Category Archives: Nonviolent News

Only issues of ‘Nonviolent News’ from 2021 onwards are accessible here. For older issues please click on the “Go to our pre-2021 Archive Website’ tag on the right of this page.


Shannon trial of Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers

The jury began their deliberations on 29th April in the trial of Ken Mayers (85) and Tarak Kauff (80) for an action at Shannon Airport in March 2019; with no decision after a couple of hours, the jury were sent home for the weekend. Both men are US citizens and members of Veterans for Peace. The trial itself began on Monday 25th April at the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin; Mayers and Kauff pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal damage, trespass, and interfering with airport operations and safety. On St. Patrick’s Day 2019 the two men entered Shannon airport to attempt to search and investigate any aircraft associated with the US military that were there; when they entered there were two US military aircraft at the airport and one civilian aircraft on contract to the US military. They were prevented from searching these aircraft by airport security personnel and Gardai and were arrested and detained at Shannon Garda Station overnight and then charged with criminal damage to the airport fence. They were committed to Limerick prison where they were held for two weeks until the High Court released them on bail conditions which included the seizure of their passports, and they were thus prevented from returning to their homes in the USA for over eight months.

Such trials always reveal fascinating and revealing details about the state and various agencies. One such detail concerned John Francis, Chief Airport Security Officer at Shannon since 2003; when asked if was aware of the prohibition on the transport of arms through the airport unless a specific exemption is granted, he said he was unaware of whether any arms were in fact transported through the airport or if any such exemption had ever been granted. He said that the Omni troop flights were “not scheduled,” “they can show up any time,” and that he “wouldn’t be aware” if a plane carrying weapons was coming through the airport or whether any exemption had been granted to allow such transport.

38 peace activists have been brought before the courts in Ireland on similar charges since 2001. Fuller trial reports are available on the Shannonwatch website at and at

Meanwhile an Irish Times/Ipsos poll has shown strong continued support in the Republic for Irish neutrality And the Neutrality Bill proposed by People Before Profit in Dáil Éireann which would have meant a referendum on the issue of enshrining neutrality in the Constitution was supported by Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats, Aontú and Independents with 53 votes but was was rejected by government parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens with 67 votes. The Peoples Movement have a protest against EU militarisation at Dáil Éireann on Wednesday 18th May at 1pm.

Doolough Famine Walk – Tackling global warming & global warring

Afri’s Famine Walk in Co Mayo is back on the ‘real road’ on Saturday 21st May (after two years online); walkers will gather in Louisburgh for conversation, talks and music before being ferried by bus to the start of the walk, retracing the steps of several hundred people who made this journey in search of food during An Gorta Mór, walkers will make their way through the spectacular Doolough Valley marking the tragedy of 1849 but linking to contemporary events. Registration from 12.00 noon in Parish Hall, Louisburgh. Beginning at 1pm. The title is ‘Tackling global warming and global warring – Breaking the cycle of hunger and displacement”. Walk leaders include Robbie McVeigh and Catherine Connolly TD. Registration €25, unwaged €15, children free. See

Elements of Change

This community-led sustainability festival celebrating culture, creativity, and climate action organised by Cultivate takes place in Cloughjordan Ecovillage on 25th and 26th June with multiple venues including: Talks and interactive workshops; Bands, musicians, and DJs; Locally sourced and organic food; Crafts and gift stalls; Children’s entertainment; Conversation cafés etc. Details at Adult full price tickets for the weekend €50.

A renaissance of the peace process?

It may have taken place in September 2019 but the recently published report of a one day conference on this topic (sponsored by CAJ, ICCL, QUB Human Rights Centre and the George Mitchell Institute at QUB) makes for fascinating and useful reading:

Back to normal for AVP, seeks volunteer facilitators

The Alternatives to Violence Project/AVP is ‘back to normal’ in its prison workshops and is looking for new volunteers who would make a commitment to stay for a few years and available 4 – 5 full weekends a year, prepared to undertake the training and committed to the AVP ethos, with an open and non judgemental mindset. Rewards include learning new skills in facilitation and conflict resolution – and fun as well as serious work. If interested contact or text 0851512582 to schedule a phone call. There will be open information meetings for potential new volunteers in June, September and December. More info on AVP at

VSI – Return to short-term international volunteering projects

Are you interested in making a difference in your free time and finding a cost-effective way to explore Europe? VSI/Voluntary Service International have resumed sending in-person volunteers on short-term projects in Europe. Their staff team have put together a list of projects which focus on their core values including solidarity, environmentalism, and human rights. Visit to learn more about these opportunities and how to apply. Or contact VSI’s Programmes Officer, Eiméar, by email or phone +353 852104197.

Corrymeela Belfast office move

Corymeela has moved its Belfast office to the Russell Centre (ex-Russell Court Hotel) on the Lisburn Road. While this will be used as a staff and meeting location there will be no receptionist and only used as a meeting place by invitation; normal queries and post should go to Ballycastle, phone 028 20762626 or email and postal address The Corrymeela Centre, 5 Drumaroan Road, Ballycastle, BT54 6QU.

IAWM Ukraine demo

The Irish Anti-war Movement has a Stop The War in Ukraine demonstration on Saturday 7th May at 2:30pm at the Spire in O’Connell Street Dublin. The aims of the protest are: Immediate withdrawal of all Russian Forces from Ukraine, Solidarity with the Russian Anti-War protesters, and No NATO escalation.

New PANA website

The Peace And Neutrality Alliance has revamped its website at while older material is still available.

UN Chernobyl Remembrance Day

This took place on 26th April, the 36th anniversary of the explosion there, while Adi Roche, Voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children International (CCI) pointed out that “The catastrophic Russian Invasion Assault on Ukraine, which began at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in February has potentially triggered a second ‘invisible’ war, as radioactivity in the Chernobyl Zone is being re-released into the atmosphere……Chernobyl is not something from the past; Chernobyl ‘was forever’, Chernobyl ‘is forever’; the impact of that single shocking nuclear accident can never be undone; its radioactive footprint is embedded in our world forever and millions of people are still being affected by its deadly legacy. ….”

Jesus and nonviolence

A talk by Johnston McMaster on ‘Jesus and nonviolence’ in the Irish situation is available on the Corrymeela website at It was originally part of a workshop in the Four Corners Festival in Belfast and a photo from another presentation of it is at Meanwhile the paper by John Dear on the same topic and event is included in the email and web editions of this issue of Nonviolent News; John Dear is the director of where he offers and hosts zoom workshops on Gospel nonviolence.

Arts Activism Toolkit

Creativity in our actions is key to communicating and breaking through barriers. If you word search for ‘arts activism toolkit’ you will come up with a variety of different material; one very useful recent example can be found at

World military expenditure tops $2 trillion for first time

Total global military expenditure increased by 0.7 per cent in real terms in 2021, to reach $2113 billion. The five largest spenders in 2021 were the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia, together accounting for 62% of expenditure, according to SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. See SIPRI’s paper on trends in international arms transfers can be found at

Global Days of Action on Military Spending continues until 12th May with the theme ‘Give Peace a Budget’; see and

Human rights in Tibet

The grave situation in Tibet under China’s sinicization policy is shown in the annual report from the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) available at

Julian Assange

The British Courts have paved the way for the UK Home Secretary to sign the extradition order for Julian Assange to be dispatched into the hands of the USA justice system and the defence have one last chance to get the extradition decision overturned and Assange released from HMP Belmarsh. You can sign the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) petition at


The cost of war

The people of Ukraine continue to pay a terrible price, in so many different ways, for the aggression visited upon them by Vladimir Putin and Russia. Russia itself is also paying a price, not least in the estimated 20,000+ Russian soldiers (of various ethnicities) who have been killed. With the war now raging for a couple of months, and no end in sight, the death and destruction is truly horrific and the effect across Ukrainian society monumentally damaging.

While the decision to go to war was Putin’s, as has been mentioned in these and other pages ‘the west’ and NATO have some responsibility for policies which encouraged Putin in the course he has taken. The failure of Russia after the collapse of the USSR to ‘Europeanise’ is not just a failure by Russia but a failure by Europe to include it in a meaningful way and it returned to its separatist ways. In addition there is the whole matter of how ‘the west’ regards democracy and how it is woefully defined with frequently contradictory policies which have added to problems, points explored by Peter Emerson in his article in this issue.

While Putin may privately regret going to war, having initially seen it as a stroll in the park to take Kyiv, he is now steeped in blood so far that, with his credibility and power at stake, he feels he has to continue. No matter how brutal he is, no matter how much death and destruction has been meted out, he needs a way to climb down, that ‘off ramp’ (in US English) which was mentioned early on. The bitter pill of sacrificing, and recognising the transfer of, some territory may be necessary, including the Crimea (which became part of Ukraine on the whim of Stalin) but other parts of the east of Ukraine. At the risk of perpetuating myths which Russia has used to justify the war, there might also be some benefit in going along, in some way, with Putin’s supposed aim of the ‘denazification; of Ukraine to allow him to claim ‘victory’ at home. Ukrainian military neutrality will certainly feature in any settlement and should have been agreed previously.

Some western leaders, such as President Macron in France, have attempted to continue to dialogue with Vladimir Putin. However ‘the west’ could also be more imaginative in how it engages with Russia, and, controversially, it might need to offer some sort of carrots as well as the stick of sanctions. But it is indeed a proxy war between Russia and NATO.

We need a paradigm shift away from war. Part of the basis of the War Resisters’ International is that “War is a crime against humanity”. And clearly Vladimir Putin is not the only leader to have felt a bit of warfare was justified; George W Bush and Tony Blair were among many who saw war in Afghanistan and Iraq as worthwhile and justified. The cost of war in these places was every bit as great as in Ukraine. Meanwhile the EU is trying to build up its military power and its arsenals. The USA has 800 or more military bases around the world in a monumental and disgraceful waste of money. The Irish government is set to substantially increase its military budget with uncertain aims.

Getting rid of war is an urgent necessity before war gets rid of us. But it requires both courage and imagination to jump into a future without recourse to arms. Such a world would of course be safer and it could, and should, be more just; to avoid violence, greater economic and human rights justice are essential – and less expenditure on arms and armies leaves more money for things that matter to people, and real human security through health provision, and so on.

That move away from war can take place both unilaterally and multilaterally. Countries and regions with the courage to do so can disarm or at most adopt a clearly defined ‘non-offensive military defence’ – if not the civilian based defence which we would favour. Meanwhile multilateral negotiations, through the United Nations and otherwise, can chip away at the structure of war, penalising those who use aggression and gradually restricting and reducing what is permitted in military structures and equipment.

There are great opportunities for Ireland to contribute in this (a country which has been involved in nuclear non-proliferation, and the banning of landmines and cluster munitions), an area partly explored in the next editorial, on Irish neutrality.

Neutral on the side of peace and justice

There has been much attention to the issue of Irish neutrality since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Russian aggression against Ukraine was projected by many as a reason to ditch neutrality and hitch up to NATO (and not just in Ireland – Finland and Sweden are much nearer joining up). Taoiseach Micheál Martin postulated the possibility of a citizen’s assembly on the issue. Belligerence because of the Russian invasion was at a prime. Once again newspaper correspondents wheeled out the trope about Ireland ‘hiding behind’ Britain’s military power and being irresponsible. Government ministers tried to further qualify Irish neutrality. Was there a sea change in Irish attitudes?

But then along came a poll commissioned by the Irish Times, itself a paper which supports the decimation of Irish neutrality through a commitment to EU ‘defence’ – and the EU is increasingly the European wing of NATO. Though the Irish Times does take on board Irish opposition to nuclear weapons how that could be manifest in joining a military alliance with nuclear power France, and indirectly Britain, has not been answered. No, the Irish commitment to neutrality remained steadfast. Those getting belligerent and wanting to climb into bed fully with NATO or the EU were not speaking for the people of the Republic – though the state, given its involvement with NATO’s so-called Partnership for Peace, and involvement with EU’s PESCO, is certainly at the bedroom door.

To quote from the Irish Times of 14/4/22 “Two-thirds of voters do not want to see any change in neutrality, with less than a quarter (24 per cent) in favour of a change……Just 35 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Ireland should send military aid to Ukraine, even if this affects our neutrality”, while 55 per cent disagreed.

A similar majority are opposed to Ireland’s involvement in greater EU military co-operation. Just a third of voters (33 per cent) agreed with the statement: “In the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I want to see Ireland play a greater military role to defend the EU”, while 54 per cent disagreed….The two-thirds majority in favour of the status quo was underlined when voters were asked the straight question: “Do you support Ireland’s current model of military neutrality or would you like to see it change?” Again, 66 per cent of respondents said they supported the current model of neutrality, while 24 per cent said they would like to see it change. Eleven per cent said they didn’t know…..Support for neutrality is consistent across all age groups.”

There are a huge number of questions tied up with Irish neutrality. One such question is – what kind of presence does Ireland want in the world? To be part of a nuclear-armed, confrontational and militarist alliance (NATO) which along with its constituent great powers has been involved in illegal and highly damaging wars (Afghanistan, Iraq and so on)? To be part of a developing EU military power? Or to be a small but persistent supporter of peaceful initiatives and support for, as the Irish constitution stipulates, the pacific settlement of international disputes?

There is also the question of what strategic threats there are to the island of Ireland, and what can be done about them. The short answer is there are very few strategic threats in terms of conventional military invasion or the like, and if this was to happen it would be in an armageddon scenario where Europe was in meltdown, possibly even nuclear meltdown. In that situation no military intervention would make much difference anyway.

As to solidarity with other countries, does anyone really believe that Ireland would make any difference, in today’s high tech era, to the military capability of NATO if it joined? Surely it is better to be an outside force for peace, available as a neutral intervener, a mediator, and a critical friend? Rejecting the Cold War logic of confrontation does not mean being uncritical or not opposing the likes of Russian aggression in Ukraine. It is a question of how it is done.

For those who are concerned about defence, non-violent civilian-based defence is also possible (as was explored in the article in the last issue of Nonviolent News on ‘Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation, and coups d’état’). Given the commitment to neutrality by the population of the Republic, and the cohesion within society, this should be a no brainer.

But while military peacekeeping, under the aegis of the UN, has been a feature of Irish international policy since the late 1950s, and one proudly referred to, it should not be the only model. Unarmed peacekeeping and mediation could be explored more, and larger scale nonviolent interventions in ‘standing between’ violent or potentially violent opponents. But mediation and a mediative presence before violent conflict breaks out should be a much larger aim. Possibilities are limited only by available resources and the imagination which is used; working to move beyond war as in any way being acceptable is another aim.

A citizen’s assembly could be a way of exploring all these issues but given the results of the Irish Times survey it is likely that the political elite will continue to stealthily try to dismantle neutrality bit by bit, as they have been doing, rather than a full frontal assault – which the opinion poll shows them would fail. So the citizen’s assembly which has been mooted at the top political level is now highly unlikely to materialise. If the result in the poll was as it was at a time of clear and very violent aggression by a larger, more powerful, European country against a smaller one then it will take a lot to shift public opinion away from neutrality. The task for peace activists is to make that neutrality more powerful and meaningful, and move away from fellow travelling with NATO or EU military adventures and adventurers.

