Category Archives: Readings

Only the ‘Readings’ from 2021 onwards are accessible here. For older ‘Readings in Nonviolence’, please click on the “Go to our pre-2021 Archive website’ on the right, and select ‘Readings’ there.

Readings in Nonviolence: Peacebuilding and community development


Peacebuilding, Conflict and Community Development

ed. John Eversley, Sinéad Gormally and Avila Kilmurray

243 pages, £26.99.

Rethinking Community Development, Policy Press, 2022

Reviewed by Rob Fairmichael

The contribution of the community sector and community development to society can be analysed and even quantified, with some difficulty, but it is clear that a healthy civil society at all levels is part of maximising well being. There are many questions arising about what should be done by communities and what should be done by the state, and the relationship between the two. In any case the state may not have the financial resources, or even desire, to do much that is positive. Everything gets rather more complicated in divided societies and situations of conflict, especially as the state may be a big – or the largest – part of the problem for people at community level.

Work in the community can be constrained by authoritarian controls or by the level of conflict in violent societies. On the other hand, in very violent situations some aspects of community action and development may be the best or only possible arena of work when other more political or wider involvements are impossible. Addressing general human needs and issues arising from the conflict can be of vital societal importance; this was certainly the case in Northern Ireland during the Troubles – and it can be strongly argued that work at community level was an important factor in the level of violence not escalating further.

That is all where this book comes in. It is a thorough work with nine case studies sandwiched between chapters written by the editors (and a chapter on ‘everyday peace’). It is a mixture of more academic and practical analysis and the case studies – Colombia, the Caucasus, Nigeria, Eastern Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nepal, Palestine, Northern Ireland, and Myanmar Rohingya – are very varied both geographically and what is covered. The book is not always easy reading but it repays a bit of concentration and packs in a lot – and their initial chapter, an introduction to the whole issue, is a very compact, competent and comprehensive summary which can be recommended as a primer on the topic.

It may be familiar to some activists but the editors give definitions of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding (page 7) along with many other terms and concepts. They have a table (page 17) detailing community development interventions at different stages of conflict; this could be usefully compared with Emily Stanton’s outlining of peacemaking interventions that took place in the Belfast/Northern Ireland context Some of the latter were at different levels though mainly ‘in the community’. The root transformation of conflict is, of course, dealt with. (page 9)

However, referring to Emily Stanton’s book (“Theorising civil society peacebuilding…”, 2021) the editors say that their book “illustrates the observation that knowledge of what to do may come from theoretical knowledge (also called propositional knowledge or episteme); practical knowledge of the art or craft of how to do things (techne); or practical knowledge from experience (sometimes called embodied or tacit knowledge or phronesis) which is often the same as indigenous knowledge…” (page 211). Wisdom takes different forms.

The buzz phrase at the Belfast launch of the book was ‘everyday peacemaking’ which is a phrase dealt with in the first chapter after the introduction. ‘Everyday peacemaking’ can be positive, neutral, or manipulated by powerholders but the authors of the chapter say “Everyday peace is presented in the literature as the means by which ordinary individuals and groups navigate everyday life in deeply divided societies, in ways that first avoid or minimise both awkward situations and conflict triggers, and (only) then consider active steps to engage with the other…….However, everyday peace can grow….to evolve into wider peace formation, and become a foundation upon which social cohesion can be (re)built…..” (page 26)

People living in Northern Ireland can be experts in everyday peace. I still frequently retell a story from twenty years ago about the skill of one person in avoiding a possibly awkward sectarian situation. I am deliberately not going into details here but I was in the company of a West Belfast Catholic atheist when we were speaking to a member of the Protestant community that we had just met whose political and social views we did not know. As the good West Belfast Catholic atheist would not tell a lie, about where an event took place, he deliberately used a rhetorical question which might have led the Protestant to believe that the venue was a neutral one rather than in a Catholic area, and might be less inclined to ask. It was done with the best intentions – to avoid awkwardness and possible ill feeling – but it was still a kind of deceit. The skill with which it was done left me gobsmacked, as someone from outside Northern Ireland though living there for a couple of decades at that stage.

The chapter on Northern Ireland by Monina O’Prey is a very comprehensive look at, and analysis of, community action and development through the Troubles and ends with a look at programme for dealing with communities with weak infrastructure. It also has some key learning points from the whole experience (p.187). It is not referred to but it bears repeating that the British government insist on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (and succeeding resolutions) on the involvement of women in peacebuilding and peace processes, and awareness of their needs, to be at the forefront internationally in all instances – but not in its own backyard of Northern Ireland. This is of course is as ironic and exceptionalist as you can get.

We are also talking about what are likely to be long term processes, and work at one stage coming to fruition some time later through conscientised activists and capacity building. In writing about the work in Sri Lanka (page 112) the authors of the chapter speak of how the women leaders during the war continue today: “It is those very same women who worked during the war that continue to maintain solidarities in the post-war context. NGOs have closed down. Funding has dried up. There is hardly any international presence in the east any more. It is those activist women leaders across Muslim and Tamil communities that have again taken on the role of articulating rights, justice and peace….” and dealing with crises. For human community infrastructure to remain when a funding circus moves on is a massive achievement.

The words ‘nonviolent’ and ‘nonviolence’ make occasional appearances in the book but it is all relevant to those concerned with building societies which not only seek to get beyond violence but move to inclusion and social justice.

The issues concerned are complex, and the book’s contents deal with a range of different issues in a wide range of countries including the involvement of youth, women, dealing with state violence, human rights, even storytelling in the Palestinian context as a vehicle for community development. This all points to the importance of appropriate and imaginative interventions and the fact that one size only fits one situation and certainly not all. However activists in any conflicted situation will find many resonances in the different areas of the world which are covered in the book.

The chapter on working on Myanmar Rohingya issues ends on a very upbeat note in what has been, and continues to be, a dire situation. A programme of relationship building between Rakhine and Rohingya villages actually led to the Rakhine villagers advocating on behalf of the Rohingya about regaining their access to education which was “a significant act of solidarity and highlights the important and transformational outcomes that can occur as a result of micro-solidarities and actions accumulating over time.” (page 205) And that remarkable and upbeat note is a good point to end this review apart from stating that so-called ‘normal’ societies can also have elements of the conflict and divisions covered in the many examples in this book . So this work may repay reading for activists in a wide variety of societies, not just those which are labelled as conflicted – although the latter are estimated at up to a third of the world’s population (page 2).

