2024
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Monitor Daily Podcast

March 01, 2024
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TODAY’S INTRO

Poland’s lesson for the world

Paweł Płuska could be bitter or vengeful. The veteran journalist saw Poland’s previous, authoritarian government turn state media into a partisan mouthpiece. 

Now that regime is gone, ousted by voters, and Mr. Płuska wants to help rebuild. How? “There is no hatred, no poison, no hate,” he tells Lenora Chu. “This is public television, so all groups, even those that do not recognize us, have their place here. We explain to people that patriotism does not mean that you are a member of one party.”

Poland helped lead Eastern Europe out of communism. Today, its lessons are for the world. 

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A deeper look

On California ballot: Housing’s role in addressing mental illness

As states face rising homelessness and mental illness, Californians are seeking solutions. They will soon vote on Proposition 1, which would help people get off the streets and into homes and places for treatment.

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Olga Recendez, who works with adults with severe mental illness, greets a resident holding artwork. Ms. Recendez praises the artist, but the resident, a willowy woman diagnosed with schizophrenia, also has a question. Will they do something special for her birthday? “Yes,” Ms. Recendez reassures the woman. “You are special.” The resident seems pleased. 

“You just need that one-on-one,” says Ms. Recendez, who works at the ASC Treatment Group, a privately owned facility for 37 adults in Los Angeles. Absent this supportive environment, she could “very easily” become homeless, she says later.

As states grapple with rising homelessness and mental illness, politicians are under pressure to do something. California’s latest effort, Proposition 1 on the March 5 ballot, would overhaul the state’s mental health system to link it to housing. 

Proposition 1 has its critics. Some say more health dollars for housing means fewer for mental health services. Others say the measure will have limited impact. But polling shows nearly two-thirds of likely voters support it.

Experts say its significance lies in marrying mental health with housing on the California ballot. “There is no medication as powerful as housing,” says Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco.

On California ballot: Housing’s role in addressing mental illness

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Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Olga Recendez, the administrator of the ASC Treatment Group, an adult residential facility in Los Angeles, takes a break from lunch in her office Jan. 26, 2024.

A soft knock on her office door interrupts Olga Recendez, the administrator of a group home for adults with severe mental illness. She rises from her desk and opens the door to find a resident holding artwork: It’s an outline of a cat, loosely colored in with hot-pink marker and dotted with hand-drawn flowers.

Ms. Recendez praises the artist and clips the piece to a collection of similar treasures on a whiteboard. The resident, a willowy woman diagnosed with schizophrenia, also has a question. Will they do something special for her birthday? “Yes,” Ms. Recendez reassures the woman, not named for privacy reasons. “You are special.” The resident seems pleased, and the administrator gently closes the door. 

“These are the few things that make a difference,” says Ms. Recendez, who works here at the ASC Treatment Group, a privately owned facility for 37 adults in a Los Angeles residential neighborhood. “You just need that one-on-one.” It’s one of the reasons the client has succeeded in living here for more than a year – remarkable, given her history of psychiatric hospitals, failed community placements, and urge to run away. Absent this supportive environment, she could “very, very easily” become homeless, says Ms. Recendez.

As states across America grapple with the twin challenges of rising homelessness and mental illness, California’s counties are clamoring for more places like ASC. But there aren’t enough of them. Neither is there enough affordable housing in this expensive state. Despite billions spent in recent years, homelessness has increased, and many unhoused people struggle with mental illness and addiction. All of this has rolled into a perfect storm impacting public health and safety, businesses, and quality of life – making homelessness a top concern for California voters.

Politicians, not surprisingly, are under tremendous pressure to do something. Their latest effort, Proposition 1, which will be on the March 5 ballot, would overhaul the state’s mental health system to firmly link it to housing. For the first time, counties would be required to spend behavioral health dollars on housing for homeless people with mental illness and addictions. Proposition 1 also includes a $6.4 billion state bond to secure supportive housing and treatment places for homeless people, with $1 billion for veterans. Gov. Gavin Newsom dubs it “treatment, not tents.”

The measure has its critics. One main objection is that more county behavioral health dollars for housing means fewer for mental health services. While the ballot measure promises more than 11,000 places for treatment and living, the independent state legislative analyst says the new measure would reduce statewide homelessness “by only a small amount.” Yet the legislation behind the measure passed with near unanimity in Sacramento last year. Opinion polling shows nearly two-thirds of likely voters support it.

“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco. But given funding constraints, “we really don’t live in a perfect world.”  

This is not a new problem for California. Homelessness in the Golden State is by far the highest in the nation, reaching 171,521 in 2022. That’s a third of the total national count and far outpaces second-place New York. Last year, the Benioff initiative conducted the largest study of homelessness ever undertaken in California. Two-thirds of participants reported symptoms of current mental health challenges. Only 18% had recently received nonemergency mental health treatment. One in 5 who used drugs or alcohol said they wanted treatment – but couldn’t get it.

Even if the ballot measure won’t reach as many people as need help, Dr. Kushel says its significance lies in the marrying of mental health with housing. “There is no medication as powerful as housing,” she says. “There is no amount of fancy health care that I can provide for someone that can really do much if they are still homeless.”

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Members of the Resiliency Empowerment Support Team talk to a homeless person sleeping under a bridge in Chico, California, Feb. 8, 2024. A measure aimed at transforming how California spends money on mental health will go before voters in March as the state continues to grapple with a homelessness crisis.

Consequences of closing state hospitals

The nation, including California, is still grappling with the seismic mental health shift of the 1960s – the closing of America’s ill-famed state psychiatric hospitals. No one wants to go back to the asylums that warehoused patients in locked wards, often for decades. The 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” dramatized this hidden world, ending with the main character’s tragic lobotomy. The film swept the Oscars.

President John F. Kennedy tried to create a landing place for the newly discharged patients by setting up community mental health centers in the early 1960s. By 1977, nearly 400,000 state hospital beds had disappeared. But only 5% of those discharged patients were reappearing in the new local mental health centers, which mostly handled less acute cases, according to “Healing: Our Path From Mental Illness to Mental Health,” a book by Dr. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. 

At the same time, the Vietnam War sent home veterans who were struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions, left to fend for themselves. “A whole range of things came together, and that really was the beginning of the homelessness epidemic,” says Dr. Insel in an interview. 

Compounding this, in 1982 President Ronald Reagan sent federal funding for mental health community centers back to the states as block grants. Many states had other priorities and pressures. They focused instead on building prisons and jails, which have become de facto mental health institutions.

