By Metta Spencer
Notes from the international “Conference on Non-violence” at the Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik in July 1983.
July in Yugoslavia
A train trip from Prague to Dubrovnik takes about thirty six hours. You change in Vienna to the “Balkan Express,” and the next morning you have enough time for a leisurely walk around Zagreb, a quaintly elegant provincial capital where time stopped, apparently, at around the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. From that part of the journey onward, you probably won’t meet anyone else who speaks English or even French, but everyone will be fluent in German.
If you’re female (even middle-aged and heavy-set, as I am) you’ll rediscover the meaning of sexism, for even the railway officials will attempt a fondle whenever they squeeze past in the narrow passageways. Evidently they think it’s gallant of them, and appreciated.
But the chance to witness the social life inside and beyond the train compensates for that annoyance. Yugoslavia is an exceedingly egalitarian country, uniquely democratic for a socialist society, and so the houses seem to be of virtually equivalent value. Although few farm animals are to be seen, the haystack is the most prominent part of each field; one wonders what people do with all that hay. Strikingly odd is the number of unfinished houses; about one-third of the houses seem to be under construction at any one time. The explanation: Owing to the unsatisfactory job market at home, large numbers of Yugoslavs work abroad, but they come home for holidays and begin construction of the houses to which they will, in time, return. The construction often lasts many years.
You wind along past an emerald-green river that cuts into a gorge. After Sarajevo and Mostar, lots of towns have minarets as well as onion-domed church steeples; the population is partly Muslim and partly Catholic, despite the official atheism of the League of Communists. And on the hillsides, white stones have been arranged to make a star and lettering to honor Tito who, even in death, is the force unifying Yugoslavia.
The train line ends at a small town on the Adriatic, where you switch to a bus. It hugs the hilly coastline of the glassy-smooth Adriatic for a couple of hours, and then you come upon Dubrovnik, an old walled city with architecture like Venice and scenery like heaven.
Then if you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll join a conference for a couple of weeks at the Inter-University Center. You’ll meet every day for talks in a mansion overlooking the red tile roofs of the city and its stone fortifications that jut out into the sea.
As befits a conference in paradise, the theme of the one I took was nonviolence. Its participants comprised many seasoned peace-workers from all parts of the world, plus a number of new pacifists. This is a sketch of some of the 75 people who gathered there, and what they had to say to one another. Their conversations represent a sample of the thinking going on today among a rapidly growing section of society, the people who are looking for nonmilitary responses to the conflicts that now, for the first time, so clearly lack any genuine military solutions.
The Gandhian Way
Narayan Desai, an Indian man of about fifty, is a gentle and often humorous man who wears homemade clothing; his remarkable personality stands out immediately in a gathering. One might even expect remarkable traits of a man who had been brought up from earliest infancy as a member of a saint’s inner circle: His father was Gandhi’s secretary and his mother the manager of Gandhi’s ashram.
The course of Narayan’s own life has been one of unbroken continuity, as he has carried on the work for which his upbringing had prepared him. He was for many years an aide to Jayaprakash Narayan, the political leader who kept alive the moral campaign of the Mahatma, strongly opposing the secular regime of the daughter of Gandhi’s own chosen political heir, Nehru.
In addition, Narayan Desai worked with Vinoba Bhave, the Gandhian who did more than follow in “Bapu’s” footsteps, but went on to walk more than 45,000 miles before it was over. About four years after independence, Vinoba began his “land-gift” program, walking from door to door asking for donations of land for the poor rural population. Narayan Desai walked 8000 miles him self as part of this effort; although he was rarely successful (he had to go to 100 doors, on the average, before finding a household that would give land) he claims that the campaign was highly valuable as a “conscientizing” process.
