Ana Raffai – Croatia

Linked with our presentation of the The European Church and Peace Network.

Linked also with our presentation of Center for Peace Studies – Ontario/Canada.

And linked with our presentation of How churches become peace churches.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Every person is able to work for freedom. In each of us there is great potential – a resource for a better future. The beginning and fundamental question of change is: What can I do for freedom?”

Ana Raffai – Croatia

She works for the Center for Peace Studies; for the NGO Rand; and for the European Church and Peace Network.

Ana Raffai, a Roman Catholic Croatian theologian, has been training and mentoring over 500 peace activists on nonviolence and peace mediation over the last ten years. Together with her husband, she has designed and led various workshops for the Center for Peace Studies. Some of their trainees are now trainers in peace education themselves.

She also works with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Rand in peace education for different faith groups. Recently, she has become more involved with NGOs that are active in protest and training for protest. Ana Raffai first met the word “peacemaking” at the beginning of the war in Croatia.

When she looks back to her youth, she does not think she demonstrated the characteristics of a peacemaker: On her right hand she has a scar, dating from a fight with her younger brother, who was at primary school while she was in her second year of studying Germanic and Romance languages. He had taken something from her room and she chased him around the apartment. When he tried to save himself by locking himself in the bathroom, she smashed the glass in the door and cut herself.

Together with her husband Otto, Ana has designed and led various workshops for the Center for Peace Studies. Recently, she returned from accompanying some peace activists and groups from Eastern Slavonia. She typed up their project proposals, as they did not know how to type nor did they have a computer. Together they polished the text, so that they could receive funds that would enable them to improve and implement their activities more easily. Otto provided technical assistance for the computer.

Apart from their work in Eastern Slavonia, the couple also mentors peace workers in Banja Luka and in Benkovac. They are in contact with some of them by phone, rarely via e-mail. She calls this part of their work monitoring and support of peace activists.

It is important to Ana that individuals and groups should not be not alone in their engagements, that they are connected with others and that they have the chance to advance and develop themselves. Of particular interest to her are small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) because she thinks they are like antivirus programs for war — important for the prevention of possible future conflicts.

One form of mentoring teams is to intervene in internal group conflicts through mediation. Ana began mediation in a team with Otto four years ago, when a colleague asked them to help their group out of a stalemate situation, which was blocking their work. In longer training sessions, it is often necessary to use her mediation skills, as conflicts are unavoidable when a group lives and works together for longer than a couple of days.

Ana has lead training workshops on nonviolent activities in the last ten years with Otto, and in these workshops she can see how people change. In initial workshops with new groups, they work on topics which are important to nonviolent activities: communication, conflict, identity, values, prejudice, power, nonviolent resistance, Boal’s Theatre of Oppression.

When the program is designed for faith groups, they open up topics such as the Biblical prophets’ protests against structural violence. Over the last ten years, more than five hundred people have passed through these training sessions and workshops. When she sees them later active in peace work or other civil activities, she is overjoyed. Part of that success certainly lies in the assumption that the method of learning is of vital importance.

Apart from initial training workshops that the couple designed and led as a team for various organizations in the region from Banja Luka, Novi Sad, Fuzina, Sarajevo and Ohrid, there was also the advanced training of MIRamiDA Plus (from 1997-2003) and Peace Studies. This consists of a cycle of workshops on the art of nonviolence as part of the program in the Center for Peace Studies. In cooperation with the Center for Peace and Non-Violence in Osijek, they conceived and led programs for training volunteers to educate believers active in their faith groups. Some of those who participated in the training workshops are now trainers themselves.

For Ana, it is critical that peace education is accompanied by peace activities that contribute to peace building, and that the values and skills she promotes are applicable. She has invested a great deal of time and energy as president of the Board of the Center for Peace Studies. Today, she is on the Board of the European Church and Peace Network. She also works with Rand, an NGO whose mission is to build and promote nonviolent activities.

She has begun to involve herself in public peace activities. In 1994, she was co-organizer of the ecumenical prayers for peace, which took place every month in a different church of different Christian denominations in Zagreb. In this way, she was able to use her knowledge as a theologian to connect actual peace issues with Christian values. She greatly enjoyed this, as she likes to comine traditional or well-known fields with the new and the risky.