“It’s an absolute disaster for people with these illnesses,” says Dr. Insel about those who end up in jail. Proposition 1, he says, tries to undo some of this history and help “this very neglected part of the population who has always had a very treatable illness.” 

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of the nonprofit LA Family Housing, stands in front of The Fiesta apartments, permanent supportive housing for individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness, in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2024.

Housing and care together

Stephanie Klasky-Gamer is giving a tour of The Fiesta, an apartment building in North Hollywood designed for those who are chronically homeless with severe and persistent mental illness.

It’s run by her nonprofit, LA Family Housing, and is the type of housing that could be covered by Proposition 1, if it passes. Known as permanent supportive housing, it’s independent living, with supportive services for those who want them.

Stepping out of the elevator, Ms. Klasky-Gamer greets a resident, Joseph. Seven years ago, he was living under a freeway overpass. This afternoon, he’s carrying two new king-size pillows up to the studio apartment that he has called home since The Fiesta opened in January 2017.

This is how you measure success, says Ms. Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of LA Family Housing: “That he is stable. That he is able to go out and buy two new pillows for his bed, because literally he came in with nothing.” 

She remembers the initial move-in day for residents. “It was pouring out,” she recalls, “and people came in with trash bags, dragging their belongings. That he’s here seven years later, looking healthy, able to use his fixed income to take care of himself – that’s pretty good.”

What’s made the difference, she explains, is having housing and services in the same place. The nonprofit owns and operates more than 30 properties across the county – from converted hotels to new buildings. That integration model is showcased here at its headquarters, a contemporary campus designed by Ms. Klasky-Gamer, alongside an architect. 

Tall glass windows let in shafts of natural light. Courtyards and planters invite socializing – or relaxing. The campus features a health center, dental clinic, on-site case management, and spaces where visiting professionals can offer services like legal advice and employment help.

Families and adults transitioning from homelessness live in interim residences on one end of the campus. The Fiesta, with its 49 studio units, is on the other end. Each apartment floor has its own case manager, located across from elevators and near mailboxes so that counselor-resident interaction is a daily routine. That’s important because accessing services is voluntary.

Ms. Klasky-Gamer backs Proposition 1 because of the need for capital investment in housing after decades of slow-growth policy in Los Angeles. In 2022, homelessness in Los Angeles County reached 75,518 people, up 9% from the year before.

“Without the housing itself, we will make no dent in ending homelessness,” she says.

Moneys from Proposition 1 can’t come soon enough for LA Family Housing. Her organization has 750 permanent supportive housing units in the pipeline. Without those, she says, people moving up from interim housing have nowhere to go.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass speak in support of Proposition 1 at a news conference in the Los Angeles General Medical Center in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2024.

Proposition 1 side effects

Proposition 1 takes up 68 pages in the voter guide. Not exactly an easy read. It would overhaul a law that voters passed two decades ago when they approved a “millionaires tax” for mental health services. It was considered revolutionary at the time and raises $2 billion to $3.5 billion each year. 

Proposition 1 would change that setup in key ways. It adds substance abuse to the ills covered by the tax. It directs a small slice of the tax to training mental health workers, of whom there is a huge shortage. And it requires county mental health departments, which get most of the tax revenue, to divert 30% of those funds to housing that runs the gamut, from group homes, to motel conversions, to secure facilities.

But there is pushback. A group called Californians Against Proposition 1 argues that diverting a third of the tax dollars to housing would hinder current, effective mental health services – like early prevention, outpatient treatment, and crisis intervention.

In San Diego County, for instance, the millionaires tax supports a network of crisis stabilization units – alternatives to emergency departments. Staffed with mental health professionals and peer supporters, they help people access care closer to families and support services, explains Luke Bergmann, director of the county’s Behavioral Health Services.

The stabilization units “have had some pretty dramatic impacts on access to care,” says Dr. Bergmann. If he loses those funds, he asks, “where will I find money for this core behavioral health care service?”

While he welcomes Proposition 1’s emphasis on infrastructure, he says it’s asking counties to do more with less. A silver lining, he hopes, would be if this forces a discussion about how to fully integrate behavioral health care with general health care, instead of having it siloed off with special funds and programs as in Proposition 1.

Supporters acknowledge the funding trade-off, but they say the focus must shift to housing. “The nature of our mental health crisis and homelessness have changed a lot over the last two decades,” says Anthony York, a spokesperson for the Yes on Prop 1 campaign. “We have to be able to prioritize.”

Critics target another issue: locked facilities and forced care. California now has only one-sixth of the psychiatric hospital beds it had in the 1950s, which is not enough for some mental health advocates. But others oppose Proposition 1’s provision for more locked settings. 

“It’s really hiding the problem, not solving the problem,” says Paul Simmons, one opposition campaign leader.

In recent years, the state has also broadened the legal framework for conservatorship, which allows a judge to appoint a decision-maker for those who can’t manage alone. Civil rights advocates and others have fought this trend, arguing that forced treatment violates a person’s liberties and can make conditions worse.

Alex Barnard, author of the book “Conservatorship: Inside California’s System of Coercion and Care for Mental Illness,” sees Proposition 1 as a harbinger of a nationwide shift toward more restrictive, high-level mental health settings. He notes New York’s nearly $1 million fine levied against Rochester Health last year for failing to bring dozens of psychiatric beds back online after the pandemic.

“You’ll hear inflated or exaggerated claims that we’re going back to the mass institutionalization of the 1950s,” says Mr. Barnard, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University. “But I don’t think that’s happening.”

The Proposition 1 campaign says the emphasis on locked facilities is misplaced and expects that much of the new housing will be built for higher-functioning people. 

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Michael Rosberg, co-owner of ASC Treatment Group, sits in the newly landscaped grounds of the adult residential treatment facility in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, Jan. 26, 2024.

An investment that paid off

Back at the residential facility in East Los Angeles, ASC executive director Michael Rosberg questions how wisely those Proposition 1 dollars would be spent. Too often, he says, housing is built to work for staff, not those they serve. Like Ms. Klasky-Gamer, he’s a believer in human-centered design as a way to improve mental health outcomes. He’s applying those concepts in a completely different setting that could also be covered by Proposition 1.

ASC runs two treatment residences, as well as an outpatient clinic. But unlike The Fiesta, these are communal living, two-to-a-room, with 24-hour board and care in what’s called adult residential facilities. ASC’s clients typically come from acute and locked settings. Most are indigent, on disability. They stay for about 16 months to stabilize and then move to more independent arrangements with wraparound services – places like The Fiesta. Sometimes they return to family. 