Readings in Nonviolence: Nonviolence as the only way

What is nonviolence? And what is nonviolence at a time of war? It is easy to get disillusioned, or sidetracked, but our thinking can be quite clear and simple, as in Maria Giovanna Farina’s article below. INNATE previously produced a pamphlet, “My kind of nonviolence”, which allowed people from around the island of Ireland to ‘think aloud’ about what nonviolence means to them. This pamphlet is available in the Pamphlets section of the INNATE website at

Nonviolence as the only way

by Maria Giovanna Farina

29 Jan 2023 – Nonviolence seems distant and agonizing in a historical situation where only Pope Francis makes appeals for peace. The war that we are most concerned about at this moment in history is the one being fought in Ukraine; by now the peace negotiations have been shelved to a time to be determined, to a vague tomorrow where, by the time the situation is taken in hand, everything will have been destroyed and many more human beings will have died under the bombs.

Nonviolence seems to have become an empty word and this cannot, must not, be accepted. Powerful tanks are about to begin their journey to Ukraine where it will take months of training to deploy them, so the war is far from over. Some fear the widening of the conflict, a concern that can be shared, a fear that has yielded to the demands of the Ukrainian president. His needs have now gone as far as the explicit call to be sent weapons no longer for counterattack but for attack, a clear signal that this is no longer just about defense.

I do not point the finger at the contenders, I do not want to be on the side of one or the other, but I must point out the “amnesia” of those who forget history and the wars that have bloodied it, here on our own peaceful continent. The much acclaimed dialogue is not being put into practice; I know well that Russia started this war, but I know equally and very well that only real peace treaties can prevent a dangerous and deadly escalation.

Socrates taught us that if we accept war we turn our backs on what our nature can give us with tools to avoid the worst. And, the philosopher continues [by saying that] if some wars are justifiable, we are solely responsible for our choices. Five centuries before Christ, it was already clear to a philosophically enlightened human being how much war was a choice, and it is important to reflect on this. What does it mean to choose? First of all we must remember that it is a fundamental passage of existence, a formative passage capable of making us responsible for our actions and free. Yes, choice is linked to freedom; if we can choose it means that we are free to do so, and if we do not enact the right choice we are responsible for it. Staying out of the Christian conception of free will in which divine intervention also enters and takes us into a transcendent dimension, we instead remain with our feet in the immanent and loudly criticize those who use and sponsor war.

But why do we still resort to weapons? As many say, war is a way to earn money, lots of money, and the lust for power along with the lust for wealth prevents peace and nonviolence from becoming the best choice. One can choose to seek peace or to enhance war; the tools for a peaceful solution are there [and] it would be enough as a first step to stop making excuses. If I insist on accusing my contender, even justifiably, I will not land on anything good.

War, as Gandhi said, is a crime against humanity; nonviolence is the only way to peace. I will never tire of stating this in an optimistic vision of the world born of philosophy.

As I have already pointed out in my other article, war is also an anti-ecological practice; it destroys life and the environment and pollutes the seas; think of the bombs dropped in our Adriatic Sea during the Balkan War, ordnance that lingers on the seabed for who knows how many hundreds of years. Bombs pollute, undermine health and life itself. And what about the immense consumption of fuel, because tanks and missiles do not move by inertia; where does all the green vision go? In an ecological vision that goes beyond nature and the environment, war is also anti-ecological in the most abstract and mind-bound meaning: we are all connected as beings-in-the-world. Our bad actions affect the whole system, the whole union of body and mind of all human beings. That is why nonviolence is the only possible way not to succumb, not to make the world a death trap but a garden of rebirth.

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This article is taken from Transcend Media Service for 30th January 2023. and originally Maria Giovanna Farina is a philosophical counselor, communication analyst and author of books to help people resolve relationship difficulties.. Her website:

Readings in Nonviolence: Recent UK peace history, review

Review: “The Peace Protestors – A history of modern-day war resistance” by Symon Hill. Pen and Sword, 2022, UK£25 (hardback), 264 pages.

Review by Rob Fairmichael

This is a well researched, well written account of peace campaigning in the UK in the last forty or so years, since around 1980. Symon Hill is also a well known British peace activist who has worked for both CAAT/Campaign Against Arms Trade and PPU/Peace Pledge Union. It is a major undertaking and judging what to put in and what omit in a book of this sort is a massive task in itself.

One surprise is in the title in that no geographical attribution is given, and there is no explanation inside about his geographical unit of reference being the UK. It is to his credit however that he attempts to include Northern Ireland which may ‘look two ways’ but is indeed part of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. There are further reflections on the Northern Irish angle below.

The book is more or less chronological and divided into twelve chapters, some of which are single issue themed (the development of the Greenham Common women’s protest, the Falklands/Malvinas war, etc) and some of which cover a variety of issues. He has done his research well and able to quote from many different activists, new and old, which gives the book a very human dimension.

He also traces certain themes through the book, such as the development of nonviolent direct action (a major theme) and increasing public opposition or resistance to war. Both are encouraging developments though it remains to be seen how increased Tory legal penalisation of protest (of all kinds) works out in the longer term – in suppression of vocal dissent or in increased public sympathy for protesters. Only 22% were opposed to the Falklands war under Thatcher after it had happened. By the time we get to the Iraq war, or the possibility of British bombing in Syria, a majority of the population were opposed. One possible paradox he refers to is a high level of support for the British army but also a high level of opposition to being involved in war. Iraq and Afghanistan do of course receive considerable attention in later chapters.

I certainly got a good sense of the development of the peace movement in Britain over the period concerned, and I don’t even live on the island of Britain (though I am in the UK jurisdiction). Being involved in networking and various conferences and events in Britain over the years it was good to see a significant number of names that I could put faces to – and many, many more that I could not. While Northern Ireland is included in his coverage it is obviously mainly ‘island of Britain’ and it was interesting to read about, and try to come to terms with, the peace movement somewhere I am not generally involved.

While he gives relatively good coverage of Northern Irish involvement in international peace issues, and tries to cover Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ issues, it is in relation to the latter that I find difficulties. The first difficulty is that the Troubles began well before his starting point of 1980 (a starting point which makes sense in relation to international peace issues but not in relation to the Troubles) so early groups and happenings such as Corrymeela, early local peace action, Witness for Peace, the Feakle talks, Northern Ireland Peace Forum, Peace People etc are outside this starting point (although both Corrymeela and the Peace People are mentioned). So he is taking up the story a decade into the Troubles.

