Peace School Foundation of Monte Sole* Introduction
This essay will explore how a place of memory can be used as a crucial tool in peace education activities aimed at students from children school up to high school. It draws on the work of the Peace School of Monte Sole and it will specifically focus on the “Peace in Four Voices” Summer Camps. This is a major activity in the Peace School project, since it is from this ten-year long experience that the idea of a “Peace School” was thought and developed.
Monte Sole is a triangle of hills, approximately ten miles south of Bologna, on the Appennini mountains. During WWII, between the 29th of September and the 5th of October 1944, when the front was a few miles from Monte Sole, the place was the theatre of a slaughter led by SS troops with the help of local Fascist elements. In those days, up to 770 people, mostly women and children, were killed. In a place that has been the scene of terrible violence a Peace School has been built resulting from a long debate between local authorities and civil society organizations that aimed at setting up an independent body engaged in the advancement of a culture of peace and peaceful coexistence.
“Peace in Four Voices” is intended as an educational project aiming at promoting reconciliation and non-violent transformation of conflicts. The participants are usually forty girls and boys aged between 15 and 18 years old coming from places that have been or are in conflict: so far, summer camps have involved groups of Italians and Germans and groups of Israelis and Palestinians or Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo. These delegations, leaded by two adult trainers, spend two weeks in Monte Sole sharing daily life and working together divided into small groups that vary on a daily base; the educational path is marked by moments of games and role-plays, readings, personal reflections, group discussions, performances and short trips.
After a brief focus on the history of Monte Sole, we will look closely at the process that has brought to the current “Peace in Four Voices” summer camp project. Relying on the experience of 2005 summer camp, we will then explain in a more concrete way the framework of the peace camps. Firstly, we will trace as well some remarks on the importance of a deep understanding of Monte Sole as a place of memory for educational purpose.
Memories and history in Monte Sole
The violent actions against the civil population have to be considered as part of the ‘terror domination’ that Nazis and Fascists of the Social Republic (Salò) carried out after the armistice of September 8th 1943. The activities of partisan groups in the area are not enough to explain the size and the cruelty of the massacre: ‘the widespread forms of violence, that were part of the conduct of the occupying troops have sometimes to be considered independent from a causal relationship with specific behaviour of the population’ (Collotti 1996: 20).
After the massacre nobody came back to live up on those hills. Those places preserves the ruins of the villages and of many single farms that were over there before the war.
Building a Peace School in a place that has experienced the suffering of innocents is part of a process of ‘decontamination’ from the violence that was committed in that place (Ovadia 2001). This process goes further the mere conservation of memory: the historic narration – based on ongoing research and on existing documentation – of the tragic past becomes the starting point for challenging activities of education and training aimed at the establishment of a culture of peace.
A culture of peace does not rule out the existence of conflicts, but is intended as a mean to recognise and accept that conflict pertains to every level of our living and to creatively transform it.
Monte Sole is a ‘place of memory’ (Nora 1984; Isnenghi 1997), the memory of an extreme violence carried out against defenceless civilians, that nevertheless does not want to monumentalize this memory. The Peace School embodies the choice to make the memory active and to make it living in the present time. Whether the monumentalization of a place may become a summary of the memories contributing effectively to the construction of the public memory is a problem that requires further analysis (Tota 2001; Baiesi 2004). The Peace School considers the place Monte Sole the ideal context and the starting point for every educational activity offered to the public, which is mainly composed of students from primary school through the high school.
Many students visit Monte Sole spending over there 2 or 3 days hosted by the Peace School.
They experience different educational projects depending on their age and type of school. The activities are all focused to deepen the link between memories and engagement for a conscious and responsible citizenship.
How it all began: early experiences of peace camps in Monte Sole
Peace in 4 voices camps are the most characterising activity of the School. It stems from a project developed at the beginning of the ‘90s by La.N.Di.S (Laboratorio Nazionale per la Didattica della Storia – National Laboratory for the Teaching of History) and the Women’s Centre of Bologna as the spokeperson for Emilia-Romagna Region. At the beginning the initiative – supported by the Regional Council within the ambit of international youth exchanges – was addressed only at Israelis and Palestinians and the educational perspective was marginal; the place Monte Sole was intended as a sort of framework into which the two groups organized themselves freely. Later the peace camp’ structure was reconsidered and a group of Italian youngsters was included in order to try to enhance dialogue and positive debate among the participants: having only “two voices” seemed to lead to an extremely politically connotated discussion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, with the two delegations facing each other as representatives of their own country.
Nevertheless, also this choice didn’t fully answer to the objectives of the camp that since the beginning were to promote the meeting, the dialogue and the mutual recognising among the participants.