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

There are no passives in nature:

A walk in a rainforest

The following is based on a bat survey in a forest bordering Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.

After a time my body sweat becomes indistinguishable from the humidity of the great forest. My rubber boots sink deep into the brown, squishing, sucking mud which at times seemed to want to swallow me into the forest’s digestive system. The tree roots of the Sangrillo trees spread over the forest floor like giant fingers and toes, gripping the earth, absorbing its nutrients. They stand in imposing silence, vigilant; bulky and tall, ecosystems within ecosystems.

To most people trees are simply trees generic. They grow in our gardens, fields and along city streets unnameable and often unnoticed. They are, however, personalities with a story to tell and are known to other trees with whom they communicate, cooperate and compete. They are a home, resting place, shelter, feeding station and social venue for other life forms. They hold the soil with its trillions of microorganisms in place. Many have medicinal properties. The Sangrillo tree for instance contains an astringent resin which can heal wounds. The Aztecs and Maya used its bark to make codices, a type of manuscript, and the Maya considered the tree, which is widespread throughout swampy coastal forests in Central and South America, as a link between Earth and Heaven.

Amongst the crowded, dense intensity of green growth, decaying trees, leaves, fruits and nuts one occasionally sees brilliant, radiant colours in the form of flowers. This afternoon, in the midst of the gloom of a prolonged heavy downpour, I saw a yellow flower as bright as a summer sun in the crown of a palm and a flaming red ribbed flower shaped like a miniature walking stick.

All the while there was the rhythmic drum-beat of the rain on the leaves, a mind-penetrating liquid sound that one comes to swim in. I stood still; listened, smelt, inhaled and visually absorbed the multi-dimensional drama of forest life.

When the rain ceased for short intervals the sound of birds and insects resumed. We came across a hawk, unfussed by our presence, emitting a continual chwirk to its companion somewhere unseen. Our eyes followed a family of 10 spider-monkeys as they climbed in single-file ever higher on the upper-most branches of one of the tallest trees in sight. They would have had a magnificent view of the forest, albeit one that would have a different meaning for them than it would for their human cousins.

Cobwebs, if not seen, can become entangled in one’s hair and spread like sticky thread across one’s face. Even when wearing long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a hat, ants, mosquitoes and other insects inevitably find some part of the body to bite. There are butterflies, dragon flies and frogs as small as your thumb nail. One such frog, common in this forest, is the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog whose main source of food are ants. At one point I came across an insect on the forest floor the very colour of the brown leaf it had concealed itself on. Its limbs looked like delicate twigs. I learned that it is locally called a gladiator and kills its prey by using its long limbs to trap them in a snapping spring-release like fashion.

If you ever venture into mature native woodland, which sadly is rare in Ireland, stand still, breathe deeply, look around, notice the multiple forms of vegetation, the immensity of the entanglement whose symbiotic relationships are mostly invisible to unaided human senses. Be mindful that you are in the midst of an evolutionary process too complex and dramatic to fully grasp. Reflect, in your transient moment, your nano-eternity, that you are in the woodland, be it for good or ill, as a participant.

There are no bystanders in nature, no audience, no passives. In nature we are all participants. Even when dead, we are in nature, an integral part of the billions of years old wondrous science of life. Given this we should take care of it. One way we can do this is by planting trees, the right one in the right place. Or pay an organization like the Woodland Trust to plant one, or two, or more on your behalf. Planting trees is one way of being a good ancestor.

After three hours in the forest we were back at the biological station in need of a shower and a complete change of clothes.

Arts and Peace series:

Who has power in the room?

Interview with Andrea Montgomery

Andrea Montgomery of Terra Nova Productions is a bilingual Canadian playwright and director who has created projects across the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. She has committed to living in Northern Ireland since 2002.

Fifteen years ago Andrea set up Terra Nova Productions, Northern Ireland’s intercultural theatre company. Their mission is “to create excellent theatre where different cultures meet, people explore and the world is changed.” Their vision is “to put the wonder back into the world we all share.” They place community engagement at the heart of many of their projects.

Since then, Andrea has produced, written and directed projects with international colleagues in Hong Kong, Macau, London, Tehran, Vancouver, and Nuuk, Greenland. Her work for Terra Nova includes The Ulster Kama Sutra which she co-wrote and directed, All at Once I Saw A Crowd with partners in Vancouver, Nuuk and Macau. For Terra Nova’s Arrivals she developed and directed 10 short plays, followed by the immersive Mi Mundo which she wrote, and Me You Us Them, which she wrote and directed. She also adapted the script and directed The Belfast Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Terra Nova’s large-scale site-specific Shakespeare projects involving over 120-150 community participants working alongside teams of 40+ professionals.

This interview was conducted by Stefania Gualberti

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in intercultural theatre?

Andrea – It was a very direct connection. My parents were Canadian diplomats. We lived all over the world. The hunger you have, if you grow up that way, is to fit in. I think that’s probably not uncommon for people who grew up the way I did. I’m a third culture individual. The definition of that identity is that you can never go home; you’re at home nowhere and everywhere. It takes a certain maturity before you start to think: ‘hang on a minute, maybe this background is quite useful. Maybe I can do something with this.’

It’s now 15 years since I set up Terra Nova. I was coming out of being a venue manager, and I realised that what I wanted to do was to set up an intercultural Theatre Company. It was more instinctive than clearly articulated to begin with. I looked around the Northern Ireland scene and thought: ‘What’s missing?’

Oh, nobody’s making those connections. That’s something easy for me to do. I can do that.’

In March 2007, I went to a conference in Hong Kong out of a desire to reconnect with Asia. I grew up in Thailand and Indonesia and was missing Asia. In Hong Kong I met a couple who had established a theatre company in Macau and we set up and ran a three year programme there together. But I came home and I wrote a sketch comedy with songs with Nuala McKeever and Anthony Toner called “It’s Not All Rain and Potatoes”, looking at modern Northern Ireland from the outsider’s perspective. I didn’t think about it as intercultural theatre, I just liked bringing an outsider’s take to things. From the very beginning I said that I wanted to work with the world. I knew that. But the real clarity around what interculturality meant to me probably took 18 – 24 months to come into focus. The repeated experiences in Macau helped. Then I was invited to go to Iran in 2009, to the Fajr Festival just a few months before the Green Revolution. It was inspiring. My thinking started to gel.

I just gradually realised “Oh, this is the closest fit between who I am as a person and the kind of art I want to make”.

Stefania – What do you feel is special about arts and especially theatre to transform conflict, connect and build peace?

Andrea – I think theatre has a unique capacity to do those three things. But it’s not an absolute given. It’s not that in theatre that happens automatically. Absolutely not. But if one does put one’s mind to those issues, theatre then can give one unique tools.

I believe that what is unique about theatre is the fact that, as we make it, we are trying to create imaginary worlds. This is true of any theatre piece. One might be making a broad-brush romantic comedy, but one is trying to create a believable world so that emotionally, one’s self and one’s audience engage in that world together for the duration of the piece.

Theatre doesn’t automatically build peace, but if one takes that ‘world creation capacity’, and one then brings it to the place where one is trying to build connection and build peace, putting that conscious effort into it, then that ‘world building capacity’ can allow one to build something that feels like a real emotionally viable peaceful imaginary world.

One has to include it from the ground up, building it into the themes of one’s work: into the way one treats the material and the content that one is working on. It also must underpin how one runs one’s rehearsal room. Learning how to do that, to run a rehearsal room underpinned by conflict resolution and power sharing – that’s been an iterative process. I keep going through the process, learning new things, and trying to apply them.

An important piece of learning for me recently, when working interracially, with multiple religions, different ethnicities and different cultures, was the importance of reflection on power.

In the second half of 2019 I spent a lot of time thinking about power and who has power in the room. There’s a song from Hamilton, “The room where it happens”. The character talks about wanting to be in ‘the room where it happens’ in politics. I would now say it is not enough to be in the room where it happens, what matters is who has power in the room once we are gathered there. I try to shape my rehearsal and commissioning processes to look at that, and to provide equity.

The rehearsal process has to echo the messages in the thing one is trying to create. This should be a given, but unfortunately it’s often not. According to research completed by Anne Marie Quigg ten years ago, the Arts in the UK have some of the highest instances of bullying of any industries. If there’s peace woven into the theme of one’s play, or if interculturalism, or mutual respect, or any of those issues are embedded in the play, noticing that is stage number one, but then one has to let those themes guide one’s ethics for creating theatre.

I also believe it is important to engage with the concept of intersectionality, of gender, race, language, class, age, education, wealth, health and ability. I’m white, older, dyslexic, a woman, an immigrant, not a member of a recognised organised religion, educated to post-graduate level. Knowing how these thing intersect will give you an understanding of where I access or am denied power. An analysis of intersectionality and where power lies is important and one needs to address it in the room.

One of the things that I have done most recently is to consider power preference questionnaires, in which I ask people to think about where they like to lead and where they like to follow on the stages of a project. The responses, and my own reaction to them were really surprising. I remember, one of my actors (indigenous Irish, mixed race, straight, male) mentioned he really likes to be a leader in the early stages and then, as the thing develops, he just wants to be a follower. We chatted informally; I looked at him and said:

Really? I want to lead all the time! At the culmination of the project, when it’s all getting really tense, that’s when I want to lead the most.’

He just laughed at me and said: ‘We’re different Andrea.’ Which of course is the whole point.

If one don’t ask, then one don’t know, and one can’t build in the opportunity for people to lead when people need it. But also, it doesn’t work to assume that everybody wants to lead all the time.

Speaking of leading, it is a short step to ‘representing’. I must just add that I believe one of the worst things one can do is to ask colleagues of different races or different religions to stand in and represent their entire ethnicity, religion or nationality. They may want to lead at a particular point, or represent a particular point of view, but let them choose. One needs to find out what is of interest to colleagues, and how their individual and collective identities intersect.

Stefania – How can intercultural theatre help tackle racism and sectarianism locally?

Andrea – Well, I suppose that wherever one makes it, intercultural theatre becomes local. In my view, it is quite important for the local dominant culture not to instrumentalise artists as tools to tackle racism and sectarianism locally; not to see them as only having value as tools for that task. It is also important to understand that tackling racism and exclusion does not mean just inviting people to learn how to be part of the dominant culture, however well meaning the desire to help them ‘learn to fit in’ may be. At its worst this says to migrant artists: learn how to be like us or shut up.

I value using the methodologies of theatre to give people an understanding of what it’s like to belong to a dominant culture, and what it’s like to have to try to integrate into a dominant culture. And of course the thing about theatre is it’s just play. It’s incredibly loaded, because people invest in it emotionally, but it isn’t real life, so it is playful, ultimately, as long as one takes care of people.

Theatre can give people a chance to try on the coat of difference in a safe place. But it is more than that. Together we theatre makers are aiming to create a work of art. Ultimately each of us working in this area has to think about what we want the end product to be. My end product is not just the process. I want both: I want a good piece of theatre AND I want ethical process. I borrow from many other practitioners who are specialist in ethical engagement and knit their ideas together with my own in order to take artists and participants through a process, but the journey is leading to a final artwork that they can be proud of.

Combining those two elements is what works for me locally.

Stefania – Working with communities and large groups, who might have different levels of expertise, how do you overcome the barriers, especially with participants who don’t consider themselves as actors or theatre experts?

Andrea – Thank you for asking.

I’ve spent a lot of time working out methodologies for people to actively direct and influence the work without being professionals themselves.

I have developed a methodology to create projects where people come together as equals and have the opportunity to undertake personal development using artistic skills. They are connected to a writer and actors who investigate their stories with them, led by a director and dramaturg [a literary advisor or editor- Ed]. They help work on the script, they discuss it, become dramaturgs themselves; they are invited and invited back again into rehearsal, to see the thing is on its feet, they influence and guide development and even staging; they then come to the show, discuss it, bring others to see it if they wish. Together we celebrate at the end: we all feast and post mortem. Quite often some time later we meet again to review discuss assess.

I just don’t want to be excluded from the ranks of professional artists because I am interested in this kind of deep engagement with my community.

One of the things that happens to immigrants and visible minorities in the Arts in Northern Ireland, is that we get labelled as ‘community practitioners’, thereby less valuable as ‘theatre experts’ as you call them. We are instrumentalised to deal with the post conflict environment in which we exist. And we don’t necessarily have the same freedom just to go and be an artist. We can’t write any play, we have to write an immigration play, or a trauma play, because that is what we can get support or interest for. We become tools of the necessity for peacebuilding. It’s problematic because you don’t have the freedom that is afforded to members of the dominant culture. I feel that I have allies so have been able to successfully fight this, but I have seen others struggle.

This is a facet of the dominant culture exerting its power to decide what is valuable. For example, I did a piece, probably about ten years ago, with a group of asylum-seeking and immigrant women. We were doing stop motion animation. The idea was to work and learn about each other’s cultures and as a result, enjoy making a piece: a small stop motion animation about whatever we wanted. The participants said they wanted to feel joy and pleasure and they wanted to do comedy. They made a piece about winning the lottery and running off to Acapulco with their baby and leaving their husbands behind. That got a big laugh. But I can remember the reaction from the funder was:

Oh, no, no, no, we funded you to go through the process of working with them as refugee and asylum-seeking women, to tell THAT story’

And I was pushing back saying: ‘No, no, they have control.’

I defended their right to decide the story they wanted to tell; this Acapulco Abscondment is what they wanted to do. My job was to make sure process of intercultural skills building was integrated into the development of fun Acapulco story they chose. But there are certain stories that the dominant culture wants to hear. There are certain roles that the dominant culture wants immigrant artists to play. If we have intercultural competency, it is partially because we’ve come from an outside culture, and we’ve arrived in the monoculture that is the two tribes of Northern Ireland. There can be a tendency to push us into particular types of art therapy, community engagement, peacebuilding. It’s not that it’s not valuable, but sometimes I might want to write a play about winning the lottery and running off to Acapulco.

Even if the peacebuilding process is built into the project, the participants should decide to make what they want. That’s freedom and self-determination.

So, that’s why I have real concern about how things are perceived. What is important?

This story is important, that story is not important’.

The power doesn’t always reside with the global majority or immigrant artists and the power doesn’t always reside with a global majority or immigrant participant, it often resides with the funder. And that often mean one is governed by the dominant culture’s notion of what one should be working on. That can end up driving people back into telling the stories of their trauma, re-traumatizing people.

In one project I undertook last year, with Syrian refugees, they decided they wanted to work on recreating a perfectly happy day from their past, because they felt that they were always being boxed in as survivors of the war. They wanted to show their culture, which was ancient, and of which they were very proud. We tried to create that in sound art. We couldn’t go to Syria and record because the gardens they wanted to spend their perfect day in were destroyed. So, we figured out how to recreate them, and then together we built that perfect day.

One must facilitate people to tell the stories they want to tell, the way they want to tell them, then work together to forge a work of art.

