Spotlight June 1998
Spotlight is PDForum's online journal of public diplomacy events, themes, policies and ideas. Readers of this site are welcome to contribute articles to Spotlight for online publication, or comment on the themes addressed here.
In this issue of Spotlight, we feature two different perspectives on international understanding: Jamie Notter's article about peace training and community reconciliation in divided Cyprus, and David Rothenburg's article on world music. Notter's account highlights the use of training seminars for persons from mutually opposed communities. "Lasting peace in Cyprus, or in any intractable ethnic conflict, must be built from the ground up ... Difficulties at the political level do not discount the fact that at the human and institutional level in Cyprus, the movement toward peaceful resolution of the Cyprus conflict is progressing." With the suspension of cross-community contacts since December 1997, the prospects for future dialogue may rest with the legacy of bi-communal training and understanding, especially among young people, achieved by these seminars.
Rothenburg's story for the Chronicle of Higher Education addresses how world popular music is a touchstone for young people from all over the world. Rothenburg taught speakers of 18 languages among the 40 students in his "Technology and Global Development" class at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "Popular music gives melody and refrain to people's dreams and hopes," writes Rothenburg. "But it can also help people recognize the existing value of a culture under tremendous pressure to change." Read his account, and send in your views on the themes he raises.
"Lasting peace in Cyprus, or any intractable ethnic conflict, must be built from the ground up, as well as from the top down."
Building Peace in Cyprus:
From the Ground Up
by Jamie Notter
Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been living on either side of a UN-patrolled buffer zone on the small island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea for nearly twenty-five years. An entire generation has now grown up learning to fear, distrust, and be suspicious of the "other" community, despite the fact that they have had no actual contact with their "enemy." At the political level, twenty-five years of negotiation have failed to bring the two sides much closer to a political settlement. Direct negotiations were recently called off, and a small arms race has brought the potential for violence on the island to a level unseen in many years.
Despite this bleak picture of the present situation, however, hope for a lasting peace in Cyprus is alive. Although efforts at the official level have broken down, a grass-roots movement promoting cooperation, understanding, and peaceful coexistence has been growing over the last several years in both the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. Lasting peace in Cyprus, or in any intractable ethnic conflict, must be built from the ground up, as well as from the top down. Difficulties at the political level do not discount the fact that at the human and institutional level in Cyprus, the movement toward peaceful resolution of the Cyprus conflict is progressing.
This grass-roots movement has been actively supported by the international NGO community. Two such NGOs, the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) in Washington, D.C., and Conflict Management Group (CMG) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have joined forces as the "Cyprus Consortium" to provide a series of training programs for various bicommunal groups of Greek and Turkish Cypriots to help support the peace process in Cyprus. The Consortium has worked with the USIS staff in Cyprus in developing and implementing these training programs. IMTD and CMG are both part of the growing field of "conflict resolution" NGOs that provide training and consultation to groups involved in ethnic conflict. In the case of Cyprus, the Cyprus Consortium did not come to the island in order to help negotiate a political settlement. Generating official, legal structures to resolve the political conflict in Cyprus is important, but it was not the Consortium's role. Rather, the Consortium has focused on building the human and institutional structures that will eventually support and implement a political settlement in Cyprus. Once the peace treaty is signed, the divided communities will require a social fabric that is strong enough to implement the necessary change.
Even in a case like Cyprus, however, where the violence was relatively limited and the separate communities' social structures remained intact or were rebuilt quickly, the communal divide meant that the ethnic conflict has been built into these structures over the years. Achieving a lasting peace, therefore, means changing the social structures, and this task requires the work of a large cross-section of the population. The Cyprus Consortium took this into account when designing its training program. Between 1992 and 1996, IMTD and its partners trained approximately 500 individuals on the island, from both communities, and all of the major training events have been bicommunal, allowing Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to work together to achieve their goal.
IMTD trainings combined two major elements: (1) training in the skills and concepts of conflict resolution, including communication, conflict analysis, and reconciliation; and (2) training in project design, development, and implementation. This second element was key to the project's success. IMTD taught concrete skills to the participants, and pushed them to identify exactly what they would do with these skills upon their return. Spending nearly one-third of training time on re-entry and developing action-oriented projects, the program focused on the concrete as well as the abstract. Giving a group of people the conceptual understanding of how to resolve conflicts is not enough to transform a conflict-habituated system like Cyprus. These concepts must be translated into action.
As a result of these training programs, there are now hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots developing bicommunal programs to support peace, understanding, and cooperation on the island. These peacebuilders come from a wide spectrum of the society, from policy leaders, to journalists, to academics, to activists, to business leaders, to students. They are organizing dialogues on the Cyprus issue, bicommunal concerts, and training programs in communication and conflict resolution. Five years ago, the notion of Greek and Turkish Cypriots meeting together in the buffer zone between the two communities would be regarded as shocking and somewhat suspicious. In late 1997, bicommunal events were so popular that the small number of rooms in the buffer zone that could hold these events had to be expanded, and rooms were booked weeks in advance.