In 2000, when the initiative resumed after few years of stop, the associationsi involved in the organization decided to include also a German group and to move towards a more educational perspective. The choice of adding a “German voice” came from the history of Monte Sole and brought in the camp the issue of rielaboration of painful memory, guilt and responsibility. The uncertain role of the Italian delegation became then crucial in relation to the German delegation.
Italians and Germans, today together one in front of the other, main characters of the European union project, may witness to Israeli and Palestinian participants a possible hope: reconciliation after years of violence and wars.
The group in charge of the organization decided, moreover, that there was a need to investigate and to stress the link between peace education, non violent transformation of conflict and the relation between memory and history in a place such as Monte Sole. Monte Sole, with its memories, became then the fundamental context in which the camp would have taken place, with the main aim of trying to lay the basis for an ongoing dialogue between individuals coming from different experiences.
In 2002 the Peace School was eventually established: the same year has also been crucial for the peace camps activity, that since then became “Peace in 4 Voices” summer camps. The initial stage of the project included a very in-depth analysis of the issue of memory. Many activities were scheduled: a debate between the Italian and the German memories of the massacre, an analysis on the memories of the Shoah led by Israeli and Germans and a day devoted to the denied memory of the Palestinians. During an international meeting with partner associationsii and the trainers that would have taken part to the summer camp, objections were raised about the complexity and the possible risks resulting from such an in-depth work on memories in a very difficult moment for the Israel/Palestine conflict. This discussion was very useful for the final design of the project since it helped to understand and stress the need for a focus on subjectivities.
It was considered to be of crucial importance that the participants meet in Monte Sole as individuals and not as representatives of their places of origin. Meeting one’s peers at the personal level was seen as the first step to overcome national diversities and to place oneself on the same level with the others, with dreams, ambitions and emotions that are equal and different at the same time. Working on subjectivities made also sure that the conflict could be considered in a transversal rather than a straightforward way, through day-to-day personal experiences, memories and points of view. In this process, that aims at a mutual acknowledgement, the “enemy” becomes the “other”, equal and different at once.
This educational choice became one of the milestones of the whole project.
A second issue of concern was about the more effective way to bring in “Monte Sole” as a place of memory. The point was to understand if the focus on the memory of the place could have worked within the educational experience of such a peace camp.
This issue was actually introduced gradually and very carefully during the peace camp. It was considered essential that the participants asked questions during the tour along the ruins of Monte Sole and thought about the meaning of being just in that place and of having a Peace School in such a place. It is interesting to note that while for the Germans and Israelis this was immediately clear – not only because they both came from associations that had been working on this issue – for the Palestinian delegation what emerged strongly was not the memory of the place but rather its destruction and desolation, and an easy equation was made between the debris in Monte Sole and the debris of their houses being destroyed. The debriefing of that guided tour focused therefore not only on the memory of Monte Sole, but also on divided memories and on the relationship that exists among different memories. Aiming first at enhancing dialogue among the participants, this approach had also an educational purpose. It helped realizing that there are different interpretations of the same event, all legitimate from a certain point of view. To understand these interpretations and to see them in the correct perspective, what was needed was an analysis of the context (while being in that context) from an historic point of view.
After the guided tour, teamers led an activity called “memory workshop” which made possible the emerging of the link between memory/memories and identity. It was possible to reflect about the public and political uses of memory which are fundamental in the building of the collective memory of a community. Moreover the attention was drawn on how this collective memory is often responsible of the permanence of clashes and violent conflicts within the society.
The ability to recognise these mechanisms of violence in the daily life and a stronger consciousness of them came out as a result of the workshop. It also became another milestone we are still developing in our educational project.
A third subject of discussion since the beginning was about the need for a practical and in-depth activity concerning human rights.
Israelis and Palestinians felt to belong to a society in which daily violence didn’t give space to the respect of human rights. This common suffering was one of the connection point among them and for this reason they strongly wanted to face this issue.
The workshop on human rights was thought to raise the consciousness about the meaning of the Human Rights Declaration: starting for the context in which it was written, through the reading of the articles, to the “building” a future society in which human rights could have full citizenship.
The activity was planned for small groups. All the participants experienced this activity as complex and dramatic, particularly in its immediate recalling of the lack of recognition of Palestinians rights: this provoked an atmosphere of deep suffering not only among the Palestinian group but also for Israelis that were suffering because of a sense of guilty for some of them. Germans and Italians felt instead unable to cope with a situation that was totally far away from their life and experienced a sense of shame for spending their time discussing about unimportant issues while their peers live a daily situation of suffering and tragedy. It is very important to note that in this occasion it was possible for the participants to discuss and to come out with such complex issues without this leading to division, tearing and estrangement but to a sense of sympathy and shared emotions.