Stefania – You talk about the danger of re-traumatizing people but how do you think the creative process can have healing trauma at both individual and collective level?

Andrea – I believe one can heal some trauma, because we can all have power in the imaginary world of theatre. As long as one has power, one has control. Participants decide on the themes and direction of the story and then they work with professional artists to realise it. I think the key thing about not re-traumatising people, is that one respects them, goes slowly, and ensures they determine pace and direction of travel. It’s an adult-to-adult engagement and one defends them from those who would wish to cherry pick the stories that they’re going to tell.

The second example I wanted to give you was of a wonderful funder who give Terra Nova funds to commission individual artists from immigrant or global majority backgrounds who had links to Northern Ireland. Some lived here, some just had links.

The funder wanted to work with communities who had particularly suffered because of COVID. We made the case in 2020 that global majority communities in the UK and Northern Ireland had experienced higher pandemic mortality rates, and that immigrants have been more cut off through lockdown. Immigrants’ support networks might be in Peru or in Canada. Lockdown was harder on them, was tougher, because they have less of a close network to support them. The funder agreed, but a condition was that the commissioned artists must work with ‘their communities’ to develop the work of art. Terra Nova agreed, as long as the artists could choose what ‘their communities’ meant to them. It must not default along the lines of ethnicity, or even nationality. Allowing the artist to define ‘their communities’ in lockdown put the power into the hands of the individual, not the dominant culture’s notion of what that individual’s identity was.

Stefania – Is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on our campus setting?

Andrea – I wouldn’t mind just adding a wee bit about the intercultural process that I value.

I think it’s quite important to articulate the difference between what I would call multicultural work and intercultural work.

Multicultural work is when we have an opportunity to observe elements of each other’s cultural expression, artistically. We show, we unpack and explain, and we enjoy learning about each other’s expertise in each of our cultural arenas. That’s lovely. It’s like a mosaic.

However, Intercultural work is where we work slowly to come together in a new way, to forge a new joint culture, acknowledging that the process cannot be rushed. It is through this process that we learn to understand the value differences that underpin our different cultures. Cultures can differ a lot around values. There will be unwritten rules about things like how one treats one’s parents, how one treats one’s children, how genders interact, whether one speaks directly or indirectly, how one uses eye contact, one’s perception of time. How does one deal with status and saving face? How much personal space does one need? How, when and where may one touch somebody else? What is professional? These are the differences one has learn about when working interculturally.

I have a methodology that I go through, where we explore our differences and assumptions, and we start to unpick them. I get people to pay attention when they find themselves reacting to another human, judging, and thinking:

All good people know that you must…’ or:

All polite people know that you do…”

I say: ‘If you notice those kinds of thoughts, you’re in an intercultural hotspot’.

I work that into early explorations. Then we will work on the play, and we’ll look at how interculturality happens in the play, and we’ll work on ourselves. About two thirds of the way through the process, I do a thing that I’ve now called the “heart of the art”, where we stop and check our values. We notice whether we still remember them. We review if we are acting on them. We check how we’re dealing with the difference.

I talk about value dissonance. How do we sit in value dissonance and not say: ‘I hate your values, so I hate you?’ For example, in talking about whether one was ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ on Brexit.

These really ‘hot’ issues are fantastic for exploring value. If one does that work, and one stops and embeds that in the creation of the play, and one works on the power structures, then one creates real intercultural theatre. Intercultural in the rehearsal room, in the relationships, on stage, in the content and the way it’s presented. And then what I find is, if one asks people how they’re feeling or how they’ve been affected, this is where they tend to say: ‘my mind has been opened’.

It takes a long time to build this kind of theatre. I don’t find it exhausting, because I love to be in an intercultural space, that feels comfortable, but it takes a lot of work.

Of course the real challenge is when people break the rules we have co-created. You need to set the boundaries for the work to be done. You need to hold people accountable.

Stefania – Could you share some of the learnings you have encountered in your years of experience?

Andrea – Remember that this work is an iterative process. I think of it as being like a tower. You’re climbing the tower walking up that spiral staircase, and you get around in the front and you look at the view. A year later, after more climbing, you might be higher up, looking at the same view, but with more knowledge. One must keep asking the same questions again and again: What matters? Who had power? Was it shared? What did we do? Did we communicate appropriately? Did we set the boundaries? Did we take care? Did we listen?

I spend a lot of time on that.

The thing I struggle with is how to feed the learning back into the system, the society I am a part of. Some of the evaluative mechanisms just don’t work.

The funders want to measure change, and currently they ask one to interviews at the entry point and at the exit point. Fair enough. But you can imagine if I am standing there in a room in rural Northern Ireland, with my Jamaican colleague and my Canadian accent, and I have to start by distributing a form with a set question like:

Do you like people of different cultures being in Northern Ireland?’

Well, the entry questionnaire is going to be corrupted by the fact that we’re the ones asking. Northern Irish people don’t want to ‘send you away with a sore heart’. They know they’re going to be putting their ‘anonymous questionnaire’ down on a table in front of me, and that I’ve probably noticed their handwriting and the colour of pen they are using.

I think our system of measurement around peace, racism, and sectarianism is broken. The evaluation process, its entry questionnaires can break the fragile trust one seeks to build at the start of theatre peace projects.

I would like to take that learning back into the system and try to improve evaluation somehow. The system is not entirely functioning, but I don’t know how to fix it.

The system also engenders compassion fatigue. Fifteen years in and I find myself asking how do we nurture the artists in the process? Who is taking care of them?

If we don’t ask these questions, we end up using people. Nobody is paying artists to take time to reflect and evaluate or even to use our art to express what we have learnt in our projects and create a work of art about it. The focus is all on the participants. Our current mechanisms just move artists on into the next peacebuilding project. Those projects are extremely valuable, and one can feel moved and grateful, but one can also end up feeling exhausted.

I want to consider: ‘How are we doing what we are doing?’

Can we get together and reflect on that? Can we evolve into a new stage into this artistic peacebuilding and anti-sectarian work? Is that possible?

Ukraine and democracy, Ukraine and unarmed resistance, Jesus and nonviolence

Ukraine: Was our adversarial democracy part of the problem?

Beware the ambitious”

by Peter Emerson

The de Borda Institute

His name was Boris. He had no ideas, no beliefs, no principles… but he did have ambition. So he adjusted his policies to suit this ambition, stabbed his mentor in the back, caused the break-up of the union, and all for the one fixed goal: to get the top job. There were two such individuals, and both were called Boris.

We go first to Moscow, the capital of a federation of numerous ethnicities, only one of which is Slav. Most of the latter live in Europe, in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine etc., and many of them too are in European Russia, along with the Komis and Udmurts, for example, two of a few non-Slav peoples who are also west of the Urals, as well as the Chechens and Dagestanis etc. in the northern Caucasus. And there are other ethnicities – the official figure in Soviet times was somewhere between 60 and 120 – ranging from the Buryats near Lake Baikal to the Chukchis on the Bering Straits, non-Slavs the lot of them.

Now in 1985, remember, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power talking of liberalisation, privatisation and democratisation. At the time, the West (a) respected all borders, implying that none should change; this was partly because of the Helsinki Agreements for peace and stability and all that, (about which there was lots of grand rhetoric), and partly because of… er… oil, (umm, better say nothing). At the same time, there was (b) the right of self-determination, which meant that borders can change. So (a) contradicted (b). More silence. In effect, the law is an ass.

Now democracy, we said, was majoritarianism – (the Russian word for which, by the way, is ‘bolshevism’; it comes from ‘bolshinstvo’ (большинство), meaning majority, so a ‘bolshevik’ is ‘a member of the majority’, while a ‘menshevik’ is in the minority, ‘menshinstvo’ (меньшинство). In effect, therefore, the right of self-determination means that a border can change, even if only 50% + 1 want it to. But “why should I be in the minority in your state, when you could be in the minority in mine?” asked one Vladimir Grigorov in what was still Yugoslavia. Democracy, as defined – or rather as undefined but practised – was and still is part of the problem; it is just so adversarial, so divisive, and so primitive.

Secondly, self-determination is a bit like those famous Russian dolls, the ‘matryoshki’ (матрёшки): inside every big doll (majority), there’s a little doll (minority). So if Ireland, Georgia or Bosnia opts out of the UK, USSR or Yugoslavia… then maybe Northern Ireland, South Ossetia or Republika Srpska can opt out of Ireland, Georgia or Bosnia… and maybe West Belfast, Akhalgori (*1) and Srebrenica could opt out of opting out and… ad infinitum.

The law really is an ass. (*2)

The first inter-ethnic clashes in the USSR took place in Nagorno-Karabakh in August 1988. “Vot, nash Ol’ster!” (Вот, наш Ольстер!) was the headline in Pravda (*3) the next morning: ‘This is our Northern Ireland.’ And it was indeed true! There followed, initially in the Baltic States and the Caucasus, later in Ukraine and Central Asia, and even abroad in the Balkans, other calls for self-determination… arguments over borders… more clashes… and deaths.

There was violence in Baku and Tbilisi, and in 1991, the disturbances reached Vilnius, albeit at a lower level than down in the Caucasus. At this point the West changed its mind, from (a) to (b). In effect, it now supported the break-up of the USSR, so it decided to support the break-up of Yugoslavia as well. The two were considered to be very similar: after all, both were communist, both were federations, (both were spelt with the letter ‘you’), and so on.

So the West ditched Gorbachev and supported Boris Yeltsin instead. It was a huge mistake. But (while I argued with the Irish Times correspondent), the latter and other western journalists sang Boris’s praises, and this adulation was definitely a factor in his subsequent election. Simultaneously, the West ditched Slobodan Milošević in Belgrade, after all, he was an extreme nationalist, and supported Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb instead, who was an extreme nationalist. It was another huge mistake; the two, Gorbachev and Milošević, were not at all similar.

In Russia, the Boris coup was (not the but) a cause of the 1994 and ’99 wars in Chechnya, and the rise to power in Moscow during that second war of another autocrat: Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, in the Balkans, referendums were held, sometimes on the insistence of the EU, and Yugoslavia imploded. On the more positive side, along with all the other former Republics in the USSR, Ukraine became independent in 1991; and the Russian/Soviet empire was now ‘only’ a Russian empire, stretching all the way from Belarus to the Pacific Ocean. Its demise is a historical necessity.

The word ‘Ukraine’, by the way, comes from the same root as the Yugoslav (Serbo-Croat) word, ‘krajina’ – ‘kraj’ (край), meaning borderland. There were three krajinas in Croatia, areas first settled by Orthodox Slavs as a bulwark against the Ottomans. But – {rule (b)} – self-determination meant that Croatia could opt out of Yugoslavia; in 1991, a referendum was planned; by the same logic, surely, the krajinas could opt out of Croatia, so another referendum was planned, in the Krajina, one week before the big one in Croatia as a whole. The result of these two mutually contradictory ballots was war.

Worse was to follow. The 1991 Bosnian election (or sectarian head-count), a single preference two-round system TRS election – ‘this candidate’ good, ‘those’ not good; here too voting was Orwellian in its simplicity – had split a unified secular state into three – 40:30:20, Moslem:Orthodox:Catholic – although all of them, Bosniak, Croat and Serb, share the same Slav ethnicity. Now, look at the maths: 40:30:20. So there was no majority. But any two – 40+30, 40+20 or 30+20 – could beat the other one. Short division. The EU’s Badinter Commission nevertheless demanded a (binary) referendum – how mad can you get? – which, sure enough, started the war: on the day of the vote, the “barricades were thrown up” in Sarajevo (Glenny 1992: 163). {Our own efforts to warn of this danger – the New Ireland Group invited a native of Sarajevo to a cross-community conference in Belfast in Oct. 1991, six months before the referendum – were ignored.} Robert Badinter said afterwards, in effect, je ne regrette rien. (*4)

But back to Ukraine, where ‘democracy’– majoritarianism – had other consequences. In 1991, just as the West would have wanted, Kiev adopted the French TRS electoral system and the ubiquitous majority vote decision-making system, for binary majority rule. Initially, throughout eastern Europe, emerging democracies started off the democratic process with a plethora of political parties, and if the electoral system allowed (as TRS does), maybe too a large number of independents. Ukraine’s 1994 parliamentary election was no exception: while half of the seats went to a second round, the first-round successes saw 14 parties gain representation; the largest one won a mere 13% of the seats; six parties had only one or two MPs; and the ‘winner’ was a group of independents, who amassed 51% of the seats, a majority, a disparate bunch of individuals from all over. This rather put the kibosh on those westerners who advocated majority rule and coalition government. For parliamentary elections, Ukraine therefore moved to a parallel system in 1998, half FPTP and half PR; to a system of all PR, PR-list, in 2006, so no more independents; but back to a parallel system in 2012, when just a score or two of independent candidates were again in the mix.

For presidential elections, however, it was still the divisive TRS. Accordingly, in 2004, Ukraine divided: the one country of mainly Christian Slavs split into two halves, one of Orthodox Russian-speakers, the other of Catholic/Uniate Ukrainian speakers. This is a gross over-simplification which ignores the fact that, in any case, these differences are miniscule. But, in majoritarianism, no matter how small or relevant, any difference will do. The winner, by a mere whisker, was Viktor Yushchenko; he was pro-West, so Brussels thought everything – 50% + 1 and all that – was just fine.

He led a coalition government, but they argued, and split… as do so many groups which rely on the divisive majority vote. As a result, in 2010, the main pro-western candidate was now Yulia Timoshenko who headed her own political party, Block Yulia Timoshenko, (because its acronym spelt BYuT, as in ‘beauty’ – one of a few English words, sex, love, ok, macdonalds, which every Ukrainian knows), but she lost, and by a similarly tiny margin Viktor Yanukovich now won, … and he was pro-Moscow.

There followed the protests in Maidan, which in Feb. 2014 turned violent, whereupon the EU changed its mind, again, totally, another (a)-to-(b)-type swing from one policy to its opposite: it no longer supported majority rule, no no, it advocated power-sharing. The western ‘definition’ of democracy is another great big ass – partly because it doesn’t exist, and politicians tend to ‘define’ and ‘redefine’ the word (*5) as they go along. But, too late; the EU delegation arrived in Kiev on the very day that Yanukovich ran into exile.

Now we already knew that our own 1973 NI border poll had been at least unwise; and secondly, that “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia [had] started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo’s famous newspaper, 7.2.1999). Sadly however, as a general rule, western media and academia do not question binary vote decision-making, and a binary referendum is still regarded as perfectly democratic… in Ireland, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan and elsewhere. In March 2014 – events were moving fast – yet another ‘false flag’ plebiscite was held, this time in Crimea. We also knew that the Crimea had already held a referendum, in 1991, when all of Ukraine, the entire country, oblast by oblast (county by county), all voted in favour. Well, they now had another referendum – the sort of thing that is catered for in the Belfast Agreement, repeat referendums or a ‘never-end-em’. (*6)

There then followed some other referendums, in Donetsk and Luhansk. Well, if Ukraine (Ireland/Croatia) can opt out of the USSR (UK/Yugoslavia), then surely Donetsk (Northern Ireland, Krajina) can opt out of Ukraine (Ireland, Croatia); and, by the same logic, surely an even smaller unit called Dobropillia and Krasnoarmiisk (West Belfast or Akhalgori) can opt out of Donetsk (Northern Ireland or South Ossetia) and go into Dnepropetrovsk. They tried. The law really is an ass. More to the point, in 2014, as I mentioned in Nonviolent News 297, the word ‘Scotland’ (Shotlandiya) was used by Russian separatists in Luhansk; (at the time, Scotland was due to hold its referendum in September). We are all part of the problem!

