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The Art of Taking Care


The art of taking care: a new European capability and entitlement

9.12.2020, Foundation


The art of taking care:  a new European capability and entitlement.

(Becoming wise after having all been so dramatically wrong)

Proposal for a series of initiatives aimed at strengthening professional skills in the field of conflict prevention, mediation and transformation, arising from years of reflection, training and good practices bred out of the ordeals of the Balkans'war.

Proposal background

The Alexander Langer Foundation's project is inspired by the engagement that Langer had during the years of his mandate as European Parliamentarian 1989-1995, where he made several proposals to initiate peace in the territories of former Yugoslavia.

Through the “lesson learnt” in Bosnia and the interethnic experience in South-Tyrol which Langer signed his youth, he matured the idea to transform the civilian voluntary service into a European Peace Corp. Therein, he also highlighted the need for professionalism and the importance of training for this new envisaged figure.

His established “European Civilian Peace Corps" was approved by the European Parliament in 1995 and endorsed by the European Commission in 2003.

In this direction the Alexander Langer Foundation has matured several initiatives since the year 2000. In particular:

Over time, the training involved universities, research institutes and voluntary associations located in other Italian regions, such as Emilia Romagna, Campania, Marche, Piemonte, Toscana, Umbria, Sardegna – which also benefitted from the European Social Fund (ESF) in their regional field of competency in delivering vocational training. This course has trained approximately 150 young peace operators and conflict mediators. Participants have incorporated these crafts and disciplines into their work practice and many have subsequently become promotors of experiences aimed at fostering territorial participatory initiatives and they have disseminated and multiplied skills in the field of positive conflict transformation.

Among the original features of the Bolzano training course, it should be mentioned the presence of a module that had BiH, and particularly the cities of Srebrenica and Tuzla, as a significant case study, location of possible internships placement with local partners and as the destination of a study trip made during the course. In addition, taking into account and enhancing the local experiences of the area where the course was held in Italy, the theme of ethnic conflict in South Tyrol and its complex dynamics was studied from various sides, such as the developments of the Autonomous Status of the Province of Bolzano – Bozen.

Central in this new professionalism is the ability to prevent, or rather the ability to grasp the clues of dynamics that can become disasters both natural and social, and that must be "taken care of" when they are still in embryo and therefore more easily governable. In the former Yugoslavia, before the outbreak of war, there were many such clues, systematically ignored or subject to weak and inadequate responses. The main reason for this generalized sloth, especially in the seats of power, but not only, is that the knowledge and practices of positive, creative, conflict management, the ability to transform diversity and conflict into resources, are absent in the dominant epistemology. Not knowing "what else to do", one preferred "not to see".

In order to remedy this blindness, the course for Peace Operators/Conflict Mediators, held in Bolzano, revolved around a specific training in active listening and positive and creative conflict management practices, vital skills to create contexts of mutual learning in tense situations. It also included a training module (classroom lessons and a practical exercise) agreed with the Alpine Troops Command, whose national headquarters is located in Bolzano, which put the participants in direct contact with the military experiences in the field of interposition or maintenance of agreed upon truce between the parties. In particular, the module allowed a theoretical and practical approach to the sensitive and sometimes conflictual topic of civil-military interaction. In line with Langer's "concrete pacifism" approach, this was one of the few Peacekeeper training courses to have included this aspect in his curriculum.

Some of the upheavals that in recent years are manifesting themselves throughout Europe, addressed mainly through police repression and sporadic economic concessions, would first require the skills and expertise of peace facilitators. Endowed with operational authority - and within a clear dialogical framework, such intervention can transform the anger and the feeling of bitter surrender that accompany the experience of not being heard into one of responsible co-protagonism. One thinks of tensions and conflicts with the relative affirmation of hate languages, which arise in relation to migrants, in interactions with police-forces, or conflicts in the context of an economic crisis and levels of unemployment. In addition, we can highlight the need to promote new forms of governance in a pandemic situation still full of unknowns, as well as the need to take care of our living environment.