Out of the land-gift movement the “Shanti Sena” or Peace Brigade was born. This has been Desai’s main commitment in recent years. A Peace Brigade is a team of trained, non-violent workers who go, uninvited, into an area of high tension, such as a scene of rioting between Hindus and Muslims. They announce that they have arrived and that they intend to interact with both sides, seeking for ways of solving the problems that produced violence. The team divides the work up, one group trying to fight rumors, another going to listen to the woes of the victims, and so on. Always a major objective is to get each side to under stand the other’s images of it.
The Peace Brigade system has been applied in numerous places throughout the world, sometimes in cooperation with Quaker teams whose methods are very similar. The idea is to interpose the nonviolent team between two antagonistic sides. It is an approach that could be applied on a much expanded scale.
Today Narayan Desai manages an organization in India, The Institute for Total Revolution, where he and his wife offer short courses of Gandhian training. Last year, they trained 700 people, primarily Indians who will carry on service projects in the villages. Once each year, however, they offer an international course, which attracts people from a number of countries. Dubrovnik is hot in the middle of the day, so everyone takes a four-hour break from work and enjoys a swim or a leisure ly meal. Narayan Desai spent much of his siesta time telling stories about life with Gandhi and teaching people to spin—a practice that he calls a “meditation method,” the thread being a byproduct. He brought along a portable spinning wheel, the kind that the Mahatma had invented, and sat in the shade giving lessons. Since everyone wanted to learn, access to the device was much sought-after. Before I had been taught how to use it, it was left in my keeping for a few hours and I made use of the time by experimenting with it, absolutely without success. The scraps of messy cotton-wool piled up as I tried over and over again to produce a simple thread. Eventually giving up in discouragement, I put the debris back into the spinning wheel. When Narayan returned, he saw the handful of scraps and seemed almost appalled. “Who has wasted all this cotton?” he asked with a frown. I confessed my sin and was immediately forgiven, but I was impressed with his ethic of frugality. A piece of cotton, worth a tiny fraction of a cent, was to be conserved: Small is beautiful. “Well,” he said soothingly, “we can save it and use it for cleaning something.”
Several times a question came up that seemed to baffle Narayan. People kept asking him what Gandhi did with anger. They seemed to be assuming that anger was an inevitable and regular part of life and the main barrier to nonviolence. It was the only question that he failed to answer immediately; I got the impression that he had never thought much about anger and wasn’t sure what Gandhi’s own views might have been. He said he’d think about it and talk about it to the group later.
The next time we met someone raised the question again and he told us that he had only seen Gandhi angry once, shortly after he had been released from jail. Narayan usually spent an hour every morning reading newspapers to him. One morning he heard terrible shouts in Gandhi’s room and, alarmed, burst in, to find the Mahatma shouting at a woman follower and slapping himself. The woman refused to explain the nature of their conflict and Narayan knows nothing more about it.
Ordinarily, Narayan added, Gandhi had turned personal anger into righteous indignation. He would never vent his anger against his adversaries, but always distinguished between the evil of their actions and their own true character, which was good whether that was apparent or not. Thus retaliation was always ruled out. Indeed, at the core of his philosophy was the assumption that, by accepting suffering, one might touch the goodness in other people.
His method consisted always of turning the “you” into a “we,” said Narayan.
Midwives to One Another
Listening to Danilo Dolci requires one to use a different brain-muscle, somehow, from the one exercised as a member of most ordinary audiences. Dolci does not tell you specifically what he intends you to learn; he hints at it by telling stories, and expects you to fill in the rest for yourself.
In Dubrovnik, wherever he went he was accompanied by an interpreter, since he speaks little English, but the purest Italian ever pronounced. (I could tell that myself, even though I understand not a word of Italian.) Dolci is a big man, seemingly three times the size of his interpreter, Justin Vitiello, a Latin professor from Philadelphia. The two of them settled down to lecture, that first time, and cast a magical spell over the rest of us.
