33 teenagers of four different nationalities – Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Hungarians and Austrians – participated in peacecamp 2008, the 6th of its kind, which took place in Reibers, Lower Austria, and in Vienna. They graduated there as "Ambassadors of Peace"...
The youngest participant not even 14, the oldest almost 17 years old - an age-gap that remained unnoticed given the wholeheartedness with which these young people coped with most difficult questions: How do war, terror and despotism come about, and how does one find ways out of such catastrophes.
Daily workshops in contemporary history, led by the historian Wolfgang Fritz gave each group the opportunity to outline a piece of history shared with their respective neighbour and to reflect complex issues like the post-world-war fusion of warring European states to a community of states or the creation of the state of Israel after the Holocaust. We passed the nearby, now unnoticeable Czech-Austrian border without any border-controls; a contemporary witness told us how it was to live at this spot, when the two bordering countries were separated by the Iron Curtain; other witnesses told us how much their life had changed when the East and West of Europe fused to become a whole, free and democratic community of states. We heard how Jews escaped persecution, expulsion and homicide under Hitler's fascist dictatorship and created their own homeland in a free, autonomous and democratic state of Israel. But we also learned what this meant for the Arab population of this country, what it means to be an Arab Israeli of Palestinian identity, and how the Palestinian fight for an autonomous state for their people affects and complicates the relation between the Jews and the Arabs. We let groups of teenagers discuss topics like "Ways out of the Jewish-Arab conflict", "Attitudes to Minorities", "Xenophobia and Racism" or "From national to shared identity of states and nations". All of this in English.
We were not always sure that we did not ask too much of them with a complex and dense program in a foreign language; but they were so eager to cope with these difficult issues, so serious in their attempt to understand and make themselves understood.
Psychoanalytic large groups, led by the psychiatrist Silvio Gutkowski, offered an opportunity to all, teenagers and adults, to explore their own conscious and unconscious feelings, to discover incongruities in our attitudes, to weigh our emotional reactions against our declared conceptions and to cope with our inner, sometimes unconscious, even despised own racism. The large groups were a place where we could develop some understanding for the "other side of the coin" or to bid for sympathy for our own position.
These emotionally strenuous activities were compensated by the sharing of family albums and documents about each participant's own family and biography, by humorous culture evenings and thrilling challenges which could be met only if the group succeeded in joining forces in order to solve mission-impossible outdoor tasks (led by Gerald Muthsam); and of course by all the things which youth from all nations and cultures enjoy most – sitting together, chatting, dancing, making noise and falling in love.
The singing, dancing and music workshops led by Maria Moritz, Linda Frey and Barbara Goesch led to the show4peace which was performed on the last day in Reibers and then in the Dschungel Theatre in the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna. Here the group had a chance to show to a large audience and to public figures from Austrian cultural and political life that they had succeeded in putting aside some of their mutual apprehensions and fears for the benefit of cooperation and that they had been able to create something that they could proudly show to others.
Many tears were shed at Vienna airport on the parting day, when the teenagers had to part from their new friends and, some of them, from their newly found sweethearts…
A second encounter of all four groups is planed to take place in Israel, in spring 2009.
peacecamp 2008 will be assessed by Bianca Blaickner, an expert in intercultural conflict management.
Evelyn Böhmer-Laufer and Ronny Böhmer, 13.07.08