On a bright winter day in January, Dr. Rosberg is at the ASC site in Los Angeles, mingling with a few residents on recently landscaped grounds. The peaceful setting, with snowcapped mountains as backdrop, is an investment that has paid off in dramatically improved client behavior.

With a government grant that helped replace turf with drought-resistant landscaping, ASC has transformed its 2-acre site from a patchy, grassy area that people didn’t use to one of healthy ground cover and intersecting gravel paths that lead to social spaces. Benches, a pergola, and a vegetable garden allow for togetherness, while a big tree at the property’s edge provides a private haven where one client rests. It’s his favorite spot.

“We wanted it to be wonderful for the people who live here,” says Dr. Rosberg, a licensed psychologist. “What we didn’t expect was that our clients improved dramatically.”

He ticks off the results: a 70% reduction in substance abuse (even though residents are free to go into the community, where drugs and alcohol are easily available); a 34% drop in use of emergency medicines for psychiatric crises; a 70% decrease in the number of people who have run away; a 54% reduction in crisis-driven, staff interventions. 

An added benefit is that families of the residents want to visit them on campus. They bring lunch and hang out, instead of whisking their relative away to a noisy restaurant.

ASC changed nothing else – not the staffing, not the daily meal and snack routine, not the morning meds and therapy, not the activities and small jobs. And not the kindness and acceptance. 

“The implications for environmental therapy as a component of service are very significant,” says Dr. Rosberg. Especially for clients who are treatment-resistant, as is the case at the ASC facility, “it could have a profound effect on the use of resources.”

Today’s news briefs

• Iran heads to polls: Iran holds its first parliamentary election since mass 2022 protests over mandatory hijab laws, apparently drawing a low turnout amid calls for a boycott.
• Alabama IVF legislation: Alabama’s Republican-led Legislature passes bills aimed at protecting the in vitro fertilization industry after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered children.
• Texas wildfire largest in state history: The Smokehouse Creek fire grows to nearly 1,700 square miles across the Texas Panhandle. The fire has merged with another and is 3% contained.
• California blizzard closes Yosemite: The most powerful Pacific storm of the season is forecast to bring up to 10 feet of snow into the Sierra Nevada by the weekend.

Read these news briefs.

In Gaza, is Palestinian history repeating itself?

Forced by Israeli assaults to flee their homes, many Gaza residents fear a repeat of the 1948 Nakba – meaning “catastrophe” – that drove 700,000 Palestinians into refugee camps.

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Israelis mark the 1948 war around the creation of their state as one of independence, against attacking Arab armies and Palestinian fighters. Palestinians view the conflict as a systematic campaign by Jewish militias to terrorize Palestinian civilians and drive them from their lands.

They call it the Nakba, which means “catastrophe.” Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes into refugee camps around the region. And there are many residents of Gaza who believe history is repeating itself, as Israeli military action is forcing over a million people out of their homes.

The Israeli government insists it has no plans to eject Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. But senior Cabinet members allied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have bluntly threatened such an outcome.

Only a few Palestinians in Gaza are old enough to remember the 1948 Nakba, but all of them have heard the stories, and some still have the keys to the houses their ancestors fled, thinking that they would be back in a few days.

“I had hoped to live to witness a future of safety, free from war,” says Nakba survivor Abu Ayman. “It saddens me to see my children and grandchildren experiencing what we endured.”

In Gaza, is Palestinian history repeating itself?

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Mohammed Dahman/AP
Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip, Dec. 27, 2023.

As he focuses on surviving 2024, Mohammed Lubbad cannot get another date out of his mind: 1948.

Sitting outside his house in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, which is now home to dozens of his displaced relatives, Abu Ayman, as he is known to family and friends, says he feels history repeating itself.

“I never imagined that I would live through two nakbas, one when I was really young and another in front of the eyes of the entire world,” he says, using the Arabic word for “catastrophe” by which Palestinians refer to their mass displacement 75 years ago.

Survivors of the 1948 Nakba say that as they are forced again from their homes, this time by Israeli airstrikes and starvation, they are reliving a past trauma and fear they will be driven from Gaza entirely.

With the Gaza death toll topping 30,000 and famine warnings in northern Gaza, Palestinians cannot help but recall the violence preceding and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that drove an estimated 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and into refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. 

Israelis mark the 1948 war as one of independence, against attacking Arab armies and Palestinian fighters. Palestinians view the conflict as a systematic campaign by Jewish militias to terrorize Palestinian civilians and drive them from their lands.

The Nakba has always reverberated strongly among Palestinians, but particularly in the Gaza Strip. Prior to the current conflict, 71% of residents were refugees whose families had been displaced into the strip by the 1948 war and then the 1967 Six-Day War.

Multigenerational families lived in United Nations-run refugee camps from the 1950s until the current war emptied camps in Gaza City and Khan Yunis. 

Ghada Abdulfattah
Mohammed Lubbad sits by the door of his house, now home to dozens of displaced relatives. Over 80% of Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

What it means to be afraid

Abeer al-Haddad, like many Palestinians, was familiar with tales of the Nakba from her parents and school history books. But like most people in Gaza, she never believed that one day she might witness similar events.

“Never had I imagined I would live this,” says Ms. Haddad, a cousin of this correspondent. She and her husband and children left their home in Al Shati refugee camp on Oct. 13 under bombardment and an Israeli evacuation order. They now live in a shelter in Deir al-Balah. “Now, I understand what it means to be afraid all the time,” she says. “To leave our hometown under fire.”

Her mother, Hamda al-Haddad, was only 2 years old when she and her family were displaced from Beit Daras, a Palestinian farming village 20 miles northeast of Gaza, amid the depopulation of 500 Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.

When violence encroached on the village, her father told the family to take only light luggage and the key to their house, according to family lore passed down through generations. They would be returning home in a couple of days, he added.

But they never returned home. After several moves, her family finally settled in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza.

When she married, the elder Ms. Haddad moved to her new husband’s home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp. She lived there for seven decades, a proud, aging matriarch, until a fierce Israeli offensive last January forced her to flee with several of her children and grandchildren. They joined the 1.7 million Gaza residents who have endured a similar fate over the past five months of fighting.

Ghada Abdulfattah
Hamda al-Haddad was driven from her home as a child in 1948 and now again by the current Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Hastily, they gathered some belongings and first moved to a school in the refugee camp run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, believing that the U.N. flag would protect them. 

“I honestly thought it was only going to be for two days and that we would return to our house. I repeated my father’s very words” that he said during the Nakba, Ms. Haddad says.

Beyond a nakba?