Methodology and practical activities: the 2005 “Peace in 4 Voices” Summer Camp
The major changes introduced to the structure of the summer camps in 2002 were considered positive and fruitful according to the trainers’ debriefing at the end of the camp and to the feedback forms sent by the participants. Since then, the basic organization of this initiative has remained substantially unchanged and “Peace in 4 Voices” summer camp objectives were clearly set as follow:
facilitate encounters between young belonging to groups that are in conflict
promote dialogue and positive debate between different cultures
experience diversity as a positive value
make the participants aware of the fact that everyone has different personal experiences, memories, histories
underline the relativity of one’s own point of view assuming a critical perspective
actively engage in mediation of conflicts and creative transformation and resolution of conflicts
discuss on the ‘universal’ value of human rights
draw up a chart of shared principles and values which has to be respectful of the different belongings.
Nevertheless, it is important to underline that according the methodology of the School, nothing is considered set forever. On the contrary each new experience is always preceded by a deep work by the trainers involved in the drawing of the activities and in the building of proper methodology.
Teamers leading the camps came from selected associations and organisations engaged in youngsters education projects. They are particularly committed in peace education, non violent transformation of conflict, dialogue development. Every year, each organisation send the two teamers chosen to lead the delegation at the camp to a teamers’meeting aimed to build the programme of the experience. Former teamers and experts from the Peace School are also invited in these preparation meeting, which last at least 5 days. Everyone is called to be a protagonist in the discussion, suggesting his own critical idea in order to modify or update the methodology for the new experience.
Each association has then the duty to select its participants, who have to speak at least a basic English (vehicular language of the camp) and who have to explain the reasons that push them to make this experience.
During the camp, the situation can require also structural changes of the programme when the teamers realize that the initial project doesn’t fit with the needs of the participants and of the camp. For example this happened with the “Monte Sole day”. At the beginning it was considered a too delicate issue to be faced very early in the camp without any preparation activity. Nowadays this workshop change its position relating to the type and to objectives of every single camp. This day has become kind of turning point of every camp: facing the painful memory of Monte Sole becomes for the participant a catalyser to face their own deepest issues (individual memories, identities, wishes, desires, personal responsibilities etc).
Through workshop activities, the reflection about the memory of Monte Sole paves the way for a thorough discussion on current conflicts – often starting from painful individual memories that can be shared with other members of the group or can serve for a broader discussion.
All the activities are always developed for small mixed groups of four or five people that change every day: in this way everyone can actively participate to discussion and creative thinking. The effort needed for cooperate creatively is crucial for an honest debate and for mediation between different opinions and point of views occurring in small groups (effort for a creative cooperation). As a mean to enhance cooperation, often groups are required to creatively produce something concrete (such as a poster, a song or a performance): the complexity and challenges often perceived in this process turn out to be extremely useful from an educational perspective.
Actually this is a very important aspect of Peace School approach: the teaching/learning process ask for a constant and active participation of the youngsters through the tools offered by non formal education such as games, role plays and what is called laboratorio esperienziale (workshop that becomes a personal experience).
In 2004 the Peace School was able to organizeiii two “Peace in 4 Voices” summer camps, one with Italian, German, Israeli and Palestinian delegation and the second with Italian, Germans and Serbs and Albanian delegations from Kosovo. This initiative followed a new project of decentralized cooperation that the Peace School supported.
The Kosovo project was built on the same main characteristics of the basic “Peace in four voices camp” and the whole structure of the programme was very similar. The point was that the contest of the experience was completely different and as difficult as the Israel/Palestine one.
The Peace School staff, then, realized that a very long period of study was required in order to understand the history of the Balkans and their actual situation. Moreover, a long knowledge visit was planned with some local experts, in order to analyse the feasibility of the camp project in a different contest. The results were satisfying: it was possible to realise that the conflict of memories issue was the core of the situation. Serbs and Albanians were (unfortunately they are) in a war contest in which the political exploitation of memories and history was the main point of the violence between the two groups, built by the tools of the propaganda.
The Monte Sole methodology then would have been useful in this situation, too. It was possible to help the new generations to become conscious about the mechanisms of violence, which was so terrible in their country.
As it’s possible to read in the attached programme of the camp 2005 (the updated but very similar version of the camp programme 2004), starting with the focus on the individual remained the main choice for the Peace School educational idea. The activities of the first days were related to identity issues. The aim of the “Personal Stories” as well of the “Six dimension activity” or of the “Hand of a secret friend” was to encourage people to meet on a personal level and identity and to learn about each other’s everyday life, wishes, opinions, emotions and expectations.
