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From the classroom to the conflict zone

Trudeau Fellow visits campus

- January 23, 2013

John McGarry. (Trudeau Foundation photo)

John McGarry is one of the world’s foremost experts in conflict resolution and peacekeeping. At the moment, he’s the lead advisor on governance in the UN-led negotiations in Cyprus.

But his Trudeau Foundation lecture at Dal last week spoke to a much more modest conflict: that between the aspirations of students in the humanities and social sciences, and their more immediate concerns.

“The idea was to inspire the younger generation that when they go into the library and their lectures to think beyond the marks, the exams and degree and realize that really can make a difference studying the arts and social sciences,” explained Dr. McGarry, speaking to Dal News last week.

“People understand how doctors and engineers make a difference in people’s lives, but people don’t think that way of the arts. But depending on what you do, and there are many different ways to have an impact influencing government, advising on policy, bringing your expertise and insight to international organizations.”

Resolution focused

Dr. McGarry’s work bridges academia — he’s a political science professor and Canada Research Chair in Nationalism and Democracy at Queen’s — and advisory work. In 2008-09, for example, he was the first senior advisor on power sharing at the United Nations. And he’s the editor, co-editor and co-author of twelve books on the academic and practical aspects of ethnic conflict resolution.

“You don’t come with a model from somewhere else and say ‘here, try this,’ because every place is different,” he says, when asked about advising in conflict resolution. “But there can still be approaches that have been taken in particular places that may have benefit somewhere else.

“You don’t arbitrate in my line of work, where you come from outside and force a decision," he continues. "But you don't simply mediate, listening to both sides and say what is best. What you do is bring ideas, get the two sides to talk about solving their problems, and get them to udnerstand and buy into what they’re saying so that the ideas become genuinely theirs.”

Personal insight

Dr. McGarry grew up in conflict-torn Northern Ireland, a Catholic boy in a largely Protestant town. He says that experience as a minority in conflict not only influenced the direction his career has taken, but how he approaches his work.

“I’ve advocated for minorities as opposed to institutions that would lead to majorities governing minorities, and I’ve advocated decentralization so that minorities can have some degree of self-government. But of course, when you’re engaged in conflict resolution, you have to advocate for the protection or accommodation of minorities in ways the majority can accept. Otherwise, it’s not realistic.”

Dr. McGarry’s lecture was presented by the Trudeau Foundation and Dalhousie’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies.


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