When Israeli tanks rolled in and shelled the UNRWA school, Ms. Haddad, her two sons, their wives, and her grandchildren left Khan Yunis through a safe corridor, heading to the outskirts of Rafah. The grandmother hobbled the length of the rubble-strewn, 3-mile journey leaning on her cane.

“I feel this is another nakba. Then I stop and think for a while and say no, it is beyond a nakba,” says Abu Ayman.

Israeli troops “have burned Gaza,” he says. In 1948, news of Jewish militias reportedly killing people in other villages reached families like Abu Ayman’s “and we immediately left,” without encountering violence.

At the age of 4, Abu Ayman and his family left Al Majdal, now the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, where his father had worked as a farmer. They went to Gaza City and finally settled in central Gaza. He has six sons, two daughters, and 24 grandchildren, none of whom have ever seen their ancestral home.

Ghada Abdulfattah
An evacuee camp of tents hosts Palestinians displaced by Israel's military offensive in Gaza, near the sea's edge by Rafah.

“I wish I could return to my homeland,” Abu Ayman says with a sigh. “A person without a homeland has no value.”

Another elder, octogenarian Abu Kifah Qudieh, remembers as a small boy watching the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees who flowed into Gaza in 1948.

“This war is a different story. In the past, we had somewhere to stay, with food and necessities available. Now, we struggle even to find clean drinking water,” says Mr. Qudieh, who has shared a 20-square-foot tent with his wife and four grandchildren in Deir al-Balah since evacuating their home in southern Gaza.

Mr. Qudieh has also shared with his grandchildren stories of the Nakba refugees’ arrival in Gaza.

“They left behind their homes, their crops, and their livestock in their original villages. They arrived here with nothing,” he recalls. “And there is no going back.”

Feeding fears

The severity of the current conflict, threatening Gaza Palestinians with missile strikes and tank shells wherever they go, has led many people here to conclude that the war is not between Israel and Hamas, but a war on Palestinian civilians.

Israel’s aim, some believe, is to drive them from the besieged strip completely.

“People may think that this war is against Hamas. It is against us,” Abu Ayman argues. “The first war [in 1948] was to displace Palestinians from our own villages. This time [the war’s goal] is to displace us from Gaza.”

Feeding Palestinians’ fears, far-right Israeli politicians and senior Cabinet officials have made inflammatory threats. Israeli Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a security Cabinet member, described the war in November as “rolling out the Gaza nakba.”

“Gaza nakba 2023. That’s how it’ll end,” the Likud party minister told Israel’s Channel 12 when asked about military plans – a comment that prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge his Cabinet members to be “sensitive” in choosing their words. The Israeli government denies it intends to carry out a nakba.

Nakba veterans have a common hope for future generations, but it is a hope they say is fading.

“I had hoped to live to witness a future of safety, free from war,” says Abu Ayman. “It saddens me to see my children and grandchildren experiencing what we endured.”

“I want them to have a brighter future than mine,” Ms. Haddad says of her grandchildren. “But I fear that they will never be able to return to their homes [in Gaza], just as we haven’t been able to. I am afraid Palestine will become a distant memory.”

‘Expecting goodness to prevail,’ journalists clean up Poland’s state media

How do you restore faith in a public broadcaster that had been a tool of government spin? That’s the challenge facing Polish journalists at TVP, the state TV channel, after eight years of polarized coverage.

Lenora Chu
Paweł Płuska (right) stands in for the host during lighting and sound checks. Mr. Płuska is head editor for the evening news program at TVP, Poland’s state broadcaster.
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When Poland’s Law and Justice party took office in 2016, it swept the old staff from public broadcasters and installed party loyalists. The airwaves quickly filled with propaganda and antagonism of people the government disfavored.

So when centrists came back to power in elections last October, it left an unprecedented cleanup job behind in the halls of TVP, Poland’s state television channel.

“In my mind I had this thought,” says Maciej Czajkowski, a news editor fired in 2016, now back at TVP. “If there’s a chance to restore democracy and I can take a part in it, and share my knowledge and experience, I have to be here.”

Changing the tenor of what’s being aired has been a top priority. “We changed the language, that was the first thing,” says Paweł Płuska, editor in chief for TVP’s evening news program. “There is no hatred, no poison, no hate. Secondly, we recognized that this is public television, so all groups, even those that do not recognize us, have their place here. We explain to people that patriotism does not mean that you are a member of one party.”

‘Expecting goodness to prevail,’ journalists clean up Poland’s state media

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When the right-wing Law and Justice party came to power in Poland in 2016, Maciej Czajkowski lost everything.

Then one of the most senior editors working in state television, he was swept out the door with all the other journalists committed to impartiality. He wears that firing as a badge of honor.

“I’m proud because Piotr Kraśko [one of Poland’s most popular news presenters] got fired first and 15 minutes later I was fired,” says Mr. Czajkowski. “We kept our independence. We wouldn’t have been able to work for Law and Justice.”

Now, with centrists coming back to power after October’s elections, the conditions were right for Mr. Czajkowski’s return. And his first day, back in December, was full of heartbreak, emotion – and hope. “In my mind I had this thought – if there’s a chance to restore democracy and I can take a part in it, and share my knowledge and experience, I have to be here,” he says.

Law and Justice had installed party loyalists and filled the airwaves with propaganda, and cleaning up after populist rule was a job unprecedented. That duty drew Paweł Płuska to leave a 22-year career in commercial television to join TVP, Poland’s state television channel.

“From the public’s point of view, many people were expecting goodness to prevail,” says Mr. Płuska, now editor in chief for TVP’s evening news program, with Mr. Czajkowski working alongside him. “It was unacceptable for them that people are being ostracized, singled out, and destroyed and that public television is participating in all this. That’s why I decided to come here and change it. Because it was a nightmare that one needed to finally wake up from.”

“Tickers of terror”

Under Law and Justice’s eight-year reign, the airwaves were shockingly polarized for anyone accustomed to a tradition of impartial media.

Television presenters called the opposition dirty names and spread falsehoods about them. Donald Tusk, at the time a former Polish prime minister and a sitting president of the European Council, was regularly presented as a German agent. The LGBTQ+ community was referred to as “an ideology” bent on destroying Poland. Stories with heavily loaded titles such as “Who is against sovereign and strong Poland?” or “Defenders of pedophiles and deadbeat dads oppose the reform of the judiciary” were commonplace.

“With these ‘tickers of terror’ they were telling people what to think,” says Mr. Płuska. Those who strayed from conservative party lines were “not only ... not patriots, but ... they are not Poles, because a real Pole must vote for Law and Justice.”

