By Guido Lanfranchi.
Have you ever thought of selecting a few people belonging to different factions of a violent conflict and encouraging them to live in the same house, thousands of kilometers away from home, for a couple of years? For how far-fetched and revolutionary such idea may seems, someone had it – and not now, but even back in the 1990s. This someone is Franco Vaccari, Italian psychologist and founder of “Rondine – Citadel for Peace”.
Rondine is an Italian-based international organization that works to reduce armed conflicts in the world through methods of creative transformation of conflict.
The organization’s basic approach is to provide a forum for youth from countries afflicted by conflict to study and live together in Rondine, a medieval hamlet near Arezzo, Tuscany.
By leaving in the so-called “World House”, these young students get not only a chance to pursue their studies and develop individual projects for their country, but also – and most importantly – to live with those who would supposedly be “their enemies”.
By doing so – the Rondine method goes – they can learn “to face their own conflict, and turn it into a creative opportunity”, with the final aim of returning to their home countries – hopefully contributing to conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence.
Rondine’s roots trace back to the late 1980s, when Mr. Vaccari – drawing inspirations from pacifist figures such as Giorgio La Pira and Don Lorenzo Milani – attempted to open a communication channel across the Cold War’s Iron Curtain. Over the years, the contacts with Moscow developed in something more serious, leading to a delegation by Rondine in 1995 to find a truce in the Chechen War. The mission was only partly successful, as the negotiated cease-fire did not hold. Yet, the contacts with actors on the ground continued, and in the wake of the war, Rondine hosted a mixed group of Russian and Chechnyan students. In 1998, the World House was born.
Rondine’s first attempt was not particularly successful. After some time, the Russian and Chechnyan students had an intense argument (ironically – I was told – over the laundry…), and subsequently decided quit the project. Yet, the founders persisted – and their perseverance eventually bore fruits. Currently, about twenty years after the first experiment, Rondine hosts 30 students from 25 different countries across Europe, Africa, America, and the Near East.
During the Paris Peace Forum, I had the pleasure to talk to two of these young students, Madeleine (26) and Arvedo (24) from Mali. They told me about the challenges faced by their country – once an example of peaceful coexistence among peoples, and currently a theater of harsh violence among Malians. They explained that at the root of their choices to join Rondine’s initiative there is a shared desire to make Mali a better place – something that they are pursuing not only through their focus on peaceful conflict resolution, but also through individual projects concerning agriculture and gender issues. The students also recounted the several challenges they face, not only during the cohabitation in Rondine, but also at the time of returning to their own country to explain their experience. Yet, nothing seems to be unsolvable for them. As Arvedo put it, “the key is not to eliminate problems, but to learn how to manage them”.
Building on the achievements of its first twenty years of experience, in October 2018 Rondine decided to take a step further. It did so by launching a global campaign – “Leaders for Peace” – in which the organization asks states all over the world to remove a symbolic figure from their defense budgets, in order to invest it in scholarships for future peace leaders, as well as in the introduction of human rights education in the national education systems.
The campaign – which was launched on the 70thanniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – soon received endorsements from no less than Italy’s President of the Republic and Pope Francis, and in early 2019 it gained its first signature from a state – Italy. After last year’s presentation at the United Nations headquarters, in December 2019 Rondine will be again in New York. In an event organized by Italy’s Permanent Mission to the UN, Rondine students and alumni will share their experiences, also joined by representatives of their supporter countries.
As mankind experiences an intolerably high number of conflicts all across the world, it is more important than ever to provide support to those actors who relentlessly work for peace. As John Lennon used to sing a few decades ago, let’s “give peace a chance”.
About the author:
Guido Lanfranchi is a student and young professional in the field of international affairs. He has pursued his studies both at Leiden University and Sciences Po Paris, where he is currently enrolled. In parallel, he has been gaining professional experience through internships (first at the Council of the European Union, and currently at Clingendael Institute), as well as by working as reporter and associate editor for Diplomat Magazine The Netherlands. His research and work focus on the Middle East and Africa, and especially on conflict situations in these regions.