Tiny village in Tuscany made into centre for conflict resolution is contender for Nobel Peace Prize
Young people from conflict zones around the world live and work together in the medieval hamlet of Rondine
Young people from war zones around the world come together to live in the village of Rondine near the Tuscan town of Arezzo in an environment designed to break down prejudice and foster understanding.
The formerly-derelict village, once owned by the bishops of Arezzo and now dubbed La Cittadella della Pace or the Citadel of Peace, is located in a picturesque spot on the banks of the River Arno.
Little known outside Italy, it is now one of 273 contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize – the second highest number ever.
The residential peace project was created in 1997 by Franco Vaccari, a psychologist with an interest in conflict resolution.
“We’re very happy to be nominated for the Nobel prize, although if we win my main hope is that nothing really changes,” Mr Vaccari told The Telegraph. “We want to continue our day-to-day work, which is to try to turn enemies into friends.”
Each year around 30 young people from conflict-torn countries are chosen to live and study in the village, a cluster of medieval buildings with terracotta roofs.
The students come from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Serbia and Bosnia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia and Chechnya, and other countries which often regard each other as enemies.
They spend the first three months learning Italian then branch out into team-building, communication and conflict resolution.
More than 160 people have graduated from the programme since it was established 18 years ago.
“They have taken very different paths. We have a Russian alumni who teamed up with a Chechen to create an import-export business trading in furs, for example,” said Mr Vaccari.
“We have Palestinians and Israelis who together established a tourism association which aims to show visitors both sides of the conflict. We have Bosnians who became journalists in Sarajevo and alumni from Sierra Leone who set up the country’s first human rights institute.”
Other graduates of the scheme, which is funded by charitable foundations, have risen to high political office on returning home.
They include a deputy minister for foreign affairs in Abkhazia, thebreakaway region of Georgia, and a deputy minister for finance in Ossetia, also in the Caucasus.
Rondine was nominated for the peace prize by Marina Sereni, an Italian politician and the vice-president of the lower house of parliament.
She said Rondine was “a tiny village, in the heart of Tuscany” that was helping to produce a “new generation of leaders” focused on peace.
The initiative attracted “young people from every continent, representatives of countries at war with each other”, said Federico Gelli, an MP with the centre-Left Democratic Party.
The institution was working towards “a different future, one without hate or rancour”, he said.
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