Sunday, 29 April 2012

Realism and Idealism

The month of April began with Easter and on a somber note. We accompanied the community to march along the road between Apartadó and San José, stopping to place wooden crosses at the different spots where people have been murdered.

We then accompanied the ACA on a trip to the beach, swimming in the sea, dancing on the sand and eating fresh fish. Accompanying a lively, energetic group of young activists is immensely fun. But it´s also an essential reminder of the importance of accompanying the community in this region, where people aren´t lively and don´t have energy, and there´s no way we can expect them to, because they are exhausted and beaten down by the overbearing and aggressive reality that they must relentlessly confront here.

We headed to Medellín the other week for our work retreat, for the two teams to come together to analyze and discuss the present political situation, the current climate of the conflict and our security protocols.

There I see a knife fight on the street and a beautiful tango performance in a classy milonga on the same night. I dance tango and talk about life in Buenos Aires to try to forget the violence here. 

Spending time with the larger team, we establish that I am the realist and the skeptic of the FOR Colombia Peace Presence Program. I cannot help but show disbelief and sarcastically raise my eyebrows while my colleagues discuss the wonders of homeopathy and acupuncture. I am the one to question whether there’s really a difference between cults and religions, seeing them as points on a scale of misguided lunacy.

I am much less of an idealist than many people who work in NGOs. Yet human rights accompaniment is also much less idealistic than the projects of many NGOs. It is a delicate beast. Based on political realism, our power of dissuasion depending on the government´s need to project a positive image internationally for the economic gain of the Colombian State, human rights accompaniment takes advantage of the realist structures of international politics to push forward a more idealistic project and to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

As my friendships here deepen, I find out more about how hard life is for women in rural Colombia. I struggle with stories of domestic violence, of women left with no money to pay for vital operations while husbands pay other women for sex, of women whose husbands abandon them when they’re giving birth. It makes me reflect on the correlation between inner and outer struggles, on structures of violence and how these are propped up and reproduced. If machismo forms part of a traditional, rural way of life, which I am protecting by giving these people the chance to remain on their lands, am I supporting the machismo which validates domestic violence? I grapple with these issues and reflect upon the limits of non-violence.

And yet, as human rights accompaniment fits within a more realist framework than an idealistic one, so too does the Peace Community. I meet internationals who project their ideals of non-violence onto this community, recreating it in their minds. The truth is that reality here is so different from our ideals. This community didn´t grow out of ideals, it grew out of a need to survive; neutrality wasn´t a value, it was a survival tactic. Notions of non-violent communication and the importance of inner peace are so far from death and guns, from massacres and constant threats, from kidnappings and disappearances. When I get mired in those complex questions of the application of non-violence to everyday life, I step back and look at the wider project, at how difficult it is to not participate in this conflict (if you were confronted by a huge group of camouflaged, armed men famed for playing football with the heads of their opponents, would you refuse to go to the meeting that they are requesting you attend?). I marvel at how much of an achievement that is in itself and I also am certain that this is the first step towards non-violence as a wider project which can hopefully then be applied to many more aspects of interactions in society.