Conference in Vienna on Youth Perspectives on Peace

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Vienna, Austria - The European Leadership Conference on "Communicating Change: Youth Perspectives on Peace" took place July 1-3, 2011 at the United Nations Building and NH Danube Hotel in Vienna. Linked to the International Year of Youth, the conference featured young members of Parliament, activists, and social entrepreneurs relating their experiences confronting challenging and sometimes dangerous situations as they tried to make the world a better and safer place.

Friday, 1 July – Vienna International Centre (United Nations) IAEA Board Room

Session I: International Year of Youth

The Chair of this session and Secretary General of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in Austria Peter Haider stressed that this conference was inspired by the International Year of Youth taking place from August 2010 until August 2011. He noted that the current uprisings in the Arab world against oppression are a perfect example of Youth taking initiative through rising up, triggering massive changes in their countries.

The Welcome Address was made by Janos Tisovszky, Director of UNIS Vienna, as the representative of the United Nations. He claimed that nowadays 20% of the world population consisted of ‘Youth’, as well as 87% of the developing countries’ population. Mr. Tisovszky argued that he had observed two major shifts while working in the UN since the past 20 years. Firstly, the state-centric approach has shifted towards the individual and human security. Power has shifted from the state to the individual, which can be observed through recent events in the Middle East. Secondly, a shift has taken place from rights and responsibilities (as individual concerns) to opportunities and challenges (as involving future consequences). Dialogue and mutual understanding are key features of the development of civil society, whereby the UN can serve as a platform facilitating this shift.

The Opening Address was made by Hai Ok Song Lee, representing UPF Europe. She stressed that it is the youth who challenge established authorities particularly where they perceive corruption and injustice. The Korean national argued that a good character and good development skills make up good leadership. There, she explained how to develop the quality of good character, which centered on relations with the family, which she called ‘the school of love and happiness’. Song Lee claimed that a supportive family environment helped develop good social ethics, the latter being a foundation for peace. She quotes Winston Churchill ‘It is around the family that the most important values are created’. The sad reality however is that many young people are denied this experience, considering a breakdown of the family culture in many countries. Thus the strengthening of the family as a basis of society is crucial for the development of universal peace.

The next speaker was Dr. Willem van Eekelen, former Defense minister of the Netherlands (1986-1988) and former Secretary General of the Western European Union. Dr. van Eekelen argued that values come before norms. Values upon which we are building our society include democracy and freedom. Norms that derive from those values are, to name a few, pluralism, non-discrimination, justice, solidarity and equality. Furthermore, he said that Europe could serve as a model of how we can grow together, where history is less and less burdening newer generations. Dr. van Eekelen stated that a ‘good dose’ of idealism and hope were key to the success and should characterize any young person. There he stated the method of Jean Monnet, which was to change the context of Europe to enable cooperation during the previous ECSC and finding a common ground. Dr. van Eekelen calls for keeping our values and norms, apply them responsibly and keep our Idealism!

Karim Rihan, an Austrian student originally from Egypt, presented his own story of taking part in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising. He said he could not approve it with his conscience to not fly down to Cairo and contribute to the legitimate call for dignity and freedom. Amidst the advice of family and friends he took the plane to Cairo and one week later Mubarak resigned. He depicted the general feeling of solidarity and equality in Tahrir Square, where there was not any discrimination between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim. It was the first time Christians and Muslims were praying together and there was no hate, but unity against oppression.

The next presenter on the panel was Nicole Heydari, who worked as a cultural analyst in Afghanistan with the US and French Forces. Ms. Heydari travelled and lived in the same conditions as the US military, her job was to understand the local environment and build relationships with local leaders, thus building a bridge between coalition army and Afghan people. She explained that she had more problems assimilating the military culture than the Afghan culture, with her biggest challenge being establishing credibility. Ms. Heydari claims that peace has a universal language, the crucial point being to understand our common humanity: there are more things that unite us than divide us. She closed her presentation saying that it wasn’t her who changed something, but rather them who changed her.

The last person on the panel was Mr. Sri Ranga, Member of the Parliament in Sri Lanka. He claims that youth were reluctant to enter the parliament and wasn’t very interested in politics. He used to work in journalism when it was life-threatening to do so, and tried to unite both populations in Sri Lanka, for instance by conducting interviews in Singhalese and subtitle them in Tamil during the war time, as dialogue is essential to solve a conflict successfully. He claimed that while none of the religions advocate war and violence, political leaders do insist on difference, which is what divides populations and countries. Mr. Sri Ranga stressed mutual respect and called for leaders to be educated and to share experiences among each other.

Session II: Youth Perspectives on Peace

The Chair of this session Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, from the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), opened the session with a call to include more young women in the leadership training programs, but they should begin their leadership within their own families. Women mobilization is more and more supported by their families and by elders; social media is definitely a contributing factor, not least through the moral support to female activists from around the world.

