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Report from Brandenburg Gate: Voices UK anti-war and anti-sanctions tour of Europe

Voices in the Wilderness UK tour of European
anti-sanctions and anti-war groups - a report
Dear all
John Norris wisely suggested before I left that I try
to write a short report from each country visited and
email it back for general consumption. For a variety
of reasons (including at times exhaustion) I have been
unable to take advantage of his good advice.
As the Voices in the Wilderness UK tour of
anti-sanctions and anti-war groups comes to a close,
however, I think I ought to attempt some overview of
the scene as we have glimpsed it in Spain, Portugal,
Italy and Germany.
As a result of the tour, there will be a European
anti-sanctions coordinating meeting attached to an
anti-sanctions conference in London 23/24 February.
Both Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday have
expressed interest in attending. More information in
January on
me, Milan Rai, via
As a word of background, Voices in Wilderness UK
campaigns _for_ the lifting of economic sanctions on
Iraq, and campaigns _against_ the (continuing)
bombardment of that unhappy country. We are the
younger sister of Voices in the Wilderness US, formed
in 1996 - we started up in 1998. 
In the UK, we are one of three groups who help to
coordinate the anti-sanctions movement (the others
being the Cambridge-based student group CASI}s%20group%20Act
Earlier this year Voices UK decided to try to
encourage stronger links with other European
anti-sanctions groups, after the invigorating
participation in a London anti-sanctions conference of
Ornella Sangiovanni of the Italian sanctions-breaking
group Ponte Per (originally "A Bridge to Baghdad", now
just "A Bridge To..." because the group has a number
of countries of concern).
So with generous financial assistance from Voices in
the Wilderness US, the Justice and Peace Fund (London)
and an anonymous donor, a tour of different countries
was sketched out. Scheduling and planning was
disrupted by the demands of post-11-September anti-war
work, both at the British end and in the various
countries we intended to visit.
Incidentally, this tour was conducted by train, bus
and ferry, on a volunteer basis. No plane, no gain.
Our first port of call was Madrid where the Campana
Estatal por el Levamiento de las Sanciones a Iraq is
based. The Campaign is an offshoot of the Comite de
Solidaridad con la Causa Arabe (my apologies for the
missing accents on all these titles), with which it
shares a smart office in the heart of the capital
(just off Puerta del Sol).
A) Anti-War Scene
The anti-war scene in Spain seemed somewhat
fragmented. There had been a large demo called two
Sundays earlier, with 10 to 20,000 participants, but
this had not been called by the main anti-war
"Platform" (coalition). There were regular turn-outs
on Thursdays for Platform-initiated demos. The
Platform has its business meetings on Tuesdays, with
70-odd groups signed up to the coalition.
The next big demo in Madrid (called by the Platform)
was for 29 November, the international day for
solidarity with Palestine. 
B) Anti-Sanctions Scene
The Campaign to Lift the Sanctions on Iraq has a
humanitarian "health programme" whereby they bring
Iraqi children (and the larger Committee brings over
Palestinian children) to be treated in Spain, with the
authorisation and support of the Health Ministry and
regional parliaments, who fund the healthcare and (I
believe) other costs of the programme.
The Regional Assembly of Asturias provides
considerable funding for the Campaign and for the
Last year the Campaign began fundraising to send a
million pencils to Iraq, to help publicise and counter
the decay of the Iraqi education system. In the event
they were able to purchase 2 million pencils and these
have arrived in Iraq and will shortly be distributed.
Spanish vignette
On the train to Madrid an elderly, rustic-looking man
carrying a plant in a bag offered Arkady (6) a sweet
and then a gigantic tortilla sandwich. We explained to
Arkady that in Spain people were very nice to
children. 'Are we staying the night here?' he asked.
Yes. 'Then I think I know who they'll give the best
bed to,' he declared.
Anti-War Scene
Barcelona is of course the capital of Catalonia. As in
Britain, the different parts of Spain have their
different anti-war coalitions. Unfortunately, despite
much effort and much help from a variety of kind
people, we were unable to make contact with the
anti-sanctions movement in Catalonia during our visit,
despite the fact that the anti-sanctions campaign has
a "Platform" in Barcelona.
We were however able to attend a regular Thursday
evening vigil in the centre of Barcelona, and to talk
to several members of the anti-war coalition
afterwards. Each week a different group takes
responsibility for the vigil - when we attended it was
a women}s network, and they read out a short message
from the Revolutionary Association of Women of
Tuesdays are business meetings, Thursdays
vigils/demonstrations in a central square. The
Barcelona group were considering organising a fast
against the war the weekend before Xmas. I'm waiting
to hear whether this is still going ahead.