Having a conflict right on your doorstep and ‘in your home’ is also qualitatively different to working in opposition to war and conflict elsewhere, and one’s own country’s role in it. The significance of a death or killing for a family and friends is universal however, whether it be on a street, lane, village or countryside in Northern Ireland or in Afghanistan. Despite the attempt to cover some important aspects of the Troubles I feel that some paragraphs here and there do not fit well what was needed. It would not have gone with his chronological ordering but for me the only way to include and deal with the Northern Ireland Troubles would have been in a separate chapter which might have made this coverage both more cohesive and comprehensive.

But there is a huge amount to cover and convey and he does a remarkable job in his couple of hundred pages – and there are 35 pages of references and an index of another 16 pages.

Errors and omissions can creep in to any work, even the best planned. Presumably his reliance on PPU archives leads him to state that the PPU made it a priority to support pacifist groups in Northern Ireland such as the peace camp at Bishopscourt (page 45). While it may have been covered in PPU publications, I am not aware of any direct PPU support, and I was a Belfast organiser for Bishopscourt peace camp. The PPU did however show an active interest in Northern Ireland issues and produced a couple of pamphlets on it, and later on the Northern Ireland Working Group of the National Peace Council, which would have included PPU involvement, was involved (the NPC became defunct in 2000). Something like BWNIC (British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign), which was directly anti-militarist, was also before his starting point.

One omission which perhaps needs correction is in his reference to a failed attempt to get a statement together involving British pacifists and Adolfo Perez Esquivel and other Argentinian activists about the Falklands/Malvinas war, in 1982. (page 21) There was subsequently a joint statement made by Esquivel and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, both Nobel Peace Laureates, and while the latter might identify as Northern Irish rather than British it happened within the boundaries of the UK.

Repression, police spies, attempts at greater militarisation (‘Armed Forces Day’ etc) and inculcation of militarism in young people are all part of the resistance by the British state to moves away from war. What is quite shocking, and I didn’t know or if I ever did I had certainly forgotten, was British army generals publicly expressing opposition to, and even threatening mutiny against, a Jeremy Corbyn government over Trident and NATO (page 191).

In ending, I would like to quote a couple of great anecdotes – which do your heart and activism good – from the book. In 1985, at a time of turbulence in international relations, the USA bombed Libya. During a resulting demonstration in London “…two pacifists, Pippa Marriott and Richard Yarwood….noticed that Selfridge’s in Oxford Street had a display of national flags flying from the roof……they managed to make it all the way to the roof without being stopped. They lowered the United States flag and replaced it with a Peace Pledge Union banner. There were cheers from people in the street. The two activists were banned from Selfridge’s for life.” (page 66)

And at a time of mass demonstrations against the war in Iraq in early 2003, the Stop the War Coalition had a phone call taken by Ghada Razuki there. “A woman called up and said, ‘I can’t come to the demo because I’m very old and not very mobile. So I said, ‘That’s OK. What if I send you a few flyers that you can have in your home and if someone comes round you can give it to them?’ And she said, ‘No, no, my dear, you don’t understand – I’m going to go and lie down on the M3.’” ! (page 130)

An interesting aside is the title of the publishers – Pen & Sword – who are mainly publishers of military history. In my understanding the words ‘pen and sword’ are contained in the aphorism that “The pen is mightier than the sword’, which is almost an admonition to nonviolence. If they are publishers of mainly military history it seems a strange title for them to have; yes, it may be the pen about the sword but it begs the question about whether the pen is mightier. I hope that Symon Hill’s book might be a small indication that it can be.

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The effectiveness of violence and nonviolence

by Rob Fairmichael

We were going South……..Global South that is. INNATE had a workshop on ‘Nonviolent struggle in the Global South’ as part of the One World Festival in Belfast in October. Participants seemed to think it was useful and we certainly did, combining as it did information from Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s “Why Civil Resistance Works – The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict” (Columbia University Press, 2011) with a focus on the Global South. It got us thinking in various directions. Input and facilitation was by Stefania Gualberti and myself.

One question to arise in the workshop on Chenoweth and Stephan’s extensive study was whether the data was robust and accurate. One person said they would need another study of the same area (to be persuaded). However as they show a 2-to-1 success rate in favour of nonviolence for the hundreds of campaigns they studied 1900+, they have to be mighty wrong for nonviolence to be any less successful than violence. There is a question of whether you trust their data and analysis but to a lay person it certainly looks well constructed though in addition to questions about their own biases there is also the question of possible bias in data which they took from elsewhere.

There are critiques of their work, some of which are listed at the end of this piece. One key question addressed in relation to Chenoweth and Stephan is how to classify violent and nonviolent campaigns, and inherent difficulties in doing so. Different categorisations can lead to different conclusions.

However in terms of author bias it has to be stated that Erica Chenoweth went into this empirical study of violent and nonviolent campaign very sceptical. It was her voiced scepticism about the relative success of nonviolence while at a nonviolence centre that caused Maria Stephan to challenge her to look at this whole area. They then collaborated together. Such an empirical study hadn’t been done before which led to a workshop participant asking ‘why not?’. No one had got around to it. Obviously there had been lots of studies of successful nonviolent campaigns but no one had tried to compare the violent and the nonviolent in such an empirical study, which was a major omission.

There are many qualifications and so on used in the book, as befits an academic study, but they stand over their 2-to-1 ratio of success. There are lots of questions which arise, including the complexity of campaigns and how they work out especially where violent and nonviolent campaigns are happening simultaneously. One comment brought up in the workshop was whether violent campaigns tended to happen where nonviolent ones had already failed; their work states that it is just as likely for the situation to be the other way around, nonviolent campaigns following violent (e.g. South Africa or in the overthrow of the Shah in Iran).

I would question their judgement (on page 240 in the table of violent and nonviolent campaigns they studied) that the IRA campaign of ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was a ‘partial success’; yes, it came to an end with their allied political party, Sinn Féin, well placed to make advances, and with mechanisms in place to protect all sides. But the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was a peace agreement at the end of some very nasty violent actions on all sides which further divided people in Northern Ireland and made agreement more difficult. And the GFA didn’t actually make further agreement possible on many issues through the functioning (or non-functioning) of the Assembly. I fail to see what was in the Good Friday Agreement which could have not more easily been arrived at the end of a nonviolent campaign, and possibly somewhat earlier. It would be interesting to know what in their own data made them conclude the IRA campaign was a ‘partial success’ – to an interested layperson like me it looks like a disastrous failure but then maybe I am using wider criteria than they had.

The deprecatory quote on two of the ‘sides’ in the GFA (attributed to various people including Tony Blair and Seamus Mallon) that “Republicans are too clever to admit they’ve lost and Unionists too stupid to see they’ve won” has a kernel of truth in it. However if you question one judgement on a campaign (Chenoweth and Stephan’s on the IRA) – admittedly one which is favourable to the effect of violence – it does mean you should carefully question others. And that would be a mammoth task.