Moreover, when drawing on Langer’s proposal for Civilian Peace Corps and the crucial role he attributed to members of civil society and local initiatives in conflict zones, due to their potential and know-how to make peace, one has to interrogate also the present day epistemologies and practices. Where is the figure of the civilian peacemaker today, and - if something has been learned from the tragic mistakes of the past - how are local skills of mediation in crisis and conflict contexts strengthened and recognized, and how do they find an answer in interventions by the European and international community?

Therefore, this initiative aims to advance the longstanding partnership between the Alexander Langer Foundation and its partners in BiH a step further. It is a question of resuming the ranks of the partnership built with the support of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano - Foreign Relations and Volunteer Relations Office - and the support network formed mainly by a number of associations in Italy, which have involved in particular the municipalities of the two cities, Srebrenica and Tuzla with the Associations "Adopt Srebrenica" and "Tuzlanska Amica" in a relationship that has never been interrupted to date.

This proposal is grounded precisely in this wealth of knowledge, of know-how and of experiences and learning trajectories and aims to leverage this wealth of knowledge, experience and training to systematize and formalize the entry of these skills into the world of professionals working in situations of tension and potential escalation of conflicts.

Why "The art of taking care"?

In 2013 the Foundation awarded its annual Alexander Langer International Prize to the association "Donatori di Musica", a network of artists, doctors, nurses, volunteers that takes its name from the commitment to organize - mainly in the oncology wards of hospitals - concert seasons, with the aim of building a competence of care, in a climate of empathy and questioning of roles. This award seemed a break with other prizes dedicated to the work of peacemaking and relief in places of conflict or environmental and humanitarian crisis. Instead, it was a shift: from the far to the near, a bridge from emergencies in political and social contexts to those that accompany our daily life dealing with illness and death.This bridge seemed fundamental to us to understand and welcome, in a creative and not superficial way, the importance of the usually ignored or snubbed dimension of "taking care", of dedicating attention and care even in very different situations, to the tensions and hidden potentials of humanity, connected to the conditions of injured and precarious life.

For this reason "the art of taking care" seems to us to be able to well describe the space for a new European qualification, a new European capability and entitlement

The project aims - through study, research, exchange of knowledge and through a deepened and strengthened interregional and cross-border collaboration - to foster professional skills that are essential for a culture of peace endowed with cultural and linguistic tools for the management, mediation and transformation of conflicts of different kinds.

Particularly in the contemporary context, these experiences and skills must be cultivated to respond to the growing need for civil society participation in the design of its habitats. In fact, to give voice and protagonism to civil society implies bringing to the fore - in an assuring context - diverging point of views, interests, values. Only from a space where everyone will be heard by everyone, it is possible to transform a polyphonic vision into a joint planning of futures, which can be reciprocally embraced.

In an increasingly globalised, interdependent, diversified and unequal society, it seems more necessary than ever to promote the learning of transversal skills (such as relational and linguistic-communicative skills based on empathic listening, emotional and cultural decentralization, as well as the ability to recognize, prevent and transform the languages of hatred, discrimination, disintegration) and targeted skills ( of analysis, mediation and transformation of conflicts). There are now many experiences of participatory territorial regeneration taking place in many regions and localities of the world; they are the core feature of a possible convivial and desiderable future for Europe and all humanity. It is therefore necessary to enhance these experiences, identify good practices as well as challenges and promote their dissemination.

In short: it is a matter of spreading, starting from the Gordian knot of the experience of the tragic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia - the patrimony of skills and experiences of conflict management, mediation and transformation that has become very consistent and authoritative in recent decades, applying it not only in situations of negotiation and therapy, but directly to the theme of building the social and epistemological foundations of a happy coexistence.

Project Methodology

  1. Creation of a network - involving in parallel Italy and Bosnia and Herzegovina - of learning and training to share information and experiences of good practices in the field of conflict management and mediation, starting first of all from the experiences of the numerous subjects and actors (teachers, students, inhabitants, members of institutions and associations) who have benefited from the training courses carried out from 2002 to 2012. Their role is to keep the whole enterprise and research always well rooted in the uniqueness and peculiarity of concrete situations.

2. Promotion of an interregional and cross-border platform of partnership, regional, national and international, in view of enhancing the professional resources related to the management and transformation of conflicts in order to develop an operational and concrete work proposal on the social and epistemological bases of a successful coexistence, which aims to find local, national and European financial resources.