It really is extraordinary. Many people criticise the horrible acts of violence which are part of the war in Ukraine, but say nothing against those practices which were a cause of that violence, especially if to do so might cause a scintilla of inconvenience here at home. There has now been yet another call for a referendum in Luhansk, this time by Leonid Pasechnik, (the ‘leader’ of the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’) who wants to break up Ukraine; other calls in Republika Srpska by its leader Milorad Dodik, who wants to break up Bosnia, and he too is rattling his sabres; and yet other moves for a referendum in South Ossetia to join Russia, and that could reignite the war there. Yet all too few in Ireland and Scotland, (or Catalonia, or Taiwan), or in the UK generally, are prepared to question the fact that a binary referendum might actually be a false flag… a cause of war.

Which brings us now to London and the other Boris. Oh but you know about that braggard already.


(*1) A valley in the eastern side of South Ossetia, largely inhabited (or was at the time of two referendums in 2006), by Georgians. The first ballot was pro-Ossetia so the Georgians abstained, while in the valley the Ossetians abstained… in a land where, yet again, as always, umpteen families are mixed.

(*2) Interestingly enough, the Russians used to call the right of self-determination ‘matryoshki nationalism’, because they were worried about the Buryats and Chukchis etc… but that was before they themselves saw the ‘advantage’ of a referendum vote as a ‘democratic’ false flag.

(*3) The Russian newspaper founded by Lenin; the word means ‘the truth’.

(*4) Private correspondence.

(*5) My article – Democracy, the most Undefined word in the World – was published in Ukraine’s national University’s journal, Maгiсteрiym, in 2002.

(*6) Come the vote, the Crimean Tatars abstained; after all, there were only two options, neither of which respected their aspirations

Glernny, M, 1992, The Fall of Yugoslavia, Penguin, London.

– – – – – –

Ukraine and unarmed resistance

Ukrainians could defeat a Russian occupation by scaling up unarmed resistance

By Craig Brown, Jørgen Johansen, Majken Jul Sørensen, and Stellan Vinthagen

As scholars of nonviolent resistance, we see four key ways Ukrainians can organize and expand the civil resistance that’s already happening.

As peace, conflict and resistance scholars, we ask ourselves the same question as many other people these days: What would we do if we were Ukrainians? We hope we would be brave, selfless and fight for a free Ukraine based on the knowledge we have. Resistance always requires self-sacrifice. Yet there are effective ways to resist invasion and occupation that don’t involve arming ourselves or others, and will lead to fewer Ukrainian deaths than military resistance.

We thought about how — if we were living in Ukraine and had just been invaded — we would best defend the Ukrainian people and culture. We understand the logic behind the Ukrainian government’s appeal for weapons and soldiers from abroad. However, we conclude that such a strategy will only prolong the pain and lead to even greater death and destruction. We recall the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq and Libya, and we would aim to avoid such a situation in Ukraine.

The question then remains: What would we do instead to protect the Ukrainian people and culture? We look with respect at all soldiers and brave civilians fighting for Ukraine; how can this powerful willingness to fight and die for a free Ukraine serve as a real defense of Ukrainian society? Already, people all over Ukraine are spontaneously using nonviolent means to fight the invasion; we would do our best to organize a systematic and strategic civil resistance. We would use the weeks — and maybe even months — that some areas of western Ukraine may remain less affected by military fighting to prepare ourselves and other civilians for what lies ahead.

Instead of investing our hope in military means, we would immediately set about training as many people as possible in civil resistance, and aim to better organize and coordinate the civil resistance that is already happening spontaneously. Research in this area shows that unarmed civil resistance under many circumstances is more effective than armed struggle. Fighting an occupying power is always difficult, no matter what means are used. However, in Ukraine, there is knowledge and experience that peaceful means can lead to change, as during the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan Revolution in 2014. While the circumstances are very different now, Ukrainian people can use the coming weeks to learn more, spread this knowledge and build networks, organizations and infrastructure that fight for Ukrainian independence in the most effective way.

Today there is comprehensive international solidarity with Ukraine — support we can count on being extended to unarmed resistance in the future. With this in mind, we would focus our efforts on four areas.

1. We would establish and continue relations with Russian civil society groups and members that are supporting Ukraine. Even though they are under severe pressure, there are human rights groups, independent journalists and ordinary citizens taking big risks in order to resist the war. It is important that we know how to keep in touch with them through encrypted communication, and we need knowledge and infrastructure on how to do this. Our greatest hope for a free Ukraine is that the Russian population overthrow Putin and his regime through a nonviolent revolution. We also acknowledge the brave resistance to Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko and his regime, encouraging continued connection and coordination with activists in that country.

2. We would disseminate knowledge about the principles of nonviolent resistance. Nonviolent resistance is based on a certain logic, and adhering to a principled line of nonviolence is an important part of this. We are not just talking about morality, but about what is most effective under the circumstances. Some of us might have been tempted to kill Russian soldiers if we saw the opportunity, but we understand that it is not in our interest in the long run. Killing only a few Russian soldiers will not lead to any military success, but is likely to delegitimize everyone involved in civil resistance. It will make it harder for our Russian friends to stand on our side and easier for Putin to claim we are terrorists. When it comes to violence, Putin has all the cards in his hand, so our best chance is to play a completely different game. Ordinary Russians have learned to think of Ukrainians as their brothers and sisters, and we should take maximum advantage of this. If Russian soldiers are forced to kill many peaceful Ukrainians who resist in a courageous manner, the morale of the occupying soldiers will greatly decrease, desertion will increase, and the Russian opposition will be strengthened. This solidarity from ordinary Russians is our biggest trump card, meaning we must do everything we can to ensure that Putin’s regime does not have the opportunity to change this perception of Ukrainians.

3. We would disseminate knowledge about methods of nonviolent resistance, especially those that have been used with success during invasions and occupations. In those areas of Ukraine already occupied by Russia, and in the event of a prolonged Russian occupation, we would want ourselves and other civilians to be prepared to continue the struggle. An occupying power needs stability, calm and cooperation in order to carry out the occupation with the least amount of resources. Nonviolent resistance during occupation is about noncooperation with all aspects of the occupation. Depending on what aspects of the occupation are most despised, potential opportunities for nonviolent resistance include strikes in the factories, building a parallel school system, or refusing to cooperate with the administration. Some nonviolent methods are about gathering many people in visible protests, although during an occupation, this can be associated with great risk. It is probably not the time for the large demonstrations that characterized Ukraine’s previous nonviolent revolutions. Instead, we would focus on more dispersed actions that are less risky, such as boycotts of Russian propaganda events, or coordinated stay at home days, which could bring the economy to a standstill. The possibilities are endless, and we can draw inspiration from countries occupied by the Nazis during World War II, from East Timor’s independence struggle or other countries occupied today, such as West Papua or Western Sahara. The fact that Ukraine’s situation is unique does not preclude us from learning from others.

4. We would establish contact with international organizations such as Peace Brigades International or Nonviolent Peaceforce. Over the past 40 years, organizations like these have learned how international observers can make a significant difference to local human rights activists living with threats to their lives. Their experience from countries such as Guatemala, Colombia, Sudan, Palestine and Sri Lanka can potentially be developed to fit the circumstances in Ukraine. It might take a while to implement, yet over the long term, they could be able to organize and send Russian civilians to Ukraine as “unarmed bodyguards,” as part of international teams. It will be more difficult for Putin’s regime to commit atrocities against the Ukrainian civilian population if Russian civilians witness it, or if witnesses are citizens of countries that are maintaining friendly relations with his regime — for example China, Serbia or Venezuela.

If we had the Ukrainian government’s backing for this strategy, as well as access to the same economic resources and technological expertise that now goes to military defense, the strategy we propose would have been easier to implement. If we had started preparing a year ago, we would have been much better equipped today. Nevertheless, we believe unarmed civil resistance has a good chance of defeating a potential future occupation. For the Russian regime, carrying out an occupation will require money and personnel. Maintaining an occupation will be even more costly if the Ukrainian population engages in massive non-cooperation. Meanwhile, the more peaceful the resistance, the more difficult it is to legitimize the oppression of those who resist. Such resistance would also ensure good relations with Russia in the future, which will always be the best guarantee of Ukraine’s security with this powerful neighbor in the East.

Of course, we who are living abroad in safety have no right to tell Ukrainians what to do, but if we were Ukrainians today, this is the path we would choose. There is no easy way, and innocent people are going to die. However, they are already dying, and if only the Russian side is using military force, the chances of preserving Ukrainian lives, culture and society are much higher.

– This piece was published at on 28th March 2022. Used by permission.

– – – – – –

Jesus and Nonviolence

By Rev. John Dear

This is the text of a talk which was presented remotely at a Belfast seminar as part of the Four Corners Festival on 1st February 2022.

Let me begin with four basic theses, and then I will walk through the life of Jesus from the perspective of Gandhian/Kingian nonviolence.

First, we have to connect the dots between every form of violence. We are up against one big global pandemic of violence, one big global spectrum of systemic, structured, institutionalized violence, which has infected all of us in all its forms from interior violence, violence in our relationships, violence against creatures and Earth to racism, sexism, gun violence, executions, corporate greed, extreme poverty, permanent war, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction. Violence is everywhere and in everyone.

Second, nonviolence is the way forward. Violence has failed us; it doesn’t work, so we need to figure out how to become nonviolent people, to use Gandhi’s clumsy word, and to create a culture of nonviolence, to educate every human being on the planet in nonviolent conflict resolution as well as the theology and spirituality of nonviolence, and fund & build new structures of nonviolence. The only way real positive social change happens is through bottom up, people power, grassroots movements of nonviolence. Nonviolence is not a utopian ideal or impractical; it is very practical, the only realistic way forward. Study the great scholar Dr. Erica Chenoweth and her book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” Her book proves nonviolence works.

Third, the scandal of the Gospel is that Jesus was totally nonviolent, that God is a God of total nonviolence, universal love, boundless compassion and infinite peace; and that the Gospel of Jesus demands that we all become totally nonviolent too, as nonviolent as Gandhi, King and Day. That means, as I wrote in my book “The Nonviolent Life,” we have to be nonviolent to ourselves, toward all people, all creatures, and Mother Earth, and join the grassroots movement of nonviolence as our practice of discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus.

Fourth, the church is supposed to be a global community of nonviolence, a global community of followers of the nonviolent Jesus, not a church that supports war or violence of any kind. But since 315, when the Roman emperor became Christian and legalized Christianity, which had been a nonviolent underground movement, we have rejected the Sermon on the Mount, and created some pagan justification for mass murder called the just war theory. If the church approves and blesses the bombing and killing of children, which it has for 1700 years, then it does not care about child abuse or women or racism, or the destruction of the earth. Once Catholics and Christians bless war and nuclear weapons, then all hell breaks out. We are trying to change the church, or rather, help the church return to its earliest days as a movement of active Gospel nonviolence. That means, we all have to turn back to the nonviolent Jesus, non-cooperate with the culture of violence, and spend the rest of our lives working for a new culture of nonviolence, and also teach our priests, ministers, bishops, families and friends that Jesus is nonviolent.

If Jesus was violent, I submit, we don’t need him; he’s no help whatsoever; he’s not saving us. He’s just another violent messiah. So we created a church of violence, that worships a false god of violence; that teaches a false spirituality of violence and war; the just war theory, saying violence and warfare are justified, and that led to a kind of holy nationalism and fundamentalism, and then every other kind of insane, absurd religious endorsement for killing.

I propose that it’s the only thing we can say for sure about Jesus–that he practised total nonviolence, that he taught total nonviolence, that he announced God was totally nonviolent, and that he called all of us to be totally nonviolent, and therefore that the church is a community of total nonviolence. No one before him in history spoke about nonviolence like him; we know for example that there is no recorded writing in history before the Gospels of anyone ever saying the words “Love your enemies.”

Gandhi once said that Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in the history of the world, and then went on to say in effect, and the only people who don’t know Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. When Gandhi says Jesus was nonviolent, he means Jesus never hurt anyone, never supported hurting or killing anyone, and then because he was totally nonviolent, he was and had to be totally against the Roman empire, which killed millions of people, and the religious establishment, which collaborated with the empire, blessed its wars and occupations, and helped oppress millions of people and steal their money in the name of God. And because he was totally nonviolent, he could not be passive, he practised active nonviolence and built a campaign of active nonviolence to resist injustice and so he was arrested and executed.

Anyone can be violent; but it takes courage and power and trust in God and Godliness to be totally nonviolent. That’s what Jesus was all about and that’s what we are called to be about too, to follow Jesus on the path of total nonviolence and become, like him, people of deep inner nonviolence, people who are gentle and humble of heart, and agents of nonviolent change, for the disarmament of the world, for justice for the poor, for racial equality and dignity, for an end to the killings and guns and weapons and poverty and greed and destruction of the environment. We don’t have to be successful or have lots of big results; we just have to be faithful to his way of nonviolence.

When I was about 22, I asked my friend Daniel Berrigan the meaning of life, and he said: “All you have to do is to make your story fit into Jesus’ story.” That was one of the great teachings of my life, and that’s what I want us to reflect on, to take another look at the story of the nonviolent Jesus, and then to make whatever changes so our story fits into his story. I have a new organization, “The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus,” with zoom workshops about Jesus, which I hope you will visit

So I have 10 points about the life of Jesus and Gospel nonviolence for your consideration. As I’m going through them, here are my questions for you: how are you trying to make your story fit into Jesus’ story of spectacular, total nonviolence? Where does the nonviolent Jesus touch you most, what is he saying to you, what he is calling you to do, what are you afraid of?

First, he walks into the empire and announces, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” Remember after every Roman victory, the Roman troops would come into a town and announce the Gospel of Caesar, we’ve killed another thousand people and taken over their town. But here he’s saying there really is good news: the days of the culture of violence and war are over. The empire is falling. A new world of nonviolence, the kingdom of God is at hand, here and now if we want it. Turn away from the culture of violence, and war and empire, and live in the kingdom of God, and believe this Gospel. As he went around proclaiming this, he also modelled it by healing people wounded by the culture of violence; he expelled the demons of violence; he formed a community of nonviolence, and he welcomed all the outsiders, the disenfranchised and marginalized. He hung out with all the wrong people and broke every rule and law and custom there was. How are you living full time in the Kingdom of God, and how are you announcing it?