Some years later, she was co-organizer of the Women’s World Day of Prayer in Zagreb. Begun back in the 19th century, this Day is one of the first ecumenical events in the world. It raises awareness for the injustices and social problems in the world.

In 1997, along with seven others, Ana initiated a group called Dialogue that promoted the values of the European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz. Its central theme was “Reconciliation – a Gift from God and Source of New Life.” They visited different parishes within Zagreb and worked with groups on the theme of Reconciliation. Together, they prepared one of the liturgies at Graz in which they combined Biblical texts with multimedia elements. In the prayer, they showed images of childbirth that began with the cries of the labor and ended with the cry of the newborn.

Recently, Ana has been more involved in initiatives that were begun and implemented by NGOs, some being connected with protests or training for protests. She works increasingly closer with NGOs that are involved in a variety of actions.

Through peace engagements, Ana Raffai “updates” her faith: in everyday life, she finds examples and analogies from her knowledge of the Scriptures and religious education. The actualization of her faith is for her one of the most valuable life experiences. It is important to her not forget how her faith, which has fed her perseverance, often motivates people, who are not believers. This is one of the greatest surprises to her. In NGOs that do the most work today in the field of peace, she meets people who do not wish to work with the Church, but whose work and system of values have been great examples, if not to the believers of today, then perhaps to the believers of tomorrow who will connect their faith to their social engagement.

Today with the NGO, Rand, Ana and her co-workers have begun initiatives and peace education among believers from different faith groups and they hope to work on connecting those who want to promote peace and be actively involved in their region.

When someone asks Ana what peace means to her, the first thing that comes to her mind is this: Peace begins when people begin to ask themselves what they themselves can do for peace. And in harmony with that question, they begin to act. In her experience, peace means to work for peace.
She believes that peace work must be based on knowledge and skills, that sufficient resources are available and that contacts are fostered.

Another important element is something she calls spirituality, the atmosphere in which values take form in behavior and commitment. She likes to follow that delicate web of relationships woven among people, recognized through the synergy in their work. It is as if peace could grow from mutual respect, a free space for fun, for ideas, free from the pressure to “complete the task.” She loves working within a team, in the abundance of possibilities and solutions that come out of it.

Ana cares that her work carries faith to the world, in which there is a place for everyone, for there is sufficient good for everyone. Sharing with others does not make one poor, accepting from others does not reduce one’s dignity and that is why it is not necessary to panic and grab everything around, nor close oneself to the goodwill of others.

Ana believes that each and every person knows what he or she wants and needs. Those who work with people have the role of midwives, who help give birth to the potential that lies in each person and the longing that they carry within themselves. People can do much more than is generally believed, and they are much more able when they awaken that responsibility within themselves and connect with their own creative energy. This is Ana’s experience from peace work over the last years. This is what supports her belief that it is possible to do something for oneself and for the world in which one lives. (Read all this on this 1000peacewomen page).

(Excerpt) … Ana Raffai, a Roman Catholic, witnessed history being made in her country, Croatia. She is involved there in a peace education programme for Bosnia and Croatia, which she calls a “shalom service” since its aim is reconciliation. One thing her work has achieved is willingness to talk about the reasons for the civil war. “Now that the war is over, we are talking about ethnic and religious differences in our country which were taboo in the past,” she reported in the plenary. Raffai was firmly opposed to NATO’s intervention in the war, saying, “It is not right for decisions regarding the citizens of a country to be made from outside that country.” Doris Peschke, general secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, agreed with her and pointed out the difficulties that arise when it comes to judging events: “On this topic, NATO and the European countries are now quarrelling about access to the relevant documents and their confidentiality, so that we cannot even examine them to see if the intervention was really justified.” (Read the rest of this article on Churches for Reconciliation).

links:

Feminist Theology Pilot Project;

Woman’s Studies Center;

CENTRE FOR NONVIOLENT ACTION, 3 month report, March – May 2000;

Center for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights;

all links of bocs.hu (in many languages), and its homepage (in hungarian and english);

Church and Peace.

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