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Zespół Szkół Nr 14 XIV Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Polonii Belgijskiej al. Brücknera 10 51-410 Wrocław Dorota Wieczorkowska Domika Zaremba Edgar Łukasiewicz Teacher: Anna Rabiega

Searching for a culture of peace

According to the United Nations Resolutions A/RES/52/13: Culture of Peace 1 and A/RES/53/243: Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace 2 a culture of peace is defined as a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations. There are many ways to ensure the prevalence of peace, namely fostering a culture of peace through education, promoting sustainable economic and social development, ensuring equality between men and women, promoting respect for all human rights, fostering democratic participation, advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity,

A/RES/52/13, Culture of peace, UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY Fifty-second session, 15 January 1998, Agenda item 156, 2 A/RES/53/243, Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY Fifty-third session, Agenda item 31, 6 October 1999, 1

supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge, and promoting international peace and security 3. Although world leaders, powerful international organizations, regardless if of political or economic character, politicians, and many other important figures have their own significant role to play in creating the culture of peace, we decided not to elaborate on this part of the question. Their engagement and dedication for the cause is essential but, in fact, there is very little we can actually do about it, except for hope, write petitions or protest. Therefore, in our search for a culture of peace we would like to concentrate on those ways of achieving peace which originate from a particular atmosphere or a specific mindset that allow people live peacefully even if potential causes of conflicts are present, and the possibilities of creating such a situation. As we read in the Constitution of UNESCO: “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” 4 – we believe that opening the eyes and minds of people shall also open their arms to each other and create sustainable peace. In order to analyze the question of the culture of peace on a global level we found it useful to take a look at our local microcosm. We live in an extremely interesting city – Wrocław, where various cultures coexisted in peace for centuries, and we would like to find out, using our city’s example, and show, taking our conclusions to the global level, the importance of understanding and tolerance among different cultures, religions, and national/ethnic groups in terms of creating the culture of peace. In the face of globalization, communication between countries and people became so easy and fast that the possibility to integrate cultures from different parts of the world and implement peace among nations through understanding and tolerance is at least an option to take into account. Ever since it’s early beginnings in the 10 th century, the city of Wrocław was inhabited by representations of many social, religious, and ethnic groups. The reason 3


Ibidem. Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, London, 16 November 1945,

for that were two trade tracks, the Via Regia and the Amber Road, which passed through the city. The vast number of traders visiting the city brought their morals, customs and religious traditions with them. We can say that the city was a kind of a melting pot. The mixture consisting of Bohemian, Jewish, German and Slavic cultures made the city multicultural and so it became a “meeting place”. In the centuries to come the city was under the rule of kings of Poland from the Piast dynasty, Czech (both Jagiellonian and Habsburg dynasties) and German House of Hohenzollerns. After the Second World War it became part of Poland again. The German people who stayed in Wrocław were joined by others transferred from the eastern parts of Poland that were incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Among those people there were a significant number of ethnic groups like Jews, Lemkos or Ukrainians. The multinational nature of the population of our city is confirmed by the origins of its inhabitants. A piece of evidence could be brought to you by our team itself: our grandparents come from different parts of Europe – Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany or even Italy. However, history is not the only reason for the multinational nature of the population of our city. Nowadays, Wrocław with its wide educational offer of the universities, fast growing business opportunities, and plenty of interesting cultural events is very attractive to newcomers, which gradually adds up to its national diversity. For example, the Foreign Language Teacher Training College established in 1990 with a main aim to educate language teachers (English, German and French) about the cultures of the countries of the language they teach, organizes a lot of events to promote some elements of the common culture, such as typical feasts (Halloween, Pflingsten, etc.)5. Wrocław celebrates its diversity, and diversity of the world in general: the city is famous for organizing days of different countries, on which a chosen culture is promoted (we even had a Pygmy village built in the middle of our Market Square!). This summer there was a Festival of Minorities held – a lot of concerts, exhibitions and other uncountable ways of expression of both educational and entertaining value – a huge success with loads of people of all nationalities participating.