One general objection, though not one that surfaced too much in the workshop, is that nonviolence may only work in ‘liberal’ societies or democracies. Definitely not so say Chenoweth and Stephan, it is just as successful in dictatorial or autocratic regimes. Part of the reason for this is that violence gives an excuse for out-and-out repression while nonviolence does not in the same way, or state violence against a nonviolent campaign is likely to backfire and cause disaffection. And that is one of the strengths of nonviolence, they state; nonviolence is very successful, compared to violence, in getting key figures who act in support of the regime to question their role and possibly defect to the opposition (whether in the army or other bastions of the regime). Part of this is because nonviolence engages much more people than violent and they may have, collectively, lots of contacts in the regime elite. While people can be killed by the regime in its countering of nonviolent campaigns, the statistic they come up with it that twenty times (or more) people are killed in violent campaigns, on average.

Another aspect is that they state that nonviolent campaigning is likely to lead to a society that is freer and more democratic than using violence. As with most ‘rules’ there are exceptions; within a couple of years after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran that country had turned into a theocratic autocracy or dictatorship. And an exception the other way is that the violent revolution in Costa Rica after the Second World War (1948) led to the disbandment of the army and a relatively stable and peaceful country.

Chenoweth and Stephan’s case studies in their book are all ‘Global South’ ones; Iran and the overthrow of the Shah, the first Palestinian Intifada, the movement in the Philippines that overthrew Marcos, and the Burmese uprising against military control at the end of the 1980s. One point of clarification here is that the term ‘Global South’ may include most of the southern hemisphere but is not identical with it – perhaps its meaning is the same as the old concept of the ‘Third World’. So Palestine, for example, would be in the ‘Global South’ but Australia and New Zealand would not.

A focus on the Global South is also useful in terms of where our thinking on nonviolence comes from. The classic grand-daddies of nonviolence are often (and sometimes stereotypically) thought of as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, which is ‘one each’ for Global South and ‘Global North’. But if we look at Gene Sharp’s examples of historical nonviolence in his classic “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” (1973) we see that while he does give numerous examples from India and China, and more occasional ones mentioning somewhere like Cuba, the vast majority of his cases are from the Global North’ (including a number from Ireland). So we need to up our quota of examples from the Global South. Some are however relatively well known, without even mentioning Mohandas Gandhi, such as women’s action in Liberia for peace and a settlement to the civil war (2003-2005), and the current actions by young women in Iran.

There are other questions which we didn’t get to consider in the workshop. One would be whether societies concerned are ‘individualistic’ or ‘collectivist’, and to what extent, and whether ‘traditional’ societies may be more collectivist, and differences on this in different parts of the world. How does this interact with the violence or nonviolence of campaigns and their effectiveness? While you might say societies need certain individual freedoms to be truly free, if you take individualism to an extreme then there is no care for anyone else other than yourself. And while a certain amount of collectivism is desirable, to protect minorities and those at the bottom of the pile, too much collectivism can stifle creativity and freedom. Do violence or nonviolence thrive in one kind of society or another?

At a further point in discussion you could perhaps look at differences in nonviolent struggle ‘South’ and ‘North’, and ask whether whatever differences exist, if they do, are because of the nature of society, people’s creativity and determination, or what.

INNATE would be happy to replicate or adapt the workshop on “Nonviolent struggle in the Global South” for other groups and participants.

If you want a quick video overview of Chenoweth and Stephan’s work in this area you can look at

1) Why civil resistance works by Erica Chenoweth – 8 min – 2021 (shown at the One World Festival workshop) This is on Erica Chenoweth’s follow up book, “Civil Resistance: What everyone needs to know” (Oxford University Press).

2) The success of nonviolence civil resistance – Erica Chenoweth – 12 min – 2013

Critiques and reviews of the material include: and (login to JSTOR required on both of these);


Readings in Nonviolence: Ukraine by Peter Emerson

What follows is an edited version of a talk given by Peter Emerson at a demonstration on Ukraine in Belfast in late July 2022. It has not been updated in relation to certain facts that have changed – .e.g. the ‘referendums’ in Russian held regions to the east of Ukraine which Russia is attempting to annex into Russia. To update it in this way would have made it a substantially different piece so it was decided to leave it ‘as was’ since the points made are still salient..


by Peter Emerson

Mariupol. The name Mariupol has now entered the litany of cities that humankind has first created… and then destroyed, cities like Guernica, Warsaw and Grozny. How Russia can do to others what it too has suffered, as in Leningrad, is difficult to comprehend. Sadly, however, there are still many people in this world who think problems can be solved by the threat or use of force, not least today’s, and yesterday’s leaders in the Kremlin.

In Red Square in Moscow, in 1968, when Soviet tanks went into Prague, seven individuals protested. Only seven. In stark contrast, today, with Russian tanks in Ukraine, the protesters in Russia are in their hundreds – not least the mothers of sons, soldiers, boys, who are now dead. Like the seven in 1968, today’s hundreds recognise that the Kremlin has made a horrible mistake. So we should be doing everything possible to help them… and that includes asking our ambassadors and others to join them in their peaceful, non-violent demonstrations. I’ll talk a little more on this in a moment.

Putin could hardly be more wrong. Mariupol is not a Russian word; if it were Russian or Slavic, it would be ‘Mariugrad’ or ‘Mariusky’. But it is Mariupol, like Sevastopol and Simferopol in the Crimea. And the suffix ‘pol’ is Greek; it goes back 2,000 years or so, long before Russia was concocted, and long before even the City State of Muscovy was founded. Putin distorts his history, and even his geography. Russia is not only a Slav nation: today’s Russian Federation includes Samis in Lapland, the Tartars near the Urals, the Dagestanis and North Ossetians in the Northern Caucasus, and over 50 different ethnic groups in Siberia, from the Buryats near Lake Baikal to the Chukchis on the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, other nations or regions like Slovakia, Slovenia, Slavonia and Poland, for example, are also very Slav. And in the main, so too is Ukraine.

First of all, however, I want to go back 100 years and more, to the beginning of the First World War, when Bertrand Russell sent a letter to The Times, along the following lines: if yesterday I killed a German, he wrote, I would likely be arrested, charged, tried… and punished. But if I kill a German tomorrow, I might well be praised and be called a hero. And all because someone has declared war.