The first speaker on the panel was Matthias Reisinger, Founder of Emersense and the HUB Vienna. Mr. Reisinger offered an interesting perspective on Social Entrepreneurship and Peace. He argued that there was an increasing need for citizens to take the lead, as many challenges are not responded to by the governments without citizen pressure. He stressed the need for more transformative action, for instance by exposing injustice, by social akido (a martial art where the strength of the opponent is used to ones advantage; thus creates a ‘me and you united against a common problem’), and finally a constructive program. Mr. Reisinger argued that what really lead to change were alternatives created by groups/individuals, also known as social entrepreneurs. They usually work on a community level – the challenge is how can we enable them to scale their impact and replicate it to other levels?

The next presentation was made by Josef D. Sedlak and Elisabeth Rohrmoser, on the ‘Pioneers of Change’ Program by the Plenum Society for Holistic Sustainable Development, a program for young people who want to start up a social project. After a short interactive exercise on the importance of listening, the program was explained in more detail: it works via coaching, individual attendance of modules, additional workshops, but also personal development. On of the core themes is questioning the different world views and getting inspired. Some projects include a Centre for Non-Violent Communication, Sustainable Couch surfing, Ethical Financing, Projects related to education, fashion from organic cotton and more.

The next speaker was Neelam Rose, CEO of her company ‘Swagger CIC’ in Birmingham UK. She started by explaining how at the age of 13 she realized that there were numerous Institutes and projects with a lot funding, but the young people just wouldn’t attend. So she started in her own community by getting the young mothers involved. Afterwards she set up her own company which promoted educational programs for schools, addressing topics such as domestic violence and violence within relationships between young people. Her main advice to young people was to get the community on their side and to actively listen what people want and what is needed.

Dr. Alexander H. Karakas from the Trialog Institute for Intercultural Exchange in Vienna was the next presenter on the panel. This NGO was founded in 2007 and is not a religious institute: the latter doe not combine any religious beliefs, but promotes true religious encounters. The main event that was organized was the Trialog Champions Cup on October 5, 2011, a Charity Football Event that took place in Vienna’s famous football stadium and received huge media coverage. The aim of the this event was not to get opinion leaders or experts to talk, but to involve people from migrant backgrounds themselves, through inviting them to play against their football stars. The Trialog Institute started off without any public or government funding, and the co-owners put in their own money at the beginning in order to finance their events. Now the Institute has a partnership with ‘Der Mann’, the Austrian bakery, and is setting up a scholarship program for young people from different faiths.

The last speaker on this panel was Mr. Bogdan Pammer from the Youth Committee of UPF Austria and co-organizer of this event. Mr. Pammer called for going deeper into the meaning of ‘real change’. He claimed that conflicts are often not that deep rooted, as the cultures are many times not the difficulty, but the small group or groups pushing for a certain agenda and self-interest. He called for people to put their selfish ego aside and see the bigger picture and stressed the focus on a shared vision and aim, in order to serve each other as a human race.

Saturday, 2 July – Conference Room at the NH Danube Hotel

Session III: Principles of Peace and Value-based Leadership

Carolyn Handschin presented this session, in which she talked about leadership as a ‘culture of peace’. She outlined the recent event organized by the GIIA (Geneva Intercultural Interfaith Alliance), namely a hypothetical Model UN inter-religious Council Program. Here universal principles and values that transcend wealth, power and earthly fame are developed. She claimed that human development is both physical and spiritual; the latter’s development being our own responsibility. Mrs. Handschin called inner satisfaction and physical well-being the requirements for a culture of peace, thus leadership training is a life-long process. She claimed that the true spirit of responsibility brings concrete responsibilities and should begin in the family. In fact, family is crucial but hardly ever referred to and often avoided. It is therefore important to understand the articles of the UDHR and to implement them. Finally, she made the analogy between the world and the human family as a microcosm of a culture of peace, and ended her presentation with a quote by Mother Theresa: “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved”.

The respondent to Mrs. Handschin was Dr. Herbert Rauch, from the European Sustainable Development. He mentioned his book ‘Turning the Titanic’, where the Titanic is a metaphor for our world: and how we can save it. Dr. Rauch added that leadership needed to be sustainable. He strongly condemned the 1990 Washington Consensus (including free trade above all). He claimed that this system, which he also termed the ‘American way of life’, was simply not working anymore considering that the ecosystem was exploited to an extreme extent. Thus he called for a new consensus as the majority of the population of this planet loses out. One solution he presented included a return to natural modesty, in order to prevent an overexploitation of our planet’s resources. In this context he argued that the basic grounds of Human Rights were not costly in terms of resources and basic life necessities hence called on moving away from excessive material possessions.

Session IV: From a Culture of Conflict to a Culture of Peace

Jack Corley presented this session and started by stating that force can do many things, but simply isn’t the way to change the world. He posed the question ‘What are the fundamental reasons why we end up in conflict?’ and his answer was threefold. Firstly, he analyzed the root causes of conflict and claimed that conflict begins with the individual itself (in a selfish/un-selfish way). Mr. Corley presented the basis of goodness as humility, self-control, service, fair-mindedness, generosity and forgiveness. Other levels of conflict are family, then group or community, then nation and finally the world. Secondly, Mr. Corley stated that principles of a Culture of Peace included reflection & re-orientation, reversal and restitution, and reconciliation & renewal. He quoted Reagan ‘Weapons don’t kill people, people kill people’ and stressed that the human heart was crucial and there will always be a need to come back to the individual.