The memory workshop was set as the core of the camp and, in order to strength the fruitful atmosphere of discussion and sharing of personal experiences, many other interesting activities were planned such as workshops on prejudices and stereotypes and about the idea of border. This last activity was meant to invite youngsters to think about their personal perception of physical or mental border and about the fact that a border can be seen as a bridge, and viceversa. Participants were asked to take pictures during the visit in Bologna downtown in order to show their opinions to the other during a plenary session of exhibition. Especially for youngsters coming from Kosovo, this activity is very important because they experience every day the presence of symbolic or physical limits which are conditioning their way of living.
The programme was intended to have also a lot of funny or relaxing moments such as seaside trip or visit some beautiful city. These activities were set up on purpose after very meaningful moments in order to lighten tensions emerging from painful and very involving workshops.
The final activity, planned for the second-last morning and for the whole last day, saw four groups – two mixed groups of Serbs and Albanians and two mixed groups of Italians and Germans – rethinking about the peace camp and trying to write down a story that could have been narrated, drawn, sang or performed in other creative ways, with the aim of sharing with everyone feelings and ideas to bring back home about the camp.
The results of this evaluation activity showed that, at the end of the camp, Serbs and Albanians were really able to work together, also without any need to be facilitated by teamers’ actions.
Finally, the recognition process among the participants started, and it would have represented at the same time the main goal of the camp and the starting point for new activities nurturing at the developing of the non-violent dialogue.
While the programmes of the two peace camps set by the Peace School were very similar to that explained above in detail, it is important to note that, following a specific request of the Israeli and Palestinian trainers, a “Conflict Talk Day” was organized, in which the issue of the conflict was addressed directly. This activity was based on two parallel historical narrations of the Israel/Palestine conflict, in order to explain clearly and peacefully the two different views of the past, not to discuss them but to make every participant aware of the existence of different versions of the same history.
It is difficult to say if this workshop was a success. For sure, it is possible to say that, in the following years, teamers coming from Middle-East asked always for this formal moment to face the theme of the war, in order to limit the danger of the uncontrolled informal talks among participants. In fact, in a camp like this, it is normal that youngsters talk during free time as friends, telling to the other their experiences and everyday life. For Israelis and Palestinians and for Serbs and Albanians war is a presence and they want to share their feelings with the Germans and the Italians. It can happen that this informal talks fall into very political ones and make the youngsters being a sort of flag of their country. The purpose to have an “official” day for the conflict is that teamers can collect these informal talks and manage possible problems.
Nevertheless, teamers from the Balkans never asked for this official space but choose to let participants free to discuss in order not to stigmatize the theme of the conflict but in order to let the everyday life come into the camp as it is.
In any case, the result was that youngsters and teamers together realized the complexity of the world, experienced the impossibility to decide what is right and what is wrong. They learned the existence of two different narrations of the same situation, different but both worthy to be listened to and to be recognised.
May be, the road towards peace pass through a will act, a conscious choice that decide to consider this uncertain and multifaceted frame without denying it.
Doing peace education in a place of memory: conclusive remarks
‘Small and wide territories that have experienced the suffering of innocents caused by the will of their “fellow creatures” can not be considered regardless of the violence staged on them. [...] What a democratic society should do with such territories? Build a wall and make them inaccessible? Confine them into a museum? [...] I believe that only a laborious activity of decontamination can restore these places to humanity’. (Ovadia 2001)
Doing peace education in Monte Sole implies starting from the memory of the place that certainly needs to be maintained but also and above all ‘decontaminated’. Therefore doing peace education means educating to a culture of peace: a long and complex path where memory of the past and the rielaboration of this memory are strictly linked together. The first stage of this process is personal and it requires full self-awareness and acknowledgement of one’s own errors and responsibilities in order to be able, then, to reflect on external responsibilities and on the mechanisms and processes that allow the emergence and the consolidation of a culture of violence and abuse. It becomes clear then that a culture of peace does not dismiss the existence of conflicts, but rather it provides the means needed to identify and accept them as long as we learn how to recognize different aspects of a conflict and how to affect them through creative and non-violent practices of transformation and as long as we understand that conflict belongs to daily life, from the personal up to the public and political level.