He began by describing some creature called a Proteus that lives in the caves of Yugoslavia and cannot see. Its little eyes atrophy and it cannot bear to be exposed to light. Then, unaccountably, Dolci changed the topic to a monster that is now coming into existence in some part of the world, a monster that we all know about. After some ambiguity, it gradually became apparent that he was referring to the Trident submarine, and we shuddered in horror as we admitted into consciousness a partial awareness of the kind of beast it will be, and what it will demand of us. Two Trident submarines, said Danilo, cost as much as the United States spends per year for all its education. His audience was leaning forward, rapt, all our imaginations captive to a master storyteller.
Stories are tools for the kind of education Dolci offers; his career is to liberate the imagination and put it to the service of life. It is the work of recognizing and supporting genuine culture, the qualities of human interaction worth pri zing.
In 1952 Dolci went to the poorest part of Sicily to begin his development work, which he saw as “grass-roots conscientizing,” or fostering groups in which everyone “becomes a midwife to everyone else working in the group.”
Partinico, Sicily, was a place of despair and banditry, controlled by the Mafia, when he settled there. Dolci set about prompting people’s imaginations to distinguish what they wanted to develop in reality and what to reject. Change seemed impossible. He began, not by preaching, but by asking people what their basic problems were.
In no part of the world, says Dolci, do people understand their problems deeply. He gradually asked his Sicilian neighbors if there might be some kind of leverage by which to change reality.
People were unemployed for much of the year. The rain ran off the steep hillsides and was wasted. Could they stop that water in the winter so that in summer they could have it for irrigation? This was a profound educational experience for the people; they could change the face of the earth.
He asked people: Do you want water or not? Do you want it to be cheap or expensive? To get it at a fair price, it couldn’t be Mafia water; it had to be democratic water. And with water they would become a different kind of group. The dam could become a kind of lever for structural change. It became a reality through a new workers union, a democratic management of the irrigation system, grape-growers’ and other agricultural cooperatives.
Development, education, and creativity are all synonyms to Dolci. Yet if you go on supporting the development of a small community, he says, you come to a place where the problems are too complex for the peasants to solve. They need to pressure the state to build the dam. And as the pressure develops, you have to keep asking people what can be done.
At first, he said, the answers he heard were absurd, but gradually people realized that it was not enough to throw rocks at a train or go on fasts as individuals. They joined together, and a thousand people fasted for one day. Then the people inven ted a strike-in-reverse. They were unemployed, so they couldn’t stop work, so they went out to a country road and worked to improve it.
After many other community problems were solved, Dolci kept asking people what they wanted next and they replied that they wanted good schooling for their children. For several years now, he has devoted himself to creating an excellent school in which the children are assisted by adults to recognize their own vital interests.
Yet, says Dolci, every time you awaken people’s consciousness you run up against fascism and the Mafia, or other forms of organized violence that is secretive and parasitic.
The work of liberating Sicilians from violence now coincides with the liberation of the whole world from violence. Comiso, Sicily, is the intended site of a Cruise missile base. One million people, out of the Sicilian population of five million, have signed petitions against those missiles. In this liberation struggle, we are all one.
One morning I walked down the hill with Dolci to the Center. It was early for me but mid-day for him, since he rises habitually at 3:00 A.M. to begin his work. I had been too awed to approach him before, doubting my own capacity to response appropriately to someone who speaks in allegories and metaphors. Yet that morning I found him an easy walking companion, and he became very interested when he learned I live in Toronto. It was the Italian community about which he questioned me most. Rising to the occasion, I proposed that he might want to visit Toronto and give talks, which assuredly would appeal to many people of Italian origin. He travels every year to the United States to raise funds for his work, and possibly on his next tour Toronto can be included as well.
Nonviolence: Spiritual or Pragmatic?
The participants in the conference included members of a number of religious traditions—Narayan’s spiritual tradition is Hindu; there were two Muslims, one Jew, an exceptionally large contingent of Quakers, three Protestant ministers, two Catholic seminarians, and the rest were religiously nondescript. The moral underpinnings of the conference were clearly religious. Indeed, the question repeatedly arose: Can non-violence be justified on strictly practical, grounds or does its power and effectiveness depend on the spiritual, moral source from which it springs in a religious person?