Second, all his teachings call us to total nonviolence. He commands us to love our neighbors, love one another, show compassion to everyone, seek justice for the poor, forgive everyone, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, Turn the other cheek, take up the cross in the struggle for justice and peace, and lay down our lives in love for humanity. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. You can get my book on the Sermon on the Mount, called The Beatitudes of Peace, or listen to my podcasts, but let me just point out the climax of the Beatitudes “Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called the sons and daughters of the God of peace.” This is our vocation, this is our core identity, we are the sons and daughters of the God of peace, so for the rest of our lives we try to be peacemakers and end war.

Then he goes on in the Sermon on the Mount, with his various commandments of nonviolence: “You have heard it said, thou halt not kill; but I say to you, do not even get angry at another. Instead, go be reconciled. You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you: ‘offer no violent resistance to one who does evil.’ Tolstoy spent the last 25 years of his life preaching that one verse. Gandhi read this commandment every day for the last 45 years of his life. Wow. Then Jesus says, “You have heard it said, love your countrymen and hate your enemies, but I say love your enemies and pray for your persecutors then you will be sons and daughters of the God who lets the sun rise on the good and the bad and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Notice he does not say: “However, if they are really bad, and you follow these 7 conditions, bomb the hell out of them.” Notice too that in this the most political sentence in the entire bible, which not only outlaws war and killing and the whole nation state system but commands universal nonviolent love, Jesus describes the nature of God as totally nonviolent. Here again he calls us to our true identity: if you practice universal nonviolent love, then you will really be the beloved sons and daughters of the God of universal nonviolent love. This is what you and I are called to do, and practice and teach. So how do you offer nonviolent resistance to evil and love your enemies? Is your God a God of peace and universal love? Do you think God is totally nonviolent?

Third, he organizes a campaign of nonviolence, like a nonviolent military campaign, like Gandhi’s Salt March, like Dr. King in Birmingham and sends 72 people ahead of him, saying, “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” He forms a grassroots, underground, nonviolent movement. We’re to heal all those wounded by the culture of violence; expel all the demons of violence, get rid of their allegiance to the empire or America, to war and weapons, free them into the new life of nonviolence; and proclaim that God’s reign of peace and nonviolence is at hand and invite everyone to start living in total nonviolence. So that is our job description: we go forth innocent, gentle and nonviolent as a lamb into the midst of wolves to proclaim God’s reign of total nonviolence and universal love. How’s that going for you?

Fourth, as he gets closer to Jerusalem, he breaks down sobbing and says “If today you had only understood the things that make for peace.” So that is what we are trying to do, from now on: to learn the things that make for peace. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Today Jerusalem has become the whole world, and we are trying to destroy the whole world with war, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, so we have to learn and teach the things that make for peace. What are they for you? I think they’re all about nonviolence.

Fifth, he walks into the Temple, the center of systemic injustice, where the religious authorities work with the imperial forces to get people to pay all their money to worship god in a total racket, and turns over the tables of the moneychangers in nonviolent civil disobedience. He doesn’t hurt anyone, kill anyone, or bomb anyone, but he is not passive. He takes direct nonviolent action against imperial systemic injustice and accepts the consequences. This is what his followers are supposed to do. If he was upset by the Temple, what would he say about our wars and destruction of the earth? What bold public nonviolent action are you going to take as a disciple?

Sixth, it’s Passover, they’re in the upper room, he takes the bread and says “My body broken for you.” He takes the cup and says, “My blood shed for you.” If he were a good Roman, a good American, a Russian dictator, he should have said, “Go break their bodies for me; go shed their blood for me.” No, he says, “My body broken for you, my blood shed for you, do this.” Every time we share in the Eucharist, we enter into the new covenant of nonviolence, that’s the methodology of Jesus. So how are you making the Eucharist from now on a sharing in the mission of Jesus’ nonviolence?

Seventh, he’s in Gethsemani, the soldiers arrive, and Peter thinks, “They’re going to arrest our guy, we can’t let this happen; we’ve got to protect the holy one. If there was ever a just war in history, if violence was ever divinely sanctioned—this is the moment,” and he’s right. And just as he takes up the sword to kill to protect the holy one, the commandment comes down, “Put down the sword.”

Dear friends, these are the last words of Jesus to his community, to the church, before he was killed; it’s the last thing they heard him say; and it’s the first time they understood how serious he is about nonviolence, so they all run away, they all abandon him. So Jesus is arrested, mocked and tortured by 600 drunken soldiers, and never once retaliates or even gets angry. The nonviolent Jesus was the bravest, most courageous person who ever lived. How have you run away from Jesus because of his serious nonviolence? How do you need to put down the sword?

Eighth, in front of Pilate, Jesus explains everything clearly: “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is my kingdom is not here.” This is the only difference between the world of violence, war and empire, from Pilate to Trump, and Jesus and the reign of God. Your world of empire and war uses violence; my world of peace and love uses nonviolence. My attendants are not allowed to fight; they are nonviolent, because I am nonviolent and God is nonviolent and God’s reign is a new realm of total nonviolence and universal love.

Question: do you want to be an attendant of the nonviolent Jesus? A disciple? If so, then like the nonviolent Jesus, we have to practice total nonviolence. I think this is the best thing we can do with our lives, become nonviolent attendants of the nonviolent Jesus.

Ninth, the empire executes him and he dies in perfect nonviolence, saying, “The violence stops here in my body. You are all forgiven, but from now on, you are not allowed to kill.” And God raises him from the dead and he returns as gentle and nonviolent as before and says, now you carry on my campaign of nonviolence.

So Jesus teaches us NOT how to kill or wage war or make money or be afraid, but how to love, how to make peace, how to be compassionate, how to forgive, how to be nonviolent, how to pray, and how to suffer and die. So as Christians we practice peace, love and nonviolence; we don’t kill anyone, we don’t support killing. We don’t kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong. From now on, our position is: there is no cause however noble for which we will ever again support the taking of a single human life. In fact, like Jesus, we try to give our lives to stop the killing and the forces of death. We prefer to undergo death rather than inflict it on anyone.

Lastly, Jesus rises from the dead and offers us his resurrection gift of peace. The whole world has rejected that gift, but you and I want to accept it, and welcome it, take it to heart, and try to live in that peace from now on.

Resurrection means having nothing to do with death, or violence. Resurrection means nonviolence! With the resurrection of the nonviolent Jesus, we know that death does not get the last word; that our survival is already guaranteed, that total nonviolence is the way forward into the fullness of life, and that the more we practice and deepen into nonviolence, the more we practice resurrection. So as disciples of the risen, nonviolent Jesus, from now on we pledge to be as nonviolent as possible and to go forward into the world of violence and war, proclaim the way of nonviolence and peace, and do what we can to disarm one another and the world, to make the world more nonviolent.


Rev. John Dear is an internationally recognized voice and leader for peace and nonviolence. A priest, activist and author, he served as the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA and been arrested some 85 times for nonviolent civil disobedience actions. He helped draft Pope Francis’ J 1st January 2017 World Day of Peace message on nonviolence, and is the director of where he offers and hosts zoom workshops on Gospel nonviolence. His many books include: The Beatitudes of Peace; They Will Inherit the Earth; The Nonviolent Life; Walking the Way; A Persistent Peace; Living Peace; The Questions of Jesus; The God of Peace; Jesus the Rebel; and Peace Behind Bars. Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. See:

Another paper presented at the same seminar by Johnston McMaster, on Jesus and nonviolence in Ireland, is available on the Corrymeela website at and a photo of another presentation of the same paper is on the INNATE photo site at

Billy King: Rites Again 299

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, hello again, April has now been and gone and once more it looks like it was – as it is on average – the driest month of the year in Ireland. It wasn’t necessarily very warm all the time but some of my plants in tubs were looking very weepy for want of water. The weeds in the garden are doing well too.

The Planter and the Gael

It was 1970 and all hell (or maybe not all hell but a fair bit of it) was about to break out in Northern Ireland, not that anyone really knew that at the time. In a piece of perspicacious planning the Arts Council in the North arranged a tour by two poets under the title ‘The Planter and the Gael’; I don’t know who suggested it but I hail the originator of the tour. The two remarkable poets involved were John Hewitt and John Montague. It was an inspired programme and I am sufficiently long in the tooth to have attended one of the sessions, a privileged memory which has stayed with me. One of my possessions still is the booklet of poetry which went with the tour but had to be purchased separately to admission.

The two poems which I would like to refer to from what was presented are ‘Once alien here’ by Hewitt and ‘The Siege of Mullingar” (it was the Fleadh Cheoil, not a military siege) by Montague. Hewitt’s ‘Once alien here’ is quite well known and an exposition of how ‘a planter’ can belong and how he/they “must let this rich earth so enhance the blood / with steady pulse where now is plunging mood / till thought and image may, identified / find easy voice to utter each aright” – the ‘each’ being “the graver English, (and the) lyric Irish tongue”. In the middle verse where he refers to “The sullen Irish” and proceeds from there, I presume (hope) is is deliberately dealing in stereotypes and popular images and that his depiction should not be taken at face value.

John Montague’s poem, ‘The Siege of Mullingar’, is looking at the behaviour of young people at a fleadh cheoil and concluding “Puritan Ireland’s dead and gone / A myth of O’Connor and O’Faolain”. It is a portrayal of a new Ireland, a changing Ireland, or maybe an old Ireland re-emerging, and it is very forward looking or prophetic, written as it was more than fifty years ago. Though when I see a portrayal of any society as monolithic in its views I always tend to question that; is it really monolithic or is it just appearing so because some people are unable to speak out? Was ‘puritan’ Ireland really a mixture of genuine puritanism and, to a considerable extent, enforced puritanism which people did not necessarily agree with but could not publicly dissent from? I think the latter. Maybe that still makes it ‘puritan’ but is nevertheless an important qualification. Maybe ‘society’ can be puritan when the majority of individuals aren’t so.

The title of the tour was ‘The Planter and the Gael’, emphasis added by me. Or, in relation to demographic changes in Norn Iron, that could soon be ‘The Gael and the Planter’. There are no ‘buts’ in that title, it is not ‘The Planter but also the Gael’. It is not ‘The Gael/Planter but we will allow the Planter/Gael a look in at some later point’. ‘And’ is the operative word. More than fifty years later Norn Iron can still learn from a simple title adopted for a poetry tour. Maybe such learning might even apply to the title of “First Minister and Deputy First Minister”,

Smoke and mirrors

There are so many competing narratives in life that it is sometimes difficult to navigate them, either in coming to a fair comprehension or avoiding going overboard. One such area is Brexit and the good old (or not so good in some people’s book) Northern Ireland Protocol. It is quite clear that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson MP, has told various lies in relation to said Protocol, not just that he would never adopt such an approach (in a promise to unionists) but also that it would have no effects on trade and people could tear up any associated paperwork.

And various people go in various directions on the issue, including loyalists who see it as the thin end of a united Ireland wedge. And their concerns deserve being listened to. But they also need to listen to other perspectives, not least business exporters in the North who see inclusion in the EU single market as an opportunity, and the fact that even most unionists don’t put the Protocol as their top concern.

The British government meanwhile has been valiantly trying to use the Protocol as a stick to beat the EU (and the EU could have been a lot faster to compromise but trust was in short supply) saying all sorts of things such as they only agreed the Protocol (a binding international agreement) as a temporary measure, and even that if the EU didn’t reform the Protocol in an acceptable way they would reform it themselves. Ahem, it may seem strange to have to point out that an agreement (and particularly a legally binding international agreement) is an agreement between at least two parties and a position taken by one side is not an ‘agreement’; the British government doesn’t want to understand this simple fact of life.

And the senior British politicians who negotiated Brexit and the Protocol, now decrying it as a terrible affront to justice and Britishness, as if it had nothing to do with them, well, it takes some gall. Yes, everyone is entitled to change their mind but to make it look like they have been consistent requires stunning somersaults which should qualify them for some elite political athletic team.

Anyway, on occasions something penetrates the mist and a beacon of light shines forth. It can be argued (some loyalists disagree) that one such featured a former senior Norn Iron civil servant, Dr Andrew McCormick, in a statement which was quite clear. And he witnessed Brexit negotiations himself. “There is little credibility in any argument that the UK government either did not anticipate the implications of what it had agreed, or was constrained and unable to choose any other option. The facts and choices had been spelt out clearly over the whole period from 2016 onwards and the detail of the provisions (notably most of the applicable EU law contained in Annex 2 to the Protocol) were known at latest in autumn 2018.” He went on to say “its collapse would create uncertainty and instability – which cannot be in the interests of those who want Northern Ireland to succeed”.

Meanwhile the UK’s Lord Frost (quoted in the same report) spoke of how the EU was treating his negotiating team as “the supplicant representatives of a renegade province”. Eh, could this be because they are sick and tired of the whole matter and also it being a factor of the current power relationship involved? And the UK is not a ‘province’ now because it is fully outside the EU with the exception of Norn Iron staying in the single market.

In addition “He said he had assumed it would last only until Stormont voted on whether to keep the accord in 2024.” However this would not seem to accord with the fact that the British government stipulated this Stormont vote as a simple majority matter and not as a cross-community vote (i.e. that a majority of both unionists and nationalists would have to support it). My understanding was that the ‘simple majority’ method on the issue was adopted by the British government to ensure a ‘yes’ vote in support of the Protocol and therefore they were expecting (and supporting) it to last beyond 2024 and had no doubts about it – and the brilliant deal they were saying they negotiated – at the time.

But I do favour the EU being a lot more liberal in how the Protocol is enacted.


This issue has a piece on ‘Jesus and nonviolence’ by John Dear. INNATE is not a religious body though some people involved would be inspired by their religious tradition or beliefs, and others come from a secular background; the INNATE policy is respect for all people. We are equally happy to publish articles on religions, philosophies and beliefs other than Christianity and their relationship to nonviolence, and we have done so.

However I was musing the last time on the difficulty in finding a balance between religion and secularism, in our context in Ireland. There is an adjustment needed on all sides and I was thinking about how something Christians think of as deliberately not being ‘Christian’, to accommodate all comers, can still come across as being Christian to others.

However there is another side to the coin. Because of secularism and past oppression supported by Christian churches – in both jurisdictions on this island – including clerical sex abuse and institutional abuse of women and children – Christianity of any form or denomination is written off as a valid world view by many people today. ‘ABC’ as an acronym can mean many different things, from ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ in relation to wine, to Anarchist Black Cross in the political arena, or Always Be Careful, and a host of other things. But in our context here it can stand for Anything But Christianity.

However, and I hasten to add I am attempting to inform and not proselytising here, plus I have some experience of being on the unpleasant receiving end of actions by Christian churches or clerics, there are some things Christianity has going for it. Incredibly, many – most – Christians – including many prominent church people – don’t know that for the first two or three hundred years after Jesus it was incompatible to be a soldier and a Christian – in other words the early Christian church was nonviolent. What happened? Well, partly Constantine but I look forward (I am being facetious here – I will not hold my breath) to hearing church leaders explain why the change took place – I think it is spelt ‘p o w e r’. We have as a poster on the INNATE site (click on ‘Nonviolence and Christians’ ‘NC’) the quote from Mohandas Gandhi that “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians”.