The respondent to Mr. Corley was Mrs. Zena Eggough, who started with an anecdote on praying to find a parking space close to the conference venue. Mrs. Eggough stressed the spiritual dimension to find inner peace, and referred to herself as an example. She said she went to Church everyday and needed to cultivate the link between herself and God, to find inner peace.

Session V: Communicating Change – Part 1

This part of the program was held in a World Café Setting, meaning a short presentation followed by three 20-minute long discussion rounds.

The first topic was entitled ‘Peace Education’ and the input was made by Dr. Stefan Stoev, who is the founder and Chairman of the IDEA Society. Dr. Stoev called for recognition of soft power when talking about peace. He stressed the need for an alternative to military missions. Dr. Stoev explained that people usually reject things they are ignorant about, thus enacting dialogue and engaging people in it was crucial to foster peace.

The second topic was entitled ‘Youth and Interreligious Cooperation’ and the input was made by Mr. Heiner Handschin from the GIIA. He presented the Model United Nations conference about the hypothetical inter-religious council at the UN which took place last autumn in Geneva, involving many young people. He said that as a sign of respect of beliefs, all participants fasted along with the Muslim delegates who were fasting as the conference took place during Ramadan. Mr. Handschin reiterated the need for an interreligious council at the United Nations, as religion is a crucial aspect in everyone’s life thus cannot be dismissed when trying to find peaceful solutions.

Session VI: Communicating Change – Part II

This part of the program was held in a World Café Setting, meaning a short presentation followed by three 20-minute long discussion rounds.

The first topic in this session was entitled ‘Intercultural Exchange and Social Cohesion’ and presented by Lana Khattab, Intern at the Academic Council on the UN System (ACUNS Vienna Liaison). The context of this topic was the ‘International Year of Youth’ combined with the ‘Year of Poverty and Social Exclusion’. The focus of this presentation was to present the flaws in Children and Young People’s rights in Austria while outlining the areas of improvement that followed the recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review on Austria. The demands following up on the Conference with experts held in December 2010 by ACUNS and the University of Vienna entitled ‘Equal Opportunities for Youth – Austrian and European Initiatives against Social Exclusion’ were presented; they included passing a new Juvenile Custody Law, more low-threshold educational offers, native language classes for migrant children at Austrian schools, financial support for children of Asylum seekers and an Investment in (Re-) socialization of young people.

The second topic was entitled ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ and input was given by Andre Hackett who presented his company ‘We Make a Change Ltd’ in a entertaining way. Mr. Hackett explained the context of this project: coming from South London and seeing many young people involved in criminal activities, his friends and him started raising awareness about the dangers of criminality and promoted peaceful coexistence. Some of their successes involve selling T-Shirts on E-Bay, but also through social media such as Twitter and Facebook; as well as producing necklaces from recycled guns and knives. This initiative has had a lot of success in the community and proves how social entrepreneurship can make a significant change for many people who live in the surroundings.

The third part of this session was the cultural program in which music was sang by different talented singers. Also in this part, the Rio 2012 Youth Song World Cup project was presented by Billy Batware, ACUNS Vienna Liaison Intern on behalf of Mr. Miroslav Polzer, the Secretary General of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges (IAAI). This project aims at giving youth the opportunity to make their voices heard on global challenges through music. Leading to Rio+20 – UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Rio2012 Youth Song World Cup will be launched on September 15, 2011 at the international conference “Why and how to invest in Global Commons?” in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Session VII: As Peace Loving Global Citizen

This was a morning session of the last day of the conference. In it, Mr. Tim Miller presented an insight into UPF’s founder and origins. An account of Mr. Moon’s life journey was given, from his childhood as a son of a farmer to his early work as a young Christian. After WWII, Mr. Moon started his ministry which led to his imprisonment in 1947. Mr. Miller explained the connection of UPF’s founder with the UN which dates back to the time the UN forces liberated him from a labor camp in 1950 during the Korean War. At the age of 91, Mr. Moon still travels around the world to advocate his lifelong goal “one family under God”.

Session VIII: UPF Updates and Participants Reflections

This was the closing session of the conference presented by Mr. Jack Corley.

UPF’s recent activities were presented in this session, including the founder’s tour under the theme of “building a world of universal peace at a time of global crisis”. The tour started on April 26, 2011 in Madrid, Spain and continued in Italy, Norway, Greece, Turkey, UK, Switzerland, Germany, and ended in Las Vegas, USA on May 21, 2011.

Further events were held such as the Middle East Leadership Conference in Istanbul, Turkey on May 8, 2011 and Africa Day in New York on May 31, 2011. UPF also participated in family events such as the UN International Day of Families on May 16, 2011 at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself was present.

The conference was concluded by participants’ reflections. In this part, participants presented their views on the conference. Many expressed their thanks and wishes for more such conferences. They also committed themselves to doing more to bring about the change that today’s global challenges require.

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