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Managing The Rozpuda Valley Dispute In Poland: The Imperative For A Third Party Mediation

by Emmy Irobi
January 2008 Emmy  Irobi
Unresolved public discontent has the potentials to graduate into a major dispute. And no democratic government will like to have pro-longed disputes or protests from any segments of the society. Disputes arise often when public disagreement is not properly managed. Groups and community misunderstanding or anger might undermine a country's reliability in the international arena. Additionally, prolonged community dispute is capable of eroding citizen’s confidence in its institutions.

Groups anger could polarize a society or community creating "a sense of psychological distance between people, such as feelings of alienation, and disregard. Such feelings can get in the way of effective communication and resolution of even the most minute perceived differences" (Billikopf, Gregory 2004).

But individuals and government officials tend to react differently in conflict. Some people tend to avoid it, while others even pretend as if nothing serious is happening. Its even easier to sweep problems under the psychological carpet until it accumulates so large that it becomes overwhelming and difficult to address. Protests and group discontents always challenge government’s skills and commitment to address problems. What it means is that leaders have to exhibit creativity in the way they handles public disputes constructively to dissipate ill-feelings. In the literature it has been uncovered that the most direct means to address environmental dispute is to design a constructive strategy to manage ecologically induced conflicts (see Conca, Carius, and Dabelko, 2005 as cited in Alexander Carius, 2007:61; Cromfoot, James E., and Julia M. Wondolleck 1990:183-187) which will satisfy all stake holders (Susskind,Lawrence, P. levy, and J. Thomas-Larmer 2002:337-9).

This paper therefore examines the imperative of a "third party" facilitated mediation (Palmer,and Roberts 1998) in resolving the contentious and seemingly value-laden dispute of the Rozpudy valley in Augustowa, Eastern part of Poland. Arguing in favor of a pragmatic and constructive dialogue, as an effective way to resolve the current stand-off between the State government and the environmentalists groups in the country. It will conclude by emphasizing that only a change of policy based on consensus building through dialogue process will help to promote good relationships, restore strained communication links and prevent further escalation of future environmental disputes. Conflict resolution specialists (Folger,J.P and Jones,T.S 1994;Christopher Moore 1996) are also of the view that strained communication in any multiparty mediation or facilitation is a major impediment which is supposed to be addressed before reaching resolution and agreement. This article is divided into three sections. Firstly it gives a brief overview of the nature of the dispute and the cause of the misunderstanding. This is followed by exploring the imperative of a third party facilitated mediation and its usefulness in addressing environmental conflicts in Poland, and thirdly will try to end with a conclusion stressing for a policy change in managing contentious disputes in the country.

WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE ROZPUDA DISPUTE

In the literature dispute arises when some body's space, rights, values (Daniel Druckman and Benjamin J. Brooms, 1991) or the rule of law is violated. Sequels to these, parties are forced to seek redress or justice in any courts where they feel their cause will be addressed satisfactorily. But is litigation the answer? If parties want satisfactory resolution of disputes, litigation in either the national or International Courts might not be the best alternative. Because in the process, not everybody is heard, and the context in which the dispute arose has not been treated fully. As a result a deep psychological need to dichotomize and establish "us and them" or "enemies" and "Allies" becomes prevalent. Hence "squaring off at the table, not in the courts" (Susskind, et al. 2000:240-246) to reach mutually acceptable solution to the dispute.

The controversy surrounding the construction of a new international express highway linking Poland to the Baltic States through the Rozpuda valley is a "contentious dispute". As a major environmental dispute it has attracted as well great international attention especially from the European Union and ecological groups in Europe. There are many stake holders involved (the state government, environmental groups, the local communities of Augustowa and Bialystock,Truck drivers, and local government administrators etc.) as well as differing interest and positions to defend having no regards to others interests. Such dispute gives impetus to behavior and tactics aimed at winning, such tactics may engender resentment and hostility that motivates similar behavior in the other party ( Josephine Zubek, et al 1992:548-9) which militates against any effort to resolve a problem.

