Imperial War Museum Build The Truce

Announcement: Director’s Cut: guest blog by director Mat Norman

I directed the Build the Truce film now installed at IWM London, having worked on the project for several months with curators Catherine Roberts at IWM and Dr Tim Jacoby (University of Manchester). Becoming involved in a project like this can be daunting. There’s masses of research to do, new expressions to learn and experts to talk to. The learning curve is steep but once the research has started you wonder how on earth you went through your life not thinking about this stuff before.

For example, the civil war in Sierra Leone was a conflict I was aware of in the nineties, but I didn’t know how it started, why it kept going, the atrocities that were taking place. Since then, I have learnt of Charles Taylor’s and Liberia’s involvement, the unthinkably cruel amputations carried out on men, women and children, the drugged child soldiers, the family massacres and the destroyed homes and buildings. When the truce was brought about members of the militia, and civilians, had to return to their places of residence, or were moved to new areas where no one knew each others’ backgrounds. This I found very affecting. The rather inspiring aid worker Courtny Edwards says in the Build the Truce film: ‘In Sierra Leone, it felt almost like it was peaceful because people didn’t talk about it. Everything was still very strained, you didn’t know if you would be speaking to somebody who was ex-militia, an ex-rebel or somebody whose family was killed. You didn’t want to bring up that tension because they had to be now working side by side.

I spent a few days filming in Kosovo for Build the Truce. Even though the war finished 12 years ago, the devastation, both physical and psychological, is still evident. Even during the five days I spent there, there were four separate politically-driven incidents of trouble. An afternoon visit to Mitrovica Bridge was enough to see how KFOR (NATO Kosovo Force) were dealing with the problems of reintegration and peacekeeping. Mitrovica is a northern Kosovan city split down the middle by a river. The north of the city is home mostly to Serbs, the south to Albanian Kosovans. The bridge connecting the two parts of the city is a hot spot of trouble between the two groups. The bridge has been barricaded down the middle by a huge pile of concrete and rubble. Only small thin paths each side of the rubble let people pass, one at a time under the watchful eye of armed KFOR troops. When I was researching Mitrovica Bridge I was looking at Google images of the signs at either end of the bridge stating ‘malicious and provocative behaviour shall be repressed immediately’. On arrival at the bridge I tried to find those signs, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. They certainly weren’t standing where they were in those internet photographs. As I was getting ready to leave the bridge I spotted one of the signs bent and buckled, scarred and pierced lying trampled on the ground. It’s easy to not think about how conflicts end. Of course I’ve vaguely followed truce and peace processes on the TV news, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped to think about the complexities of these processes before. I guess I used to just think that everyone wanted peace, and the peace was worked out and the war was over. Easy as that.

In Kosovo I think I saw some of the realities of a truce, as investigated in this film. Yes, it’s peaceful, but that peace is fragile. It’s taking a large, ever-present international peacekeeping force to help keep it there, even twelve years after the war has officially ended. Families have lost loved ones, homes and land and it is going to take much more time and effort to establish true peace there. The current peace feels like ‘false peace’ being forced onto the population. Is it only a matter of time before large-scale trouble is once again reignited?

After watching the film I hope people leave with a better understanding of how complicated it is not just to make peace, but also to keep peace. Certainly I have. But I also have a higher regard for those that work in the field such as the interviewees in the film, those people who are at grass roots level, working in danger zones – for that is what they are.


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