The early Christian church was also communitarian and held goods in common. In Polish/German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg’s words, it was communist in consumption if not in production. So what happened to that? Maybe that was ‘g r e e d’.

And who usually presided over the Passover meal, which was what the Christian ‘Last Supper’ was? Why, the matriarch of the family. So almost certainly the ‘Last Supper’ had women at it (and not just those who cooked or served) – and the early church had women leaders. So what happened there that women were written out of the church and its early history? I think that one is spelt ‘p a t r i a r c h y’. And of course in Ireland later on there was St Brigid who had the status of a bishop.

Dangerous raging radicals, those early Christians; so there are some things in Christianity which we can draw on and refer to, whatever our beliefs in relation to religion, if we find it acceptable to do so – and some may not and that is fine too.

Not seeing the wood or the trees

The amount of land planted for forestry in Ireland (Republic of) in 2021 was just a quarter of targets contained in the Government’s Climate Action Strategy, the Central Statistics Office has stated, and the area planted has shrunk considerably over recent years. This is incredible. Instead of boldly going forward to a greener arboricultural future Ireland has been very bold (as in naughty) in going backwards. And the 8,000 hectares aimed for planting was itself reduced from an original 20,000 hectares.

This has serious implications for Ireland’s plans for net carbon zero by 2050. Yes, there have been problems with licensing and other issues – and local communities have to be engaged with and brought along in woodland areas -but it is the job of the minister and responsible bodies to sort all this out. It feels tree-sonous not to get this sorted, and it is certainly highly irresponsible on a global level, not to do our part, it goes against the grain to have such a wooden response. The issue should resin-ate with people in general. Some people need to turn over a new leaf, and introduce root and branch reform, fast [Or their bite needs to be stronger than their bark – Ed].

Well, that is me until next month when I will meet you in Nonviolent News Number Three Hundred – Nonviolent News has only been published monthly since 1994 and was occasional for a few years before that. And for most of the first ten years it was only two pages of news. Now, well, if you read it all you’re doing better than well and your day will be well gone [Just give it some well-y! – Ed]……..See you soon, Billy.


Black Shamrock re-launched as Irish anti-war symbol

The Black Shamrock, used as a symbol of opposition and resistance to Irish involvement in war and the Iraq war of 2003 in particular (especially the use of Shannon airport by the US military), has been relaunched at events on St Patrick’s Day, see e.g. Black Shamrock is a symbol of resistance. In wearing it, all of those who do so declare opposition to any Irish involvement, be it economic, strategic or logistical, to war. We also call for a new socially and ecologically informed vision of human security, which places economics and the state at the service of human rights, the rights of nature and regenerative economies.

The Black Shamrock campaign is a grassroots non-party political, non-partisan campaign to highlight the views of the majority of people in Ireland and the rest of the world; that we want no part in war and occupation and instruct our leaders to follow Irish and International law and immediately withdraw support from such inhuman folly. The campaign welcomes the support of members of all political parties and none.

The Black Shamrock symbolises our mourning for all those who died as a result of Irish collaboration in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and all those who have died and are dying still as a result of the devastation those wars have unleashed, for which the airports at Shannon, Aldergrove and Baldonnel became “pit-stops”. It also symbolises our resistance to the ongoing deliberate assault on Irish Neutrality.” See You can phone Jim at 44 (0)78 03268790 to order badges; groups they are available from include Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign/FEIC and Derry Anti-War Coalition/DAWC, INNATE, Afri, Shannonwatch and Galway Alliance Against War.

Thales demonstration in Belfast: Fighting on both sides of war

A demonstration took place at the Castlereagh, Belfast plant of arms company Thales on St Patrick’s Day, organised by INNATE. Planned and publicised before the Russian war on Ukraine, the event received wider publicity because of the war and the fact which the event publicised that Thales military equipment is being used by both sides in the war. The demonstration accused Thales of being violent, wasteful and corrupt (the latter fact was avoided by the mass media, despite chapter and verse being available, for fear of libel). See photos of this event and other previous ones at Thales at See also item in Billy King column in email and web editions of this issue.

Fanning the Flames

Fanning the Flames: How the European Union is fuelling a new arms race” is an important new report from TNI and ENAAT which busts the myths about the EU being a ‘peace’ project. It focuses particularly on the European Defence Fund: “The European Defence Fund (EDF) and its precursor programmes explicitly aim to strengthening the ‘global competitiveness’ of the technological industrial base of European defence. There is a major disconnect between such technologies and their potential impact beyond the profits they will generate. They will inevitably boost European arms exports and fuel the global arms race, which will in turn lead to more armed conflicts and wars, greater destruction, significant loss of life, and increased forced displacement.” A summary can be found at and the full 94-page report for downloading in the same location.

This publication includes Ireland among the case studies, in a piece written by Angela Hegarty: “Although the Defence Ministry has said that ‘Ireland [does] not have a defence industry’, a group that represents the sector in Ireland estimates that ‘there are approximately 548 foreign and domestic firms active in the Irish defence ecosystem with the defence sector supporting approximately 1,739 ICT jobs in Ireland’. In 2020 Ireland exported €42 million in defence goods, mainly to the US, including personal firearms, mining explosives, aircraft components, ground vehicles, electronics and computer software.”

The Irish government has signalled that it intends to expand its defence and security sector by leveraging the funding available from the EDF. It has undertaken a number of initiatives to facilitate ‘greater engagement with academia and enterprise to develop and exploit emerging and disruptive technology developments to support defence capabilities, while also supporting wider access and market engagement for Irish research by academia and enterprise’.”

WBW: Bearing witness to the reality and consequences of war

The five sessions in the World Beyond War Irish chapter’s series of 5 meetings on the above topic are all available as

videos. The speakers were 1) Nick Buxton and Niamh Ní Bhriain, 2) Lara Marlowe 3) Malalai Joya 4) Máiread Maguire and 5) Caoimhe Butterly. Go to

End Direct Provision & tackle the international protection process

Afri, with the involvement of MASI, has produced a 160-page report on the ongoing issues with Direct Provision for asylum seekers. The book emphasises that “the entire international protection system urgently needs deep and radical changes, far beyond the abolition of Direct Provision itself”. In particular, Afri’s aim with this book is to ensure that “the system is not maintained under another name”. The book delivers testimonies from ten people of their experiences in the international protection system and documents “material deprivation and isolation” and a host of other abuses and humiliations inflicted by the authorities and the private contractors they have paid to implement their policies. Short summary and full download available at

Corrymeela Centre fully open again, Jesus and nonviolence event

The Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle is now operating at full capacity, it was closed for a year and then operating at only 25% of its normal intake, due to Covid. Upcoming events include a conversation with Rev Johnston McMaster on “Jesus and nonviolence in Ireland” at Ballynafeigh Methodist Church, Ormeau Road, Belfast, at 7.30pm on Thursday 7th April, all welcome. See website for lots more.

UK Human Rights Act under attack: CAJ responds

CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice has responded to UK government proposals: “We wish to make it clear that we object to the proposals in this consultation and the proposed Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), which in our view would greatly reduce the protections currently in place. It is our view that the underlying tone and content of this consultation misrepresents the positive impact of the HRA to wider society and the important role it has in ensuring accountability from public authorities. It is a further attempt to reduce access to justice and to interfere with the separation of powers, which does not have the support of civil society in Northern Ireland. It is of concern to CAJ that the particular circumstances of the Northern Ireland devolved administration, like that of Scotland and Wales, is addressed in one question of this 123 page consultation. We reject any plans to dilute or replace the Human Rights Act.” CAJ’s full submission available at

ICCL: Charity sector law anomaly, gender equality

The Irish council for Civil Liberties has said the government has knowingly missed an opportunity to fix an anomaly in Irish law which means community groups or volunteer organisations could be prosecuted for normal fundraising work; The wording of the 1997 Electoral Act means that organisations who lobby the government for social change are subject to the same restrictions as political parties with respect to donations and finances. These restrictions have meant that community organisations campaigning for equality or protection of the environment have been threatened with court action and have been forced to return donations BUT these same restrictions do not apply to commercial interests seeking to influence public policy. See

l Meanwhile ICCL has made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality to support a referendum to make changes to the Constitution to provide protection for non-marital families, recognise and remunerate care work, and remove anachronistic language placing women in the home. See

MNI: Enabling access to justice and licencing of mediators

Mediation Northern Ireland is hosting a panel discussion on the implications of the NI Department of Justice’s General Authority for the deployment of mediators in legally aided non-family intra-litigation cases; as part of this new directive from the DoJ any mediator seeking to work on such cases must be licenced with an appropriate body. The discussion is on Zoom and takes place 12.30 – 13.30 on 11th April; further info and link at

Faslane & Coulport, Scotland: June week of action

Trident Ploughshares are organising a week of action from 9th to 17th June against the UK’s weapons of mass destruction based at Faslane and Coulport; these are the deployment sites for the UK’s nuclear weapon system, comprising the base for its 4 nuclear-armed submarines and storage for its nuclear warheads, now estimated to number 255 – each capable of 8 to 10 times the destructive power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The organisers state “Our resistance to this ongoing criminal activity must be made visible and tangible and we will be building on the strong popular and political opposition in Scotland to having such a launch pad for mass murder on their land and in their waters.”

On a practical level the hope is that people coming to the gathering will make their own arrangements (for travel, accommodation, sustenance and material for protest and nonviolent direct action), but there will be camping space close to the Coulport base, and there will also be some common legal support and media work. “Our peaceful confrontation may take many forms, including blockading, entering the bases, and “redecoration”. All of this we can enhance by good preparations, good networking and sharing of ideas and some common planning here and there. And in all of this, adhering to the principles of nonviolence.” For information or to get involved contact Angie Zelter at

Ukraine webinar

North Belfast Green party are organising a webinar on Ukraine, taking place from 7pm on Sunday 3rd April with voices from the region. Details and booking at

Editorials: 1) Ukraine: The agony goes on 2) Northern Ireland: Electing for impasse or change

Ukraine: The agony goes on

The often quoted sentence that ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it” from the US military in the Vietnam war is somewhat apocryphal (though in relation to destroying villages in that war, see ) However the quote could be transferred to Vladimir Putin’s take on Ukraine: “We had to destroy the country in order to save it”.

Putin has (we must hope if we are going to have a future) made the biggest miscalculation of his life in relation to the invasion of Ukraine. Believing your own propaganda is dangerous for yourself and others; he didn’t talk to Ukrainians or even try to persuade them. He thought that most Ukrainians would welcome Russian troops or at worst that his action would bring a surly but ineffective response. But in invading Ukraine he has a) proved that Ukraine is no ‘fake’ nation and has no desire for unification with Russia (and the ancient entity Putin refers to, Kievan Rus, was just that and not ‘Rus-ian Kiev) and b) given NATO perhaps its biggest fillip ever, especially for states bordering Russia. It can also be stated that c) he has very considerably damaged Russia’s image around the world as he has exposed his ruthlessness and Russia’s shortcomings, politically and militarily.

Sanctions of various kinds and other actions have been appropriate to bring the seriousness of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to their attention, though sanctions are not necessarily very effective in bringing change, and, depending on their nature can be violent (e.g. in causing child deaths in Iraq prior to the 2003 Iraq war); they should be regularly reviewed. But in the long run an isolated Russia is much more dangerous than a Russia which is integrated and well related to other parts of Europe. It is isolation which has led Putin to act on his fantasy of uniting Ukraine with Russia. (See Edwin Markham ‘Inclusion’ poster at )

So it is not just a question of providing, in the much used US English term, an ‘off ramp’ for Russia from the current situation. It is also a matter of ‘thinking ahead’ as to how Russia, probably post-Putin – he is 70 in the autumn of 2022 – can be brought into more normal relations with Europe and the world. It is not easy. But it was the disasters of the post-communist transfer to oligarchal capitalism which facilitated the Russian drift back to authoritarianism, and a lack of support from the west. If Russia is kept isolated in the longer term there is more cause for projecting it all as a Western conspiracy against the Russian people and therefore a further reason for internal repression and denial of human rights and democracy.

Putin is also a typical macho politician of the old school; self centred, ruthless, trusting his own judgement without consulting others, prepared to divide society in any way necessary to get his own way. In a recent speech he ridiculed “so-called gender freedoms”. His belief in a different Russian way to the west is a dangerous hodge podge of Russian nationalism, authoritarianism, machismo and anti-feminism. Violence is the way to achieve things where necessary, he believes, and also, in Stalin’s words, that it is not the people that vote that count but the people who count the votes.

However we should be wary of thinking that Putin is the only mass murderer around or the only one starting wars. He cares not a jot for the people of Ukraine and is prepared to kill as many as he feels necessary to achieve whatever he defines as his minimum aims. There might be the idea that such violence is the prerogative of authoritarian or dictatorial regimes who feel they can’t get their way. This is totally false.

The democracies of the USA, UK and elsewhere have participated in – and started – wars this century with much higher death tolls than Ukraine, in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have left traumatised societies with even bigger problems than when they started. President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are, in reality, also mass murderers. Subsequent presidents and prime ministers (USA and UK) continued killing through drone strikes. But where were the sanctions imposed on them???? Oh, “they were working from good intentions and were on the side of democracy” – what rubbish. The effect of death, destruction, trauma and chaos was the same. If we go back another generation or more from the Iraq war to Vietnam the USA was in effect trying to do something very similar to what Putin has been doing in Ukraine, only far worse in terms of destruction and death, and the effect of carpet bombing in Cambodia was to facilitate the emergence of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

That is why we have to erase the cancer of militarism from human society. It is the belief, prevalent in most societies and most political orientations, that might has a certain right and that when you don’t get your way through politics and diplomacy you then try military might.

But the belief in military resistance extends to progressive movements and wronged societies too. Ukraine has been a very courageous example of military resistance to Russian imperialism in the current war. But whether that was, or is, the best choice for Ukraine is another matter. It is for the people of Ukraine to decide how they resist Russian imperialism but if they continue their military struggle, and Russia continues to pound their cities to beat the civilian population into surrender, then they are likely to have a very high death rate and the burnt out shell of a country.

Nonviolent resistance and civilian defence is explored elsewhere in this issue, in ‘Readings in Nonviolence’, in an article on “Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation and coups d’états”.

The idea promulgated by NATO is of a humanity divided into armed camps; it refused to disband when its original casus belli, the Cold War, evaporated. The hopes and dreams of the end of the USSR and its military domination of eastern Europe are now a distant memory. And there were opportunities: Michael Randle in his 1991 book “People Power: The building of a new European home” (page 83) wrote in the context of western and eastern Europe, including Russia, that “If in due course a pan-European alliance takes shape, its role would be to provide reassurance and collective security for all the member states. Unlike NATO and the Warsaw Pact it would not be directed against a supposed external enemy but at ensuring that inter-state relations within the area are conducted according to agreed principles…” Why can that not be a dream to hold on to for the future?