In early 2006 when the State government decided to embark on this project, little did it know that the venture was going to raise such a big dust of environmentalist protesters from different parts of the country who want to protect the ecology. The planned highway construction is planned to pass through one of Europe's last wilderness, linking Poland to Finland and Lithuania via the important nature sites of Augustow and Knyszyn primeval forests and the Biebrza marshes national park.(The Daily Telegraph 02/03/07) The Rozpuda valley, is believed to harbors rare birds species, the aquatic Warber, Wolf,Lynx and white eagles which under the European environmental law ought to be protected.

Premier Kaczynski's government among other reasons embarked on the project claiming to satisfy the demands of some segments of Augustowa and Bialystock communities who were complaining of heavy traffic load through their villages and city centers. The government argument is that the high way will greatly be of benefit to the local communities and prevent human carnage on the highways. A position which was complimented by community protesters against the ecologists (Gazetta wyborcza, 26/06/2007. ,marching the streets, holding and waving crosses representing souls of loved ones killed in vehicle accidents on the highway. The community leaders of Rospuda accused the environmentalists of neglecting their concern for human safety and urged the government to precede with the construction plans.

However this argument was not acceptable to the environmentalists groups in the country who feared that the ecology will be endangered by such a massive intrusion in the Rospuda valley forest. In a protest letter to the government they argue for the continued protection of the areas, calling on the government to reroute the project in the interest of the species, and forest at stake.

But irrespective of an order from the European Union environmental body to reconsider rerouting the highway, the government of the Law and Justice Party (PIS) pledged to continue the highway construction describing the protesters action as unlawful and their arguments unfounded. This flexing of muscles exacerbated the dispute giving impetus to protesters action which does not augur well for the image of the country internationally. The environmental groups are relying mostly on the powers of the European court of justice to reverse government action, but this kind of approach to disputes might not resolve the issues involved to the satisfaction of all stake holders. Especially some stake holders who have lost dear ones in car accidents, and members of the truck drivers union who will like to have a new and wider road network for their services.

Furthermore, the outcome might give more munitions to the state government officials who might want to save "face", to use force to end protests and continue the highway construction. As far as conflict resolution is concerned, the stakeholders needed mostly a very conducive atmosphere for an unfettered dialogue or "brainstorming" to find consensual solution to the seaming dispute. In the literature a safe environment allows parties in conflict to express their views, and encourages group and individual learning (Thomas and Ely., 2001:229).

Environmental disputes of this kind will spur up in any society that lacks effective means of addressing it. Scholars are of the opinion that "continuous challenge therefore is to prepare and nurture leaders at all levels and sectors that can bring about positive change for a sustainable future - ecologically, socially, and economically"(Mary Lou Addor, et. al 2005:203-223). But the Kaczynski administration in Poland was not well prepared to handle this kind of controversy, talk less of anticipating it. And this however led to escalation and the occupation of the forest by ecologists for many weeks. Most of who tactically tied themselves to roots of trees, and formed a kind of human chain blocking the major construction highway. It was this failure to manage this misunderstanding that attracted the attention of other environmentalists groups around the world, and the European Union to the dispute in sympathy with their Polish counterparts.

Many of today's environmental disputes are value laden (See Beatty, 1991) and emerge from value differences, like animal rights, protection of the Eco-system, and endangered nature sites and species. Because such disputes or contentions are powerful, they can unite or divide a community or society hence the need to stem them from the beginning.

The need for a facilitative third party dialogue is important, if stakeholders and the government have the interest of the region, and unity of the country at heart.

The Rospuda Valley dispute escalated because of fear, lack of trust, poor communication and uncontrolled anger from some of the parties involved. People are especially angry if they are violated or relegated from the scheme of things, especially in decision making which affects their lives and future. This was part of the environmentalists anger, arguing that the government did not consult them or even go into dialogue with the European commission officials (Gazetta Wyborcza.07/26/2007) before taking the decision to embark on the plan. The ecological groups accused the government for not conducting proper strategic assessment of the impact of the highway project on the environment.

