Burgemeester Conferentie ‘A Struggle for Peace’
Toespraak burgemeester Jan van Zanen
Utrecht, Domkerk, 7 april 2018
Dear all, dearest Liliane Ploumen,
Welcome to Utrecht. It makes me proud to witness that you have opted to attend in such large numbers today. A day which is devoted to peace. The struggle for peace. In the City of Peace. The city of the Treaty of Utrecht. A peace treaty concluded more than 300 years ago, just a few hundred metres from here.
Today, however, I do not intend to discuss the Peace Treaty of Utrecht. But rather Peace in Utrecht. And the way that we, in this city, endeavour to achieve peace. Resolving conflicts. Preventing conflicts. Ensuring that people are reconciled following a conflict. The issues that you, at the invitation of SIB, are going to discuss today, are large-scale international conflicts: In Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. The drug wars in Mexico. Disputes that are fought out on the internet: facts as opposed to fake news.
The topic of this 4th edition of A Struggle for Peace is boundaries. Issues regarding existing boundaries, shifting borders and new frontiers. But also: the boundaries to knowledge, identity and power. Boundaries to growth, requiring new solutions. National borders that have caused conflicts for centuries. Boundaries that promote peace are also addressed. As ways of restricting exploitation and violence. Boundaries to prevent problems: privacy protection, clear legislation, human rights treaties.
Today, we share our knowledge and inspiration on these subjects. After all, just like conflicts, their solutions often start off small. Conflict resolution starts, for example, in a community centre. At school. Or at home. You have probably heard of Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1948, she was one of the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It was her opinion that universal human rights begin close to home. In cities and also in villages that are sometimes so small that they can hardly be found on a map. I quote: “Those are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunities, equal dignity without discrimination.”
And I wholeheartedly agree with her. I also think that global peace begins in your own street. Your own neighbourhood or city. I would like to give you a few examples. Examples of how we, in Utrecht, strive to achieve this. The concept of the Peaceful School was thought up some 20 years ago in Utrecht. In a Peaceful School, children learn to jointly: make decisions, resolve disputes and avoid conflicts. The children serve as mediators. They are trained to mediate impartially between quarrelling schoolmates. And they therefore resolve conflicts jointly. Children are taught to bear responsibility for one another. For the community… This forms an excellent preparation for participation in democratic society. The Peaceful School concept is currently applied in 80% of the city’s primary schools. A huge success. So successful, in fact, that we – around a decade ago – also began setting up Peaceful Neighbourhoods. These operate according to the same principles as the Peaceful School.
Children, and also parents, volunteers and professionals, such as the community police, are learning how to apply the Peaceful Method. All of these residents of Utrecht therefore assist in resolving incidents in their area. They do so by mediating. Ensuring that everyone in the district counts, participates and is heard. In the Overvecht district alone, seven-hundred children have already been trained. It therefore has a community of seven hundred children who know how to mediate in conflicts.
That gives our citizens - and me, as a Mayor - cause for optimism. Because you know: youth has the future. And we all hope that it will be Peaceful future. Many of you are still in the 'young' category. I am glad to see that SIB has brought together so many young people for ‘The Struggle for Peace’. Fortunately, Utrecht has many good initiatives. Ones that we are happy to support. Ideas which enable people to jointly ensure that the world and the city remain a habitable place. Where we can live together pleasantly. Even though we may not always agree with one another. This is the basis for a city where everyone can be themselves... and truly feels at home.
Peace is not just a collection of fine initiatives or good ideas. Ambitious plans. Peace is a human process. I therefore want to speak about one particular person: Dwight van de Vijver. Dwight was voted Young Public Servant of the Year in a public poll held in January. Dwight is a policeman from Utrecht. Perhaps you know him better as ‘the rapping policeman’. He raps about issues including ethnic profiling, diversity and lover boys. And his engaging approach helps make such issues discussable. As a policeman, Dwight has the courage to clearly identify what is going wrong in his city. He uses the spoken word in an attempt to forge a sustainable, constructive connection.
This approach has also proven successful… He therefore provides a valuable contribution in efforts to make the city a better place. He sets an example to each and every one of us. The kind of person who gives one hope.
Three examples of the way that Utrecht is struggling for peace. Three ideas that are worth spreading. Peaceful neighbourhoods are being created in countless Dutch cities, towns and villages. There are already some thousand peaceful schools in the Netherlands. And the Peaceful School concept is beginning to catch on in Belgium too. In fact, there is even a Peaceful School in Japan. The concept continues to spread… Over half a million people shared Dwight’s video clip.
All these examples show that: great things often develop from humble beginnings. Gandhi started out small. And Martin Luther King, who we commemorate this week. They both started in their own neighbourhood. They struggled to make the world a better place. A tolerant world. A more peaceful world… Let us therefore continue to derive hope from such fine, small-scale initiatives. As well as offering a platform to people who have good ideas. After all, such ideas might one day develop into something truly great…
Syria, Yemen, South Sudan. We still have a long way to go, however. The Struggle for Peace truly is a struggle... to quote Martin Luther King: “I have a dream”. Peace is a dream worth pursuing. I trust that you will be much inspired and truly connect with one another today. Peace. It’s really worth struggling and striving for.