UNITED Ohrid Conference Report: Days III-V

Lessons Learned

In the morning of Friday 28 October (Conference Day III), participants took part in different working groups to discuss the lessons learnt from different conflicts. After a brief introduction to the different workshops in plenary, the participants split into different groups based on which workshop they wished to attend.

The Cypriot Case

In the working group focusing on Cyprus, the participants talked about the current situation in the island, by taking a trip back to time. They talked about the time when Cyprus was an independent country as well as the coup d’ etat by the Greek Junta in 1974 that gave the excuse to Turkey to intervene and occupy the northern part of the island, to the day. 

The participants also learnt about the interesting case of Famagusta, the ghost town in the borders between the northern and the southern part of the island, as a constant reminder of what happened. They also argued about how a reconciliation can be managed in a place still in conflict.

It’s true but it takes time to do so and that someone needs to work with both the public and the institutions at the same for the reconciliation to be achieved. For example, direct contact with members of the so-called “other side” is one thing but peace education is also a key factor.
One interesting question that came up is if a Cypriot nationality can be achieved and if it’s something that people actually want. That is to say, if someone wants to be called a Cypriot rather than identity himself or herself either as a Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot.

The Second World War

One group looked at the lessons to be learned from the second world war. It was facilitated by Maja Konstantinovic of Antikomplex, who talked about an international exhibition organised by her organisation about the war and its impact in different countries. The most important question posed by the exhibition was: how can we get to one narrative of the war when we are all struggling with different narratives?

Participants had an open discussion where they talked about a wide range of experiences from their home countries in terms of dealing with the experience of the war and how it is remembered. Much of the discussion centred on the way the war is presented to children in school history classes, with the history curriculum in each country presenting a different narrative of the war. There was a discussion about the Euro-centric version of history that is presented, and about whether it is justified to focus more on national and regional issues in school history curricula. One participant remarked on something said in a panel on the previous day, that “there is no such thing as one history”, and that with the massive volume of history sources in existence we need to filter information and make selection of knowledge.

Many different examples of narratives on the war were presented by the participants, with the first world war also an important topic. It was agreed that one of the most important things in the context of history education was to use history to help people think more critically and engage with information sources in a critical way.

The Macedonian Case

Boshko Stankovski of CID talked about the case of national reconciliation in the Republic of Macedonia. He began by talking about the background of the conflict in 2001, and how it could have turned into a civil war, but escalation was avoided. Clashes happened between Macedonian security and Albanian paramilitary forces. A peace treaty was signed in Ohrid and called the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Signature parties: 4 political parties, the president and international observers.

The agreement has some interesting mechanisms; there is the concept of a dual majority in the government, which means that a law can be adopted only if there is general majority but also a majority within the political parties themselves.  The administration staff had to be changed according to the ethnic representation in the country, and it affected the reconciliation process (filling in the quota dissatisfied people who were hardly affected by the high unemployment rate).

The workshop continued discussing the importance of language as an element in reconciliation: the constitution defends the right of minorities to use their language if the number of the population is 20% and over in a certain city/municipality. This was a big achievement for the Albanian community – a State University in Albanian was opened in Tetovo. But the true achievement was the creation of the South-East University in Skopje, because it included classes in both languages and had international funding. Unfortunately, the state did not support this initiative.

The role of NGOs and civil society was also discussed: NGOs are the main actor at the moment who are working to break the ”silent segregation”: they have the capacity and the good will to create the safe space for interaction between ethnic communities.

Boshko concluded by talking about the situation in the country now, and the need for a national program to give a framework to this initiative of stopping the segregation. At the moment the political system does not have the capacity to create a truly integrated system that will propagate the good practices of living together into the community. The participants in the group discussion were interested in understanding how the people themselves accept the system created and adapt it to their daily lives. The focus was mainly set on deconstructing and understanding the party dynamics and how people identify themselves inside an ethnic group and in parallel in the whole community.