Presenters pursued Paweł Adamowicz, the popular liberal mayor of Gdansk and a vocal critic of Law and Justice, whom the government was investigating for concealing real estate assets. In 2019, Mr. Adamowicz was stabbed to death during a public charity event. His family decried state media for spreading hate about him, as it was speculated that the assassin might have been influenced by the TVP coverage.

On the whole, Law and Justice’s rule was a dark time for Polish media. According to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Poland had one of the world’s freest media environments in 2015, the year before Law and Justice took power. That year, Poland (at 18) ranked freer than the United Kingdom (34), France (38), and the United States (49). By 2023, when Law and Justice finally left office, Poland had dropped to 57th.

Lenora Chu
Maciej Czajkowski (left) and Paweł Płuska, shown here in the lobby of TVP, Poland’s state television station, run the flagship 6:30 p.m. news program.

Hard choices

A centrist coalition formed in mid-December after voters sent Law and Justice out of the majority, and the new government immediately set out to shake up the public broadcasters, though not without legal controversies. It abruptly changed out management and staff, as Mr. Tusk, now prime minister once again, proclaimed an impartial state media would be a “Christmas present for society.” Law and Justice legislators and supporters staged a sit-in, protesting new management’s takeover.

“It was faced with very hard choices,” says Weronika Kiebzak, legal analyst at the policy analysis firm Polityka Insight, of the way Mr. Tusk took back state media. “These changes in the public media were very anticipated by the electorate.”

“The first days, there were a lot of emotions because we had to deliver an impartial program,” says Mr. Płuska. “We had to show obviously both sides of the political scene.”

The changeover has involved some turbulence. Today the security presence is obvious. Barriers encircle the media complex at key access points, security badges are required to enter and exit various corridors, and police populate the hallways.

Mr. Płuska and his managers don’t know exactly which staffers in the building remain loyal to Law and Justice. One night under new management, staffers found transmission cables unplugged in the control room. Whether meant as a joke or an attempt at sabotage, it unnerved staff.

“We don’t know who’s here,” says Mr. Płuska. “Someone did it. We don’t know who it is. We’ve definitely violated many interests that have been [installed] over the last eight years – there are people who wouldn’t want any change.”

Much else is still puzzling, particularly the billions of zlotys funneled to state media under Law and Justice. Some of it was used to pay for increased salaries under Law and Justice and for analysts and loyalists to appear on programs – a journalistic taboo.

But much is still unaccounted for, says Mr. Płuska. “What happened to the 3 billion zlotys [$750 million]?” he asks, referring to the amount budgeted for 2023. Indeed, an audit released in October found that TVP had been a “publicly funded Byzantium” with mismanagement of civil contracts, conflicts of interest, unnecessary costs, and more. A staffer who worked under both governments divulged stories of all-night ragers during Law and Justice rule.

Changing the tenor of what’s being aired was a top priority. “We changed the language, that was the first thing,” says Mr. Płuska, who hasn’t yet moved into his new office, which has only one framed photo and a coffee mug of his own.

“There is no hatred, no poison, no hate. Secondly, we recognized that this is public television, so all groups, even those that do not recognize us, have their place here. We explain to people that patriotism does not mean that you are a member of one party.”

That means that Mr. Płuska must also invite Law and Justice politicians. Yet Paweł Jabłoński, a Law and Justice member of parliament representing Poland’s industrial south, criticizes the way the new government took back the media.

He maintains that the public held an unfair image of “biased” state media under his party’s rule. “People who weren’t our supporters were rejecting it from the outset, without even getting familiar with what the content was,” says Mr. Jabłoński, who adds he’s not yet been invited on-air.

Abandoning the language of hate

Recently, staffers have been making amends for the polarized broadcasts under Law and Justice in the name of healing the nation.

In early February, a news anchor made an emotional apology to the nation for the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community during Law and Justice’s tenure. Management has also apologized for the attacks on the late mayor of Gdansk.

“No television, no news program should ever use the language of hate, and hate, it cannot destroy people or fuel bad emotions in society. We have just seen what such language led to,” remarked host Zbigniew Łuczyński on the evening program.

Mr. Czajkowski’s homecoming has been particularly emotional, especially as he was targeted by Law and Justice. “I was a perfect enemy for them, representing impartiality in media. I’m gay. My boyfriend is Black. Every day I was the perfect enemy,” he says.

But ultimately, Mr. Płuska and Mr. Czajkowski made the decision to give people a second chance. “Those who lent their face to the regime obviously had to go,” but “we decided to give a chance to people who weren’t directly involved,” says Mr. Czajkowski.

Many had families to feed and needed a job, even if Law and Justice was in power, he points out. “Who are we to judge them?”

Piotr Zakowiecki contributed to this report.

Uncertain but undeterred: Young Senegalese prepare to vote

Senegal’s average age is 22. As young people there await their first presidential election, they must decide not only who to vote for – but also if they think voting can make any difference in their country. 

Ayen Grace Bior
Abdoulaye Diop, a first-time voter and supporter of Senegal's PUR party, gives his canvassing team a pep talk.
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For political canvassers in Senegal, getting voters excited for election day is a hard sell, because no one actually knows when the vote will take place.

It was originally scheduled for late February, but earlier in the month, President Macky Sall abruptly called it off, and no new date has been set. Meanwhile, the major opposition candidate will not be on the ballot, a fact that his supporters have spent the better part of a year protesting.  

The stakes of this moment are particularly high for first-time voters, who are deciding not just which presidential candidate to vote for – but also whether they think voting is a useful tool for change in Senegal at all.

Senegal’s average age is 22, and fewer than 50% of young people here are formally employed. In recent years, many young Senegalese have voted with their feet, by leaving the country on dangerous clandestine journeys to Europe. Now, many see this election as crucial for determining if a better future is possible for them at home. 

Uncertain but undeterred: Young Senegalese prepare to vote

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It’s just after 6 p.m. on a recent Wednesday evening, and the streets of this working-class suburb of Dakar roar with life.

Buses and taxis heave to a stop at busy intersections, disgorging crowds of commuters. Cooks in local restaurants race to prepare traditional rice dishes for the evening rush, chopping green bell peppers and carrots while fresh fish bathed in spices fry on the grill. Schoolchildren in uniforms hang out on street corners, chatting and laughing.

Most people aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere, and for Abdoulaye Diop, that makes it the perfect time to talk to potential voters in Senegal’s upcoming presidential election.

Mr. Diop, a college student studying computer science, is part of a team of about 50 canvassers who have come to Yeumbeul to campaign for a minor candidate named Aliou Mamadou Dia. But he’s also a kind of evangelist for the act of voting itself.

