Step 1: View of the conflict from the perspective of group A – others speaking
Place two chairs in front of the others and invite two people who are not of nationality A, but belong to the “opposing” ethnic group B or are neither A nor B, to sit in them. Their task is to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is of nationality A and try to answer the following questions:
– What problems and difficulties do you face (because of your nationality)?
– What fears do you have?
– What injustices pain you?
– What are your needs?
– What do you hope for?
The key terms for the exercise – fears, injustices, needs, hopes – are written on four pieces of paper as a reminder.
Step 2: View of the conflict from the perspective of group A – group A speaking
Then persons who are of nationality A get a turn to add to what was said, but they are asked not to correct what was already said and to focus only on adding.
Step 3: View of the conflict from the perspective of group B – others speaking
The exercise is repeated, but now the two chairs are meant for persons that do not belong to ethnic group B (if possible, it would be best if they were from the opposing ethnic group A). Their task is to try to put themselves in the shoes of people of nationality B and try to answer the same questions.
Step 4: View of the conflict from the perspective of group B – group B speaking
Then persons who are of nationality B can add to what was said.
If needed, the above steps can be followed by feedback about the exercise in plenary: What was it like? What struck you?
If you think this exercise would be hard going, you can break the ice by checking a day earlier with the most motivated participants (and most given to dialogue) whether they would be interested in participating in the exercise, so that they have the evening to think about it and prepare. It is important to have two persons from each of the opposing ethnic groups who are prepared to take on this task. It is very important, when introducing the exercise, to be transparent and tell everyone that individual participants were consulted beforehand and asked to take on the roles, but that anyone else who wants to try it is also welcome.
In groups of people from multiple countries of the former Yugoslavia (in groups where there were at least five or six ethnic groups), we decided to focus on the relationship between two, so the exercise would revolve around, for example, Albanians and Serbs from Kosovo. However, in groups where there are three ethnic groups, such as for example Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, we would focus on all three.
You should bear in mind that this exercise lasts a long time and should not be accelerated. For example, the version with three ethnic groups can last for more than two hours.
This exercise is emotionally very trying, because people put themselves in a position they have probably never been in and it is often the first time they are trying to think in this way. The very fact that they know so little and how difficult it is to come up with something meaningful to say about others exposes part of the problem they live in.
The exercise is also demanding for the trainer because it requires and atmosphere of calm and listening to each other, as well as a certain degree of mutual familiarity and level of communication within the group. Inserting short breaks between the steps is a good way to let everyone “take a breath”.