Women as catalysts for building peace

My story began some fifteen years before the war in Croatia. In the midst of my personal crisis I was blessed with the realisation of God’s presence in my life. I became aware that His unconditional love embraces me indeed and also every person and all of creation. It laid the foundation for my future peace work and for my deep commitment to nonviolence.

The war in Croatia changed my life again. Firstly, I became aware that my indifference to the need for a more just society was my share in the responsibility for the war. Secondly, the logic of “total war” was spreading among people in our besieged and shelled town: it seemed as if there was no alternative way other than to accept “it is either them or us”. But I did not give up struggling with the question: what could the fundamental Christian calling to love your enemy mean to me in this time of war? The only answer I found was a willingness to love my enemy in the way Jesus would. So I decided to practise just that. This choice became my Passover – with it I stepped out from the logic of violence. It was a wonderful feeling, as if my lungs were filling with air and I could breathe. And it was a place where I was not to be alone. Soon I met people from my own community and from all over the world who came to support us in finding way to build peace in the middle of war.

Through this my experience I have learned that the challenges faced in times of war are also faced in times of peace. We should take them seriously.

It was creative contribution to the peaceful end of the war in eastern Croatia. We were ten peace organisations from Croatia, four from Serbia and numerous international organisations and volunteers who collaborated together for peaceful return and social reconstruction of war-torn multi-ethnic communities. In ten such devastated villages peace teams over five years worked to support trust and community building activities. We approached people through listening programs, taking into account their suffering and the need for healing and justice and empowering them to resist revenge and hatred. We encouraged their attempts to rebuild confidence. Initial meetings between people in divided communities were organised almost on the whole by women.

Sadly this extraordinary peace potential has not been maintained. Croatian policy at all levels focuses on the guarantee of rights of the Serbian minority which is neither a sufficient nor feasible in an atmosphere of mistrust. We miss integrative and reconciling leadership and supportive confidence building measures. Reconciliation is the dream of just a few. Therefore, twenty years after the war in Croatia we continue dealing with the negative consequences of the war of the 1990s’with deepening of division, ideological radicalisation and exclusiveness.

I have learned that undermining violence and building trust and cooperation requires permanent efforts. We need to deal with our own fears, anger and ignorance and with fears, anger and ignorance of others. Most of all we need to transform the feelings of contempt to empathy and solidarity.

I do believe that there are ways to undermine the legitimacy of war in a civilisation which justifies armed intervention, as well as terrorism, under the pretext of protecting human rights or cultural and religious rights or even God himself. I do believe that there are ways to undermine the ideology of profit supported by consumerism so deeply rooted in our lives. On a daily basis without often realising, we contribute to cruelty to the weak and the poor and to the whole world of God´s creation. I do believe that instead of setting up fences and building walls against our neighbours – near and far away – there are ways we can nurture peaceful relations and reclaim hope for a sustainable world.

Compassionate listening, approaching others according to a relationship of equal dignity, keeping my heart and arms open to embrace rather than to exclude and praying to overcome contempt – these are ways I try to practice in my life and in the struggle for justice and peace. Life has taught me that when we come close enough to suffering or to differences scare us – barriers move and grace floods abundantly deliberating a great potential of every human being: for love, for courage, for creativity and for wisdom! A great potential with transforming powers.