Till date both the government and the ecological group are well dug into their positions , defending their interests and unwilling for compromise.

Disputes are normal and natural part of any society. It brings about change....it lies at the heart of the Democratic processes. And whenever conflict arises it should be channeled to a peaceful path.

Mediators and other ADR practitioners are challenged in their approaches (Moore, 1996; Susskind, et al. 2002) used in transforming public discontent or disputes constructively, taking cognizance of important elements in the dispute. The most important thing might not be to rush for agreement; rather it involves helping the aggrieved parties scout for creative solution to their problem. And this is only realizable through the help of a neutral "third party" mediator, after properly analyzing the causes and context of the dispute.

In his book, William Ury (2002:17) gave a good example of a successful mediation which I will prefer to cite in detail, "the dispute has lasted nine years and gone all the way to the US Supreme court without resolution. The Georgia Department of Transportation wanted to put an elevated parkway through a historic Atlanta neighborhood. The local neighborhood residents opposed it. The wider community wanted the dispute solved and a solution implemented before the Olympics came to town. Two mediators went to work and in nine meetings, helped the parties hammer out a solution: a four-lane surface street with a substantial expansion of parkland. Everyone - the parties and wider community - pronounced themselves satisfied".

There are many effective instruments of managing disputes and improve community relationships and trust. The Georgian case cited above is worth emulating by the stake holders in the Rospuda valley controversy, and give third party mediation a chance. The new government controlled by Platform Obywatele (Citizens Platform party) has inherited this problem and need to show creativity in resolving it, by "genuine dialogue" (Burber, Martin 1947) facilitated by a 'third party" mediator. This will help to salvage the image of Poland in the European Union as a law abiding partner and equally saves time and public finance.

In the literature, mediation is a harmonious way of resolving disputes through third party intervener (Bingham et al 1987; Blackburn, 1988; Fisher Roger and William Ury 1981). Mediation is also a dialogue process designed to capture the party’s insight, imagination, and ideas that help disputants to participate in identifying and shaping their preferred out come (see Kimberlee Kovach and Lela Love 1998:78). It is "context-driven", and it is within this context that mediators or third party facilitator chooses which of the styles is suitable for a particular dispute. Third party intervention is also premised on the atmosphere, in which it has to take place while putting into consideration the expectations and relationships of the disputants. The process (Moore, 1986:229-231) treats all parties fairly and with respect, creates no unnecessary delays, allows parties adequate consultation, and is consistent with applicable procedures and laws. In dept analysis of any disputes gives the third party facilitator more information about the stakeholders and the questions of power imbalance (Bercovitch and Houston A. 2000) which might surface in the process, and mediators should be aware of that. Buttressing this opinion, Roger Fisher and William Ury (1991) in their book Getting To Yes advised that people in dispute should be better informed about focusing on their needs and not on their positions.

THE IMPERATIVE OF A THIRD SIDE PRAGMATIC DIALOGUE

What the polish people need to manage the dispute over the Rozpuda Valley project is a pragmatically facilitated dialogue by a third party mediator. This kind of dialogue does not only resolve problems, but also confers respect and responsibility on the disputants during the process. It has the power to transform individuals and educate them about the possibilities available for conflict resolution (Freire, 1970).

There is a great advantage if the stakeholder in this dispute embraces Third party mediation. This is because exchange of information and idea is central to the process, consensus decision making, and joint problem solving. The process has the attractiveness of providing a safe place in which the environmentalists and government officials can state their views without disruption, or fear with a view to finding out underlying commonalities. In the midst of such environmental dispute, dialogue must be informed by the context. It also requires dexterity and faith to continue discussion even when the results are obvious.