“We have to make them [understand] the consequences of not voting,” he says.

Getting Senegalese voters excited for election day right now is a hard sell though, because no one actually knows when the vote will take place. It was originally scheduled for late February, but earlier in the month, President Macky Sall abruptly called it off, and no new date has been set. Meanwhile, the major opposition candidate will not be the ballot, a fact that his supporters have spent the better part of a year protesting. 

The stakes of this moment are particularly high for first-time voters like Mr. Diop, who are deciding not just which presidential candidate to vote for – but also whether they think voting is a useful tool for change in Senegal at all.

“Historically, young Senegalese have been very active when it comes to presidential elections,” says Bamba Ndiaye, an assistant professor of African studies at Emory University who researches African protest movements. This time around, “the recurrence of blatant injustice and repression heightens the importance” they feel.

Voting with their feet

Not every young person is convinced, however, of the importance of voting. Across town from the Yeumbeul canvass, 18-year-old Fallou Faye sits all day in front of a table piled high with loafers, boots, and running shoes, willing the pedestrians streaming by to stop and browse his wares. If just one person buys a pair of shoes from his stall on an oceanside road, he considers it a good day.

Ayen Grace Bior
Alsane Guissé, a young voter, hands out flyers supporting an opposition candidate in Senegal's upcoming presidential elections.

But the good days are few and far between. Most of the time, Mr. Faye brings home nothing to his parents and two younger sisters, all of whom rely on the $165 or so he cobbles together monthly from this business.  

“I’m just holding on in order to survive,” he says. He often dreams of finishing high school or finding a steady office job. But lately, he has also begun to fantasize about another option. “I have to get out of this country,” says Mr. Faye, who is not registered to vote.

It’s a common sentiment in Senegal, where fewer than 50% of young people are formally employed, the cost of living is prohibitive for many, and the country’s main university, which has more than 90,000 students, was closed for nearly 10 months following protests last year. 

The average age of a Senegalese person is 22, and in recent years, many young people like Mr. Faye have voted against this situation with their feet, setting out for Europe in wobbly canoes called pirogues or on long treks across the Sahara. Unlike their parents, they grew up with the rest of the world’s prosperity on constant display on their smartphones and TVs, and they wanted to be part of it. 

But those connections to the outside world have also inspired some young Senegalese to stay and fight for changes at home, Dr. Ndiaye says.

“Young Senegalese people are tech savvy, better educated, and well connected to the events and trends happening in other places around the world,” he says. “They long to see a prosperous, socially just, and well-managed Senegal.”

Protests and delays

When campaigning for Senegal’s new president began last year, one candidate in particular promised young people he would give them a reason to stay. Former tax collector Ousmane Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 election, electrified crowds with promises to eliminate corruption and create jobs.

Then in June, he was sentenced to two years in prison for “corrupting youth” for his role in an alleged sexual assault. He was barred from running for president. Convinced the charge was politically motivated, Mr. Sonko’s supporters launched mass protests across the country. In the ensuing clashes with police, more than a dozen people died. (Late last year, Mr. Sonko was briefly approved again to run, but his name was ultimately left off the final ballot.)

Ayen Grace Bior
Election canvassing in Senegal is a social event. Abdoulaye Diop (left) and a friend catch up in Yeumbeul.

Protests have continued sporadically since, flaring up again in early February when President Macky Sall announced that elections would not take place as planned at the end of the month. The parliament set a new December election date, but members of the opposition challenged it in court, and the new date was scuttled. Mr. Sall’s term ends April 2, and he promised this week to hold the election by July, but he hasn’t set a date. 

“We are impatiently waiting to vote as we should because it is also our right as citizens to participate in the change of this system,” says Marieta Ba, a 21-year-old first time voter.

For their part, Mr. Sall and his supporters say that Senegal has flourished under his leadership. His 12-year tenure has seen the opening of a futuristic airport outside the capital, Dakar; modern highways; and a high-speed electric commuter train running from Dakar to a new high-rise city he is building 20 miles away called Diamniadio. Senegal’s economy is projected to grow by more than 10% this year, largely due to the country’s developing oil industry, which Mr. Sall has championed.

Yeumbeul is a stop on the gleaming new $1 billion train line, but the $1.65 tickets are too expensive for most residents here. For Mr. Diop, developments like this feel more like vanity projects than like genuine attempts to improve the lives of Senegalese people.

“They have built many things in the country, but they forgot to build stable life conditions and opportunities for Senegalese people,” he says. “The system has not [taken] us anywhere.”

By now, dusk is settling over Yeumbeul. Mr. Diop and the other canvassers have been here more than an hour. Abdoulaye Ka, who is in his early 30s, says the experience of talking to young potential voters in particular makes him feel optimistic that whenever the election does finally happen, it will bring change.

“We still have hope [that] this is a country that we can build,” he says.

In these locales, culture is preserved one textile at a time

Focus is often put on preserving disappearing languages, but what of other traditions? For some, vitality rests with maintaining a culture’s visual representations, too.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Artisans work on jamdanis at Abul Kalam Jamdani Weaving Factory, Sept. 24, 2023, in Bangladesh. Each garment can take up to six months to complete.
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Two dozen artisans crouch over hand looms threaded with bright-orange and sky-blue cottons. Their fingers nimbly create a jamdani, an intricately woven sari.

Decades ago, this workshop, east of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, would have been silent. After Bangladesh became an independent nation in 1971, the nongovernmental organization Building Resources Across Communities set out to revitalize the weaving practice. It approached artisan families like that of Anwar Islam, owner of this shop.  

But this is not just a business success story. In an age in which “locally made” is a moral demand of many consumers, when the pushback against cultural appropriation and the industrialization of fashion and art gains force, the jamdani is seen as a story of cultural success, too. It’s part of the championing and preservation of objects from sealskin parkas in the Arctic to duck decoys and quilts across the United States that otherwise may be forgotten.

“These objects are made to be functional, but they are also forms of art,” says Chris Gorman, a deputy director of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. “Without people championing the study and preservation of objects like these ... there is the possibility that people will simply forget about them, and it is hard to revive them or prove their relevance.”   

In these locales, culture is preserved one textile at a time

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Two dozen artisans crouch over hand looms threaded with bright-orange and sky-blue cottons. Their fingers nimbly create a jamdani, an intricately woven sari dating back to the Mughal Empire.

Decades ago, this workshop on the Shitalakshya River, east of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, would have been silent. Made of fine cotton or silk, the jamdani was a pinnacle of fashion centuries ago. But in the 19th century, British colonizers brought in their iteration of fast fashion, and the tradition nearly went extinct until its revival some five decades ago.

