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We define “sustainable peace” as a diverse community striving together to meet the needs of all of its members.
"The catalyst for creation of the Institute for Sustainable Peace emerged during my own journey of discovery in the Balkans. In August of 2002, I traveled for the first time to the former Yugoslavia to serve as a speaker at the ROM Leadership Development & Peace Gathering, a three week project bringing young leaders and potential leaders together from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania and other surrounding countries. While there I heard first hand the stories of young adults who, as children and teenagers, experienced the horrors of the ethnic wars that ripped apart their communities. These were young people who told of being forced from the homes in the dead of winter, running into the forests with the sounds of bullets whistling past. Many could name friends and family members lost and presumed to be buried in mass graves. Yet in the midst of the pain and remembered horrors, I watched in wonder as hope for a better future was rekindled as former enemies forgave each other, reconciled, and then began working together to envision and co-create peace in their communities.
It was in the context of post-conflict peacemaking at ROM that I heard an amazing story of mid-conflict peacebuilding that pushed me to found the Institute. As the former Yugoslavia began to disintegrate and Croatia declared its independence in 1991, war erupted between the Croats and the Serbian dominated Yugoslav People’s Army and local Serbs who opposed Croatian secession. Serbs and Croats who had lived together as neighbors all their lives turned on one another in villages and towns all over Croatia, except in Gorski-Kotar, a state in Croatia. Amidst war fervor and extreme ethnic nationalism, the people of Gorski-Kotar, chose to maintain peace.
Peace in Gorski-Kotar did not come easily. Many people had to constantly work to keep open avenues of communication, calm fears, dispel rumors, and seek mutually beneficial solutions to seemingly intractable problems, including the presence of a Yugoslavian Army base and munitions depot in the capital city guarded by a force of heavily armed soldiers, all of whom were Serbs. Against all odds, the people of Gorski-Kotar succeeded in sustaining peace. The region is now known throughout the Balkans as the Oasis of Peace.
In Gorski-Kotar, peace was preserved not by one charismatic leader, but by the work of a critical mass of individuals including politicians, a radio station manager, and a retired college professor. Having heard them tell their stories, it occurred to me that it might just be possible to train future and even current leaders to follow their example. The Institute for Sustainable Peace was founded in January 2007 to reconcile leaders of groups in conflict, train them to work together in their diversity, and mentor them as they serve their communities and, in the process, undertake action research to further develop our understanding of the practices and skills necessary to building sustainable peace."
Founder, The Institute for Sustainable Peace