Although the people involved in this bicommunal conflict resolution work number only a few thousand, the existence of their work, and the movement their work represents are important. More and more people are getting involved in the process, as bicommunal contact becomes perceived as less threatening. The news media now covers more of the bicommunal events, and some politicians have begun to change the language they use publicly, based on successful, peaceful interaction at the community level. In 1996, following some violent flare-ups on the border between the two communities, those involved in bicommunal activities were instrumental in organizing a peaceful gathering on the buffer zone where three thousand people were present. The ability to mobilize in order to de-escalate a crisis reflects the power of this budding movement, and also reflects hope for a peaceful settlement to the Cyprus conflict.
Unfortunately, bi-communal talks in Cyprus have been on hold since December 1997, though the groundwork laid by organizations such as IMTD should prove beneficial in the longer term. --Eds.
Jamie Notter has worked at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy full-time since 1993, following the completion of his Master's Degree in conflict resolution from George Mason University. He has worked on IMTD's Cyprus project since that time, and has made six trips to the island. He has participated in nine different Cyprus workshops in support staff or training roles.
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"What are the people and nations of the world supposed to be developing into? Is there any clear cultural goal implied in the notion of global development? "
The Sounds of Global Change:|
Different Beats, New Ideas
By David Rothenburg
The latter class is usually taught by an economist, but it can also be taught by a professor who is, like me, a philosopher and musician, and I have taught it twice. That's because the idea of development includes conceptual and cultural issues as well as economic ones: What are the people and nations of the world supposed to be developing into? Is there any clear cultural goal implied in the notion of global development? And, most important, does development mean that the people of the world are moving toward one culture, or, somehow, toward a diversity of compatible cultures?
The last time I taught the global-development class, among my 40 students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology were native speakers of 18 languages. What unites those students, beyond a desire to fit into American society and get a good job after they graduate, is music. Wherever they're from, music is one thing about which students are always passionate. Many of them grew up on the pop-music image of America, with Michael Jackson, Madonna, and other world-renowned pop stars symbolizing a universal fantasy future -- of freedom, glamour, and easy wealth -- of which anyone who moved to the U.S.A. could partake.
But now that the students are here, the myths have dissolved into complicated realities. Their home cultures often come into conflict with what's expected of them in America, and they long for some way that their own traditions can find a way into the modern world. One way is through music. Though most foreign students grew up on American sounds, many gain a renewed interest in their own culture's music as they enter college. It helps them know who they are and where they come from.
Around the world, musicians are blending different musical styles with their own traditions in a complicated surge that sways back and forth between homogenization and variation.
In Estonia, all you hear is the relentless beat of techno-disco music, which sounds as if it's being piped in from some Big Brother in the sky, announcing that all the world can dance to the same drum machine. But the words to the music are in Estonian, and the tunes are emerging from local bands influenced by Western pop. Although we enlightened Westerners might lament that this influence is just more evidence of our pervasive cultural imperialism, it's important to put it in historical context: Traditional music from Estonia and other parts of Eastern Europe (such as that sung by the fabulous women of Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares) thrived under Communist regimes, which promoted a "pure" folk culture. Under democracy, in which the state doesn't enforce musical traditions, old music mixes more promiscuously with the new.
Popular music evolves through contact with the global marketplace, as its rhythms and sounds are altered to appeal to a mass audience. It's up to my students to decide if the modern music from around the world maintains cultural differences, or if the technology of music (such as the worldwide use of the same synthesizers to replace acoustic instruments) blurs different traditions into a kind of bland, multicultural Muzak. I try to convince my students that cultural differences do survive modern musicians' playful, innovative mixing of cultures and their blending of traditional music with new sounds and ideas. Sure, everyone is using synthesizers, I tell them, but did you know that most synthesizers can be programmed with the flick of a button to play an Indonesian or Arabic scale?
What's more, the lyrics, as well as the music, may contain a message of cultural difference. What do pop singers sing about? I ask my students. They say: the struggles and successes of love, most of the time. That's not all, I respond. The popular singers of the developing world, especially, are often concerned with the successes and failures of progress, and distinguish themselves from American and Western European pop singers by their willingness to tackle serious subjects. Consider these words from the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, who usually speaks French but sings this song in English and in his native language, Wolof:
"Rich countries make toxical waste; why should they send it to me? Poor countries know toxical waste; why should we accept it? When I'm in bed I can't stop thinking about it. When I'm awake, I have to warn you. Many of the underdeveloped countries are beginning to say 'No!'"