Of course, religions differ greatly in their emphasis on nonviolence. We spent part of one day comparing these traditions, with a spokesman from each major religion reviewing his own teachings. Islam has rarely promoted nonviolent responses to conflict, though it did initiated some important humanitarian rules for the treatment of war prisoners. Nonviolence is central to Buddhist teachings, through as everywhere else, a gap has sometimes existed between what is preached and what is practiced. Christian teaching varies especially widely. Jesus’s own death was preceded by forgiveness for those who crucified him, and for the first few centuries, Christians were absolute pacifists. They were not permitted to kill even the aggressors. From the time of St. Augustine onward, however, Catholic thinking shifted toward the “just war” theory, which held that the command of love sometimes required violence for the protection of children and women. Later, Thomas Aquinas held that it was permissible for a Christian individual to defend himself with violence, though never to be the aggressor.
Bob Wells, one of the seminary students preparing for the priesthood at the Vatican, said that the power of the new weapons have made Catholics re-evaluate the importance of non-violence as an absolute ethical duty. He expects non-violence to move into the center of Catholic thought in the immediate future.
The participants who seemed most devoted to the principle of nonviolence included the Quakers and two resource people who had been members of Martin Luther King’s staff. Both groups objected to the “just war” theory, which permits a smaller amount of violence if it seems necessary to prevent a greater amount. Their explanation was that violence begets violence, and that someone must accept suffering without retaliating in order to break the chain.
Moreover, they pointed out, it is a mistake to hold that “the end justifies the means.” Instead, the means one uses must be a symbol pointing the way toward the end one is pursuing. To achieve peace, one must use peaceful means. Otherwise, only absurdiity results. And one of the Quakers added that a religious refusal to use violent means is based, not on its effectiveness, but on its rightness. Victory does not mean that you should survive, but that love should survive.
Only one participant took an opposing view of nonviolence, and he defended his outlook vigorously. He was Gene Sharp, a political scientist based at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. Sharp claims that we cannot induce people to give up their tools of violence by preaching at them. Most people already believe that they shouldn’t make war—even even those people who are busily building nuclear weapons. They simply consider it necessary under certain circumstances, and regard the Sermon on the Mount as political nonsense. There are times when powerful sanctions are needed, and people believe that violence is the most effective sanction available. That is why they hold onto their military establishment, however much they wish it were unnecessary.
Sharp’s objective is to show them that it is unnecessary, that quite apart from whether nonviolence is right, it works. He claims that there is a vast human history of people who have struggled nonviolently, fighting without weapons, without injuries, and without killing. Moreover, their tactics have often been chosen on grounds of pure expediency, not for moral reasons at all. Nonviolent methods can be used for absolutely immoral purposes, as for example when economic boycotts were used against Jews in the 1930s. These actions were evil, but Sharp wishes that the anti-Semites had stuck to boycotts, for if they had, the Jews would still be alive.
Nonviolent methods have been used in Eastern Europe—in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Chile is now using such methods in response to its military dictatorship. In Latin America in the 1940s, people overthrew dictatorships in 2 or 3 weeks without violence.
Sharp has listed over 190 different nonviolent actions that have been used at various times, mostly without elaborate preparations. If such methods were cultivated as systematic programs of resistance, he insists that it would be possible to improve their effectiveness by a factor of ten. He insists that one does not have to be a saint to use nonviolence, and indeed, the military establishment has begun to take his suggestions most seriously as an alternative approach to national defense.
