Columns to Give Insight into the World

  • School of Global Studies and Collaboration
  • Peacebuilding of hearts and minds
  • Professor FUKUSHIMA Akiko
  • School of Global Studies and Collaboration
  • Peacebuilding of hearts and minds
  • Professor FUKUSHIMA Akiko

The Case of origami (paper) cranes in Bosnia, showcasing the “power of culture” to bridge people in conflicts

My research focuses on International Politics, International Security and International Relations. When I conducted a survey on conflict resolution as part of my research activities, I had a very moving experience.


In 1998, I visited post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina to conduct a research on local peacekeeping and peacebuilding. One day I made a visit to a local junior high school to interview its students. We drove about two hours west by car to reach the school from Sarajevo, the capital of the country. At the school, students usually studied by ethnic group, but for the interview, they were gathered in one place after their classes ended. I asked them about their war experiences, their present ideas and future aspirations. After the interview, asked them to ask me questions if they had any. In response, one boy raised his hand.


The boy student said that he had read a story about Sadako and origami (paper) cranes in English. It is a story of Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to atomic bombing at the age of two in Hiroshima in 1945 and died of leukemia 10 years after the exposure. The boy said that he had been quite moved by the story and requested me to teach him and other students how to fold a paper crane so that they could fold the thousand cranes in their wish for peace in the Balkans.


In response, I strived to teach them how to fold a paper crane by using notebook paper as a substitute for origami paper, for nearly two hours. At the beginning, the students sat by groups of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and Serbs, but gradually they began to teach each other how to fold “this part” and “that part” beyond the ethnic boundaries and shared the joy of seeing completed paper cranes together, with smiles on their faces.


I cannot forget the smiles of the children. Since I had that experience, I have always carried origami paper in my travel bag whenever making trips to conflict areas.


The experience has made me recognize the “power of culture” bridging people in conflict affected communities.


I wondered why no detailed analysis had been made on cultural approach in the research of conflict resolusion while themes such as politics, security and economic recovery had been frequently researched. I therefore began paying attention to the roles of culture in the conflict resolution in my research after I became Senior Fellow at The Japan Foundation in 2006, which is a foundation specializing in international cultural exchange. I conducted surveys on cultural activities supporting post-conflict peacebuilding, such as drama workshops held in Aceh in Indonesia and a project to organize a competition of literary works about the memories of conflicts in Southeastern Europe.


In the post-cold war world, intra-state wars, rather than inter-state wars, have increased. For intra-state wars, those fighting against each other would have to live as neighbors and within the same community after the war is ended by the conclusion of a peace agreement. In order to consolidate peace in such a situation, it is critical for the people to have communication, mutual understanding and reconciliation beyond their ethnic and religious differences. To help them do this, political support, security support and economic support measures have been given to them. I believe that the implementation of cultural measures could also help enhance peacebuilding.


In this column I would like to introduce some examples of sporting, cultural, and artistic activities that help resolve conflicts and fostering inter-ethnic harmony and coexistence and to consider the “power of culture” that can support peacebuilding.

Fostering inter-ethnic harmony through sports

Football is one of children’s favorite sports and is useful as a means to foster communication between confronting groups and help people regain their self-confidence and find hope. As an example of this, I will introduce A Barefoot Dream. This is a drama film made in South Korea featuring a boys’ football team in East Timor.


This sport drama co-produced by Japan and Korea is based on the true story of a Korean head coach, Kim Shin-hwang, who led his football team composed of children in East Timor, which was facing poverty after their fight for independence, to victory in an international kids football competition. 


In the film, Kim Won-kang, who used to be a promising professional footballer, failed in the business he had launched after retirement as a football player and visited East Timor in his search for a new life. In East Timor he saw local children playing football with bare feet. Then he opened a football equipment store to sell football boots to these children on a daily installment of one dollar and taught them how to play football. One day, knowing that an international Kids football competition would be held in Hiroshima, Won-kang decided to have his team participate in the event.


The civil war and independence were exerting serious influence over boys in East Timor, as depicted in the film in the relationships between two boys, Ramos and Motavio. Ramos’s family members and relatives had fought for the independence of East Timor and after its independence were killed or injured by pro-Indonesian militia, while Motavio’s family members and relatives had been supporting the pro-Indonesian group. Against this backdrop, the two boys often quarreled about minor issues, but gradually began to understand each other through playing football.