The Barcelona network demonstrates the extraordinary
breadth of the Spanish anti-war movement, including
both squatters groups and boy scouts, neighbourhood
associations and left-wing parties. One crucial hub is
the Centre de Treball i Documentacio, which houses the
office of the anti-war movement in Gran de Gracia, a
very interesting group with a wide-ranging agenda. 
The breadth of support enjoyed by the movement was
demonstrated by the concert-standard PA system used
for the vigil, loaned by the city council!
Spanish vignette #2
During our stay in Barcelona, we were able to see an
wonderful exhibition on Afghanistan, long in the
organising by a local bank with a commitment to
cultural events. Ancient pottery, modern photographs,
film of Afghan towns and cities from 1928, a rich
experience of a millennium of Afghan culture and
A) Anti-Sanctions Scene
In Portugal, we were lucky enough to be able to help
bring a new anti-sanctions group together at a public
meeting at the Centro de Cultura Libertaria in
Cacilhas (Almada) area across the river from Lisbon.
The group, which had not adopted a name by the time we
left, asked for international support, and
particularly for the formation of some international
network that they could be part of, which would help
them in local press work and outreach.
When the group has consolidated, we'll be able to post
their contact details on the CASI and Voices websites
( )
B) Anti-War Scene
The Portuguese anti-war movement seems divided into a
grouping dominated by the Revolutionary Socialist
Party (I don't know if that is an accurate rendition)
and a looser anarchist network. The RSP is a sister
party to the SWP, and which like the SWP has formed a
'Left Bloc' with other leftish groups. Unlike the SWP,
the RSP has got seats in the national parliament (2, I
believe), and there also appear to be Communist
deputies, and they provide some focus for organising.
The night before we arrived (Friday) there had been a
Left Bloc anti-war demo starting from the park near
where we were staying, with about 500 participants, we
were told.
Portuguese vignette
A curious Portuguese saying about the humble orange:
'In the morning, it's gold.'
'In the afternoon, it's silver.'
'In the evening, it kills.'
In Rome we were the guests of the anti-sanctions group
Un Ponte Per (A Bridge To), formed in 1991. At one
time known as 'A Bridge to Baghdad', the group has
broadened its work to reach out to Turkish Kurdistan,
Palestine and the former Yugoslavia. 
Housed in a disused church building, Un Ponte Per is
just over a hundred yards from the Lower House of
Parliament which in 1999 passed an important
anti-sanctions resolution. Despite the provisions of
the Italian constitution, the government ignored the
precise demands of the Parliament for the immediate
suspension of economic sanctions on Iraq and the
unfreezing of Iraqi assets in Italian banks.
INTERVIEW with Ramon Mantovani
Ornella Sangiovanni, Coordinator of the national
campaign to lift the economic sanctions and our
generous host, was kind enough to organise a full
programme of activities that included an interview
with Ramon Mantovani, a member of parliament for the
Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (Reformed
Communist Party), the only party wholly committed to
the lifting of economic sanctions.
Mr Mantovani outlined three main problems for the
movement: the propaganda effect of the so-called
"smart sanctions" resolution proposed by the US and
UK; the hardening of opinion after 11 September and
the onset of the war in Afghanistan; and the change to
a centre-right government in Italy. A right-wing
Christian Democrat grouping friendly to the people of
Iraq was now part of the government where in 1999 they
had had more room for maneouvre as their party was
outside the government. Mr Mantovani regretted the
loss of this "precious ally" who had helped to put
together the coalition that passed the 1999
The Party's analysis was that the war on Afghanistan
was being used by the US to strengthen its power in
the New World Order, and to accomplish a definitive
transformation of NATO into a world-wide watchdog.
Different governments around the world, in addition to
the Berlusconi administration were choosing to take
part militarily in the war on Afghanistan, in order to
have a role within this New World Order. 
Mr Mantovani drew attention to the clashes within the
European Union being caused by competition between
European countries wishing to take part in the US-led
war effort.
A) Anti-War Scene
There was an interesting indication of the strength of
the anti-war movement the Saturday before our arrival,
when a government-sponsored pro-war demonstration drew
a claimed 35-40,000 people, and a rival anti-war demo
had more than double that number of participants.
