How can peace and justice be embodied? How can we move from thinking about societal problems to taking concrete action to bring about change? The Hague Peace Projects, a program bringing together diaspora communities in The Hague to think and act together to build peace, shows us how these principles can be brought to life.
Art assumes many roles beyond acting as a canvas for self-expression, from creating greater consciousness of societal problems to serving as a platform for activism. It is a central element of The Hague Peace Projects (THPP), a program that promotes dialogue and campaigns for change through a variety of means. The project, which engages diaspora communities to advocate for peace, can inspire others to become involved in this or similar local initiatives to embody the change they aspire to.
On a (peace) mission
Located in The Hague, known as the City of Peace and Justice, THPP is one of several programs working with diaspora communities to involve them in contributing to positive change in their home countries and across Europe. The project’s main goals are to work toward a world in which conflict between humans, groups of people and countries are not solved by violence, but “through dialogue, respect for human rights, and honest cooperation between equals” (THPP).
THPP was established in 2015 by Jakob de Jonge, himself an artist. The project seeks to help find peaceful solutions to (armed) conflicts. It brings together diaspora from conflict zones that live in The Netherlands, facilitating their collaboration toward finding realistic solutions to local conflicts. The project is based on the belief that diaspora communities know best what causes conflict in their home regions and how such conflicts can be addressed in a non-violent manner. Through dialogue, social media, blogs and public events of all kinds, THPP contributes to diasporic dialogues. THPP also views art as a medium of communication for peace.
Change through action
Jakob explains that he was inspired by his friend Sylvestre Bwira, a Congolese human rights defender, to start this project. Jakob defines THPP as “both a think-tank and a do-tank” spreading “creativity and hope”. THPP’s approach echoes the goals of ISS, which increasingly places emphasis on the importance of scholar activism in bringing about change. Both organisations wish to be “critical but constructive”, grounded in “grassroots communities”, and reaching out to influence “platforms of power”.
THPP is reliant on volunteers, who in turn feel themselves part of a movement for social justice and peace. Having worked with THPP on several projects related to the African Great Lakes region, I put a few questions to Jakob:
Can you tell BLISS readers how art connects with advocacy through The Hague Peace Projects?
As a ‘socially engaged’ artist, it felt weird working alone in a studio. I wanted to connect with people as much as possible, so I decided to engage people through my art. Through visual art I try to present the disturbing mix of horror and beauty that we see in the world. What inspires me is the hope that things can be different if you genuinely desire it to be. Art is also a way to uncover a glimpse of optimism, in the belief that ideas come to life through visualisation, as with THPP’s exhibition The Survivors, in 2016, inspired by a Syrian boy’s drawings. Idealistic as it may seem, THPP is all about transforming reality, however slowly.
What THPP activities have touched you most deeply?
What moves me and keeps me going are the everyday life stories of colleagues I work with. THPP is based on working groups of diaspora members (mostly refugees) from different conflict regions around the world. Each working group establishes its own space for ongoing dialogue between conflicting communities. This creates basic trust between those who might otherwise fear to connect with others in daily life. This trust becomes fertile ground for all sorts of relevant peacebuilding activities.
Two things have especially moved me: First, many colleagues in the THPP working groups have a history of severe suffering. Team members have personally paid a high price for being seen as a member of a certain social group, or for speaking out for the rights of others. They have been tortured, detained, lost their families, witnessed unspeakable crimes and finally, have had to flee abroad. They often lost everything.
Coming from Sudan, the DRC, Bangladesh, Uganda, Syria, Burundi, Turkey, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, it strikes me how resilient, hopeful and committed to change they remain. The people I work with strive for positive outcomes, even when these are hard to imagine. It moves me very much when you see a person’s attitude change over time, from fearful, emotional and easily triggered, to more relaxed, open and creative.
Similarly, publicly commemorating the murder of Bangladeshi writer and free thinker Avijit Roy, as we have done annually since 2016 remains a very special moment. It is a powerful reminder you can never really silence someone through violence. Seeing friendships develop between Turks and Kurds, seeing Dutch Somalis getting together for something positive like Somali poetry, rather than the usual stigmatising divisions, or just dancing together at THPP office with people of every background, including Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. There have just been too many beautiful moments!
After three years, how do you reflect on working in the City of Peace and Justice?
I collaborate well and on many levels with The Hague Municipality. We fully support their mission of striving to be a City of Peace and Justice. In fact, that is how we chose our name. “The Hague” gives many people around the world hope that their tormentors may eventually end up in prison in Scheveningen!
At the same time I believe much more can be done to make the City of Peace and Justice more than a mission statement. The idea is very powerful and creates a kind of responsibility to be different from other cities. The challenge is to show what peace and justice look like in reality, not only internationally, but for all the city’s inhabitants, and across all layers of policy.
How can interested parties become involved?
We are a 99% volunteer organisation and rely heavily on volunteers for goodwill and to take initiative. We always need qualified and motivated people to join our network, so if you are interested, please send an email and your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.