Kim Shin-hwan, based on whose true story the film about the head coach Won-kang was made, said that he had decided to become the coach of the football team hoping that children of East Timor would not have the same experience as he had due to the Korean War in his home country. He had a deep understanding about how it was unreasonable and sad for people of the same ethnic group to hate each other.


The boy’s football team led by Kim Shin-hwan won the annual international football competition “Rivelino Cup” held in Hiroshima for two years in a row in 2004 and 2005. The film gave hope to the world by introducing the fact that children of East Timor, where people suffered war and conflict, became world champions in the city of peace Hiroshima.


Let me introduce another example of “peacebuilding through football.”


In Mostar, which is a city located in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a site of much ethnic conflict, a sports academy named Mali Most (meaning small bridge) was opened in 2016, as planned by Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, former captain of Japan’s national football team and present manager of Gamba Osaka, with a view to fostering inter-ethnic harmony.


The Bosnian War continued for more than three and a half years from 1992 to 1995, causing the deaths of 200,000 people, and the number of people who became refugees or internally displaced exceeded 2 million. People in the region still have a feeling of antipathy between different ethnic groups due to the war and resulting murders. Mr. Miyamoto began getting involved in the issue through the “FIFA Master” graduation project. The FIFA Master is a master’s course provided by the International Football Association (FIFA), in which students learn about sports-related organizations and laws. Through the graduation project, Mr. Miyamoto and his colleagues decided to provide children in Bosnia and Herzegovina with opportunities to run after a football together, including Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), Croat and Serb children. Wanting to see smiles on the children’s faces and to help them become national leaders in the future by overcoming the history of ethnic conflict, Mr. Miyamoto and others proposed a truly feasible project.


Subsequently, the project team members, including Mr. Miyamoto, approached the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and won its support under the program for Grass-Roots Grant Assistance Human Security Projects. Then the team established a corporation and negotiated with the local ministry of sports and football association in the region, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and others in a patient manner. As a result, finally in October 2016, they were able to open Mali Most. In the ceremony to deliver the football academy established by Japan’s support to the city of Mostar, Ivica Osim, a Bosnian and a former manager of Japan’s national football team also participated. About 60 people, including Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and Serbs are registered with the academy. Mr. Miyamoto says, “Once you play football together, ethnic differences will not matter. I would like to communicate the importance of fairness and respecting each other to children through football.”


For comprehensive peacebuilding, not only football but also marathon, tennis, judo and various other sports play important roles. Sports can be a universal common language that is usable across national boundaries and beyond ethnic divide and memories, even including hatred. They could be a key bridge to promoting communication beyond identity differences.


City of Mostar, where the base for Mali Most activities is located

“Big experiment” made through music

Just like sports, music can also play an essential role in peacebuilding efforts to help people involved in conflicts to take an objective view of the conflicts and build mutual trust. In the following I will introduce one of the examples to prove this, specifically about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which was founded by Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian-American professor of literature Edward Said with an eye to fostering mutual understanding between Israeli and Palestine people.


The orchestra was launched against the background as explained in the following. In 1999, when Barenboim was asked by the committee founded to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Goethe to organize a music event in Weimar, Germany, as part of the cerebration, they proposed that a workshop be held by inviting about 70 young musicians from Israel, Palestine, Arab countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt), Iran, and Turkey to Weimar. Edward Said later said that he had thought it would be interesting if they could have an orchestra composed of musicians from these countries perform together, modeled after Goethe, who made a wonderful anthology of poems with great passion for Islam. Weimar is a place called the cultural center of Europe and the two called the workshop a great experiment in which musicians would get acquainted with the unknown.


After the workshop was held in Weimar, the orchestra continued to conduct its activities, including staying in Seville, Spain together for three weeks every summer. At this annual summer camp, the orchestra practiced in the morning under the leadership of the conductor Barenboim and in the afternoon, they enjoyed swimming, basket ball and so on. Also, several times a week they were provided with an opportunity to discuss with each other under the leadership of Said in the evening. Members of the orchestra discussed music, culture and politics based on the precondition that they would not argue politics too straightforwardly.


