Divided Cities conference

LEONARD AllanDivided Cities conference
By Allan LEONARD for Northern Ireland Foundation
13 April 2009

I’ve arrived in Boston for a 3-day conference on divided cities, with delegates from Kirkuk (Iraq), Mitrovica (Kosovo/Serbia), Nicosia (Cyprus), Derry-Londonderry and Belfast (Northern Ireland). I had some responsibility in securing delegates from Nicosia, as well as Derry-Londonderry and Belfast.

The premise of the conference is that people from divided societies are the best people to help others in divided societies.

The Boston Irish Reporter described the organisation of the conference:

The conference is being convened by Padraig O’Malley, the John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies. In addition to dealing with issues such as race, ethnicity, religion, and political ideology, as well as the geographical flashpoints within each city where different sides clash, conferees will also discuss, in smaller groups, non-partisan topics such as electricity, water, and sewer systems and seemingly mundane topics, but topics about which O’Malley believes opposing parties can find common ground, and then work towards a greater understanding.

Ultimately, said O’Malley, the hope is that the representatives will agree to form a “club” of divided cities;annual meetings with each of the participating cities hosting the others on a rotating basis. For now, though, O’Malley just hopes to bring the group together, show them their common ground, and let the participants take it from there, including the setting of each day’s agenda.

“If they say, ‘Where’s the agenda?,’ my response will be ‘There is no agenda, because this conference is yours,” says O’Malley, “and you, as people from divided cities, have a far better idea of what you should be talking about to each other, than I do. This conference is yours, not ours. We are here to serve you, not to impose on you.”

The conference will end with a public panel discussion on Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at UMass Boston’s Campus Center, titled “Divided Cities: Common and Uncommon.”

The conference is being created through a partnership with the American Ireland Fund, with sponsorship from Robert and JoAnn Bendetson, the Connors Family Fund, the Doubletree Hotel Bayside, the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, the John Joseph Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston, the University of Massachusetts system, the University of Massachusetts Boston, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and William Monroe Trotter Institute at UMass Boston.

I am pleased to say that the Northern Ireland delegation arrived safely. It was Derry City Council Deputy Mayor Maurice Devenney’s first trip to America, and the jet lag affected him promptly; Alderman Devenney retired early. For the rest of us who knew that the best way of beating east-west jetlag is to stay up as late as possible on the first night, we chatted over some refreshments.

Prof. O’Malley greeted all delegates at an evening reception, and some inter- and intra-group networking had already commenced. O’Malley explained how the next several days would work, and all took it in stride.

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