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The "Method" of Sant'Egidio

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After the public disclosure of the Mozambican success, various requests for help arrived to the Community. In September 1994, during the inter-religious meeting in Assisi, several Algerian friends asked for intervention in their country prey to a serious internal political crisis. The Algerian Platform is the fruit of the intense work which continued until January of the following year. In two meetings convened by the Community, the leaders of the major Algerian political parties, who had not seen each other for years, met in Sant'Egidio. The Platform is an "offering of peace" which makes possible a way out of violence on the basis of shared values, with the perspective that the process of democratization of society and political life is necessary. Although the document was not accepted by the Algerian regime, the Platform remains, until the referendum on "civil concord" at the end of 1999 and beyond, the only document largely consensual produced by the political actors of the country. The spirit and the method of the Rome Platform is still today in Algeria referred to for its value for reconciliation and as a model for future hopeful developments along a way of peace yet to be reached.

Peace Negotiations for Algeria

The work of peace in a multipolar and disorderly world, different than the one many were accustomed to during the cold war, makes necessary the collaboration of all available energies. In this sense Sant'Egidio, rather than a parallel diplomacy, would prefer to speak of a synergy of efforts among all levels: institutional and non-institutional, official and from civil society. Already during the Mozambican negotiations the Community asked different governments and the United Nations to send their representatives in the final phases of the negotiations, as observers, guarantors of the peace accord.

The synergic approach to the peace process is essential in order to answer one of the great questions which are posed in every negotiation: the issue of guarantees. The presence of institutional levels, other states and international organizations, hold the important function of giving guarantees to both parties. Both external and internal guarantees are necessary but also those which are internal, which means in certain cases the sharing of power partnering both parties in political administration. Such an option also proves necessary in the process of learning about democracy: A long journey which requires the passage through the acceptance of the pluralism (political, cultural, ethnic, religious) of a country.

In the peace process the reconversion of the culture of combatants, the culture of war or guerilla warfare, to a political culture is fundamental. In each negotiation there exists a problem of "pathological memory", which is to be healed by means of the negotiations themselves, thus assuming the characteristic of a true and proper training for civil life and for democracy. Each belligerent, it has been experienced in Mozambique as well as in Algeria or Kosovo, ends up becoming a prisoner of memory: the memory of suffered injustices, of victims, and of the time spent fighting the war. Combat becomes a type of existential culture from which it is necessary to help one escape in order to guide the conflict onto political terrain. This is the goal of every negotiation: to develop in the parties the taste, the expectation of a common future: in a word, the fascination of peace.

Commenting on the original approach of the Community to peace processes, ex-UN Secretary Butros Butros-Ghali, spoke of a "mixture, unique in its kind, of governmental and non-governmental peacemaking activities": it is the "method of Sant'Egidio", as it is called by experts.

Rome 12.02.1996
Signing of the peace agreement for Guatemala

In the case of the Peace agreement for Guatemala the Community put itself in synergy with the several year old effort begun by the United Nations, bringing back to life a peace process frozen because of the lack of direct contacts between the government and the UNRG guerillas. The war had been going on for 35 years but its key figures had never directly seen each other. The Community organized the necessary meetings in 1996 in Rome, Paris, and San Salvador. The peace agreement was signed at the end of the year in Mexico City, in the presence of a delegation of the Community. The experience of the Peace accord in Guatemala shows how it is possible to work together among institutional and non-institutional organizations.

Albania and Kosovo are another terrain to which the Community has committed itself for years for peace and reconciliation, mixing humanitarian help with facilitation and dialogue. Albania appeared as a country exhausted by years of a regime which prohibited all contact with the outside world. The projects of Sant'Egidio in "the country of eagles" have been numerous: restoring and defending religious liberty, help for renascent churches, dialogue with local Muslims, - in particular with the Bektashis - medical and educational assistance, hospitality for refugees, and support for immigrants in Italy. From the political point of view the Community was the author of the Accord of guarantee between Albanian politicians, which permitted the regular execution of their 1997 elections.

Kosovo - Pristina - March 1998
Signing of the Schools agreement

The Community has been present in Kosovo since 1996. The friendship established with the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, pushed Sant'Egidio to search out the grounds for reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians.

The non-violent line of Rugova's politics appeared to be the only road which could be traveled in a high-tension situation, due in part to the conflict in Bosnia. The Dayton Accord of 1996 did not take into consideration the Kosovar situation from the point of view of the status of the region. This suggested passing by way of a humanitarian accord which would obtain tangible results for the Albanians and at the same time would allow the reduction of the level of tension by means of measures of mutual trust. The ground selected was education. It was considered because Albanian children were expelled from schools from every grade, and the students were forced to study in deplorable conditions.

Sant'Egidio therefore opted for a journey of re-establishing cohabitation, an objective concretely realizable in order to avoid the disaster of the other areas of ex-Yugoslavia. By means of initially favorable contacts with the Serbian church, the Community established a line of communication between Rugova and the Belgrade Regime. A negotiating table between the two parties was created, a unique event between the government of Belgrade and Rugova's KDL. In 1996 the Education Accord was signed, with the support of the international community, in particular the Contact Group. By means of this accord, confirmed by the Rules of Implementation signed by the parties in March 1998, 13 universities and many secondary and primary schools were returned to the Albanians, near up until the war in 1999.

The success of this humanitarian type of accord shows that a dialogue was possible and that both of the parties of the civil society of Kosovo were open to the reasons of peace and dialogue. Contacts made in those months with Albanian and Serbian students and professors showed that, notwithstanding resentments, there existed a will to move beyond the impasse. But the war of 1999 rendered futile that attempt to bring the two communities together.

Rome, 1999
Rugova in Sant'Egidio after the liberation

Sant'Egidio did not break off its commitment: it facilitated the liberation of Rugova while he was imprisoned in Pristina during the bombing, and his trip to Italy. Furthermore it has committed itself to alleviate the drama of escaping Kosovar refugees in northern Albania, in particular around the area of Kukes where the Community had already been present since November 1998 reopening medical clinics in the north of the country.

During the 90s, various other projects were undertaken in the Balkans in the sign of dialogue, ecumenism, and humanitarian assistance. Among these was the assistance to students from the besieged city of Sarajevo, and the assistance and relations with the Croatian Catholic churches, Serbian Orthodox and the Muslims of Bosnia and Macedonia.

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