In the short history of this century Ukraine is a country that has been marked by eruptions of conflict within the country The Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan protests in the winter of 2013/14 were world news. Olena Kashkarova is one of the people who works to restore mutual trust in this deeply divided country. She is one of the leaders of the Foundations for Freedom (F4F) initiative, that seeks to bridge the divides between different groups in society by stimulating dialogue. On 5 April she was in the centre of Initiatives of Change in The Hague to tell about her work.
The right of the strongest
Foundations for Freedom was founded in 1993 by Initiatives of Change-UK. Its goal was to support the younger generation in Eastern Europe in cultivating values such as honesty and integrity. Olena mentions that in a society that after the fall of Communism was guided mainly by the ‘right of the strongest’, lack of clear values system was especially harmful for younger people. Exploration of values as something supportive for an individual and the society made Foundations for Freedom attractive for them. They worked mostly with training courses that linked a just democracy to personal responsibility.
The courses of F4F resonated and the initiative grew organically until it became an official NGO in 2009.
Healing the past
Olena became aware of the importance of dialogue when she participated in Action for Life, an international leadership programme for young people organized by Initiatives of Change India. Olena, coming from a family with Russian background, clashed repeatedly with a friend from the Ukrainian family background about who was on the right side of history. After a period of reflection Olena realised the reason why discussing history triggered her so much. It was out of fear that it may get repeated, when after all the atrocities of the 20th century nothing was done to restore justice. Olena: ‘Nobody took responsibility for wrongdoings and I realized that if I want to keep integrity with my Russian identity it means also recognition of the wrongdoings my nation did to others.’
The roots of the problems lie in the past, says Olena: ‘History not transformed gets transferred.’ Foundations for Freedom therefore started the programme Healing the past. In different regions four-day dialogues were held to help people with different narratives of the past to discuss it in a way so that they could see the history of Ukraine not as black and white, but with recognition of suffering from all sides.
Dialogues at times of crisis
From the early stages of Maidan protest in 2013/2014 Olena has initiated dialogues between people who held different opinions about the events in the country. The Foundations for Freedom team quickly supported the initiative and the dialogues were held in different parts of Ukraine. But the more the conflict in Ukraine was covered with blood, the more difficult it became. The emotions in the country grew stronger and Olena and the team felt a need to learn anew how to facilitate dialogues in a country where conflict started to take lives.
Thus the team of F4F chose to get more training on dialogue facilitation and a method of Non-Violent Communication was chosen as the most relevant. This method helped to heal pain behind the strongest emotions of the participants and to translate anger in a way that brings connection.
The network grows
After organizing a training on Non-Violent Communication for Foundations for Freedom, colleagues and other professionals who were doing dialogue work during Maidan time (mainly people with a background in facilitation, mediation or psychotherapy) a network of dialogue facilitators came to existence. Dialogue has always been a part of the programme, but after the 2013/14 protests and the clashes in Crimea and East-Ukraine that followed, stimulating dialogue has became the core work of Olena and her colleagues. Now the Network of Dialogue Facilitators is working on conflict prevention and dialogue through facilitating numerous seminars, trainings and dialogues in cooperation with the diverse range of national and international organizations including the United Nations.
Olena’s experiences led to recognition among the audience on 5 April, especially among participants from Afghanistan and Ireland. We need these stories to keep working towards a future where we can relate to our differences with more mutual understanding.
Andries Jan Zijlstra