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Voices in the Wilderness UK tour of European anti-sanctions and anti-war groups - a report ANTI-SANCTIONS CONFERENCE 23/24 FEBRUARY BACKGROUND 1) SPAIN 2) PORTUGAL 3) ITALY 4) GERMANY THANKS 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. ANTI-SANCTIONS CONFERENCE 2002 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 http://www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk%20or%20from me, Milan Rai, via email@example.com BACKGROUND 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 http://www.casi.org.uk%20and%20the%20women}s%20group%20Act Together). 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. 1) SPAIN >MADRID 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). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Commmittee. 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. ************* >BARCELONA 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 Afghanistan. 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! Email: email@example.com ************** 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 history. ************* 2) PORTUGAL >LISBON 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 ( http://www.casi.org.uk%20and http://www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk ) 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.' ************* 3) ITALY >ROME 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. email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 resolution. 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 <email@example.com>.) ************** 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. ************** 4) GERMANY > 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. email: firstname.lastname@example.org > 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 thought. email: BuC.Ronnefeldt@t-online.de > 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 this.) > 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 actions. email: email@example.com > 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. *********** THANKS 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 place. 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 respectively; 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 http://www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.