In early September, we organised the first Corridors Young Researchers Workshop on the obstacles and opportunities for dialogue and cooperation in protracted conflicts. The project brought together 20 young scholars and civil society experts from Central and Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus for an intensive one-week workshop in Regensburg (Germany). The primary goal of the workshop was to promote dialogue and scientific cooperation beyond conflict boundaries and to facilitate knowledge transfer and mutual understanding across the conflict divide. With participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Germany, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the regions of Abkhazia and Transnistria, the workshop formed a cross-regional corridor for dialogue through cooperation.
The first phase of the workshop emphasised the peer-to-peer introduction, reduction of stereotypes and the development of a mutual vision and a secure framework for dialogue. The experienced facilitators, Andrea Zemskov-Züge (Berghof Foundation) and Cécile Druey (swisspeace), trained the participants in the fundamental concepts and provided some practical exercises in dialogue. During a joint canoe excursion in randomly assigned teams, the participants experienced practical cooperation to solve a common challenge. The dialogue training and the subsequent joint canoe excursion laid the foundation for an active, open and constructive discussion
during the week.
Within the second part of the workshop, the participants presented and discussed their research projects from different professional and regional perspectives. The participants received feedback from their peers and experienced scientists, such as Stefan Wolff (University of Birmingham), Shalva Tabatadze (Tbilisi State University) and the members of the IOS research group “Frozen and Unfrozen Conflicts”. One thematic set of panels addressed the challenges of human rights protection, political participation and education in protracted conflicts. A second thematic focus was the interplay of domestic and international conflict dynamics, the influence of international actors and challenges and opportunities for conflict settlement and international engagement. The participants also used the “corridors” of the workshop to discuss a variety of topics, explore further possibilities for cooperation and establish a network of like-minded young scholars and activists.
The project “Dialogue beyond Conflict Lines – Building a Durable Network for Regional Exchange and Cooperation” was organized as part of the program “Advancing the Cooperation with Civil Society in the Countries of Eastern Partnership and Russia” funded by the German Foreign Ministry and the DAAD in 2016. Two preparatory workshops with domestic and international experts in the field of dialogue were organized in Tbilisi and Kiev. Their main purpose was to establish a cooperation network in the region and to identify opportunities and challenges for further exchange between the conflict regions and Germany. Based on this, a five-day workshop in Regenstauf was organized in November to intensify these efforts. It brought together 14 actors both from civil society as well from academia from the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, Russia and Ukraine. The objective was to create a new Corridor for direct people-to-people contact, enhance mutual understanding, discuss obstacles for dialogue and develop new ideas for further cooperation in a cross-regional format.
To achieve these goals and stimulate the search for innovative solutions, the workshop used a new methodology: Design Thinking. The method is based on work processes used by designers, proven to be flexible and open to new type of results. Design Thinking is thus understood as a human centered approach to innovation using emotional as well as cognitive aspects of human creativity. During the workshop, people from different conflict-affected regions were able to exchange ideas and work on cooperation measures. They were gaining insights into the developments of other conflict regions and got inspirations for their own fields of action. Together, the participants developed concrete project ideas to enhance dialogue and cooperation over the divide.
The project has shown how regional formats for dialogue can be a promising approach to revitalize cooperation. Education and knowledge transfer was identified as important areas for further cooperation beyond conflict lines. Together, participants developed the idea of a cross-regional network for academic cooperation and knowledge transfer. The aim is to create new opportunities for joint distance learning, summer schools, and scholarship programs for students and academics from regions affected by protracted conflicts. Together with our domestic partners, Corridors will take this idea forward in 2017.