Susan Allen Nan
Director of the Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
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 ???).
A: I think that if you look at the whole system of the larger peace process, it's important that the politicians talk to each other and negotiate an agreement. It's important that mid-level leadership feed ideas into that so that creative ideas developing keep contacts. For example, there was one project that Paula Garb supported where environmental scientists from both sides were looking at environmental protection in the region. That kind of mid-level contact is important to sustain so that in the future societies will be able to keep working together, whatever the political settlement.
And then the grassroots work with the youth and other grassroots kinds of efforts will be really important to building societies that work together in whatever political framework they end up working in. I see it as all fitting together and mutually supportive. I do know, for example, working with the youth project that there were times when politically it was not going to be possible to bring the youth together, and those were times when political leadership on both sides weren't quite ready for that. So there were questions of "Oh, will the program go forward or not?"
Q: You mean ready because it was too tense?
A: Yeah. So I think that those three levels of the leadership, the mid-level and the grassroots are really interconnected and you can't move too far forward with youth programs unless leadership are willing to support that. And the mid-level groups can't move too far forward unless the grassroots are willing to support it. And the leadership as well. And the leadership can't move too far forward unless the grassroots and the mid-level people are willing to support them. So I think it's a whole system of social interactions and none of them can get too far out of line with the others.
Q: How do you support that? How do you make the three levels move at the same pace?
A: Many different intermediaries and many different local people involved with the conflict resolution process are doing their best work and keeping in contact with each other and keeping a pulse on how the peace process is developing so that they can know when it's appropriate to take whatever next steps they can take and progress toward resolution.
Working long term in a conflict area is one thing that intermediaries can do to really help them get a pulse on the pace of progress toward resolution that the societies can allow. And if you work long term you develop trust and real relationships with parties on both sides of the conflict. Then they together, as well through monitored programs, are all the same people meeting each other face-to-face, eating together, having food together, having this kind of human relationships can really matter in terms of how people will share their perspectives on the political peace process, social attitudes, and so forth
Q: If there are lots of interventions going on and the goal is to have them try to focus the three different levels to move at the same pace then does there need to be some coordinator, some sort of overarching organization or unit that is keeping pace and keeping track of all of these?
A: I don't think this kind of work can be coordinated in that kind of a hierarchical way where it's one person's job to tell everyone else what pace to work at. I also don't think that the three levels can be kept at the same pace. I think it's more that natural constraints will pull people back. For example, I know that there was a period of time where there had been some reprisals against Abkhaz who had gone to T II diplomacy workshops and there were some threats made against some of those individuals who then didn't feel as comfortable going to T II workshops and there was a lull in how often they met. Eventually, they did continue going to the workshops but there was some question about how frequently they should meet and so forth.
So I know that those were reprisals and I don't who was behind those threats but it was some group not ready to see that kind of contact take place between Georgians and Abkhaz. I'm not talking about a coordinated kind of approach where people orchestrate that no initiative moves too far ahead of the others. I'm talking more about natural feedback mechanisms by which people will feel how far they can move forward without having kind of a lashback effect.
Q: So there's kind of natural resistance at each level to how far you can push peace and mutual interests before people get defensive about their own interests?
A: Or, how far is a society ready to go without understanding what's the point of face-to-face meetings. I think that one of the things the conflict resolution community needs to work on is, we're really good at working at kind of mid-level T II diplomacy levels of work where we bring together unofficials who have a little bit of influence on both sides and explain that you can have brainstorming sessions and you can come up with creative ideas and take these home and work on the peace process.