Despite the energy he expended in arguing for this point of view, Gene Sharp made no converts in Dubrovnik. Bernard LaFayette, who had been chosen by Coretta Scott King to present the views of her late husband, replied to Sharp, “You can’t be effective in nonviolent tactics without the morality base. The tactics don’t mean a thing unless they grow out of a moral philosophy. I don’t teach tactics. You create tactics; you will find a way if you have a philosophy and you’re not afraid to experiment, to take risks. The most powerful thing about nonviolence is not what it can do to your opponent. The most powerful thing about nonviolence is what it can do to you.”
Dealing with the Communists
With the exception of one Yugoslav lawyer, who was presumably as anti-Soviet as everyone else, not a single communist attended the Dubrovnik conference. Having come directly from a Warsaw-bloc country, I kept regretting that the dedicated peacemakers who had gathered in Dubrovnik had no enemies on hand on whom to practice. Our proceedings reminded me of a class of medical students practicing surgery on a mannequin while a real, injured person lay beyond the door, unattended. It is quite one thing to talk abstractly about dealing with conflict nonviolently, but it is another thing to confront the bitterness of genuine enmity— especially one’s own. A few hundred miles away were troops and weapons, ready and waiting for the signal to kill us all, yet this fact was rarely mentioned. The presence of an enemy in our midst might have helped keep our attention focused where it belonged.
There were, to be sure, participants who knew our socialist “enemies” at first hand. Occasionally they talked about their impressions. Katrin Elborgh, for example, was a beautiful but sombre young woman whose family had fled with her from East Germany to Sweden. She has gone back for visits a dozen times, and as she describes it, the German Democratic Republic is “a prison. The people who live there are acutely aware of the freedoms from which they are deprived.”
A tall Princeton undergraduate, Christian Wallace, who had just completed several months of study at a Leningrad university, was equally critical of the Soviet regime. He said that intially he had searched for apologies for the regime’s oppressiveness, but then he had become friendly with an extraordinarily creative musician who had been confined to a mental hospital on the initiative of his own parents for some unspecified acts of nonconformity; there he had met political prisoners who were regularly drugged and subjected to inhumane treatment, including insulin shock. Upon release, the musician was having trouble finding a safe place in which to play the kind of experimental music that he composed on the piano. Chris was returning from his stay with a far more negative opinion of the USSR than before. My impression is that this outcome is not uncommon—a fact that should not be overlooked by those who pin great hopes on cultural exchange programs as a way of reducing mutual suspicion.
The Soviets pay a heavy price every day in terms of international prestige for holding to their intractable position on human rights. Surely they know that relations with the West would be vastly easier if they relented on these matters, yet there is no indication that they will even consider it. The changes that Westerners call for seem so small that it is hard to see any rational reason for their adamant refusal to budge. We must assume that they actually fear any liberalization, on the basis of prior experience in Czechoslovakia and Poland, where the relaxation of repression yielded such an upsurge in demands for change that the regime itself was threatened and a harsh clampdown became necessary.
Human rights were not the only thorny issue in Dubrovnik, of course. Afghanistan, Poland, the SS-20s, and a variety of other unpleasant matters added up, in the minds of the participants (as elsewhere in the West) to evidence that until the Soviets mend their ways, they and their mammoth Peace Committee should be treated as our enemy.
Everyone readily conceded that the USSR had made substantially more favorable offers in the direction of peace than had the NATO countries—in their acceptance of a verifiable comprehensive test ban agreement which the Americans refused to ratify; in their unilateral pledge never to be the first to use nuclear weapons; and in their promise never to target countries that neither own nor belong to an alliance that owns nuclear weapons. While these moves were all regarded as commendable, they were not deemed sufficient to improve the Soviet Union’s overall standing in trustworthiness and international morality.
It is impossible to be sure how much of this mistrust is a reasonable response and how much it represents a carry-over of cold-war ideology into the heart of the peace movement itself. Yet obviously a continuous, realistic appraisal of the situation is of utmost importance for the peace movement, and we must be self-critical to maintain a balance between paranoia and naivete in dealing with the Russians. I think there has been too little genuine reflection and discussion of the question, and too little recognition of how any of us may be hoodwinked on the one hand or ideologically over-zealous on the other. One cannot doubt that Soviet Peace Committee officials are uncommonly skillful at manipulating public opnion, and that they are trying to influence the Western peace movements for the benefit of their own country’s international power. Everything that Reagan charges along these lines probably has several grains of truth to it.