One of the workshops, facilitated by Majda Behrem-Stojanov and Edita Colo Zahirovic of Catholic Relief Services, looked at the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina. They elaborated further on the presentation they had given on the subject in plenary the previous day, and answered questions that participants had about the situation in the country. They talked especially about the disputes that often arise between the governments of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the semi-autonomous region Republic of Serbia. They were also critical of the actions of religious leaders, who rather than promoting tolerance and mutual understanding, were sometimes exacerbating the problem.

They talked about projects that they are organising in the country in schools and communities, to try to encourage dialogue between the country’s different ethnic groups.


Valentina Dyleva of International Jewish Women’s Organisation gave a presentation on the challenges facing Ukraine; a new born country between west and east Europe, between Poland (EU) and Russia, and a mixed population divided on the same basis. Such division can be seen in other countries, but also in Germany, with many prejudices between south and north. She talked about how the war in Ukraine has made things worse : refugees and IDPs are accused of taking jobs and flats, and money is a big issue for integration, which is confirmed by all participants working with refugees. IDPs are stressed, and don’t dare to go to the court to fight against discrimination. To fight against these practices, week of tolerance are organised by NGOs, educational studies against racism are also made in schools and universities. In Zaporozhie (eastern region of Ukraine), a dialogue process is organised inside the young generation.

Tool Up

In the afternoon, participants took part in different workshops to learn about various tools that can be used in the reconciliation process. After a brief introduction to the different workshops in plenary, the participants split into different groups based on which workshop they wished to attend.

Dilemma Actions

Participant who chose to attend the “Dilemma Action” group, facilitated by UNITED’s Balint Josa, learnt about how that kind of action influences the public authorities which are either going to respond rationally or emotionally. The public opinion will be motivated either way. In this workshop the participants learnt about “The Dreamer” movement and how their dilemma actions actually had a positive repercussion to the public opinion as well as the Hungarian referendum example during which the joke party of Hungary decided that the best way to tackle the referendum was not to boycott the process but to actually vote invalid.
The key points of a successful dilemma action are in a nutshell:
1. A dilemma action must always be covered by the media
2. It must have the element of surprise 
3. One must have protected communication
4. The actions must be small in scale and unpredictable
5. The organizers must provide the participants with legal advice 
6. Risk analysis is a must
7. Art can be used as a “weapon”
8. A dilemma action can ridicule in order to raise public awareness
9. In order to do a dilemma action or any other such action one should never ask for permission to do so

Invisible Theatre

Eszter Varzegi of Utilapu – SCI Hungary introduced participants to the Invisible Theatre method, which is a variation on Theatre of the Oppressed. She explained that Theatre of the Oppressed has many variations. It usually includes several characters, among which are the oppressor, the oppressed and neutral characters. The aim is to show people that there can be several solutions to a problem. Invisible theatre is a tool that requires preparing a short scene showing some sort of oppression. The aim is to observe the reaction of the people who witness the scene: whether someone decides to intervene to defend the oppressed, whether someone joins the perpetrator, etc.

Participants discussed in groups about the best way to organise the activity. They talked about the best location for the theatre; the theatre is “performed” in a public space like public transport, squares, shopping malls, bars/cafes, parks, neighbourhoods, educational institutions etc. The venue depends on the target audience to be reached. Security is important to keep in mind. They also talked about the number of people that can be involved in each activity. They talked about the preparation of the theatre, including the mental preparation of actors; safe word and signs to end the scene, preparing alternative outcomes; rehearsal of the theatre; self-reflection, debriefing and dissemination materials.

Participants also discussed the controversial aspects of the activity. Such an activity might be found offensive by some people who feel like their identity is being attacked. The purpose of the action was also not clear for all the participants: what are the organisers trying to achieve? Is it worth the risk? Others answered that the change instigated by the action comes slowly: the Invisible Theatre can only trigger a thought or a reaction; the real impact may not be visible or perceivable on a short-term basis.


In the workshop on organising events, Katarina Bajzikova of Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia talked about how a conflict resolution simulation event turned into a successful and comprehensive university course in Slovakia.