Wrocław is not just a meeting place of nationalities. As religion is almost always a part of a culture in our city one will find representatives of many offspring of Catholicism (Roman-Catholics, Greco-Catholics and, obviously, the Polish Catholic Church), Evangelicals (among them Pentecostals and Baptists), Buddhists, Jews (the diaspora consists of 300 active members), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (approximately 3,500 people), as well as Muslims6. We experience no trouble whatsoever from such religious diversity, quite the opposite: the presence of all these religious groups makes Wrocław a truly special place, as it’s not so common in Poland, which is rather much more homogenous (due to a less complicated history of the other regions). Although one might think that such a situation of peaceful coexistence and pluralism is natural in a democratic country, let us just remind the reader that this is not necessarily the case in many European countries… Here, again – like in the case of nationalities, the tolerant atmosphere has its roots in the past. In the beginning of the 1990s a Quarter of Tolerance (called also a Quarter of Four Temples, a Quarter of Mutual Respect) was established out of the initiative of the leaders of four main religions in Wrocław (Roman-Catholic, Greco-Catholic, Evangelical, and Jewish). The Quarter consists of four temples located in the old city centre, very closely together. Ever since that time the religious communities cooperate to educate their youth in the spirit of understanding, organize common events, pray together in an ecumenical way, mainly for the world peace7… When Dalajlama comes to our city (and it already happened twice), he says it’s his favorite place to visit. It is more than easy to figure out, why. Another interesting fact is that the Quarter is the only “quarter” in Wrocław – unlike many other multicultural or multinational European cities we do not have typically Jewish, or Greco-Catholics, or Muslim quarters/districts, or districts for national minorities and that’s why we call it a “meeting place” – all the people live together and all of the cultures coexist peacefully. The philosophical thought in our city has its own long history as well. Wroclaw has a long tradition as a philosophy development centre in this region, especially concerning tolerance issues. We can mention famous European saint – Edith Stein. She is a perfect example of a typical Wroclaw inhabitant – an extremely open-minded 6 7ławiu

Jewish girl. Born Jewish, she decided to turn into a Christian and became a nun. What is important, she did not do this to fight Judaism, she grew up in the culture and religion and respected it, she just preferred another one. Unfortunately during the Second World War she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and murdered as a Jew. It shows that even after changing the faith, she didn’t sign away from her Jewish roots8. Angelus Silesius – another philosopher of Wrocław – is famous for his German and Polish origins, his conversion to a different religion, his dedication to, and drawing on European multicultural and diverse tradition and culture in his work, for his life at the meeting point of various cultures and religions, and above all for his courageous search for what is common to all the people 9. Both, Edith Stein and Angelus Silesius, became patrons for two International Youth Meeting Centers 10 situated and functioning in our city with an aim to create a better reality for the future generations through dialogue among cultures, religions, etc. We see no coincidence in that! Norman Davies, one of the most popular historians of the 21st century, in his bestselling book “Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City” compared Wrocław to the whole Central Europe11. Taking everything into consideration, because of its complex history and geopolitical conditions, Wroclaw has always been a place where many nations lived together. Of course, there have also been darker times of intolerance and xenophobia, but after all the cooperation of the cultures is even stronger. Today our city is very unique because every culture found its own space. And, which is very important, the literal meaning of the word “space” is not as relevant here, as the metaphorical one. “Space” is not only “a place to live”, “space” is a way of thinking, mode of behavior, a way and a goal at the same time. In Hafsat Abiola words: „Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have, and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are”. We also believe that 8 ml 9 10, 11 N. Davies, R. Moorhouse, Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City, London: Jonathan Cape, 2002.

creating such space contributes to building the culture of peace, and therefore we wish to explore, how such space was made possible in our city – especially with its complicated history. Without tolerance, understanding and respect, there can’t be any real, sustainable peace. Without knowledge of others, of other cultures there will not be any understanding, tolerance nor respect. We believe that the best way to secure peace is to change societies by changing each person’s attitude, because touching only the political facet is simply not enough. By learning about other cultures, people become tolerant and able to respect them. The process may not be fast but it is very profound and can put into effect the idea of worldwide peace forever. It succeed in Wrocław and the formula should be transferred to the global reality, because, in our opinion, most conflicts originate in misunderstanding and lack of mutual respect among cultures and to avoid them people should be aware of the variety of different nations, religions, cultures, philosophical views etc., accept the variety and enjoy it!

XIV LO Im. Polonii Belgijskiej  

Project for International Forum "Searching for a Culture of Peace"

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