At the same time, many peace activists are so sweeping and categorical in their denunciation of Eastern motives that a review of their stance is definitely overdue. There seems to be a kind of social obligation involved, a duty we have imposed upon ourselves since the days of McCarthyism to be more anticommunist-than-thou, and it prejudices everything that goes on between the two sides. Presumably our counterparts in the Warsaw bloc compete to be more anti-capitalist-than-thou. The arms race is a manifestation of this polarity and will probably exist so long as the mutual suspicion is a socially-prescribed attitude. No one wants to be conned, but many people in the peace movement seem to dread being conned by the Soviets more than they dread missing opportunities for constructive breakthroughs in our dealings with them. This issue is the theme underlying an important recent debate between E.P. Thompson and Norman Soloman in The Nation. It was also an issue that gave rise to several hot disagreements in Dubrovnik.
Helga and Konrad Tempel are veteran peace activists who live near Hamburg. Over the years they have organized a Peace Brigade and numerous marches, including the San Francisco to Moscow march of 1960. They impressed me (if this is not a contradiction in terms) as short-tempered Quakers, expressing annoyance more often than the rest of us. Their most frequent complaint was that we spoke English too fast for them to understand. Unfortunately, they only protested after we had finished speaking, when the reminder was too late to be useful.
At an outdoor restaurant by the water, Helga, Konrad, and I formed an unexpected coalition in favor of tolerant dealings with the official Eastern peace movements. A young man named Ned Humphreys was heatedly arguing that our true friends are the unofficial peace groups and that we owe them the strongest possible support.
“To be sure,” we agreed readily. “To support one’s natural friends comes spontaneously. But if you want to make peace, it’s your enemy you have to go to, not your friends. So we have to find a way of relating to the people with whom we disagree.” Instead of seeming convinced, Ned was becoming angry. He insisted that we have to stand up for our friends against the group that is persecuting them—the Soviet regime. Since the official peace groups never take a stand against the government, we have to take a stand against them, out of loyalty to our oppressed friends.
Helga and I responded this way, “What we want to do is convince the official groups to tolerate the unofficial ones—to convince them that they can both exist. We don’t want to reinforce their belief that they are mutually exclusive, so we should keep insisting on treating both sides in a friendly manner. Otherwise we’ll just get caught up in the very rivalry that we are urging them transcend.”
“I would deal with them if they’d change, but not other wise,” replied Ned. “They have got to change!”
“What if they won’t?” I asked. “I agree it would be nice if they would. I want them to change too. But what are you going to do if they refuse? You won’t make peace with them unless they do what you want them to?”
Ned paused, momentarily uncertain.
Helga said, “I have met many Russians who belong to the Soviet Peace Committee, and they want peace too. Really they do! They belong to that organization because it is the best thing they know how to do to support peace. And I know they are good people.”
Ned was suddenly bursting with rage. “But look what their government is doing! Look at Afghanistan. Look at Poland. Look at their censorship. How can you be friendly with people who support policies like that?”
“Right,” I agreed. “I dislike a great deal about the USSR as much as you do. I also dislike some things about U.S. and Canada. That doesn’t turn them into enemies. Look, my mother has the most despicable political views I can imagine, and she is still my mother. My best friend and I disagree profoundly on some matters that are immensely important to me, but she’s still my best friend. Why? Because I say so. I could take our disagreement as the basis for considering her an enemy, but I choose not to. I say that she’s a friend and that our friendship includes some very hard problems that we’re working on. In the same manner, we can define our relations with the Soviet Union as friendly. We still will have the same profound disagreements, but they won’t be grounds for enmity, but problems that we are working on, maybe successfully or maybe not.”