However NATO has now played its role in the emergence of a new Cold War, once again ‘turning friends into enemies’. (See Len Munnik NATO poster at ) If this is the best that humanity can aspire to then we will continue to live in a world which risks nuclear or other annihilation and there is a very real risk that, through accident or design, we will eventually achieve that armageddon and the destruction of most or all of humanity

The Céide Fields in north Mayo (5,000 years ago) indicates that at least in some places, perhaps universally, humanity once lived a peaceful, relatively settled life (which was also generally in tune with nature though in some places, both there and the Burren, it had ecological effects). At some point there developed an ‘arms race’ from which humanity has never properly recovered; there have been oases from this, of course, but what we tend to think of as ‘civilised’ society is far from that. It is not a matter of getting back to some ‘Garden of Eden’ but arriving at a world where conflicts, at whatever level, are dealt with though nonviolent means arriving at relative justice for both parties.

Of course justice is in the eye of the beholder but compromise is also part of the name of the game, and compromise is also something which we need to learn to live with while still struggling for better. Homo sapiens has many good qualities, and killing is not something that innately comes easy (as Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind: A hopeful history’ shows). We can build on the best of life and eliminate the worst, of which war is the nadir. If we don’t eliminate war then war will, eventually, eliminate us.

Building the mechanisms to deal with conflict constructively is a vast task which needs undertaken at every level – interpersonal, local, national and international. But it is a task which is already engaged in by many people in many different ways. What is needed now at the state and international level is the transfer of resources from the war machine which currently holds the majority of countries in thrall to a budding peace machine, a panoply of approaches and methods which can gradually build the capacity to intervene, support as necessary, and build peaceful resolution or outcomes for conflicts – and provide support afterwards so any cycle is not repeated. As Ban Ki-moon said,The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”; substantially correcting that imbalance can build a momentum to work for eliminating the scourge of war.

Northern Ireland

Electing for impasse or change

Stormont Assembly elections in Northern Ireland take place on 5th May. The reality that the North is not at war but not properly at peace remains a backdrop to these elections which are most likely to see Sinn Féin as the largest party on either side. There is also the fact that the whole exercise may be a futile one insofar as MLAs will be elected but will have no power and no Executive as the DUP (and of course the TUV) will refuse to play ball with electing a first and deputy first minister – and therefore there will be no government and no decisions made.

Sympathy has been expressed in these pages before for unionists and loyalists who object to the Northern Ireland Protocol as causing a divide between Northern Ireland and the island of Britain. They have felt, and been, betrayed by a lying prime minister. While minimising controls on imports to Northern Ireland from Britain should be on everyone’s agenda, the chances of replacing the Protocol are extremely slim, and the British government has no real interest in expending energy on this matter beyond trying to point a finger at the EU. But the NI Protocol is a direct result of Brexit. And the price of Brexit – a hard variety of which the DUP supported and organised for – is the Protocol. It can cause inconvenience but to portray it as pushing Northern Ireland out of the UK is simply not true. But there is still an issue about how to deal with loyalists’ concerns on the matter, and symbolism can matter.

While there are good people in different political parties who want to make things work, the system instituted in the Good Friday Agreement is clearly unstable and needs rejigged for a number of reasons, not least that it ignores and excludes the strengthening ‘middle ground’ who are some degree neither nationalist nor unionist. But the Good Friday Agreement cannot be abandoned until something else is agreed, and achieving that would be another marathon effort; there is no stomach across the board for that currently.

However there are ways in which positive decision making in a Northern Ireland (or any other) Assembly could be facilitated, including the voting methodologies promoted by the de Borda Institute which have built in safeguards for minorities. But politics is so divided at the moment in the North, with so many different points of view, that arriving at a new agreement would be extremely difficult. Perhaps if unionists come to terms with the fact they are no longer a majority – but neither are nationalists – there might be some chance of moving forward in ways which protect everyone but also allow decisions to be made.

Sinn Féin’s pressing for a border poll in the near future is not a wise move for a variety of reasons. Of course they are entitled to do so, and under the Good Friday Agreement 50% +1 in a border poll would bring about ‘some kind’ of united Ireland. But there are far too many questions and issues to be clarified first, and there would be likely no change in the status quo if such questions about the economic future and an all-island health service were unanswered. And if there is “50% +1” for a united Ireland that should mark, as we have said before, the start of a process of engagement with unionists who were not previously involved in the discussion but who now would want to be involved to arrive at the most equitable result.

In the mean time, at the May elections, there is not much that Northern voters can do except support progressive candidates who are prepared to move forward and be inclusive. The North has a long road to travel yet.

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Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Learning From Indigenous People

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Our culture provides us with a sense of place and purpose on the basis of which we make assessments about what is good for us, our loved ones and community. Within this sphere, with its particular tribulations and contradictions, we seek an equilibrium, a mean point, in which we can earn our living, be ourselves with a minimum of stress and live a life of reasonable comfort in settings we find aesthetically pleasing as well as emotionally and intellectually enriching.

It seems that most people, even nomads, want the emotional security that comes from order, a level of predictability and routine. We, however, need at times to glide like a bird above the terrain of our familiar daily existence and like a good cook or artist use the everyday ingredients of life in novel ways to create something new; recast, reassemble, reconstitute the givens into a paradigm that better addresses our societal problems.

The increasingly horrendous consequences of climate breakdown involving the flooding, burning, melting and blowing-away of our world, and the rapid loss of biodiversity which is undermining the very basis of existence, means that we need to reimage our place on this planet of immutable ecological laws. Among other things this involves releasing ourselves from the destructive belief that humankind can supersede, ignore and live without the chemical and organic process of soil creation, photosynthesis and symbiosis.

As President Putin’s war, and the intentions of governments to increase their spending on armies and armaments attest, we also need to shed, as a snake does its skin, tribal and national identities of a belligerent hue. We can in large part do this, as well as live within the regenerative capacities of nonhuman nature, through integrating into our worldview the millennium’s old social and ecological wisdoms of the indigenous communities whose pre-industrial cultures remain in-tack or accessible. In fact, as the scientist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger highlights in her book, To Speak for the Trees, (2019) there is much that Celtic culture can teach us in regard to living well with each other and nonhuman nature.

In summary, we need to learn how to really see, rather than simply act-out our culturally ingrained perspective, which in regards to nonhuman nature, is one of guilt-free entitlement to turn our immensely beautiful life-supporting biosphere into one of toxic rubble. There is no question that we need to avail of the natural world in order to live but as many indigenous cultures teach, and science confirms, we can do so with discretion and equity.

Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation and coups d’état

by Rob Fairmichael

References are given at the end to facilitate follow up and further reading.


Where is the discussion of the possibilities of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to be seen in relation to the war on Ukraine and after that started? Almost nowhere. (*1) And yet you had the ludicrous example of a few people asking why Ireland (Republic) was not sending arms to Ukraine, as if anything Ireland could have sent would have made any difference in the military fight between it and Russia. And arms components from Belfast firm Thales are being used on both sides of the war in Ukraine! Most people are simply and totally unaware of the possibilities of nonviolent resistance, or, if they even think of it, dismiss it out of hand, particularly in relation to ‘hard’ situations like an invasion.

But people do not dismiss violent resistance out of hand, even where it fails, dismally or heroically, or would fail – as with Irish military resistance to invasion by a major power. In Ukraine violent resistance has been heroic in the military tradition and certainly successful in slowing the Russian invasion (which was very poorly planned), and even able to push back in some areas, but it has also been also costly in terms of lives lost and homes and infrastructure destroyed as well as massive displacement of people, either as internal or external refugees. The trauma is massive. We don’t know how the war in Ukraine will end but at the moment it is not looking good for avoiding Russian control in eastern and south-eastern Ukraine. Nonviolent resistance needs to be judged by the same measurements as violent. And it needs to be brought out of the shadows to be able to stand in the position it deserves.

I wrote an 8-page paper on “An alternative defence for Ireland: Some considerations and a model of defence without arms for the Irish people” in late 1983 (*2), some years before the fall of Russian communism. Little did I think that almost four decades later I would be writing a piece about the same matter in the context of a war started by still autocratic but crony-capitalist Russia. I also attended and wrote about a WRI-IFOR conference on the less-statist concept of ‘Social defence’ (see definition later) in Bradford in 1990. (*3) However this article has two main geographical points of reference, to two very different situations and locations within Europe, Ukraine and Ireland. I would stress that it is a relatively short exploration of the matter and much further work can be done or referred to.

What is nonviolent civilian resistance and social defence?

Perhaps we need a few definitions at the start. But it also needs clarified that, as always, different people can use the same term differently, or even the same people give a different emphasis from time to time.

Civilian-based defence is non-military defence of a state or territory. Adam Roberts (*4) in a classic 1960s study states that he made certain assumptions about its implementation “that it is accepted as government policy; that it is adopted on its own rather than in combination with military defence; and that it is employed in defence of a country with a reasonably high degree of social cohesion and with independent political parties, trade unions and press.” Particularly considering the first phrase of this quote, this places it quite close to ‘social defence’ as defined below.

Gene Sharp has said of the policy of civilian-based defence that “the whole population and the society’s institutions become the fighting forces. Their weaponry consists of a vast variety of forms of psychological, economic, social, and political resistance and counter-attack. This policy aims to deter attacks and to defend against them by preparations to make the society unrulable by would-be tyrants and aggressors…..In addition, where possible, the defending country would aim to create maximum international problems for the attackers and to subvert the reliability of their troops and functionaries”. (*5)

Social defence is a term which has tended to be used, perhaps mainly within the peace movement, to mean “the nonviolent protection of a society and its way of life, either from an outside invader or an unjust domestic situation” (*6) This definition highlights the key difference in social defence as opposed to civilian-based defence in that it pinpoints the importance of people being able to resist internal repression as well as external aggression; it explicitly includes being used for dealing with despotic rule internally as much as external aggression and invasion.

This point about the internal (within a state or territory) relevance of social defence is well explored in the best recent book on social defence, by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin. (*7) In this its is stated “Social defence involves increasing the capacity of ordinary people to resist external aggression, and this necessarily means increasing the capacity to resist their own government. Hence social defence provides a guide for community empowerment that can challenge many different types of domination….”

But their more general definition is that ““Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to repression and aggression, as an alternative to military forces. “Nonviolent” means using rallies, strikes, boycotts and other such methods that do not involve physical violence against others. Social defence has other names, including nonviolent defence, civilian-based defence and defence by civil resistance.” (*8)

Transarmament is another useful term which can be defined as “the gradual transition from one type of defence – armed and nuclear – to another type of defence – popular and nonviolent.” (*9) ‘Nonviolent resistance’ can be used in the context of invasion and occupation but it can be applied to any nonviolent action against injustice and oppression.

In Mohandas Gandhi’s categorisation of resistance to violence and injustice, there were three broad categories; passivity or cowardice, violence, and nonviolence. He went so far as to say “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence” but qualified that by saying “I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence…” (*10) and a sign of strength and certainly not weakness. While the term ‘passive resistance’ has been used for nonviolent resistance (Gandhi’s ‘satyagraha’ = ‘truth force’ is a strong contrast) it is very misleading as the concept is anything but ‘passive’ – it is active, engaged and challenging; the term ‘passive resistance’ is therefore best avoided.

Parameters and historical experiences of nonviolent civilian and social defence

It is clear that in Russian occupied parts of Ukraine currently, Ukrainians have still been able, in very difficult circumstances, to assert their right to independence and, while not to get Russian troops out of the country, to get them out of the immediate environs of their town or village. (*11) The allegation that nonviolent action is impossible in difficult and repressive circumstances is simply not true as Basil Liddell Hart wrote in relation to interrogation of German generals following the Second World War: “Their evidence also showed the effectiveness of non-violent resistance as practised in Denmark, Holland and Norway – and, to some extent, in France and Belgium. Even clearer was their inability to cope with it. They were experts in violence, and had been trained to deal with opponents who used that method. But other forms of resistance baffled them – and all the more as the methods were subtle and concealed.” (*12)

The second volume of Gene Sharp’s landmark publication “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” (*13) on “The Methods of Nonviolent Action” largely consists of historical examples of nonviolent action fitting his 198 “Methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion”. Some speak of incredibly brave and imaginative actions in very difficult circumstances. But others are of more mundane examples – even letter writing or petitions – which can take on much greater significance than normal because of the context. In relation to Russian control of Eastern Europe, once control had been ceded at the Yalta allies conference, there was no chance of the successful military overthrow of such control; nonviolent resistance, however, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, in Poland subsequently, and eventually in the successful overthrow of control by the USSR from 1989 during glasnost, was the best method people could use with the highest chance of success.

Some people thought that Russian control of Eastern Europe was a permanent feature of geopolitical life; it wasn’t and was overthrown by largely nonviolent action and organisation. Some people thought that the apartheid system in South Africa could only be overthrown by violence; it wasn’t and it was largely nonviolent action and organisation, at home and abroad, which made the transformation to democratic rule.

In Johansen and Martin’s book on social defence they conclude in relation to one of their historical examples, Czechoslovakia resisting a Russian invasion in 1968 when Russia was trying to keep control of this part of their eastern European empire, that “(1) remaining nonviolent is crucial; (2) resistance organised by the people is stronger than resistance directed by the government;(3) fraternisation is a powerful technique; (4) resilient communication systems providing accurate information are vital: (5) maintaining unity of the resistance is vital: (6) leaders need to understand the dynamics of nonviolent resistance.” (* 14)

There is of course the possibility of combining military and civil resistance, but there are dangers in this such and Johansen and Martin make the point “remaining nonviolent is crucial”. One of the dangers in combining the two is that civil resistance “often depends on a reluctance by the authorities to resort to wholesale repression, a reluctance that may itself spring from an uncertainty about the effect on the morale of their troops and security forces of being ordered to attack civilians. But these inhibitions and constraints can quickly break down where there is the constant danger of ambushes, assassinations, bomb attacks and so on, and above all where the distinction between combatant and non-combatant begins to disappear” (*15)

A nonviolent response also facilitates fraternisation as a positive policy to influence invaders. In Czechoslovakia in 1968 some Russian troops had to be withdrawn, and replaced by far-eastern USSR troops who were not Russian speakers, so successful had citizen interactions with soldiers been in persuading them that they were not liberators but oppressors. And in the context of the Cold war the well known British Christian minister and peace activist Donald Soper said “Russians who appear to be impervious to threats and the Cold War may well be susceptible and responsive to friendliness and the warm heart” (*16)

Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweths famous study (*17) of the comparative success rates of violent and nonviolent resistance is instructive here too. They state “Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. There are two reasons for this success. First, a campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target……..Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime…..” (*18) They state that “Our findings challenge the conventional wisdom that violent resistance against conventionally superior adversaries is the most effective way for resistance groups to achieve policy goals.”

Given that Stephan and Chenoweth studied campaigns from 1900 to 2006 this is a fairly comprehensive study. It is to be noted that their conclusions apply to democratic and non-democratic societies. They also indicate that it is irrelevant whether the nonviolence comes from strategic (pragmatic) as opposed to principled nonviolence (*19) although “the vast majority of participants in nonviolent struggles have not been devoted to principled nonviolence”. There is a slight risk in their terminological use of ‘principled nonviolence’ in relation to people who have a religious or ethical commitment to nonviolence that those who just use it pragmatically could be ‘unprincipled’ but that is obviously not their intention. Their point that “Nonviolent resistance achieves demands against the will of the opponent by seizing control of the conflict through widespread noncooperation and defiance” is a short statement illustrating the power of nonviolence.