The session started with the participants sharing their experience on role playing and simulation activities. Based on the shared experiences, Katarina explained how these kinds of activities can be used in raising awareness about conflicts and the reconciliation process. She presented in detail a project they carried out in Slovakia for more than five years. The project is based on simulation of different conflict situations with young participants. They use both imaginative and real conflicts such as Liberia, Acra, Georgian-Abkhasia, Wearing a Hijab at School, the situation of European Roma, Cyprus, and Nepalese cases. For each of the topics, they invite local and international experts. They also used Skype to include experts when there is no chance for experts to attend the simulations physically.

After getting briefing about the conflict, the participants receive instructions about their roles in the simulated conflict. Two other facilitators and the invited expert facilitate and guide the role-play in the group. They even use custumes, music, food and small objects from the country/culture in question, for engaging the students to feel the situation and the role they play. A typical structure of the smilaution consists of the following phases:
– Introduction
– Expert lecture
– Negotiation methodology
– 2-3 hour simulations which are usually filmed.
– Final briefing- a personal one.

Katarina noted that they started to do these simulation activities as a part of their education programme at NGO premises for both students and young professionals. After 4 years, they managed to get it recognized it as a credited course at four universities in Slovakia. This way they have introduced a non-formal education method to universities successfully.

Online campaigns

The workshop on online campaigns was facilitated by Gubaz Koberidze of Human Rights Association Georgia, and Marion Bonnouvrier of International Young Naturefriends. Participants in the workshop discussed a number of topics, starting with safe online tools to use when campaigning, when safety, security and privacy are important. Different types of online tools they discussed included file hosting services and online survey tools, while they also discuss the use of Tor systems and VPNs to ensure anonymity.

They went on to talk about different online tools that can be useful for online campaigns, as well as the important elements of an online campaign, such as a catchy logo, simple message and a strong social media strategy. Different online tools they discussed for campaigning included Thunderclap, Storify and Change.org.

Finally, they talked about the all-important graphic design elements of campaigns. It is best not to use too many different fonts in designs, as well as to carefully choose colours that work together, bearing in mind that different emotions are connected with different colours. It’s possible to use Google to find colour schemes, as well as to find pictures with open licenses, which can also be found on services such as pixabay, commons.wikimedia.org, and freepik. Free fonts can be found at dafont.com.

Claiming public space

The workshop on claiming public space was facilitated by Eric Simon of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, France. He talked about the difficulties of organising actions in public spaces, and how organisations need to present the reason why they want to make a demonstration with the exact characteristics. It is usually easy but there can be negotiations to avoid political pressure. In general for small organisations there isn’t any problem but for e.g. for trade unions there are bigger steps to take.

Eric went on to describe the “pique” demonstrations he has been involved in organising in France, and the importance of using such demonstrations to generate media interest in a topic. He talked about the recent difficulties in organising demonstrations in France due to the threat of terrorism, as well as police violence.

Participants then had a discussion in which they talked about the different situations in their countries with relation to government restrictions of freedom of assembly, media reporting on public demonstrations and relationships with the police. You can see some of their comments in this video.

Tell Us Your Story

After the workshops, participants heard a presentation on UNITED campaigns given by UNITED media & communications coordinator Jonathan Karstadt, alongside Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu, who talked about the work she has done over the last 10 years using UNITED’s List of Deaths.

The day’s final session was “Tell Us Your Story”, where participants shared personal testimonies and stories. Martin Sirka of YMCA Serbia talked about the experience of growing up as a member of the Slovak minority in Serbia, and his memory of the armed conflict during his childhood; “When I was a kid I remember playing football in the streets while the tanks were passing by,” he said, “During the NATO bombing in 1999, I saw a tomahawk missile in the form of an orange dot above the city of Novi Sad.”

Nara Narimanova of the Crimean Tatar Youth Council talked about the Crimean case and specifically the case of Crimean Tatars. She outlined the opposition to the Russian annexation of Crimea among the Crimean Tatar population. “The referendum that took place on the 16th of March 2014, was done at gunpoint of the so-called little green men,” she said. “Many Crimean Tatar people did not turn out for the referendum, because it was illegitimate.”