“How does that change anything?” Ned demanded.
“It doesn’t. We still have to address the issues. But if we come from the assumption that we are friends, we will be looking for solutions instead of grounds for hating them. I think that is easier to arrive at solutions if we hold them as friends, however horrible their faults. And that is just a matter of intention.”
“You’ve sure got a naive analysis of the situation,” replied Ned. “The Soviet government is as wrong as the U.S. and we have to struggle against both of them. Dialogue with them isn’t going to make any difference. We have to pressure them to capitulate. They’re our enemies. If they are willing to change and adopt our point of view, we can accept them. Otherwise not.”
“We’ve been studying Gandhi’s methods all week, Ned,” I answered. “The distinctive thing about Gandhi was that whenever he struggled, he never turned the adversary into an enemy. He always assumed that both sides were struggling together to reach the truth, that both sides wanted to find a solution to their differences, even when violence was being used. We must respect our adversary, the USSR, the way he respected the British rulers he was resisting nonviolently.”
Ned shook his head pityingly, evidently at a loss for words. All his ideals—honor, integrity, justice, loyalty—demanded expression, I realized, through angry confrontation and blame. Antagonisms, once intitiated, are self-perpetuating and self- justifying. I shook my head pityingly, in turn, at him.
Dubrovnik was a republic for about four hundred years, but its relations with other states were not always easy. Venice, in particular, was a real threat. But these troubled relations were generally kept in check and security maintained through the use of a device that was as common in earlier times as it is rare now—the giving of hostages. The leading families of Dubrovnik were obliged to send their sons to Venice for lengthy periods, as a guarantee against initiating warfare. Kenneth Smail, a political science professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, presented a proposal at the Dubrovnik meeting for a revival of this ancient confidence-building measure: Smail suggests that the USSR and the U.S. exchange up to a million hostages at a time, all of them willingly, for periods of five years or so. They should be recruited from various occupations, and regions, so even quite small towns would be likely to have one or more of its citizens abroad at any one time, ordinarily working or studying.
The plan, though costly, would be much less expensive than the present routine purchases of military hardware. And in addition to the security guarantee, visitors would gain from the opportunity to learn the language and culture of their host country, as well as to develop friendships and mutual understanding. All these good effects of cultural exchange programs would result from this scheme as side benefits.
The Dubrovnik participants were generally enthusiastic about Smail’s plan and encouraged him to present the idea to other groups as well.
Power to the Neutrals
The Labyrinth Restaurant is a terrace overlooking a harbor for small boats. At night it is peaceful, except for flocks of noisy birds that speed around wildly, somehow averting collisions. One dinner party there was especially informative. I had asked John Ernest for a briefing on the Helsinki process and the word had spread to other participants who were well-informed on the subject. A seminar spontaneously congregated there and lasted far into the evening.
John Ernest is a mathematics professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara. His commitment to peace research has been growing and when I met him was on sabbatical leave for a year with his co-vivant, biologist Mary Ann Scott. When he returns to California, he will devote much of his time to work in the new institute for peace studies that is now forming. He has been following the Helsinki process closely, even going to Madrid to talk with the participants in the conference that was, only then, about to conclude there.
The only aspect of the Helsinki accords that has been publicized much in the West is the matter of human rights. Nevertheless, I was told that the peace movement ought to be paying a lot of attention to the rest of the process, for it covers a variety of topics of exceptional importance to Europe. It is nothing less than an effort to resolve the problems left over from World War II. When the original accords were signed in 1975 there was great joy, for it represented the highest accomplishment of detente, which was even then beginning to come apart.