Curiously, the police estimate for the pro-war
demonstration matched exactly that of the organisers'
- a first. The anti-war demonstration was not
reported, while the government demo was talked up in
the media.
Several peace and left groups did not participate in
the anti-war demo because of various 'conditions' or
demands attached to the event by organising groups (we
didn't get to the bottom of this) so that the whole
thing could have been much bigger. Some Catholic
groups apparently dissociated themselves from the
demonstration because they perceived it as an
anti-American rather than an anti-war demonstration.
They were unhappy with the rhetoric of some anti-war
organisers on television.
Attempts to meet anti-war organisers did not work out,
but they did mean that we got to visit one of the many
semi-legal/semi-squatted 'social centres' established
in part at least by the growing anti-globalisation
movement. These social centres have been hothouses for
new artistic talent, have provided social services in
deprived areas, and have created social and meeting
spaces for the new movements.
B) Anti-Sanctions Scene
Un Ponte Per has a wide range of activities in hand.
We were fortunate to meet the wonderful Carla, who has
been looking after a 12 year-old Iraqi girl brought
out to Rome for treatment for leukemia. Hania has
responded well to treatment, and the outlook seems to
be good. 
We also met the equally wonderful Oretta, who has been
involved in twinning primary schools in Italy and
Iraq, with exchanges of drawings and so on.
Gianfranco, a pillar of the group since its inception,
supervises the sponsorship programme run by Un Ponte
Per. We were also met 'Mr Fix-It' Massimo and, a great
kindred animal rights-ish spirit for me, Marinella,
two of the stalwarts of the campaign.
While we were in Rome, the group was anxiously
awaiting a consignment of sanctions-breaking dates
illegally imported from Iraq which they intended to
sell in fair trade shops and other outlets around
Italy for the second year running. When someone
purchases a pack of dates (grown by a collective near
Basra) they are invited to sign and post an enclosed
postcard declaring to Prime Minister Berlusconi that
the sender has broken the sanctions on Iraq by
purchasing sanctions-breaking dates.
(Voices in the Wilderness UK has arranged to act as a
distributor for some of the Italian dates in the UK.
For more details, please contact Richard Byrne of
Voices UK <>.)
Roman vignette
Ornella introduced us to the delights of 'real' pizza,
which amazingly was neither round (they cut a
rectangular section of your choice out of a large
tray) nor always covered in cheese. As a vegan, I was
astounded to discover that there were several
varieties of (delicious) pizza on display that were
cheese-free. Why is 'gnocchi' only available in Roman
restaurants on Thursdays? We did not discover.
> Stuttgart
A) Anti-war scene
The focus of our German tour was Iraq, but we did get
to discuss anti-war activities in Germany briefly
withPaul Russmann of Ohne Rustung Leben (Living
without weapons). ORL which has 12,000 members and has
a number of areas of concern, including the arms
trade, the NATO EUCOM (European Command) base in
Germany, and the former Yugoslavia (several people we
met had travelled there a lot for peace and
reconciliation work).
Ohne Rustung Leben's slogan against the war was 'Dies
ist nicht mein Krieg, Herr Schroder' ('This is not my
war, Mr Schroder' - German Chancellor or prime
minister). An excellent petition drawn up by them had
received 16,000 signatures in 20 days. The
attractively-designed petition had small photos of a
few well-known figures at the top, with short anti-war
quotes, a short text in plain text, and three or four
clear demands put to the Chancellor in large BOLD
text, and then spaces for signatures on the bottom
half and reverse of the sheet. I've never seen a
better petition.
> Krastel bei Bell
On our way to Berlin, we met Clemens Ronnefeldt,
Secretary of the International Fellowship of
Reconciliation section in Germany, who has recently
published a book (available only in German) about war
and sanctions against Iraq and Serbia - 'Die Neue
NATO, Irak und Yugoslawien' <ISBN 3-9804408-3-4>.
Clemens was one of the organisers of a German parallel
effort to the Gulf Peace Team in 1990/91, and was in
Iraq in December 1990, weeks before the assault began.
Clemens counted 120 flights to Baghdad as of January
2001. He told us a little about the curious story
behind the first German direct flight. Apparently the
organisers had received permission from both the
German government and the UN for a humanitarian flight
in January 2001, but the plug was finally pulled - 30
hours before the flight was due to leave - by the
British parent company of the German airline. This was
at the behest of the British government, it is
> Tubingen
In the lovely university town of Tubingen, we had a
three-way meeting with Society for a Culture of Peace
(an initiative that helped to bring about the
UN-sponsored Decade for a Culture of Peace), the
Information office for Military Information e.V. (IMI)
and a member of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace group.