In any democracy facilitated dialogue as a means of conflict resolution must be nurtured for the sake of societal harmony and peace. It can be used to settle an issue that involves multiple stakeholders that will enable parties reach consensus, and seek transformation of adversarial interactions into a cooperative search for information and solutions that meet all parties’ needs.

As an important part of the process, the mediator or facilitator helps the disputants identify opportunities for recognition and help the parties take advantage of such chances. The role of the third party among others is to make the parties focus on resolution of disputes, refusing responsibility for out comes and placing responsibility of decisions firmly with the disputing parties (Joseph Folgers and Robert B. Bush, 1994). Furthermore, facilitated mediation will help to elevate the dialogue amongst stakeholders from recrimination and blame to the generation of creative options and ideas, while as well dealing with many perceptional, emotional, and intellectual impediments to problem solving (James Adams 1986, as cited by Kovach and Love, 1998:78).

Third party facilitated dialogue in Poland can bring the government, environmentalist groups, and the communities of Augustowa and Bialystock together to own their dispute and challenge themselves for a joint project initiative. What this means is that through facilitated communication they can discuss their values and needs, enter into partnership or cooperation to devise new plan for the Rospudyn Valley project and make the national venture a success. According to William Ury, "Partnering makes projects run smoothly, saves money, and avoids costly litigation" (Willian Ury, 2000:139), as well as saves the Polish government from further international embarrassment.

CONCLUSION

The Rospuda Valley dispute escalated primarily because the former government in Poland lacks adequate conflict resolution mechanism to address environmental protests. The dispute has also validated the need for third party facilitated dialogue approach to disputes management in Poland. Conflicts like this exacerbates when communication links between the parties are virtually non existent.

The Rospuda conflict poses greater challenge to the Polish government and the environmentalists to replace distrust, suspicion, and divergent interests with a shared knowledge base and common goals with a view to transforming relationships disrupted by the dispute. Stakeholders should work together to nip-in-the bud obstacles that militate against transformation of the Rospuda Valley issue into broader political cooperation and embrace constructive dialogue going beyond the environmental aspect.

A pertinent step should be government engagement with the environmentalists, the communities, and experts to conduct in-dept analysis of the project planning, and evaluation, to access the impact of the high way plan on the ecology. With a view to minimalizing ecological damages during the highway construction. These kinds of practices are necessary step towards confidence building and a prerequisite for consensus based conflict resolution.

In this vein, a neutral third party facilitation or mediation is the only way that can lead stake holders in this dispute towards a compromise or consensual agreement. The third party imperative will also help the ecologist and government as well as the Rospuda community to uncover their real needs through dialogue and seek common grounds. While the facilitated mediation goes on, parties desire to preserve the indisputable ecological richness of the valley becomes uncovered as a common national goal. Like elsewhere, the parties might give consideration to establishing a "tourist park." in Augustowa that might be envy to some other countries in Europe. Such joint ecological projects have the possibility of promoting mutual understanding, national unity and most pertinently, promotion of eco-tourism in the Podlasia region. This will definitely yield greater economic benefits for Poland and for the communities in Augustowa more jobs.

A new democracy like Poland cannot afford this kind of distraction in its domestic and International affairs; hence the immediate need to constructively manage group’s grievances before it escalates. The newly elected Polish Government led by Donald Tusk is therefore faced with the challenge to re-examine the government conflict resolution policy with a view to integrating the use of third party mediation as a means of addressing similar environmental, and public policy disputes in Poland.

A "genuine dialogue" that inspires citizen's engagement and participation in discussing important issues like the Rospuda discontent etc. is a core leadership and governance practice, in any virile democracy.

LITERATURE

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Biography


Emmy Godwin Irobi (Ph.D) is a Mediator in Poland. He was trained and accredited by Polish center of mediation, and had further mediation education at the Law School, University of New Mexico, Alburqueque. He is currently doing his Post doctorate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with a bias on Mediating in a Multicultural arena. Emmy has dual citizenship; Polish and Nigerian. He lives permanently in Poland. He has also widely published for Mediation journals in Poland.


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