CBM projects: The Peace School in Mrkopalj, Gorski kotar

In the years 1991 and 1992 the war between Serbs and Croats was raging through Croatia, but the ethnically mixed region of Gorski kotar (located east of the Adriatic seaport of Rijeka) managed to escape an armed conflict. The inhabitants there, Croats and Serbs alike, overcame national tensions and tried hard to preserve an "active peace". These efforts resulted in the foundation of the Peace School in Mrkopalj 1994, which became an international NGO in 1997. Its objective is to promote and to develop the multiethnic culture of Gorski kotar, of Croatia and especially of Southeastern Europe.

The aim of the Peace School is to intensify relations between members of different ethnic groups and to help them to preserve and foster their cultural heritage. For this reason various workshops are offered that focus on arts, ecology, communication and interaction according to the principle "learning by doing and sharing". Moreover, in its framework, conferences and seminars on peace and non-violent conflict resolution for adult participants from the whole territory of the Balkans were organized as well as income generating programmes for local adults, (wool processing, agriculture, eco-tourism). These programmes were implemented in Gorski kotar and in the Croatian Danube region. The wool processing courses resulted in a small factory in Mrkopalj, financed by the Caritas of Styria /Austria and the Swiss NGO "Causes communes".

The Peace School's scope also comprises ecological and humanitarian actions and the ecumenical dialogue. Most activities of the Peace School, especially workshops and seminars, have been funded by the Confidence-building Measures Programme of the Council of Europe, by the "Open Society Institute" in Zagreb and by the Diocesan Commission for World Church and Development Promotion of Styria, Austria.

The Municipality of Mrkopalj leased an old skiing hostel to the Peace School, so that it could have a permanent centre for all activities. Its reconstruction began in summer 1997. With the support of the interregional association Alpen- Adria, the above mentioned Swiss NGO, the Austrian Government and some private donations two thirds of the building could be reconstructed. The centre is urgently needed not only for the activities with children, but also for training adults belonging to various ethnic groups from war-scarred regions in non-violent conflict resolution, community building and regional development, especially in the framework of the repatriating programme for the Serbs in Croatia and the Balkan Stability Pact.

In 1998 peace school workshops took place in Montenegro and in Sarajevo, in 1999 also in Vojvodina (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), in Maribor (Slovenia) and in Republika Srpska, in 2000 a peace school course was held in Mostar. That shows the impact that the Peace School in Mrkopalj has on other regions in the Balkans. There are still close ties with all participants, especially with those who are engaged in peace groups and are multipliers of the peace school idea.