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Case #12

Building a Culture of Nonviolence in Croatia


Tenya Listening Project, supervised by Center For Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights, is part of a larger 5 year project titled "Building a Democratic Society in East Slavonia Based on a Culture of Non-Violence". The project is operated regionally (6 villages in a region of Croatia).

Croatian residents from the village of Tenya were forced out of their village by Serb forces during the war. The village then became a home for other displaced Serbs. After the war ended, many Croatians wanted to return home, though many Serbs still lived in the village. The Tenya Listening Project was started to assist in easing ethnic tensions between the two groups and promote tolerance and post-war healing. Trainees, who were war victims themselves, were taught methods of "deep listening" as well as skills to go beyond pre-developed questions and get to the true layers of fear and mistrust in an effort to ease these feelings and begin a healing process. It also opened the doors to rebuilding community and creative brainstorming for further projects toward change.

Bilja, a nearby village, was one of the first to engage in the listening project. One of the positive outcomes was a local peace center jointly constructed by Serbs and Croatians. The peace center provided support to families and individuals who were resettling, aided refugees wanting to return to their original homes, and facilitated in the breaking of ethnic tension as Serbs and Croatians were able to share their stories together and relate their common struggles which included loss of family and displacement during the war. The center also facilitated human rights counseling, conflict resolution, workshop training for local residents, humanitarian aid, and community development. Bilja's success served as a positive example for Tenya, and the Center began the process of practicing nonviolence as an alternative to hate and segregation.


The coming together of two ethnic groups who have a recent history of hatred toward each other is a challenge. This project allowed the two groups to realize that behind the ethnic name lie individual people who have undergone a similar devastation; in this case, war. Using locals as volunteers for the project empowered them and allowed them to figure out what they most needed for themselves. Allowing them to have control of the project also creates motivation because the project becomes theirs. By revealing to each other their post-war stories, they could see common ground and begin working together for the betterment of everyone.

This situation could be applied wherever there is separation and tension between people or groups but requires the desire from both sides for a peaceful resolution. Downside: One possible repercussion could be the inadvertent "re-airing" of hate and resentment from the war. Talks meant to be peaceful could turn hostile.
Location: Tenya and Bilja villages, Croatia
Action: Direct
Setting: Semi-Developed, Village
Extent of Action: Regional (within a country)
Issues: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Outcome successful
Source: Fellowship Magazine, p. 13, May/June 1998, Vol. 64


Herb Walters, Religion and Diversity Project, White Oak Creek Rd., Burnsville, NC 28715. hwalters@yancey.main.nc.us
Prepared By: dlb, 9/00
Rating: 1
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