Members of the orchestra said that they could have dialogue by sharing the same music stand, even if they had different opinions. One boy who participated in the orchestra from Jordan as a pianist was reported to have said, “I thought Israelis were some different creatures, but the workshop has taught me they have similar interests and lead similar lives with us.” Music has no boundaries and all members of the orchestra worked together. Playing music together helped them understand freedom, equality, and the importance of approving each other.


The scope of the orchestra’s activities was further expanded. In December 2016, the Barenboim-Said Academie was opened at a place behind the building of the Berlin State Opera in Germany. Barenboim had been particularly devoted to open this academy. The academy provides young musicians selected as scholarship students from the Middle East with opportunities to study music in Berlin for three years. The German government appreciated this project as one through which the country could contribute to peace in the Middle East and invested 20 million euros for the construction cost of the academy facilities, which totaled 34 million euros. The government announced its intention to continue financial support to the academy.


In 2013, Barenboim was interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun, in which he stated what would later constitute the philosophy of the new academy.


“Music leads all different people to harmony as the foundation for hope. Musicians cannot make any contributions to politics but can deal with the lack of curiosity. Being curious means to be inclined to listen to others. The major cause of today’s political confrontations is the lack of attitude to listen to others.”


Music of course makes changes not only to the mindsets of the performers but also to the audience. It is important for peacebuilding to deliver enriching music to people who were exposed to the sounds of gun shots and explosions. In conflict areas, I saw those who attended a concert for the first time in many years get excited by the music, which proves the power of music. Music can bridge people divided in communities.

Culture alone cannot build peace

These examples show the important roles that can be played by sports and cultural activities in building peace in people’s mind.


The first role of cultural activities is to provide people in different positions with an opportunity to share the same time and common space. Young musicians of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra stayed together for three weeks to practice music and to discuss with each other, thereby understanding the importance of dialogue and paying mutual respect as human beings. Also, the experience that children had by playing football together at Mali Most will help them live in harmony with others beyond ethnic barriers in 10 and 20 years from now. Cultural activities allow divided people to have plural identities beyond their ethnic ones such as parts they play in football temas and in orchestra.


The second role is to serve as a catalyst. In the origami crane story that I introduced first in this column, children wanted to fold paper cranes, a thousand cranes in their wish for peace, and began to teach each other how to fold one beyond ethnic boundaries. Also, through football and music, players can understand each other and build relations of trust with each other by wanting to be able to play better.


The third role is to help people recover pride and a sense of solidarity. The boys’ football team of East Timor became the champion in an international competition as a result of working together beyond their mutual identity differences, and this helped not only the team members but also their supporters, including their parents, relatives and local inhabitants to recover their almost lost pride and a sense of solidary as citizens of East Timor.


Cultural activities are therefore expected to play an important role of empowerment in the peacebuilding process. In particular, in intra-state wars, people who fought against each other will have to live as neighbors or members of the same local community after peace agreements are made. For these people, it is essential to build peace also in their mind so that they can accept and live with those who used to be their enemies.


However, support through cultural activities alone cannot build peace. Cultural activities can contribute to peacebuilding only when they are conducted in a comprehensive manner along with political support, security support and economic support activities. We must not forget this.


Ethnic conflicts also hurt people mentally in various forms. Even if people in conflict areas look calm, they might have negative feelings in their mind, such as resentment, and desire for revenge. It is therefore not easy to lead conflict parties to reconciliation. Mr. Barenboim and Mr. Miyamoto do not use the word “reconciliation” and the like because they know how reconciliation is difficult.


From the standpoint of a political scientist, I would like to further clarify what roles cultural activities can play in comprehensive and multifaceted peacebuilding processes.


(This column is as of 2018.)

Study this theme at Aoyama Gakuin University

School of Global Studies and Collaboration

  • School of Global Studies and Collaboration
  • Professor FUKUSHIMA Akiko
  • Affiliation : School of Global Studies and Collaboration, Aoyama Gakuin University
  • School of Global Studies and Collaboration
  • Professor FUKUSHIMA Akiko
  • Affiliation : School of Global Studies and Collaboration, Aoyama Gakuin University

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