Putin has declared war, or a “special military operation,” and apparently, he thinks this gives him the right to maim and murder. So we who think he is wrong should ‘declare peace,’ and until Russia withdraws its forces, our ambassadors and others in Moscow should ignore all the usual ‘peace-time’ niceties of diplomatic protocol, and they should indeed join the indigenous protesters on Moscow’s Pushkin Square or wherever, and engage in any and every peaceful, non-violent act of civil disobedience against this war. Such a tactic may well put their liberties or even their lives in some danger, but better that, surely, than policies which put the lives of hundreds or thousands of Ukrainians at risk.

More than that. Maybe certain famous individuals, preferably old people, should go to Moscow, or Minsk, or at least the Belarus border, and protest. The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a rabbi, an imam, Barack Obama, Mary Robinson, Joan Baez and others – anyone who is famous and old. Maybe they should even fast, as would perhaps, if he were still with us, Mahatma Gandhi, to demand the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine.

In 2004, I was an OSCE election observer in Kharkiv, an election fought between just two candidates – Yushchenko and Yanukovich – so everything was binary, and very divisive. Yushchenko was pro-EU, Yanukovich pro-Russia. Needless to say, as in many binary contests, lots of differences were highlighted: Yushchenko preferred the Ukrainian language, Yanukovich favoured Russian… but these two languages are very similar. Western Ukraine is more Catholic or Uniate, the East opts more for the (now split) Orthodox Church… but these denominations are all Christian. (Well, as here in Northern Ireland, little differences can all too easily divide and antagonise.) In the election, both candidates had their parties of course, and in the count, their party agents. They were sitting next to each other, and I asked them, what was it like to compete against each other. “Oh today, we are opponents, yes; но завтра опять таки будем друзьями – but tomorrow, we’ll be friends again.”

How dangerous it was, we may say if only in retrospect, to use such a divisive voting procedure.

Ten years later, in 2014, in the neighbouring county or oblast of Luhansk, there was a referendum. In the same year, you will remember, Scotland had its referendum… and it is sobering to recall that the word Shotlandiya, Scotland, was used by Russian separatists to ‘justify’ the unjustifiable.

So what can we do, here, to help our fellow human beings there, in Ukraine? Yes, we can supply them with weapons; that’s quite a difficult thing to say for a pacifist… but there’s no contradiction: I believe in the principle of minimum force, I have myself used force here in Northern Ireland, and we should do what we can to allow Ukraine to defend itself.

And generally speaking, we should not be resolving our disputes in the way Putin thinks he can resolve his. Accordingly, we here in Northern Ireland should not be using weapons of war, as we did throughout the Troubles (albeit on a far smaller scale), and nor should we be using any ‘false flags’, provocations, excuses for violence. I refer in particular to binary referendums.

Donetsk is now planning another one; so too Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, (or they were until the recent Ukrainian advances around Izium). Donetsk had one already, in 1991, as did Luhansk… and Crimea of course, when they and every other ‘county’, oblast, in Ukraine voted in favour of Ukrainian independence – and we should note that in Crimea, the Crimean Tatars abstained: neither of the two options catered for their aspirations. But in 2014, these three counties then had a second vote, to reverse that earlier decision, and referendum decisions can be reversed, apparently: it is catered for in the Belfast Agreement, it is what some in Scotland now want to do.

The history of conflicts is often all very similar. In 1920, when Ireland opted out of the UK, Northern Ireland opted out of opting out and opted back in again, (albeit without referendums). In like manner, when Bosnia opted out of Yugoslavia, Republika Srpska tried to opt out of Bosnia. When Georgia opted out of the USSR, South Ossetia tried to opt out of Georgia. And a similar fate befell Kiev: Ukraine opted out of USSR, in 1991; next, in 2014, Donetsk tried to opt out of Ukraine; and then, part of Donetsk – it’s called Dobropillia and Krasnoarmiisk – tried to opt out of opting out and to opt back into Dnepropetrovsk and Ukraine. In this last referendum, 69%, i.e., some two million people – so that’s twice the electorate of NI – voted to go back into Ukraine. Alas – as in the Balkans, so too in Ukraine – the powers that be – the West in the former, Putin in the Donbas – recognise only those referendums the results of which they approve.

Crazy. It’s a bit like those famous Russian dolls, the matryoshki. Inside every doll, there’s another little one; with every majority, there’s another minority. But this is international law. The 1973 border poll here only made matters worse. Similar polls created havoc in Yugoslavia, where “all the wars… started with a referendum,” – to quote Sarajevo’s famous newspaper, Oslobodjenje. And they have now created havoc in Ukraine.

+ Everything is connected. “Всё связано,” to quote Vladimir Vernadsky, the founder of Ukraine’s Academy of Sciences. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine. Binary referendums can be false flags.

+ No one is an island. In Bosnia, Republika Srpska is rattling its sabres and ballot boxes, and so too in Georgia is South Ossetia.

Accordingly, here in Ireland (and Scotland), if only for the sake of peace in Ukraine, (the Balkans and the Caucasus) we should not be trying to resolve our own constitutional questions with referendums which are binary. Of the world’s multi-option plebiscites – three options in Newfoundland for example, six in Guam and a few others – all passed peacefully; but binary referendums in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Caucasus, East Timor, Catalonia… everything from non-fatal violence to outright war!

Peter Emerson, Director, the de Borda Institute

– – – – – –

Readings in Nonviolence: New Patterns of Conflict and the Weakness of Peace Movements


Just as military generals can often be portrayed as fighting ‘the last war’, so peace activists can be caught out in thinking which is outdated and inadequate to address current realities. In this thoughtful and insightful editorial from the 29/8/22 issue of Transcend Media Service, Richard Rubenstein addresses some of the questions and issues arising from the Russian-Ukrainian war and from ongoing global conflicts or rivalries. His thoughts on imperialism are also very relevant to Ireland and the question of neutrality; is Ireland simply going to buy in wholesale to EU and NATO imperialisms or neo-imperialisms? Avoiding being a world at war is a difficult task but we need clear analysis to take the right paths in working for peace.

By Richard E. Rubenstein – TRANSCEND Media Service


The beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in February 2022 dramatized a transition already underway to a new and highly dangerous period of global conflict. The war itself was mainly a Western affair, of primary interest to the immediate parties and the Ukrainians’ European and North American suppliers. But it erupted in the context of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the United States, which continues to claim global hegemony, and its former Cold War adversaries, Russia and China. As a result, a regional conflict that might have been resolved either by conventional negotiation or problem-solving dialogues between the immediate parties became relatively intractable, with no immediate solutions in sight.