One issue that was raised was the influence of the
Kurdish solidarity movement in Germany, which is
generally hostile to the idea of lifting economic
sanctions on Iraq. One powerful voice opposing the
anti-sanctions movement is Medico International, which
does a lot of work in Kurdistan.
We discussed the idea of trying to clarify the
distinction between the international security
guarantee to the Kurds in the three northern
governorates (a unilateral policy of the US and UK)
and the economic sanctions imposed on the whole of
Iraq (a multilateral policy of the United Nations
Security Council). One could in theory continue
without the other.
The idea was mooted of an international declaration
against war on Iraq. (I've yet to do any work on
> Heidelberg
In Heidelberg we were lucky to meet Joachim Guilliarad
and Michael Schiffmann of the newly-formed German
campaign for the lifting of economic sanctions on
Iraq, sponsored by IMI (see above) and others. The
group was preparing to make a presentation on the
sanctions to the Peace Council, a yearly meeting of
the peace movement.
Joachim and Michael, like other anti-sanctions groups
already mentioned, expressed enthusiasm for the idea
of European coordination. I explained the format of
our National Coordinating Meetings in Britain, whereby
we have avoided formal coalitions and met to share
information, ideas and experiences and to plan joint
> Berlin
Berlin was the culmination of our trip, when we met
three members of the Green Party, part of the ruling
red-green coalition. Rita Griesshaber is their
spokesperson on the UN and international politics,
Christian Sterzing is the party's Middle East expert,
and Ulrike Hofken is the local MP of Detlef
Enge-Bastien, our very generous guide and host in
Germany, who had organised the meeting, along with the
rest of our programme in Germany.
We were surprised and disappointed to hear Ms
Griesshaber accepting the US view that movement on,
and solutions to, the humanitarian crisis (by lifting
the economic sanctions on Iraq) are conditional on the
resolution of the inspection crisis.
Ms Griesshaber expressed the belief that Iraq had not
used all the possibilities of the Oil-for-food
programme (true - there were long delays in ordering
many goods during the last year), and that the
suffering in Iraq could be resolved with the proper
operation of Oil-for-Food (untrue - the OFF deal does
not permit the reflation of the Iraqi economy needed
to deal with the mass poverty created by sanctions). 
We explained the view of Mr Tun Myat, current UN
Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in February 2001
that there was "nothing sinister" in the failures to
order by Iraqi ministries - he attributed the delays
to a bureaucratic upheaval when Iraq decided to order
goods directly from suppliers rather than ordering
through an intermediary or agent.
We also pointed out that if Denis Halliday and Hans
von Sponeck, who used to run Oil-for-Food, had
believed the problem could be solved within the
programme, they would hardly have resigned in protest
and dedicated themselves to campaigning against the
economic sanctions ever since.
The key point for the Green Party representatives was
the lack of progress on the inspection side of things.
We urged them to de-link the humanitarian crisis from
the inspection crisis.
German vignette
During our time in Berlin, we stayed in the
UFA-Fabrik, a former film production facility from the
early part of the century, and now an alternative
living complex, with free school, health food shop,
ecological houses, circus area, city farm, and
theatre. The UFA-Fabrik runs a host of activities from
shamanic ceremonies (the night we arrived) to dancing
lessons. A very pleasant guest-house on the site can
put you up for just over a tenner a night if you are
part of a group and you share an eight-bed room.
Viktoria Strasse, Templehof.
Voices in the Wilderness UK would like to thank Voices
in the Wilderness US, the Justice and Peace Fund
(London) and our anonymous donor for their financial
support - without which the trip could not have taken
We would like to thank everyone who gave of their time
during the tour, especially (in reverse order): 
Dettie Enge-Bastien, who took time off from his very
demanding job as a hospital doctor to be an impressive
impresiario and tour guide around Germany; 
Ornella Sangiovanni and Francesc Noe, who gave very
generously of their time and living space
Kim Weston-Arnold, who led us up and down the steps of
her tall and thin apartment block and graciously
showed us around Barcelona;
Silvia Vep (as she likes to be called online) who
hosted us in sunny Lisbon and demonstrated that
southern Europeans really do eat at 11pm and go out at
1am for social events.
Onto the next steps!
Milan Rai
Voices in the Wilderness UK

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