Ilona Notar of Romana Kris – Roma Organisation talked about her experience of discrimination growing up in a segregated Roma community in Hungary. “When I said to my mother that I wanted to see the world, she was worried for my security because we are gypsies,” she said. “During my school years the teachers separated me from the rest of the class and put a G next to my name, which stands for Gypsy.” She talked about how she went on to achieve a high level of education, but nonetheless continues to experience discrimination on a regular basis.

Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin of Ad Astra talked about the discrimination she has faced as a Muslim woman living in Finland, and the intersections between the different facets of her identity. She shared an incident that happened to her when a Finnish woman verbally attacked her in the university because she saw her praying. “You can see me laughing but you cannot see I’m tired for having to defend my own existence every single day,” she said. “In the struggle against such discrimination I cannot ask you to be fearless but to fear less.” Her testimony inspired another participant, Nasiyo Abdi of KISA, to talk about her own experience of discrimination in Cyrpus.

Finally, Miroslav Prokes of Defence for Children – Czech Section talked about the story of his parents and how they survived the Terezín concentration camp. He talked about the different narratives that have been created and cited Martin Niemöller and his famous poem “First they came…” and how it has been adapted by different groups for different agendas.

This session was followed in the evening by a film screening and political cafes, where participants were free to choose burning topics for informal debates.

Working Manually

On days IV and V, participants worked on producing a manual for civil society organisations in how to engage in reconciliation programmes. Each group looked at a different aspect of the reconciliation process, from researching conflicts to selling reconciliation to the public. They began with brainstorming general ideas and discussing different strategies on the first day of the working groups, and then went on to formulate concrete proposals, which they presented to the rest of the participants. Together they produced outlines to five chapters on the reconciliation process: Research, Building up Reactions, Education, Selling it to the Public and Justice.

OSCE hate crime presentation and training

On the afternoon of Day V, Serena Pescatore and Francois Deleu of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) addressed the conference on the under-recorded and under-reported hate crimes in Europe, and the work that ODIHR is doing on collecting hate crime data and training different stakeholders in how to react to hate crimes. This presentation preceded a training workshop that the pair delivered to around 30 of the conference participants over the two days directly following the conference.

The training was specifically targetted at representatives of civil society representatives. It introduced participants to the OSCE definition of hate crime, and the different types of bias indicators that can be used to class a crime as a hate crime. The facilitators then presented the participants with different examples of crimes, and asked them to discuss which could be classed as hate crimes, and by which indicators. Participants then looked at the different stages of the hate crime reporting and prosecution process, and the different roles that can be played by civil society organisations to identify and report hate crimes, and support the victims of hate crimes.

Working on UNITED Campaigns

The final part of the formal conference programme was working on ideas for the different UNITED campaigns, which had been introduced to participants by Jonathan and Banu on Day III. One group worked on coming up with new ideas to be implemented in the European Action Week Against Racism 2017, while another group evaluated the recent activities in the frame of the Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe campaign and the #LifeSeekers campaign, while a third group worked on strategies for this year’s 9 November International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism campaign, which was launched shortly after the conference. After discussions in working groups, participants shared the outcome of their discussions in plenary.


The conference officially came to an end on the afternoon of Day V (Sunday 30 October). After some final remarks and words of thanks from the organisers, participants had the chance to share their thoughts on the conference and their relationship with UNITED.

Some participants also made a delegation to a local photo exhibition about Anne Frank, which was attended by the Dutch ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia. He came to the conference venue to address some closing remarks to the conference. “The story of Anne Frank is the story of what can happen if you don’t fight fascism and racism.” He said. “Keep up the fight against racism, fascism and xenophobia because it is really important that we win that fight.”

The conference ended with an informal intercultural party.

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This event has been organised with the financial support of the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe, the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The event reflects the views only of the organisers, and the sponsors cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.