But it called for subsequent meetings that would make more specific agreements. The first follow-up was in Belgrade, and it failed completely. The second one was in Madrid, and although it took three years instead of six months, it was not broken off as expected, and finally a document was produced that could be accepted by all the 35 participating nations—all of Europe except Albania, plus Canada and the United States, who participated because of their involvement in NATO. The success at Madrid can be credited to the efforts of the non-aligned countries to mediate between the NATO and Warsaw bloc countries.
There will be other meetings in the years ahead to address specific aspects of the Helsinki agreement, such as one on human rights in Ottawa and (more important to the peace movement) one on security and disarmament in Stockholm, beginning in January, 1984.
This Stockholm meeting will be divided into two phases— confidence-building measures, and then (not before 1986 at the earliest) disarmament. However, it is certain that some of the countries will propose nuclear weapon free zones as a subject to be discussed under the heading of confidence-building measures. Almost equally certainly, the United States will attempt to reject such a definition of the conference’s mandate. At that point, the peace movement must be prepared to raise a hue and cry about the matter, so that the U.S. cannot successfully forestall that discussion. The Canadian peace movement, in particular, must seize that opportunity to urge their government not to capitulate to the inevitable demand for support that will come from its neighbor to the south.
That night on the terrace I met Aaron Tovish, a young American who has been working for more than a year with the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, an old, well-established organization in Stockholm. Aaron had just arrived in Dubrovnik in the final days of the conference. He was on an official mission to contact people in all the non-aligned countries (and Yugoslavia is one) to coordinate their approaches to disarmament negotiations. I met him for coffee the next morning and liked what he had to say.
The non-aligned countries, observed Aaron, have been ex cluded from participating in those decisions that are most fate ful for their people—the negotiations over the nuclear missiles. The NATO group is represented in the Geneva talks by the U.S. and the Warsaw group is represented by the USSR, but the nonaligned countries—Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Yugoslavia, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Malta, and Cyprus—have nothing to say about the outcome. The grounds are that only the owners of the weapons should decide what to do with them. Since the nonaligned countries have chosen never to own nuclear weapons, they have been excluded from any power to decide their own fates.
Aaron maintains that the basis for representation at the negotiating table ought not to be whether a nation owns nuclear weapons, but whether its people are put at risk by them. If the nonaligned countries collectively press for representation, it would be a claim that the peace movement everywhere ought to press their governments to accept.
A Nonviolent Picnic
Between the Center and the sea lay a wooded hill and, on its far slope, down by a rocky cove, a convent where nuns could be seen working their vegetable garden. As the conference drew to a close, we gathered there for a picnic and a special session of nonviolence training. The trainer who organized the session began with a role-playing session, having one participant play a demonstrator at a nuclear weapons plant and someone else play a worker who felt his job was threatened by the demonstration. When the peace activist began to be assaulted, we were shown some techniques—such as protecting the temples instead of the crown of the head from blows, since injury is more likely where the skull is weaker.
But other experienced trainers were on hand too—Narayan Desai and Bernard LaFayette—and their approach to preparation was quite different. LaFayette did not teach any self-protective gestures whatever, but stressed the importance of readying oneself for pain or even death with dignity and a steady compassion for the assailant. He spoke for a long time about the direct action campaigns in which he had taken part, as a member of Martin Luther King’s staff. On one occasion he was attacked by twelve angry taxi drivers who resented the sit-in that he had organized at a lunch-counter where they hung out. The blows, he said, grew weaker and weaker as, time after time, he picked himself up, dusted off his trench-coat, and faced them benignly. It was very hard, he said, to keep beating someone who did not fight back.
When we walked back down the hill, it was in silence. A new resolution was forming. The peace movement, we recognized, is quickly coming to a new phase. As the missiles are nearly ready for installation, we are readying ourselves too for the sacrifices we will be obliged to make then. Civil disobedience will probably be required. Groups are even forming with a commitment to fast unto death, as their ultimate gift to the preservation of life. When we spoke, on that last day, of our plans for the future, Justin, the Philadelphia Latin professor, spoke for several others when he said, “I’m going to be spending more time in jail.”