Mark Muller Stuart: 'Art and culture help people from different perspectives to begin to understand each other's positions'

Mark Muller: 'Art and culture help people from different perspectives to begin to understand each other's positions'

Mark Muller Stuart (right)

Beyond Borders International Festival founder emphasises the importance of art and culture in the peacebuilding process

The Beyond Borders International Festival (BBIF), an annual weekend-long event that serves as a platform for international dialogue and cultural exchange, returns to Scotland this month at the historical Traquair House in the Scottish Borders. A festival that started as an experiment is now celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, much to the pleasure of its founder and international human rights advocate Mark Muller Stuart. 'Despite the onset of the digital world, the festival has confirmed how human beings still want to come together to discuss and debate matters of consequence to their society and to hear the stories of others,' says Muller Stuart.

This year's programme features a variety of panel discussions and debates, but also an art and culture component including music and performing arts events, visual arts exhibitions and more. Muller Stuart emphasises that art and culture is vital to any sustainable peace process. 'Art and culture help people from different perspectives to begin to understand each other's positions, and also underpin efforts to promote reconciliation between opposing groups,' he says. 'It also provides a medium through which people who have suffered conflict can express their pain and joy and others can learn about the consequences of war and violence. Art and culture can help in the rebuilding and renewing of societal ties and provide hope to those who have suffered profound loss.'

In addition to running the festival, Beyond Borders Scotland also supports the Women in Conflict Fellowship, a partnership programme between the Scottish Government and the United Nations. Since its launch in 2016, the programme has welcomed over 160 women from around the world for week-long training and workshop sessions in Edinburgh. Despite women being the largest group to be affected by conflict, they are widely underrepresented in peace negotiations. Muller Stuart says that the Women in Conflict Fellowship programme provides women peacemakers with 'a unique platform through which to exchange experiences, but also to learn best practice from seasoned peacemakers.' The upcoming 18–26 August fellowship programme specifically focuses on the use of arts and culture in peacebuilding, featuring local and international experts in cultural diplomacy, music, storytelling, theatre, film, visual arts, transitional justice and gender equality.

Mark Muller: 'Art and culture help people from different perspectives to begin to understand each other's positions'

Razia Iqbal, Jodi Rudoren, Talat Yaqoob and Madeleine Habib on a 2018 BBIF panel
This year's BBIF programme features many notable female speakers and women-focused talks including 'Women and Climate Action for a Just Future', an exploration of how women's leadership is vital to the world's climate emergency; 'Scotland: Her Story', focusing on the history of Scotland through the eyes of women throughout the centuries; and an in-depth talk with First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon about Brexit and the new emerging political landscape in Scotland, the United Kingdom and beyond.

Over the past ten years, Scotland has proven itself to be an exemplary host country for the BBIF, not only due to its picturesque setting, but particularly its history. '[Scotland] has undergone one of the most radical constitutional journeys in Europe in the last quarter-century,' Muller Stuart says, 'and its devolved settlement is one of the best examples of how a smaller nation within a larger state can transition towards greater democracy in a peaceful manner.'

Scotland has had many valuable experiences throughout its lengthy history that it can share with other countries at international events such as the BBIF. 'Scotland provides a great platform for groups to come and learn lessons, as it exercises a powerful hold over the imagination,' he says. 'It is perceived as a proud, neutral small nation which has managed to preserve its culture and identity.' Ultimately, Muller Stuart feels that it is small nations that believe in soft power like Scotland which 'can make a significant contribution to supporting international efforts to build peace and a rules-based order around the world.'

Beyond Borders International Festival, Traquair House, 24–25 Aug, beyondbordersscotland.com

Beyond Borders International Festival

Intimate and engaging festival with talks by authors, politicians, journalists and diplomats about pressing global issues. It features an arts and music programme with performance, visual arts, poetry and dance.

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