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Peace Education

European Leadership Conference Celebrates Unity in Diversity

Norway-2008-08-21-European Leadership Conference Celebrates Unity in Diversity

Langesund Bad is a Norwegian spa and resort dating back to the 19th century. The beautiful rocky coastline with its calm inlets and the traditional Norwegian wooden architecture, set in the total peace of the wonderful scenery, made a great setting for the presentations, discussions and sharing during the European Leadership Conference August 8-10, 2008.

Our group of 70 participants represented a diversity of diversity both in age and background (including south, north, east and west Europe) as well as many different faith traditions and ethnicities. Once again, everyone was astounded at how we mingled together with such warmth and openness.

As it was difficult to find suitable flights to the local airport, a luxury tourist bus brought the majority of participants to the hotel on Norway’s southern coast. The three-hour bus trip provided ample time for establishing relationships as well as eating lunch and registration.

The Saturday afternoon conference was entitled ”Unity in Diversity–Finding the Way to Harmony in a Multicultural Society” and gave valuable insights to the participants on how to undertake the important work of building harmony in our societies. Ms. Saleha Jaffer spoke of her experiences promoting community cohesion in London, mentioning that community cohesion is a real buzz-word and advocated as an essential goal, but that UPF is the best in the market.

Dr. Jan-Willem Bertens, former European Parliamentarian and Spokesperson for the Dutch Foreign Ministry, gave a gripping account of how international events and highly-publicized incidents in the Netherlands had led many politicians and a significant portion of the population away from decades of tolerance and from a very successful integration and openness towards fear and prejudice, in particular towards the Muslim population. He spoke of ‘something rotten in the state of the Netherlands’ that truly threatened community cohesion and caused him to feel anger and concern.

Mr. Alf Mönnesland, UPF adviser and educator, spoke on family values as the common factor in all cultures. He emphasized that family relations represent something universal, something everyone is concerned about, and stated that a greater focus on family relations could bring people closer together as a global family.

The cultural evening was a triumph: from classical viola and piano to yoga and gospel music; from Arabic songs to poetry and African dance. A feast of fun and upliftment with profound moments of apology and reconciliation intermingled with the cultural offerings.

Tim Miller’s presentations were well received and were, according to many, an eye opener into understanding UPF’s principles of peace. Each presentation was followed by comments from the audience. Remarkably, the participants must have caught the wonderful spirit of the conference as all the comments proved that indeed unity can be found within diversity!

In all, the three days were a good blend of presentations, cultural performances, walks in nature, sharing, and socializing: a combination well received by all the participants.

Photos by Ole Toresen and Steinar Murud

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