Identification of Target Groups, to whom to propose interlocution and collaboration:

  1. Professions in contact with the public, such as operators in local institutions, schools, public administrations, health care, and law enforcement agencies;

  2. Journalists and communication professionals, including social media managers;

C) Activists and representatives of associations engaged in strengthening civil society; more generally : "local leadership"

D) Teachers, scholars and participants of professional/master courses for conflict mediation.


(end 2020-early 2021)

1. Workshops

Two workshops and two public events

(reformulated in part as online activities, due to the pandemic)

The realization of two workshops one in Italy and one in BiH aims to promote an exchange of experiences and the identification of skills, as well as the selection of places/entities where the figure of the mediator is necessary, with a view to a participatory and shared development of commitment and training paths. At the concomitance of each of the workshops, there will be a public event open to citizens, compatibly with the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.

Workshop 1 (Bolzano, Italy, December 2020)

Promotion of a seminar in the province of Bolzano, to be held on December 11, which takes stock of the experiences made through the course/Master OdP, with a view to reflect on possible future paths. The 20-25 participants are trainees who have benefited from previous courses from a professional point of view, as well as some of the ex-teachers still active. Initially conceived in a residential form of 1-2 days, due to the Covid the seminar had to be proposed as an online seminar on December 11. Partners in BiH will be invited to attend. Representatives of interested institutions will be invited to participate in the public event and subsequently involved in follow-up initiatives.


Workshop 2 ( BiH, Spring 2021)

This workshop will consist either in a two-day residential activity or an online event, depending on circumstances, to be hold in spring 2021. The participants (20-25) will consist of partner organisations in BiH (such as Adopt Srebrenica and Tuzlanska Amica), as well as associations, persons and institutions which are engaged in the promotion of dialog and mediation. The initiative will be attended by a small delegation from Italy.

Public events : In concomitance with the two workshops, respectively in Bolzano Italy (2020) and Tuzla, BiH (2021)

2. Publications

2.1 Writings and speeches by Alexander Langer

To facilitate knowledge and dialogue between interlocutors, in this 2020, which marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Alexander Langer and the genocide in Srebrenica, the publication of:

- an anthology of Langer's texts translated into the Serbian-Bosnian-Croatian language;

- a collection of Langer's writings and speeches in Italian, documenting his commitment, both parliamentary and in the "Verona Forum - for peace in the territories of former Yugoslavia", between 1989 and 1995, published by Infinito Edizione: "Quei ponti sulla Drina, Idee per una politica di pace".

2.2. The art of taking care

In collaboration with the monthly magazine "Una Città" there is the proposal to dedicate an edition to the theme of the art of taking care, collecting both publications of relevance previously published by the magazine, as well as new contributions resulting from the activities planned here.

3. Vocational training.

Parallel to these activities and within the spirit of these initiatives, in 2021 the Foundation is launching a first cycle of vocational training (with participants from the target group A above), composed by six modules ranging from anti-discrimination and hate-speech, to health-care and immigration, to conflict mediation skills.


(second semester 2021- 2022)

The idea (still work in progress) is to put into operation 2 crowdsourcing circuits both committed to achieving the goal of accrediting the profile of the citizen capable of fulfilling the tasks and holding up to the tensions and challenges typical of the member of the Civil Peace Corps.

Crowdsourcing 1 is meant to include all recipients of the Alexander Langer International Prize, in order to share the most interesting situations and experiences going on in their countries and in which they are engaged,

Crowdsourcing 2 addressed to all experiences and research centers at local and European level who share the conviction that the specific competencies of the Civil Peace Corps are fundamental for the medium and long term success of their commitment and undertakings.

Both circuits are called to engage in a common discussion on how to succeed in the "impossible task" of bringing to recognition at local and European level the necessary dissemination of the skills of "taking care" both as part of common sense and as professional figures for interventions in particularly complex situations.

Political authorities at local and regional, national and European levels will be kept constantly informed and invited to express their views and suggestions as the initiative assumes the appropriate scale and strength.

pro dialog