Seminar on youth and conflicts – Strasbourg, 31 March – 2 April 2003 

Understand before you act

The participants in the seminar on “Youth and conflict settlement” presented the conclusions of their three days of debate in the presence of the Secretary General, Walter Schwimmer, and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Schieder. The main conclusion they drew from their discussions was that understanding a problem is the first step towards solving it.

For three days young Israelis and Palestinians, Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Azeris and Armenians addressed the problems of conflicts other than the ones that are currently dividing or devastating their own homelands. On Friday, in the presence of Walter Schwimmer, who initiated the exercise, and Peter Schieder, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, as well as a number of other Assembly members, the thirty or so young people gathered at the European Youth Centre to present their insights into these problems.

Some of the conclusions might have brought a wry smile to the audience’s lips, as the young people took up old refrains from the diplomatic debate, or we might have chuckled at certain views which have now been overtaken by events, but no one was in any doubt about the serious thought that had gone into this seminar.

We might start with a number of statements that contradicted all our preconceived ideas: firstly, none of the conflicts mentioned was deemed to be beyond hope of a peaceful, negotiated solution. This view might seem surprising in view of the official stances adopted by the parties involved, but to the young people present such a way forward was a certainty. They are utterly convinced that a just, peaceful settlement is possible, even if they sometimes expressed their convictions in rather naïve terms or with reference to “realities” which are yet to be encountered on the ground. Whichever conflict they were discussing, none of the participants even considered settling it by force. On the contrary, attempts to secure compromise, compliance with the international order and faith in the effectiveness of the law were pinpointed as the keys to conflict settlement.

“What we need most of all is youthful creativity, rather than legal solutions”, said Walter Schwimmer, perhaps attempting to placate a young Cypriot woman who had reported on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, prefacing her statement with the words, “We are all too aware of the value of people who like to give lessons”.

However, above and beyond the conclusions of the seminar, a very special atmosphere emerged from the meeting. By discussing conflicts other than the ones in which they were personally involved, participants noticed that there were other ways out of their own problems. For instance, the young Cypriots spontaneously informed the Secretary General of a resolution they had adopted alongside their workshop. Cypriots from both North and South had decided that their representatives should “immediately sit down around the negotiating table to ensure that we can all join the European Union, including the Turkish population”.