That 1993 song, "Toxiques," combines lyrics with a fast-moving electronic mix and a danceable beat. The sound is globally listenable but decidedly African, and the sentiment is something we don't immediately expect in a song. I watch my students wake up as they hear it. The message is not new to them, but now they want to get up and dance to it. It will be much harder for them to forget. I like to think that the song has helped to make a difference: With its world-beat style, its international availability, and its mixture of old and new languages, it brings a new voice of protest into the global conversation. Five years after its release, the practice of international trading of toxic waste is under more careful scrutiny.
Or consider the soothing voice and grounded rhythms of the Malian singer Oumou Sangare, whose first name means "songbird" in Wassoulou, her native language. Being a singer is a traditional role acceptable for women in the culture of Mali, but Sangare uses her role to sing of the changes that are needed in her country, rather than to uphold imperfect traditions. Here are lyrics, translated into English, from her 1996 record, Worotan:
"In the forest the anguished bird sings a song. More and more we live in a world ruled by individualism, a selfish world. I worry about the future of our world."
It sounds like the beginning of a student paper, but the words are embedded in a gentle, lilting melody. Sangare also protests polygamy, advocating the breaking of her country's entrenched taboos:
"Let us fight for women's literacy. Women, let us fight together for our freedom, so we can put an end to this social injustice."
Her songs are surprising in other ways, too: They combine the traditional sounds of Mali with a blues music stripped of its European-influenced chords and taken down to its true groove, one chord over unstoppable rhythms that seem as if they could go on forever.
Students are drawn in by these enveloping rhythms and melodies. They want to know what she is singing about, and they are surprised by the audacity of the words. Through the beauty of her music, a woman from a culture that traditionally represses women is allowed to speak out in a way that makes her whole country proud. Sangare's music is now one of Mali's claims to fame; the country is no longer known just as a place of political strife and of resources to exploit, but as a place with music that the world wants to hear.
Popular music gives melody and refrain to people's dreams and hopes. But it also can help people recognize the existing value of a culture under tremendous pressures to change. Consider the anthropologist Steven Feld's 1991 recording, Voices of the Rainforest, which presented the music and sonic environment of the people of the Bosavi rain forest, in Papua New Guinea, singing in haunting harmony with the birds of their home.
These are a people under constant economic and political pressure to give up their subsistence way of life and work in the giant mines that are destroying their homeland -- high-paying work that will last only a short time. Their music does not seek to fit global pop conventions, but it touches people all over the world with its captivating blend of human and environmental sounds. Money from the sale of the recordings has been given back to the tribe, and, according to Feld, has helped convince the Bosavi that their traditional culture is worth something in the looming world of international commerce.
Transnational banks think of developing countries as emerging markets, new places in which to sell Western stuff or manufacture Western ideas cheaply. But at the same time, such markets are also rich cultures that are able to offer up their music as part of the global exchange. The global music industry is beginning to realize as much, and the governments of developing countries are beginning to see that they have not only raw materials and cheap labor to offer, but also good, diverse music that can be performed and sold all over the world, while still being played -- and produced -- locally.
The more that Westerners learn to appreciate new and foreign sounds, the more we become truly part of a global culture. World music helps us appreciate that cultures evolve, and that none is more primitive than any other. We may live according to different precepts, but music is one way we can explore life together.
My students discover that the culture of Brazil, say, is not so foreign, when they hear Gilberto Gil's 1997 album, Quanta, which is full of references to science, spirituality, and the modern technological world. In one song, "Pela Internet," over a slightly machine-enhanced samba beat, Gil sings timely sentiments in Portuguese: "I want to enter the Net, have a chat, join via Internet, a group of fans from Connecticut, I want to enter the Net to contact the homes in Nepal, the bars in Gabon.... With how many gigabytes does one make a raft, a boat that sails in this info-sea?"
The subject of that song surprises my computer-and-engineering students, and confounds their preconceptions about the place of nations on the march toward progress. Suddenly, the music of what they think is a third-world country seems more up-to-the-minute than what's blaring from their speakers at home: Why don't we have pop songs about such things? When we consider ourselves part of a global community, the world's music belongs to all of us.
When the complex subject of global development becomes something to sing about and dance to rather than something simply to calculate and forecast, the personal side of world transformation comes to the fore. Throughout the world, we're singing of our individual troubles and collective responsibilities, and the world is evolving not according to some grand corporate plan, but in the fits and starts of people's own creativity.
Indian, African, Greek, Lebanese, Korean, Japanese -- I've got my whole class hearing and singing songs from cultures that somehow fit together. Sure, the world's developing, and no tradition will stay the same. But diverse musical strains need not fade away into one global monotone. If there is such a thing as development, it will include a joyful and chaotic mix of many sounds, a music that plays on while no one knows how it's going to end.
Copyright (c) 1998 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 5, 1998. Used with permission.
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