After Bangladesh became an independent nation in 1971, the nongovernmental organization Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) set out to revitalize the weaving practice. It approached artisan families like that of Anwar Islam, owner of this shop. “I didn’t think it was feasible, but I was happy to be part of the solution,” says Mr. Islam. 

Today he employs 120 weavers at Abul Kalam Jamdani Weaving Factory. Their jamdanis have been worn by everyone from Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed to Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque Badhon at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

But this is not just a business success story. In an age in which “locally made” is a moral demand of many consumers, when the pushback against cultural appropriation and the industrialization of fashion and art gains force, the jamdani is seen as a story of cultural success, too. It’s part of the championing and preservation of objects from sealskin parkas in the Arctic to duck decoys and quilts across the United States that otherwise may be forgotten.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
In Bangladesh, a weaver uses thread made of silk and cotton to craft a jamdani sari.

“People have been striving to decorate their lives to tell the world who they are for centuries,” says Chris Gorman, a deputy director of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, which put on “American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds” in 2021. 

“These objects are made to be functional, but they are also forms of art,” he says. “And, I think, without people championing the study and preservation of objects like these, and others, there is the possibility that people will simply forget about them, and it is hard to revive them or prove their relevance.”

About the time the jamdani was being revived, a women’s collective was coming to life at the northernmost tip of Canada, in the town of Taloyoak.  

Begun in 1972, the group, called Arnaqarvik, garnered a burst of fame in its day with its Inuit parkas, mitts, and boots made from caribou, wolf, and seal and patterned with dyes from tundra lichen and flowers. The collective’s work – including, eventually, duffel-wool “packing dolls,” or miniature stuffed animals carrying their babies in parkas as the Inuit do – was showcased in New York City and the 1974 Arctic Winter Games in Alaska.

Yet today, just as the jamdani is enjoying global appeal, the work of Arnaqarvik has been largely forgotten. So the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay, in Canada’s Nunavut territory, has set out to restore its memory in a digital archive. 

And to mark the 50th anniversary of the collective, about 250 items in 2021 were sent back to Taloyoak in an exhibition. It was the first time most in the community found out what Arnaqarvik even was. “Everybody was really surprised by what their parents did in those days,” says Arnaoyok Alookee, Arnaqarvik’s co-founder.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Arnaoyok Alookee helped found a sewing cooperative in Canada in the 1970s. Today, she shares her skills with young people.

Brendan Griebel, an Arctic anthropologist and manager of collections and archives for the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, says this reconnection is about far more than just the production of goods. “Having that physical contact ignites something in the memory and in the senses,” he says.

When Arnaqarvik began, the semi-nomadic Inuit of Taloyoak had only gradually moved into this permanent settlement the decade prior. The collective helped the community bridge a gap – between its Indigenous traditions and the new wage economy into which it was settling. 

Judy McGrath co-founded the collective with Ms. Alookee when her husband was posted for work in the Arctic community. She says she still recalls the sense of purpose that craft-making gave all of them. They collected flowers with their children in 24-hour sunlight; they’d use the 24-hour darkness of winter to boil their dyes on the stove. “I can still feel the confidence that the skills they had mattered, and the excitement over making new things from the old, from the land,” Ms. McGrath says.

In Bangladesh, the rise of the jamdani was also driven by economics, to help artisans whose enormous skills couldn’t find the market for livelihoods. BRAC, the country’s largest NGO, created the brand Aarong to distribute their products – from finely woven garments to woodcarved wares.

Today the brand supports 65,000 artisans across the country – mostly women – whose work is featured in stores including Aarong’s massive, high-end flagship in Dhaka.

Aarong has helped surface a narrative about a “good job” in a country known for its links with fast fashion. Stories of child labor and tragedy in the garment industry include the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka in 2013 when over 1,000 people were killed.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A vest, made in the 1970s by Arnaoyok Alookee in Canada, has embroidered flowers with wool dyed with local plants such as lichen.

Making a jamdani, which derives from the Persian words jam (floral) and dani (vase), is what weaver Mohammed Monir calls a “respectful” job, he says while working on a recent day. “When I see someone famous wearing something I made, I feel proud,” he adds.

Each floral pattern runs the length of the scarf requiring an entire day of work in pairs. The finest jamdanis can take up to six months to complete. Today jamdani weaving is included on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

But to rebuild the culture in Bangladesh required research into archives. That included visiting museums worldwide where jamdanis were preserved and bringing back photos and documentation to reteach the art form. 

It is, in some ways, where Taloyoak, back in Canada, finds itself now. 

The collective had disbanded by the 1980s, but Mona Igutsaq now runs Taluq Design out of a single-room storefront that has taught sewing to women here since 1995. In an interview in June, Ms. Igutsaq said she wanted to soon offer a course on how to make packing dolls. 

“It’s very important to carry on the tradition. It’s unique. No one else in the world does them,” she says.

And even if the collective itself no longer exists, Ms. Alookee says she does what she can to pass down her sewing skills – to her granddaughters and at the local school. “A lot of young people, they think they don’t know how to do things,” she says. But all they need is a good teacher and patience to learn. “It lifts them up and makes them stronger, and then they want to do more.”

And that’s how cultural heritage is preserved. “People talk about, with these objects, how this knowledge is sleeping,” says Mr. Griebel, “and you really need to wake it up.” 

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‘Healing spaces’ in post-conflict societies

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Societies emerging from conflict sometimes seek to rebuild on foundations of accountability and forgiveness. Many set up formal commissions to promote reconciliation through truth-telling and mercy. Such “transitional justice,” however, often depends more on grassroots efforts than on governments.

That’s because – as seen in a new virtual museum dedicated to showing Afghan victims of war and human rights abuses – personal narratives are central to healing war-torn communities. They help seed empathy and trust among former enemies.

The Afghan Memory Home is a growing online archive of testimonies of endurance by ordinary Afghans during years of conflict and repressive rule under the Taliban. The virtual museum is an example of the kind of community-led initiatives that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has described as “healing spaces” – local sites of nation-building where the traumas and resentments of war are salved through traditional forms of civic engagement based on cultural values, spirituality, and listening.

These projects in reconciliation quietly persist almost everywhere people seek freedom from conflict or repression, from Afghanistan to Yemen. They often supplant the work of national transitional justice initiatives stalled by political disagreements or lack of cooperation.

‘Healing spaces’ in post-conflict societies

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Ethiopian Orthodox faithful hold candles during a Christmas Eve celebration at Bole Medhanialem Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 6, 2024.