Temporarily, at least, the struggle between Russia and Ukraine solidified the relationship between the United States and Europe, while reinforcing the U.S.’s dominant role in that “partnership.” While the parties to what some termed a “new Cold War” increased their military spending and ideological fervor, other aspirants to Great Power status such as Turkey, India, Iran, and Japan maneuvered for temporary advantage. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war began to assume the status of a “frozen conflict,” with Russia succeeding in occupying most of the restive, Russian-speaking Donbas region, while the U.S. poured billions of dollars in high-tech weaponry, intelligence, and training into the Kiev regime’s armory.

As often happens, the emergence of new patterns of conflict caught analysts by surprise, their theoretical equipment having been designed to explain earlier forms of struggle.  As a result, the changed environment was not well understood and conflict resolution efforts were virtually nonexistent.  With regard to the Ukraine war, for example, the conventional wisdom was that a “mutually hurting stalemate,” with neither party able to win a total victory but with each side suffering greatly, would render this sort of conflict “ripe for resolution” via negotiation. (see I. William Zartman, Ripeness Promoting Strategies). But there were two problems with this formulation:

  • New forms of limited warfare featuring the relatively restrained use of high-tech weapons, while killing or wounding thousands and causing serious damage to property and the environment, still lessened the amount of suffering that might otherwise have been expected in a war between neighbors. While the Donbas region exploded, consumers dined out in Kiev. While Russian casualties mounted and the West imposed sanctions on the Putin regime, citizens of the RFSR enjoyed a relatively peaceful and prosperous existence.

Moreover, contrary to Western propaganda, with a few tragic exceptions Russia did not undertake large-scale indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population of Ukraine, nor did the Ukrainians launch many attacks on targets outside the Donbas. This relative restraint on both sides (not to understate the horror caused by thousands of unnecessary deaths) appears to have reduced the massive “hurt” needed to produce a “mutually hurting stalemate.” This movement toward what might be called “partial warfare” can be seen as a feature of the military transformation that began in the U.S. following the Vietnam War with the replacement of conscripted soldiers by “volunteers” and the replacement of ground troops by high-tech air, artillery, and naval weapons. Ironically, limiting the intolerable suffering caused by war has opened the door to partial warfare as a tolerable, potentially permanent feature of Great Power foreign policy.

  • The local struggle in Ukraine intersected with a revival of imperial conflicts globally, particularly when the United States decided to embrace the anti-Russian cause and to pour billions of dollars in advanced weapons and intelligence into the Kiev regime’s coffers. The stated reason for this militancy, according to top officials of the Biden regime, was to “weaken” Russia as a global competitor and to warn China that the U.S. would resist any Chinese moves against Taiwan or other Asian targets that it considered aggressive. Its result was to embolden the Ukrainian leader, Zelensky, to declare that his nation would never compromise with Russia on disputed issues (not even on the issue of Crimea), and that his nation’s goal was “victory.” One never knows, of course, when a leader who preaches victory at any price will decide that his/her nation as paid enough and that it is time to talk about cutting losses and maximizing benefits.  Nevertheless, at this writing, neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Zelensky is willing to say a word about ending this apparently endless conflict.

This second theoretical deficiency has proved even more costly to the cause of peace than the misunderstanding of partial warfare. While advocates of Western hegemony find ways to justify U.S. and European military support of “democracies” against “autocracies” and Russian ideologues such as Alexander Dugin dream of a revived Great Russia, most peace and conflict studies scholars remain devoted to the analysis of identity-group struggles as a way of understanding both global conflict and internal polarization. Some peace scholars have identified important new sources of conflict such as environmental destruction, global medical crises, and climate change, but a great many continue to ignore the problem of empire and the emergence of new conflicts between would-be hegemons. (An outstanding exception to this shortsightedness is the work of Johan Galtung, whose 2009 book, The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What? TRANSCEND University Press, now seems prophetic.)

This general lack of attention to imperialism and its vicissitudes has reasons rooted in the history of the conflict studies field, but its political dimensions need to be identified if we hope to overcome the obvious weaknesses of peace movements when confronted by conflicts like Russia vs. Ukraine and NATO or the U.S. and its allies vs. China.  Particularly in the West, the current polarization of politics tends to produce two major tendencies: a right-wing populism whose ideological commitments are ethno-nationalist and isolationist, and a left-leaning centrism whose ideology is cosmopolitan and globalist. Neither tendency understands the emerging patterns of global conflict or has any real interest in creating the conditions for global peace. The Right advocates avoiding unnecessary wars, but its nationalism trumps its isolationism; thus, right-wing leaders preach maximum military preparedness and advocate “defense” against traditional national enemies. The Left is consciously or unconsciously imperialist, a view that it expresses using the language of international “leadership” and “responsibility” as well as under the rubrics of “peace through strength” and “responsibility to protect.”

Most Democratic Party supporters in the U.S. fail to recognize that the current Biden Administration is a ferocious advocate of American imperial interests and  supports war preparations aimed at China and Russia; or else they do understand this, but view it as a minor issue compared with the threat of domestic neo-fascism a la Donald Trump. Similarly, most supporters of left and left-center parties in Europe fail to understand that NATO is currently a branch of the U.S. military machine and potentially the military-industrial establishment of a new European empire. Or else they suspect this but view the rise and expansion of NATO through lenses of hatred and suspicion of the Russians and fear of right-populist movements like those of Viktor Orban and Marine Le Pen. In either case, the result is that advocates of global peace tend to be separated from the domestic constituencies with which they might otherwise ally.

This isolation has been particularly notable in the case of the movement for peace through negotiations in Ukraine, which has yet to obtain any real traction in any Western nation. Indeed, the strongest advocates for immediate peace negotiations, aside from officials of the United Nations, tend to be figures associated with Middle Eastern and Asian nations like Turkey, India, and China.  From a Western perspective, then, the question most vexed and most in need of an answer is how to overcome the isolation of peace movements.

Two answers suggest themselves, but each produces problems that generate a need for further discussion:

The first answer: establish an alliance between left-wing and right-wing peace advocates. Anti-war liberals and socialists could unite with conservative isolationists and libertarians to create a cross-party coalition against foreign wars.  In fact, this sort of coalition sometimes comes into existence spontaneously, as in the United States during the period following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The difficulty, of course, is that this is precisely what Marxists call a “rotten bloc” – a political organization that, because it finds common cause on only one issue, is bound to break apart when other issues become salient. In addition, if anti-war work means uprooting the causes of war as well as opposing some current military mobilization, the elements of a “rotten bloc” are unlikely to agree on how to identify and remove those causes.

