JUNE 6 – In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that exactly 100 years after the start of the First World War, now is the time for a new ambitious start, offering new hope to a humanity suffering under the scourge of militarism and wars.
SARAJEVO, Jun 5 2014 (IPS) – On this Friday, June 6, people from all corners of the world gather here in Sarajevo, Bosnia, to explore a plethora of ideas on the road forward to a world in peace.
Sarajevo once was the scene of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that led to the start of the First World War in 1914. The shot fired in Sarajevo a century ago set off, like a starting pistol, a race for power, two global wars, a Cold War, a century of immense, rapid explosion of death and destruction technology, all extremely costly, and extremely risky.
A huge step in the history of war, but also a decisive turning point in the history of peace. The peace movement has never been as strong politically as in the last three decades before the break-out of the First World War. It was a factor in political life, literature, organisation, and planning, the Hague Peace Conferences, the Hague Peace Palace and the International Court of Arbitration, and Bertha von Suttner’s bestseller, ‘Lay Down Your Arms!’.
Optimism was high as to what this ‘new science’ of peace could mean to humankind. Parliaments, Kings and Emperors, great cultural and business personalities involved themselves. The great strength of the movement was that it did not limit itself to civilising and slowing down militarism, it demanded its total abolition. People were presented with an alternative, and they saw common interest in this alternative road forward for humankind.
What happened in Sarajevo a hundred years ago was a devastating blow from which the movement never really recovered. Now, 100 years later, must be the time for a thorough reappraisal of the merits of the original vision of disarmament, what we have done without it, the need for a recommitment, a new ambitious start offering new hope to a humanity suffering under the scourge of militarism and wars.
People are tired of armaments and war. They have seen that they release uncontrollable forces of tribalism and nationalism. We need to acknowledge that our common humanity and human dignity are more important than our different traditions. We can solve our problems without killing each other. We need to accept and celebrate diversity and otherness. We need to give and accept forgiveness, and choose non-killing and non-violence as ways to solve our problems.
We are also challenged to build structures through which we can cooperate and which reflect our interdependence. The vision of the European Union (EU) founders to link countries together economically in order to lessen the likelihood of war among the nations is a worthy endeavour.
Unfortunately instead of providing help for E.U. citizens, we are witnessing the growing militarisation of Europe, its role as a driving force, under the leadership of the United States/NATO, towards rearmament and a new ‘cold’ war and military aggression. The EU and many of its countries used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflicts. Traditionally peaceful countries, like Norway and Sweden, are now among the most important U.S./NATO war assets. The EU is a threat to the survival of neutrality.
Many nations have been drawn into being complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on. I believe that NATO should be abolished and that the United Nations should be reformed and actively take up its mandate to save the world from the scourge of war.
But there is hope. People are saying no to militarism and war and insisting on disarmament. Now is the time to take inspiration from many who have gone before us, like Bertha von Suttner, who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in l905.
It was Von Suttner who moved Alfred Nobel to set up the Nobel Peace Prize award and it was her movement and ideas that Nobel decided to support in his testament for the ‘Champions of Peace’, that is, those who struggled for disarmament and replacing power with law and International relations.
That these ideas were what Nobel wished to support is clearly confirmed by three expressions in his will, about creating the fraternity of nations, work for abolition of armies, and the holding of peace congresses. It is important the Nobel Committee be faithful to his wishes and that prizes go to the true Champions of Peace that Nobel had in mind.
This 100-year-old programme for global disarmament confronted militarism in a fundamental way. It challenges today´s peace movement to rethink. Is it sufficient to ask for improvements and reforms, or is it necessary to be an alternative to militarism? This aberration and dysfunctional system goes completely against the true spirit of men and women, which is to love and be loved and solve our problems through cooperation, dialogue, non-violence and conflict resolution.
The Sarajevo event gathers a diversity of activists together and lets them feel the warmth and strength of being among thousands of friends and enriched by the variety of peace people, and ideas. Participants will be inspired and energised to pursue their different projects, be it arms trade, nuclear, non-violence, culture of peace, drone warfare, etc. But soon they shall be back home, and know all too well how they often are being met with indifference or a remote stare.
The problem is not that people do not like what they say; what they understand correctly is that little can be done, as the world is. But peace people want a different world. Diverse as their work is, a common vision of a world without arms, militarism and war is indispensable for success. Can the movement achieve real change if it does not confront and reject militarism entirely, as the aberration, or dysfunction, that it is in human history? Is it not time that all countries come together in an agreement to abolish all weapons and war, and to commit to always sort out all differences through international law and institutions?
While it is impossible in Sarajevo to make a common peace programme, it must be possible to commit to a common goal. If the common dream is a world without weapons and militarism, why not say so? Why be silent about it?
It would make a world of difference if peace work no longer be scattered attempts to modify the military. Each activist should see their effort as part of a great, global endeavour. Across all divisions of national borders, religions and races, one goal should be clear: to be an alternative, insisting on an end to militarism and violence. This would mean, for each one, an entirely different chance to be listened to and taken seriously.
Sarajevo, where peace once ended, must become the bold starting point of a universal call for peace through the wholesale abolition of militarism.