However it can be objected that they were looking at ‘organised civilian populations’ interacting with states and not international warfare. This is certainly a qualification to Stephan and Chenoweth’s conclusions, certainly in relation to inter-state warfare. However it can also be said that many of the cases studied were of a scale and in situations which replicated some of the conditions of inter-state relations. In considering the situation in relation to the war in Ukraine it can also be said that Russia and Ukraine are two countries with close relations, historically and personally, and therefore have less of the ‘distant’ feeling about an opposing country than international warfare can have; the people of the two countries are, literally and metaphorically, cousins.

It cannot be assumed that just because resistance is nonviolent that the regime being opposed will keel over. Stephan and Chenoweth’s relative success for nonviolent campaigns is often in the context of long and arduous struggles. Gene Sharp put it this way about what he termed some ‘naive conceptions’: “It is not true that if opponents of a regime struggle nonviolently the oppressive regime will be nonviolent too, and quietly acquiesce. It is not true that by being nonviolent one avoids suffering and sacrifices. It is not true that if the opponent reacts with brutal, violent repression, the struggle has been lost and the movement defeated. It is not true that the nonviolent way is an easy way.” (*20)

Nevertheless Sharp, in name and perceptions, also covers the weaknesses of dictatorships. (*21) The crucial task of identifying the weaknesses in any regime is key to success; what may work in relation to one may be water off a duck’s back for another. Intense engagement with the cultural norms and parameters of the culture concerned may be required, and obviously using the weaknesses that exist to maximum effect.

One of the more general issues in relation to violence and nonviolence is the perceived lack of choice in ‘having to’ choose violence. Helen Steven put it this way: “The problem is that so often we are presented with an apparently clear choice: use military intervention or do nothing – “Let Bosnia/Kosovo/East Timor burn”. The nonviolent choice is never between doing violence and doing nothing. Nonviolence is about finding the creative alternative and always standing up against evil and oppression….” (* 22)


Ukrainian military resistance has worked better than almost anyone believed, and the Russian military attack has been more shambolic than almost anyone believed. The result has been very limited success for Russia although its greatest success has been in the east and south-east where it is most interested in success (apart from its stalled attempt to take Kyiv/Kiev). However the longer the war goes on the more that Russia, with its air and artillery dominance can batter Ukraine’s towns and cities, and their people, into the ground.

The situation is quite disastrous for Ukraine. If ten to fifteen thousand Russian soldiers have been killed to date, the total Ukrainian casualty list is probably not too far behind, counting both soldiers and civilians.

It is for the people of any country to decide how they should defend their autonomy. The danger for Ukraine is that a long war of attrition will lead to more Mariupols in terms of death and destruction. Vladimir Putin is obviously willing to sacrifice however many of his soldiers he thinks necessary to attain whatever he considers are his minimum demands in Ukraine although these have not been clear. If it is almost certain that he expected a speedy victory in Ukraine, it is then true that military resistance has led to him and Russia having to scale back their expectations and demands but Russia can continue to inflict brutal pain on Ukraine for a considerable time.

It is in this context that nonviolent resistance could be considered by Ukraine after a ceasefire, either in relation to the whole country or in relation to possible attempts to cleave off parts of the south and south-east to be ceded to Russia. Neither path is easy, violent or nonviolent, but nonviolent resistance would arguably have a greater chance of success in the long run given the superior military strength of Russia compared to Ukraine, notwithstanding Ukrainian relative success to date in withstanding Russian onslaughts. It would certainly prevent massive death rates and destruction. There would not need to be a time limit on nonviolent resistance because it could be hoped that ‘normal’ aspects of civilian life which were not seen to be compromised by the Russian invasion could continue.

One problem in switching to nonviolent resistance is that it could be conceived by those fighting the Russians, and by the general population, as capitulation and defeat. Instead it should be seen as switching to a different means of struggle and a new chapter in resistance.

Neutrality for Ukraine needs to be defined and accepted by Ukraine, Russia and NATO. Neutrality should have been a policy adopted back in time. The expectation that Russia should accept NATO on its doorstep flies in the face of what the USA would accept in its vicinity; in 1962 the USA threatened nuclear obliteration to get Russian missiles removed from Cuba. ‘Neutrality with guarantees’ could have been an alternative in general in Eastern Europe to NATO going against its fall-of-Russian-communism promise not to expand eastwards in Europe. It is certainly understandable that certain countries might want to join NATO but that does not mean it was the correct decision in building peaceful détente in Europe (aside from other questions about NATO’s general role in the world, nuclear policies, and first use of violence). It is NATO which has been most responsible for the militarisation of Europe.


The war in Ukraine has raised numerous debates about Irish neutrality and whether it is still justified. There are many issues involved. One such issue is the strategic position of Ireland. A published letter writer pointing out in horror that Ireland (Republic of) would have no defence against Russian ships manoeuvring in the Atlantic coming in to take Irish ports was expressing a naive view that Ireland could or should have such a defence. The reality is of course that Russia has no interest whatsoever in getting control of Ireland – it has major problems in winning a war against Ukraine on its doorstep. However, as in the Second World War, successful Irish military resistance against any major power invader is unrealistic even today if it met PESCO-warranted expenditure on the military and dramatically increased the strength of the Irish ‘defence forces’.

There are two major issues here. One is how can Ireland minimise the remote chance of invasion, or deal with such an event. The other is how it could, and should, provide solidarity to other countries and work for peace in the world.

Concerning Irish strategic security, I would argue that a planned nonviolent defence of the country, along with a positively neutral and peaceful foreign policy, is the best defence the country could have. A positive neutrality would avoid making enemies as much as possible, not as an aim, because the aim should be international justice, but as a by product.

The policy would include civilian preparation and training; this would involve the general civilian preparation for such an eventuality but also specific tasks for certain groups and organisations in the event of invasion. It would also include the scuttling/destruction or putting beyond use of key facilities and resources that any invader might want to use. The preparedness of the population to use nonviolent resistance, and deny use of facilities to an invader, would be publicised (though not specific details). Other measures would include food and energy security so that in times of trouble internationally, Ireland could be self sufficient.

If any major power did decide to take Ireland militarily it would likely only be in the context of a major military conflagration where there was basically another world war. The chances of anyone wanting to have a military invasion of Ireland in other contexts is slim but there is no harm, and perhaps more peace of mind, in being prepared. I strongly believe that a nonviolent civilian defence policy, allied to a positive neutrality, is the best choice in relation to this.

Now for the question of international solidarity. Those who favour joining NATO tend to speak of the ‘mutual protection’ aspect of it, i.e. an attack against one is considered an attack against all. There are problems with this argument, and more generally with NATO policies and the idea that because the Republic is in the EU it should ‘defend’ its neighbours. But what if, as I believe, NATO policies frequently exacerbate tensions, as with Russia, and its nuclear warfare policy is part of a threat hanging over the whole of humanity? Do we want to hide under a nuclear umbrella? Do we want to engage in confrontational military policies? Do we want to support militarist solutions to the world’s problems when the military are often the problem (and an issue in terms of their expense which denies expenditure on the things which humanity needs)?

There is a simplistic belief about that to be ‘good Europeans’ we have to support whatever direction the EU is going in; this is simple nonsense, and the EU is increasingly becoming the European arm of NATO. We should do what we consider good for humanity and a militarised EU risks being another belligerent in resource wars in the later 21st century.

A belief in human security rather than military security would entail dealing with issues of injustice, political and economic, and settling on tacking health inequalities worldwide (e.g. Covid vaccinations) and transitioning to green energy and ecological living as fast as possible to avoid the disasters of global warming.

Ireland has played a positive role on the world stage at different times, including Eamon de Valera with the League of Nations. Ireland has contributed significantly to nuclear non-proliferation work and to the banning of landmines and cluster weapons. A general question regarding NATO is whether you believe peace can be achieved through the barrel of a gun or the controls of a military drone. If the best humanity can achieve is armed stand-offs of highly militarised countries this has many risks, not least that if countries have expensive weapons systems and strong armies that they feel they should be used occasionally. Humanity had enough experience of the threatened terrors of armed conflict during the Cold War, and on a number of occasions narrowly missed nuclear conflagration. How can this situation be considered ‘safe’ or involvement in NATO be seen as contributing to Irish safety? The opposite is the case.

But a question for Ireland is also whether it wants to be just another cog in a big military machine (NATO and/or its European presence in terms of an increasingly militarised EU) or to take a different and far more rewarding, peaceful path, a path less chosen perhaps but with great potential. Why has Ireland not been involved in a mediation process regarding Ukraine? Or Yemen? Why does Irish foreign policy slavishly follow the EU? What can we do for peace not just in Europe but worldwide?

As a former colonised country on the edge of Europe, without many axes to grind in geopolitical terms, why is Ireland not saying “We can strive to be a peacemaker”? The Irish constitution refers to affirming its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes – what does this mean in concrete terms? How can that be operationalised – what can we do about it? No, joining a military alliance and ‘picking sides’ militarily is not adding to this in any way, very much the opposite.

The world needs neutral countries to stand aside from military conflicts and build peace. As Irish involvement in welcoming Ukrainian refugees shows, you can exercise solidarity in non-military ways. We need to build a world of solidarity without militarism and continually looking for ways to get rid of the risk and costs associated with it.

Ireland has the opportunity to have a non-military defence policy. At the very least it should develop its peacemaking capacity while maintaining a non-offensive defence policy (joining NATO would destroy that). Ireland is small but we can be not just an example but a builder of peace in a real way. It is also a question of whether we believe in a better, more just, demilitarised world or a fearful world of unjust armed blocks. The choice is ours.


It suits those who believe in militarism to speak of those who reject the ways of violence as people who simply want to roll over and accept whatever injustice is meted out, and they may also use a term like ‘simplistic’ for those supporting such a nonviolent option. It can be argued that it is those who slavishly think that violent resistance is the only possible methodology in difficult circumstances are the ones who are really being simplistic. Nonviolent resistance and social defence, as this article attests, can be a highly sophisticated form of social and political action which has the greatest chance of success. But it also bears the seeds of breaking into circles and cycles of violence to build a more peaceful world and avoid visiting another cycle of violence on our children, grandchildren and successive generations.

Historical nonviolent resistance to invasion and occupation has tended to be spontaneous rather than planned well in advance, before the occupation took place. It can be rightly argued that if significant preparation or civilian resistance and defence is made before any such invasion it will a) have a deterrent effect, and b) if invasion does take place, be more successful because the underground networks and preparation have already been fashioned, the strategy and tactics worked out and citizens are not having to simply improvise under very trying circumstances.

Nonviolent civilian resistance is a real and effective option for Ireland which has a strong civil society and collective identification. Not to see that reality is to have militarist-shaded spectacles on and most likely to be simplistic in a belief in the efficacy of violence and its western advocate and practitioner, NATO. We can do much, much better.

References and further reading

(*1) And on the rare occasion such coverage happens the media may not permit discussion and follow up e.g. The Irish Times article by Breda O’Brien 19/3/22 on “Non-violence is not naive, unrealistic or uselesshad no follow up letters published.

(*2) An alternative defence for Ireland: Some considerations and a model of defence without arms for the Irish people, Dawn magazine No.95-96, December 1983. Available in the pamphlets section of the INNATE website at In that 1983 piece I give some consideration to Northern Ireland’s position in relation to UK membership of NATO; however in this article I have deliberately not done so in order to allow the length to be manageable and keep the main focus. But the North being in NATO is an issue.

(*3) “Social defence” in Dawn Train No.10, page 18, 1991, available on the INNATE website at I quote Gene Sharp at this Bradford conference saying he used the term ‘civilian based defence’ rather than ‘social defence’ which he indicated was used for anything and everything nonviolent. The WRI/War Resisters International, co-sponsors of the conference with IFOR/International Fellowship of Reconciliation published the book “Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence” in 1991, edited by Shelley Anderson and Janet Larmore; the text is available at

(*4) ”Civilian Resistance as a National Defence: Non-violent Action Against Aggression”, ed. Adam Roberts, page 249, Pelican, 1969, first published by Faber and Faber 1967.

(*5) Gene Sharp, “Making Europe Unconquerable: The potential of civilian-based deterrence and defence”, page 2, Taylor and Francis, 1985. Sharp includes consideration of Czechoslovak resistance to Russian control/invasion in 1968-69, page 47, stating that (he was writing in 1985) it “constitutes perhaps the most significant civilian struggle for national defence purposes. Ultimately, the attempt was defeated, but not quickly. For eight months, the Czechs and Slovaks prevented the Russians from achieving their political objective – a regime responsive to Soviet wishes.”

(*6) Quoted from IFOR’s “Reconciliation International”, date unknown, cited in (*2) above.

(*7) “Social defence”, by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, Irene Publishing, 2019, page 158, reviewed in Nonviolent News 282

(*8) Ibid, page 13.

(*9) Translated from Hugues Colle in “Non-violence politique”, No.60, June 1983; the same definition was used by Gene Sharp.


(*11) E-mail information from Yurii Sheliazhenko and also

(*12) Basil Liddell Hart in Civilian Resistance as a National Defence”, ed. Adam Roberts, Pelican, 1969, pages 239-240.

(*13) Gene Sharp, “The Politics of Nonviolent Action”, 3 volumes, Porter Sargent, 1973.

(*14) Johansen and Martin, 2019, page 56.

(*15) Defence without the Bomb: The report of the Alternative Defence Commission” (Britain), page 229, Taylor and Francis, 1983.

(*16) Quoted in “What to do about Hitler – a pacifist symposium”, privately published by Philip Dransfield, England, 1989.

(*17) “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflictby Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare, 320 pages, and online article from International Security”, Vol.33, No.1, Summer 2008, pages 7-44 for which word search ‘stephan chenoweth civil resistance’. ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ in Nonviolent News 277 gives a review summary.

(*18) Ibid, pages 8 – 9 of online article.

(*19) Ibid, page 10

(*20) Gene Sharp, “Social power and Political Freedom”, page 167, Porter Sargent, 1980.

(*21) Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, pages 39-40, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2012; this is his work most associated with the ‘Arab Spring’ and it has appeared in various editions and languages.

(*22) Helen Steven in No alternative? Nonviolent responses to repressive regimes”, ed. John Lampen, page 110, Williams Sessions Ltd, 2000. Incidentally, East Timor is one of the cases considered by Stephan and Chenoweth.

Another short work worth looking out for is “Capital defence: Social defence for Canberra”, a 72 page pamphlet written by Jacki Quilty. Lynne Dickins, Phil Anderson and Brian Martin”, Canberra Peacemakers, 1986, which is a clear and concise exploration of possibilities in a particular, Australian, context.

A significant amount of the material above is from the 1980s and 1990s because there was more of a focus on the issue at that time – however it is also an idea whose time is coming again.