Nobel Peace Prize nominee advocates peaceful dialogue

On Friday, Feb. 28, more than 30 students and staff gathered in Dittmann Center to see five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Steinar Bryn and to view an award-winning documentary, “Reunion: Ten Years After the War,” focusing on Bryn’s peace and reconciliation efforts.

Bryn is the director of the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue in Norway, where he has worked with St. Olaf students participating in the Peace Scholars program.

On Friday, Bryn was in the process of traveling through the Midwest and showing “Reunion” at various colleges. He said he appreciated the willingness of students at small Lutheran colleges to learn about and engage in peace efforts.

According to Bryn, the dialogue process can be described as a movement toward understanding among people. It corrects participants’ preconceptions that society has given them about issues and the people involved. Bryn said it “questions the very fundament of how we see reality.”

This process, however, takes time.

“Dialogue and reconciliation is not given the place it deserves in peacebuilding,” Bryn said.”But it is not the magic fix. It is a long-term way of working.”

Directed by Jon Haukeland, “Reunion” follows the dialogue sessions, facilitated by Bryn, between Serbians and Albanians immediately before and after the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo. Bryn described the documentary as “a movie about a movie”: Two groups of students had held peace talks immediately before the bombings, and footage of these meetings was made into a documentary. Ten years later, the same group watched themselves participate in the peace talks and discussed how their perceptions of the war had changed.

The documentary was telling as well as moving. As the participating Albanians and Serbians reflected on the war, they asked each other how one side could have felt relief while the other was bombed and driven from its homeland. One woman implored the Albanians to allow her to return to her home in Kosovo.

Lasting just over an hour, the film came to a close in a room full of emotion. Students participated in a question and answer session, during which Bryn described his experiences facilitating peace talks. While he had held dialogue sessions nearly every weekend, this was the first time he had attended a reunion of participants.

Bryn emphasized that while great gains are made, peacebuilding dialogues take tremendous effort from all involved.

“If you want to make change you have to commit yourself,” Bryn said. “TTT – Things Take Time.”

After stopping at St. Olaf, Bryn went on to present at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday, March 1. He said that many do not have faith that peace talks actually work, and he wants to dispel this perception.

“Can we imagine overlapping borders? Can we imagine citizenship not as connected to territory?” Bryn said. “If we create that dialogue culture in negotiation climates, we might be able to come up with something that unlocks that dialogue and creates movement.”