In “Peace in 4 Voices” summer camps – as in the other educational activities that the Peace School organizes throughout the year – ‘peace’ means dialogue and positive debate, that are intended as viable paths for the construction of a responsible and aware citizenship. In this context, memory and history are the basis for peace education: actually, the Peace School is located in a “special place” that can be considered emblematic for reconstructing how mechanisms of violence emerged. The peculiarity of Monte Sole as a place is that only few ruinsiv, hidden by bushes and woods, are left because after the massacre, Nazi soldiers set fire on small villages and farms scattered in the valley: the visitor then has to be taught how to think further what he or she sees. Monte Sole as a “place of absence” is the product of the attempt to wipe out not only lives but also the possibility to remember and to maintain a memory. This place can then act as a mute witness of the past and as a link between the past and the present, though it is important for visitors and for those who take part to the Peace School activities to understand the process of monumentalization that the place has undergone during the decades. When one or more monuments, in their solemn official nature, pervade and dominate a place, they also force a codified and rhetoric interpretation of the event for it is there, and in fact monuments can alter an event in their favouring a process of objectivation of the past and in breaking that continuity line – between past and present, memory and history, visitors and place – that is crucial in an educational perspective. Then the work of the historian and of historic research become increasingly important because they act like an intermediary between what one sees now and what it used to be and they might help in the correct interpretation of the diverse stratifications of memories settled in the place.
Working in the place gives educators the possibility to operate on two level, that of knowledge and that of emotions – which is a personal and private dimension of crucial importance for all the programs that the Peace School offers, because these emotions, thanks to the presence and the testimonies of survivors, can become knowledge and enhance people’s awareness and responsibility.
The “Peace in Four Voices” summer camps are a good example of how this process can be considered meaningful: on one side, young Italians and Germans, that in their everyday life experience a peaceful coexistence in the European context, come from places that in a not too far past unleashed a level of violence that seems unrepeatable nowadays. On the other side there are youngsters that live their everyday life in such a context of violence, that consider each other as enemies and for who it is very difficult to recognize the other, first of all, as and individual. The peace camp activities try to stress the urgent need for everyone to assume his/her own responsibility towards a possible peaceful future: reconciliation starts from here.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to know which kind of influence these kind of experiences will have on the future. The point to have an effective follow-up is up to every associations of the partner network. Peace School educators’ effort to keep in contact with the ormer participants are really big. First of all, new technologies are strongly used: a lot of e-mails are sent every year. Moreover, Italian teamers went often abroad to meet the former participants and in order to help the local teamers in organising follow-up seminars. Nevertheless, it’s really difficult to push them to work deeply facing all the obstacle in their country.
Some of the youngsters decide to go abroad to study and to build a career far from the war or far from a narrow context. But… it happens that sometimes, someone appears again in the peace school sky, telling that that camp change something in his/her life. Then, for example, Gal from Israel decided to go under compulsory military service working in social field and not with weapons; Rula, from Palestine, came to Italy to study and became a journalist in the Italian television; Margherita, Alice and Anna will graduate themselves analysing and studying the peace camp experience. And it is not possible to mention everyone who is engaged in the third sector or who is working in social or political fields. It’s not possible to follow everyone who choose, thanks for a little to the camp experience, to be a responsible citizen.
* This essay was edited by Nadia Baiesi, Marzia Gigli, Elena Monicelli, Roberta Pellizzoli
i It is interesting to note that several associations during the years were involved in the organization of the peace camps. While the first experiences were organized by La.N.Di.S and the Women’s Centre, later on the association “Terra, Memoria e Pace” (Land, Memory and Peace) – set up by some of the former participants to the peace camps – was involved too. From 1994 on the organization of the peace camps went hand in hand with the process that led to the creation of the Peace School of Monte Sole, with a “Coordinamento delle Associazioni per Monte Sole” (Group of Associations for Monte Sole) being in charge of the peace camps while working with local institutions in order to set up the Peace School. Associations belonging to this Group were either associations that had a strong interest in the development of the peace camps (such as the Bologna branch of “Women in Black”) or groups generally interested in human rights education (such as Amnesty International).
ii Partner associations in the Israel/Palestine Peace Camp are the Humanistic Centre for the Ghetto Fighters (north Israel), the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) from Jerusalem and the Kurve association from Germany.
iii The Peace School building has the capacity to sleep 50 people, and the summer camp actually takes place in the Peace School, where participants live for two weeks. This residential aspect is very important for the structure of the camp since, for example, participants are accomodated in mixed rooms, in this way being encouraged to always speak English rather than their own language.
iv It is worth noting that the historic site of Monte Sole has undergone some restoration in recent years: two main ruin spaces have been excavated to reveal foundation outlines and some walls, and other walls have been reconstructed without properly respecting the former setting of the houses.