Speech by Europe for Peace at the meeting of the World Humanist Forum on 19 May 2024

In order to answer this question, I have to take a detour that seems to take us away from the subject. The daily life of each of us is rather mechanical and predictable. This repetitiveness makes it very difficult to change things, sometimes even the simplest things, such as eating habits. It is like being on a moving train, where the direction seems predetermined and our only option is to move between carriages, but not to change the direction of the train. Fortunately, at least once in our lives we have experienced moments when something suddenly happens that gives us the strength to break the mechanics and do things that seemed impossible before. Think, for example, of the moment when we fell in love. At that moment fears and difficulties disappeared and everything became possible, as if the turbo had been turned on!

The same thing happens in human ensembles. It is as if you come into contact with a deeper dimension. Let’s take two examples from the history of the Czech Republic. I mention them because, living in Prague, I had the opportunity to get to know them well.

The first is the revolution of 1989, which put an end to the communist dictatorship. Despite Gorbachev’s perestroika, which brought great changes throughout Eastern Europe, the Czech people were deeply suspicious of the possibility of real change. They remained passive and afraid to protest. But things changed. Some students organised a nonviolent demonstration, which was brutally suppressed by the police. The sight of young people being beaten sent shock waves through the population. This was followed by activities involving intellectuals, artists and workers. There were protests all over the country, and in Prague in November 1989 about a million people demonstrated. It was a completely nonviolent demonstration, involving all sections of the population, including mothers with their children. Something had cracked, a mental wall had been breached. Fear, mistrust and futility had given way to hope. Those interviewed spoke of a “magical” moment, of a deep connection with the best in themselves and in others, of a feeling not of an isolated, frustrated and powerless “I”, but of a “we” that has the strength to achieve any goal. The other is no longer a stranger to be mistrusted, but someone who shares the same aspirations, a human being like me. It was a month of inspiration, of profound depth and spiritual clarity, of overcoming the fears and paralysing ideologies of the system’s propaganda. A real psychosocial phenomenon.

If we had asked people a few days earlier whether they thought change was possible, they would have said that it was impossible, that this was the reality and that unfortunately it could not be changed. They were steeped in mistrust, fear and the conviction that there was no point in doing anything. A few days later, all this had “miraculously” changed.

The second example is the protest that took place from 2007 to 2009 against the installation of a military base that the US wanted to impose, even though the majority of the population did not agree. There was a sense of powerlessness. The media only gave space to those who were in favour of the base, and every demonstration was presented as the protest of a few extremists. A hundred organisations joined together in the ‘Nezakladnam’ (No to the Base) movement, and activities grew all over the country. But the negotiations between the Czech and US governments continued, and it seemed impossible to win this battle of David against an arrogant Goliath.

But something changed: more and more famous personalities from the world of science, culture and show business spoke out against the government’s decisions. The demonstrations multiplied. The Humanist Party began a hunger strike that had a powerful effect on the population. Here too, a mental wall came down. The fear of expressing one’s ideas and the feeling that “it is useless to protest” gave way to confidence and hope. It was not as profound a phenomenon as in 1989, but it was certainly a very important one. It should be noted that individuals and groups expressing their dissent did not do so in isolation and individually, but converged in the Nezakladnam movement, thus strengthening nonviolent protest. This important convergence was discussed in the first speech. In the end, Obama abandoned this project. It was a great victory for democracy and nonviolence.

Today the direction of events on a planetary level is very worrying and only an awakening of the human being will be able to change this direction. An awakening that is a profound shock, a connection with the best in oneself and in others, and that allows one to see with great mental clarity what the priorities are, what is really important. In this awakening, personal and group egos are set aside to give way to a connection with the destiny of humanity. I speak of a contagious experience, just as panic, fear and discouragement are contagious. Suddenly, what was unimaginable the day before becomes possible, and in these moments of inspiration, everything becomes clear.

History cannot be understood only as a collection of “external” events determined by the principle of causality. Sometimes, from the depths of human consciousness, a force erupts that overcomes all determinism.

From this point of view, all activities aimed at this awakening are good. They can be public demonstrations in the squares, conferences, articles, nonviolent activities of boycott and non-cooperation. But also, as we wrote in our appeal “Let us take peace into our own hands”, a meditation or a prayer according to one’s own religion or atheism. Even seemingly simple but profoundly meaningful activities, such as open communication with one’s neighbours in one’s own neighbourhood, can contribute to the awakening and growth of humanity.

To the question, “What can I do to build a better world?”, I would say: Awaken in yourself and in others your humanity, your love of life and an open view of the future.

At the moment, Europe for Peace is supporting several initiatives: the third World March for Peace and Nonviolence, the proposal born in Italy for a World Strike for Peace, and the project to collect one million signatures at European level to demand that citizens be consulted on the question of war. In particular, we are continuing the “I vote for peace” campaign, inviting people to vote only for parties whose programmes include diplomatic conflict resolution in the European elections in June. In particular, we are supporting parties that oppose arms supplies to Ukraine and support UN resolutions, including sanctions against Israel.

From this point of view, we can consider this great crisis we are going through as an opportunity to take a great step forward as humanity: to leave behind the Cro-Magnon residues still present in us, and especially in the high spheres of power so that a new, fully human species can evolve. I end with a quote from Silo in 2004: “We are at the end of a dark historical period and nothing will be the same as before. Gradually the dawn of a new day will break; cultures will begin to understand each other; peoples will experience a growing yearning for progress for all, understanding that the progress of the few ends in the progress of none. Yes, there will be peace and, inevitably, it will be understood that a universal human nation is beginning to take shape.

Gerardo Femina