: Loosely. We didn't sit down with that model and say, "Whom in each track should we contact," but we were aware. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you want to change society you have got to get to the teachers, the US government figured some of that out. They set the terms, though we had input, but they set the terms for who we worked with because they were paying for it. They said that you have to bring the media into it, we knew that but we didn't have to say it to them because they knew it. It is pretty easy to see what the media does to keep things going. At the same time it was both a strategic and a serendipitous multi-track peace building process that was actually owned by the people involved.
Q: It really sounds like a lot of different elements came together with the regional context, the mood of the people, the will of those initial participants to be agents of change, multipliers in a sense and to take risks. The initial negative attention of the media turned out to be the big positive.
A: The best thing that ever happened. Without that kind of attention I don't know if it would have gotten as big a play as it ultimately did which brought people in.
Q: I noticed in the Cyprus group you mentioned the daughter of the president on one side and the son of the president on the other side. Is that the level of people that is most beneficial to go after or try to get to participate in the situation, like a dialogue?
A: Well again it depends on what your goal is. If your long-term goal is to secure a formal political agreement then you need to be talking with people who have great influence in that arena, or as has happened in the Israeli-Palestinian context you need to be convening on going dialogue with people who may not have the highest political influence but they have credibility, intellectuals, political scientists, and academics. If they write a report the cabinet is going to read it--if that is your goal. If your goal is to build a citizen peace building movement then you need to contact people from all walks of life. If your goal is to create a climate of acceptance and tolerance you want people who don't have very high position because it is hard for them to act in their individual capacity. It can really work against you.
For instance, again using Cyprus as an example, we had in our original group a gentleman who was very highly placed informally, he didn't have formal role in the government at that time, he was a business man, but he was very close with the leaders of the regime and had a lot of influence. He was asked to become the right hand man and senior advisor to president of the Turkish Cypriot government. To this day I am convinced that he was asked to do that as a way of co-opting the growing conflict resolution movement. He was a very early active, and positive presence. He was very influential in helping people to get permissions to go back and forth to meet on the green line, he lent his credibility to the movement and then he started working for the president, for this movement was not held in high esteem by that ruling group. He became very negative to that and put a lot of barriers and obstacles in its way. He became one of the biggest challenges to the work.
Q: That is a terribly sad re-conversion.
A: It was. I could tell you very moving stories with him before he made that shift that were extremely powerful. Whatever was going on politically he made the shift. Just because you have people at that level doesn't mean that they are going to work the way you hope they will. On the other hand, the daughter of the president on the Greek Cypriot side became such a verbal champion for the work that she has been able to exert tremendous influence. Her father's political party is not a peace party by any means, and here is the daughter of the president who was a member of parliament in her own right. She was saying, "This is what we need in a peace agreement, and we need to be talking to these people. This is what I learned from them." She stood up for them. She is the one that went in front of the cameras first because she had the credibility, she is the one that everyone stood beside and behind, she led that movement to get it out in the public air waves. What are you going to do, fire the daughter of the president? She has been successful in setting up a bureau in the parliament in her political party, for Reproshman???. This is unheard of. It is counter-intuitive, it just doesn't happen there, but she has been able to do it.