Peace Education in Oppressive Environments

Pamela Aall

Director of the Education Program at the United States Institute of Peace

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 ???).

The other thing that we have found that happens in a conflict zone is that people who are teaching in a responsible way are often at risk in their own society because they are seen as a threat to the existing powers that be, because the existing powers that be are in a conflict and they want to win that conflict. Mostly they want to win that conflict. Mostly they don't want to mediate that conflict, or you know negotiate that conflict. They usually want to come out ahead. And so this kind of teaching can be seen as a threat to that goal it can be seen as traitorous. It can be seen as seditious.

For instance, Milosevic recognized this in Serbia and he in fact made the professors, I am getting a little vague on this, but he made them sign a kind of a paper that they would be loyal to the regime or that they couldn't teach. And he shutdown universities. He didn't allow, or the universities didn't allow perhaps in their best interests, courses on the conflict and the former Yugoslavia to be taught. I shouldn't say that because I have absolutely no idea, there may have been twenty courses on that, but it was not any course that had to do with conflict resolution was more or less shutdown. And what happened then was that people who wanted to keep teaching these subjects, and there was student demand for it, resorted to going outside the university to set this up. One person that worked with simply started teaching a university course out of his NGO. And as he was a university professor it looked like a university course, it had readings, it had papers, and it had all of these things. Students came and sat in a room, they discussed that sort of thing. But it was in his NGO and there was also the establishment of an alternative school there. It managed to keep on going. I mean, you know these people do this under thread.

I remember when I went to visit this professor in Belgrade, he had been hiding from the authorities. He had not been in his own apartment but he had gone to live with his parents just briefly and his parents lived next to the Chinese Embassy. So while he was on the lamb from the authorities we bombed the Chinese Embassy. So you know, this is a professor, their lives can end, I mean he was teaching this conflict resolution course, he was an outspoken critic, but you know this is somebody who is taken enormous amount of risks in a war zone. And it is that kind of story that you don't hear much of that we are trying to you know, find these people and support them in some ways. This doesn't mean that we only support people who are against their own governments because you know that is not always the case, although there may be some of that in there. But we are trying to support people who are trying to work for reconciliation in their conflict.