Societies emerging from conflict sometimes seek to rebuild on foundations of accountability and forgiveness. Many set up formal commissions to promote reconciliation through truth-telling and mercy. Such “transitional justice,” however, often depends more on grassroots efforts than on governments.

That’s because – as seen in a new virtual museum dedicated to showing Afghan victims of war and human rights abuses – personal narratives are central to healing war-torn communities. They help seed empathy and trust among former enemies.

The Afghan Memory Home is a growing online archive of testimonies of endurance by ordinary Afghans during years of conflict and repressive rule under the Taliban. Its creators “approached this challenge with the utmost care, avoiding assumptions and ensuring a respectful understanding,” Phurbu Dolma, a collaborating archivist, told the group Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems.

The virtual museum is an example of the kind of community-led initiatives that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has described as “healing spaces” – local sites of nation-building where the traumas and resentments of war are salved through traditional forms of civic engagement based on cultural values, spirituality, and listening.

These projects in reconciliation quietly persist almost everywhere people seek freedom from conflict or repression, from Afghanistan to Yemen. They often supplant the work of national transitional justice initiatives stalled by political disagreements or lack of cooperation.

They also underscore that “justice isn’t just punishment or prosecution and presenting evidence against perpetrators,” said Ruben Carranza, an expert on post-conflict community healing at the International Center for Transitional Justice, at the museum’s December launch.

In South Sudan, for instance, a local peace and reconciliation process called Wunlit gave grassroots strength to a 2018 national peace agreement. Led by tribal chiefs and spiritual leaders, the “peace to peace” dialogue defused cattle raids and abductions between the Nuer and Dinka communities. In Iraq, the Ministry of Human Rights has relied on tribal, religious, and civil society leaders to help forge local support for a national dialogue on reconciliation.

In Ethiopia, where transitional justice was the promised cornerstone of the 2022 peace accord ending a two-year civil war, traditional practices offer a buffer against persistent national political disagreements and ethnic division. Despite ongoing skirmishes between the Tigray and Amhara groups, some community leaders on each side are drawing on more than a dozen different traditional reconciliation mechanisms between them to dissolve tensions.

Those grassroots concepts of peace and justice transcend the local communities that share them, wrote Tadesse Simie Metekia, an Addis Ababa-based researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. They provide models for national reconciliation built on showing compassion for victims, speaking truths, and forgiving.

History has “taught us that relying solely on military force will not bring about lasting peace and stability,” Hodan Ali, a Somali presidential policy adviser, wrote in The New Humanitarian. As the new Afghan museum notes, the more durable work of peace involves empowering individuals and communities to tell their own stories – and listen to each other.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Letting go and moving forward

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Nothing can keep us from God’s love and goodness.

Letting go and moving forward

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Have you ever had difficulty letting go of a negative thought or feeling? The story of the monkey and the coconut offers helpful insight. A monkey was entranced by a coconut lying on the ground. “What is that delicious smell?” he thought. He placed his hand into a small hole in the coconut to grasp a tantalizing treat inside but couldn’t remove the fist holding the coveted prize. Frantically trying to pull his hand out of the coconut, he screeched at his inability to free himself.

Are we sometimes like that monkey? Do we struggle and thrash about when we are confronted by a challenge, or do we quiet our thought to listen for God’s direction? The monkey was unable to see how his single-minded unwillingness to let go of the morsel was trapping him. Similarly, we can be trapped by fear, anger, possessiveness, and frustrated human will that we refuse to relinquish.

But we can avoid the monkey trap by learning to see situations from God’s loving perspective. We can ask God to help us discern what thoughts and actions are trapping us and how to move forward. As we are willing to examine our thoughts and feelings and to align ourselves with divine Love, we free ourselves from limited thinking.

God, Love, is divine Mind. As God’s perfect spiritual offspring, we are at one with this infinite Mind, which is in fact the only real Mind. As we pray to feel how we’re lovingly embraced by God, we are freed from the restrictions of material thinking, named in Christian Science mortal mind, which sees situations from a narrow, self-centered perspective.

Christian Science helps us understand the relationship between our thinking and our experience. As we align our thought with Mind, we find the harmony and joy natural to us as God’s expression. On the other hand, if we cling to limited, mortal thinking, we are trapped in discordant and unhappy experiences.

But God, not mortal mind, is in control of our lives. We can learn to differentiate between suggestions that aren’t true and Christ, the sweet, loving voice of God, always speaking to us. God establishes only good for each of us and blesses us with progress in understanding and proving spiritual, eternal life. The supposititious mortal mind suggests that all is futile, that there is a power opposed to God, good. In reality, there is only one power: God.

As we examine our thinking, we can ask, “Is this thought leading me closer to the wise and loving Christly consciousness expressed by Jesus?” If so, we will be freed from the negative thoughts and feelings of limited thinking. We can know that those thoughts, no matter how loudly they argue, have no power, and say, “I choose Love. I choose freedom.”

Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Love is the liberator” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 225), and, “Working and praying with true motives, your Father will open the way” (Science and Health, p. 326). When we turn to God for direction, there is always an answer. We can trust God to care for us.

I had the opportunity to really pray about letting go when my daughter left for college. I was heartbroken as she departed, but I learned to avoid the trap of thinking that a person, place, or thing could replace God’s infinite love. I knew that we each have our own direct link to God and that God is always caring for each of us, supplying us with everything we need. I also understood that I had to relinquish a limited, self-centered perspective to see how God was moving both of us forward.

God always showers us with His infinite love. It is our ability to reflect this love that fills us with joy and peace. As I have drawn closer to God, Love, and shared love with others, I have found it easier to let go of material perspectives. “Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love” (Science and Health, p. 66). My prayers have brought me even closer to my daughter because we are each feeling more deeply our direct relationship to our Father-Mother God, and this prevents us from feeling a sense of possessiveness in our relationship with each other.

As we study and pray to embody the wisdom in the Bible and Science and Health, we learn that there is no power separate from all-loving, omnipotent God. We never have to act like that stubborn monkey! We can let go of limited mortal thoughts and feelings and move forward with gratitude and gladness.

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Remembering Navalny

Reuters
A supporter of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny holds his portrait outside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, where a funeral service and a farewell ceremony for Navalny were held, in Moscow, March 1. Navalny died last month in a remote Arctic penal colony, and several locations declined to host the service, his spokesperson said.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week when we share our cover story from the Weekly magazine about Joe Biden and his status as the last bastion of the way Washington once was – a place of deal-making and of relationships that went beyond partisanship. Is there still a place in American politics for that approach?   

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