Coming to terms with the past and working for peace
Our second speaker at the Nansen Center started off her talk with a personal story. She is German and her father was part of the Hitler regime. When she was little she learned a lot about the Nazi regime in school, but her father was always countering what she learned by saying that the concentration camps didn’t exist. He said that Hitler’s regime was a good regime because it provided employment and built great things like the Autobahn Highway.
When she grew up she worked in the peace movement in Germany and joined a program called “Action for Reconciliation and Peace.” She was involved in many programs that fought racism and decided that she wanted to visit a country that had been occupied by Germany. At 19 years of age, she went to Poland where she visited a concentration camp. At the camp she was assigned to sift through a pile of Jewish shoes to see if any of them could be salvaged and used for a memorial site that was being created. The rainy, foggy weather mirrored perfectly the bleakness she felt in her heart as she went about this activity. She came across two small shoes at the same time that a Polish family with a small child walked by. The family knew that she was German and she said she will never forget that moment because it changed her life.
The next day she went around the camp with a man who had survived the concentration camp and listened to him as he told his story. While in Poland she lived with a Polish family and got to hear more about the war from their perspective. After a few weeks of truth discovering she called her father and said to him, “I will never believe what you tell me, because I know the truth.”
Her work at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue is not merely work, but something that she has to do to come to terms with her past.
Sometimes we have to get touched by something to actually get it. We shouldn’t be afraid to get touched by people or experiences because it’s in those moments that our lives get changed.
The key to dialogue is to listen. We often talk too much and don’t take time to just be and to listen. Dialogue tries to get people to understand that people are people and to break down generalizations. Through dialogue we build trust so that people can stand up and disagree or find commonalities. Dialogue is not meant to change minds, but to encourage people to reflect. It’s important that communities who typically live separate from one another engage in dialogue so they can begin to understand each other and see the other as a human being.
Diaspora in Norway
Diaspora is defined by people who were forced to leave their country, but are still engaged in the situation of their country of origin.
The Norwegian government used to say that immigrants needed to “assimilate” into Norwegian culture, but then changed the policy to say that immigrants needed to “integrate.” These terms put most of the responsibility on the minority, not the majority. Now Norway calls for “inclusion” for all immigrants, which puts the focus on the majority to include them, rather than on the minority.
Norway works hard to engage people with issues in their country of origin. The Nansen Center provides workshops on communication, conflict management and democratization. The Center allows space for people to get together to talk about their country of origin with other people from Norway and to be engaged with happenings of their home country.