Dealing with the Past 2

The quality of the workshop on Dealing with the Past depends to a large extent on previous knowledge and awareness about its major topics: violence, understanding and analysing conflicts, prejudice and discrimination, identity and diversity. But it mostly depends on the motivation of the participants to engage in this topic – the greater the motivation, the deeper it is possible to delve into the topic. Another precondition for this topic is a formed group, that is, an atmosphere of basic mutual trust. There should also be confidence in the training team that they are capable of leading a process revolving around difficult topics. The greater this confidence, the easier it will be for participants to speak openly about issues on which opinions tend to differ drastically.

The objectives of the workshop may include: analysing the mechanisms for dealing with the past used in our societies; shedding light on what is denied in our societies and what is valued in relation to the wartime past; establishing constructive dialogue among people from different communities and thinking about approaches and activities that would lead to more constructive changes in society. A carefully prepared and managed workshop on this topic, in a group that has established basic mutual trust, invariably leads to awakening empathy and solidarity across borders and building trust among neighbours from different communities. People feel empowered when they manage to establish an atmosphere of respect and talk about topics they usually refrain from broaching for fear of offence, disrespect, pain, denial, rejection, humiliation and helplessness. From that perspective, social change appears much closer and more accessible.

Sometimes, you can devote two or three workshops at the training to dealing with the past. These are workshops with a lot of discussion and listening, because the exercises are mainly set up that way. You should bear in mind that it can be very tiring to carefully listen to some twenty people and participate in discussions all day. A change of tempo every now and then is very important for maintaining concentration and avoiding exhaustion. That is why this workshop, as well as those on Peacebuilding and Understanding and Analysing Conflict, often features a documentary film screening relevant to the topic of the workshop,* after which discussions and listening to others continue.


Workshop Example 2

Wall Newspaper: What is Missing in War Stories?

Duration: 10 minutes

A Fair Attitude to the Past?

Type of exercise: Work in small groups, presentations and discussion in plenary

Duration: 60–90 minutes

Materials: Flipchart paper, markers


Exercise description

Step 1. Split into smaller groups based on nationality, ethnicity or religion. Each group is tasked with making a wall newspaper on: “What would need to change where my people are the majority in order to have a fair attitude to the past and take a step towards reconciliation?” The time for group work is 20 minutes.

Step 2. The groups present their wall newspapers, with possible questions for clarification.

Step 3. After that all the wall newspapers are put up where everyone can see them. The task for all the participants is to look at the wall newspapers their group did not make and add what they think is missing: “What else would need to get sorted in these communities in your opinion?” They write on the same paper but use a different coloured pen. They have 20 minutes.

Step 4. They read the additions and discuss the key issues that crop up in the plenary.


Discussion in the plenary

Suggested questions for the discussion:

What was it like writing about yourselves, and about others? How do you feel about what everyone else added to your newspaper? How much opportunity do you get to discuss this in real life and what is the attitude towards the “additions”, the tasks that people outside your group put before you?



Keep in mind that some people may feel uncomfortable writing on wall newspapers made by others, so they will need to be encouraged or you will need to clarify the purpose of the exercise and how helpful feedback from others can be.


Alternative version of the exercise

In step 3, instead of all the participants adding to all the other wall newspapers, you can form smaller groups and task them with adding to specific wall newspapers. The smaller groups should be made up of people that did not participate in making the wall newspaper they are adding to. This way people would not walk around the room and go up to all the wall newspapers, but would stay in one place and focus on adding to just one wall newspaper.


I’m Sorry…

Type of exercise: Hot seats

Duration: 90 minutes

Materials: Chairs


Exercise description

The hot seats method is described in detail at the beginning of this section on p. 67. The person sitting in the hot seat in the middle tells their story about “I’m sorry that…” which is related to the past wars and the current situation in society when it comes to dealing with the past.