The second answer: convert the left-liberal party to the perspective of anti-imperial peace advocacy, or split the putative left into pro-war and anti-war constituencies and work to secure the latter’s supremacy. The obstacle to doing this is not only the general fear of a right-wing takeover noted above but the weakness of the peace camp within the left-wing milieu. In the U.S., most “progressives” (including self-anointed Democratic Socialists) have been eerily silent on the war in Ukraine, either out of fear of isolating themselves on domestic issues or because they accept the conventional justifications for a war against “Russian aggression.”  This suggests the need to break with the empire-builders and to build anti-capitalist organizations committed to ending imperialism and making global peace. This is the solution to the problem, at least in theory, but whether people can be mobilized in large enough numbers to enact it during the period of “partial war” is doubtful.

This suggests a connection between the two emerging forms of violent conflict discussed earlier. Partial wars of the sort being fought out in Ukraine can intersect inter-imperial struggles like that between the U.S./Europe alliance and Russia. When this occurs they become “frozen” conflicts which, however, have the capacity to escalate dramatically – that is, to move toward total war – if either side faces a disastrous defeat, or if inter-imperial conflict intensifies significantly. Inter-imperial conflict itself can be conceived of either as a revival of the Cold War manageable, to some extent, by the processes of mutual deterrence developed during the earlier era, or as a new type of struggle posing new risks, including a much greater danger that nuclear arms (starting with low-yield weapons) will be used either by the major parties or by their allies. My own view, to be presented in a later editorial, is that it represents a new type of struggle that greatly increases the danger of all-out nuclear war.

The immediate conclusion that one may draw from this is that there is an urgent need for peace scholars to recognize emerging forms of global conflict, analyze the new conflict dynamics, and draw practical conclusions from this analysis.  At the same time, peace activists urgently need to identify the causes of their current weakness and isolation and to devise methods to increase their influence greatly among members of the public and reachable decision-makers. In these efforts international conversations and actions will be of critical importance, since the world as a whole is finally, and rightfully, slipping out of the control of the West.

Readings in Nonviolence: It doesn’t say in the papers

by Rob Fairmichael

All media have a bias – Nonviolent News certainly does, and saying you are ‘unbiased’ is a bit like saying you don’t have an accent; as Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vulgarity is the conduct of other people’. Of course you can be unbiased between particular options but that is also a position. In the same way, Irish neutrality is a position, at its best a strong stand against militarism and for peaceful approaches to conflict.

In putting together these letters sent to The Irish Times, mainly from the INNATE email account as coordinator of INNATE (except where marked as from a personal account) this collection serves as a commentary not just on what appeared in said paper but also on issues in relation to Ukraine, militarism and neutrality. It can be seen as a reflection on what countercultural views can make it into mainstream media; letters were unpublished except as noted.

Most of the points made in these unpublished letters were not made by anyone else, and in some cases no critical comments were published in relation to editorial content referred to. Anyone interested can follow up with searches on The Irish Times website (which permits a limited number of reads before going behind a paywall).

The Irish Times is regarded as the nearest thing to an Irish ‘paper of record’. There can of course be hundreds of reasons why letters are not published; irrelevance, incoherence, repetition, being considered ‘off the wall’ (though one person’s ‘wall’ can be part of another person’s ‘home’), and practical reasons concerning lack of space. Being perceived to be ‘self serving’ (having a narrow personal or vested interest) can also be a factor though arguably all ‘letters to the editor’ are ‘self serving’ in some way.

There are a number of ‘regular correspondents’ published and it cannot be said that the newspaper in question does not publish letters from this correspondent – four were published in the time frame represented here. However, whatever editorial or sub-editorial policies are in place, publication or non-publication can make a difference as to whether letters and accepted (or commissioned) articles are seen as as being definitive or controversial.

Peace movements (e.g. in the USA) and their viewpoints can be invisible to the general public not because they don’t exist but because their work and positions are not easily accessible in the mass media – and this invisibility can be true even in this era of social media where you can’t see the wood for the trees unless you make a conscious effort. However coverage in ‘social media’, as with the publication of these letters, can be a slight antidote to the lack of representation of alternative views in the mainstream. But it also represents the struggle which alternative views have to go through to get their voice heard.

The layout of letters published may vary from what was sent.

l13/12/21 from personal email a/c

Helen Haughton asks is anyone interested in Ireland being an Island of Peace. Yes is the answer but you would not know it from the political parties or media.

On 7th December there was the start of a major peace initiative relating to both sides of the border, the Downpatrick Declaration, with the launch including Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. There was a stunning lack of coverage in the national media. Meanwhile when two men forcefully stop a bus in Newtownards, threaten the driver and burn the bus, it receives blanket coverage.

Some contradiction here?

[No responses to Helen Haughton’s letter were published]

l10/2/22 Published 12/2/22 [with last sentence/question omitted]

We have now had the report from the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is to be hoped we will soon have a Commission on Peacemaking to examine how Ireland can contribute, and in what meaningful ways, to peace in the world given Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann which commits Ireland to peace and the pacific resolution of international disputes. And if not, why not?


There is an anti-war movement in Ireland (Owen Jones, 2nd March) consisting of a wide variety of different groups. The fact that this is not very visible is not the fault of said groups, and, like the anti-war movement in the USA, tends to be ignored by the media.


Nonviolent resistance to invasion and repression is also possible. Military action and NATO are not the only game in town. If we don’t realise this and learn about it then we do the people of Ukraine – and ourselves – a great disservice, especially as Russia tries to bomb Ukraine and its people out of existence.

l7/3/22 Published 8/4/22

Seamus Murphy is quite right (7th March) that Irish neutrality, as practised by Irish governments in recent times, has been immoral. To back the USA’s warmaking in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the massive loss of life and destruction involved, through the US military use of Shannon Airport is unforgivable. Ireland should be much more active in developing a positive neutrality and, perhaps, if a guarantee of neutrality by Ukraine had been made then Putin would not have felt he had enough of an excuse to launch his murderous invasion of that country.

While many are rushing in a militarist direction, there is a need for cool heads and work to head off violent conflict in the future. That is a positive role for Irish neutrality which polls have consistently shown as by far the preferred option by citizens; it needs developed considerably, not cast aside.


Fintan O’Toole (15th March) is simply wrong to state that “There is no viable immediate response to the violence unleashed by Putin that does not include the counter-violence of Ukrainians resisting the annihilation of their country.” The longer this war goes on the more of the country’s people and infrastructure will be annihilated by Putin’s orders. Nonviolent resistance to invasion and oppression is not easy but it is possible, in such circumstances, in many different ways including disguised disobedience. That is a lesson that Ireland, in looking at its strategic defence, should also consider.

Nonviolent resistance tends to happen spontaneously, and has been taking place in areas already taken by Russian forces. How much more effective might it be if prepared for? Yes, the Russians could take the territory but Ukrainians could remain unbowed and live to struggle for their freedom. Military forces and their commanders, including macho militarist Putin, do not know how to deal with nonviolent resistance which research has shown to be more effective than violence in resistance campaigns.


Elizabeth Cullen’s suggestion of an Irish centre for the non-violent resolution of conflict (16th March) is an excellent suggestion which would be fully in accord with the constitution and its spirit. However I would suggest that such a centre could go further, beyond anything stipulated in Bunreacht na hÉireann, to explore the possibilities of nonviolent resistance.

There are a myriad of possibilities for the latter, including for the purposes of resistance to invasion, and this would also add to the chances of the ‘pacific settlement of international disputes’. Research shows that nonviolent resistance in campaigns is more effective that violent.


At last someone has uttered the word ‘non-violence’ (or nonviolence) in your pages (Breda O’Brien, 19th March). All that those who believe in nonviolence and nonviolent resistance ask is that it is judged equally with violent resistance and the Stephan and Chenoweth study that Breda O’Brien refers to does that. There are others beyond the late Gene Sharp who have been developing both the study of concrete historical examples and the outlining of possibilities for the future. Gene Sharp came up with a listing of 198 varieties of nonviolent tactics; it could be 19,800.

In the case of Ireland there is much that we can learn from all this in terms of our security. While I would personally go for a totally nonviolent defence, if we collectively continue to believe in ‘non-offensive defence’ then we could actually combine major elements of nonviolent defence in the mix.


Ronan McGreevy (2nd April) points to the danger of nuclear war but makes the hoary old ‘popular wisdom’ statement that nuclear weapons and the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction “have done more to keep the peace” since WW2. Than what? And what about the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Iran-Iraq war, and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or now Ukraine? A balance of terror does not, and did not, make for ‘peace’ or prevent wars.

Furthermore nuclear weapons are illegal in international law since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into effect early in 2021 – although this has been ignored by nuclear-armed states (including our neighbours Britain and France) and their fellow travellers, not least in NATO.


Pat Leahy (9th April) speaks of the Government being likely to argue for an “evolution” of neutrality. “Evolution” in this context might be understood as the same kind of thing as when the asteroid hit earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, i.e. annihilation. And Pat Leahy does not do justice to the possibilities of a fearless and positive neutrality as a force for peace on the world stage; we need an exploration of this to put alongside cosying up to NATO and its divisiveness.

l20/4/22 Published 23/4/22

While public opinion remains steadfastly in favour of Irish neutrality, we have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities of a positive neutrality policy in relation to peace in the world. NATO is in the business of military confrontation, including the nuclear option (now illegal in international law), whereas Ireland could, and should, be doing so much more for peace internationally.

Government policy for decades has been to whittle away at neutrality in the hope that it could finally be ditched. What is needed is rapid progress in the opposite direction. A citizens’ assembly on the issue might be the opportunity to explore all these possibilities but it can be expected that, given current public opinion, even at a time of such belligerence in Europe, the government will now shy away from that option because it knows it would not get the result it wants.


Edward Horgan is quite right (22nd April) to make a strong connection between the EU and NATO and it can be argued that the EU is becoming the European wing of NATO. But what is a shocking new departure for the EU is its active support for the violent and corrupt arms trade – a field in which the government supports Irish firms getting involved. Ireland is a case study in a recent report Fanning the Flames: How the European Union is fuelling a new arms race” through its European Defence Fund.

Thales arms company in Belfast proudly proclaims its equipment being used by Ukraine; it is less keen to publicise that its equipment is also used in Russian war planes and tanks, illustrating that the arms trade will make profits wherever it can. Meanwhile Ireland has not even begun to explore the peacemaking possibilities of active neutrality.


There are many practical as well as ethical issues about the arms trade; just one is that it is an extremely poor producer of jobs for the investment involved (compared to other sectors). But to take a contemporary issue, the big French owned arms company Thales, which has a major arms production plant in Belfast, is fighting on both sides in the Ukraine war. Thales has components in Russian war planes and tanks as well as equipping Ukraine with anti-tank weapons but perhaps that is the arms trade definition of success, making ‘a killing’ from both sides. And a purchaser is not necessarily the end point for arms; it is notoriously difficult to control where arms go once sold.

Conor Gallagher (25th April) mentioned the existence of an arms trade industry body, IDSA, but he did not mention the existence of an all-island network opposing the involvement of Ireland in the arms trade, StoP/Swords to Ploughshares. And in the light of the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the pain and suffering involved, surely it is evident that Ireland needs the arms trade like it needs a hole in the head.


There is more than one way to stop a tank despite Rebecca Crowley stating (27th April) that “the only thing which can stop an advancing tank is an anti-tank missile”. How about not producing them to begin with (and Russian tanks have western components including from Thales which has an arms production plant in Belfast), or ensuring demilitarisation on the part of our perceived ‘enemies’ through arms reduction? And if that doesn’t work then nonviolent resistance, of many kinds, including the likes of Prague in 1968.

Nazi generals interrogated after the Second World War were clearly at a loss as to how they could deal with nonviolent resistance, as British officer Basil Liddell Hart attested. It is wholly understandable that Ukraine chose to resist Russian aggression militarily. But while those believing in nonviolent resistance are sometimes categorised as naive or simplistic, as the war goes on perhaps it is those who believe in violent resistance against superior (if in the case of Russia, poorly organised) forces that are being simplistic as the horrifying human cost of the war continues to mount.


Derek Scally (18th May) is highly insulting to the majority of the population of this island in saying that “those in Ireland who oppose investment in defence are peace squanderers.” It happens that those who want to develop Irish neutrality in a positive direction have a very different vision of what peace should entail and how we should achieve it. Nonviolent civilian defence is ideally suited to the Irish situation while billions could (will?) be spent on the Irish military and not make Ireland one jot safer.

What Russia is doing in Ukraine is beyond reprehensible. But the idea that Ireland is under military threat from Russia, or anyone else, is ludicrous and the Russians cannot even inflict defeat on their neighbours in Ukraine let alone think about military escapades elsewhere in Europe. Ireland can play a very different and extremely constructive role on the European and world stages but only if it avoids both NATO and EU militarisation – it is the latter which is stealthily gaining ground. And Ireland’s role just became more important as Finland and Sweden join NATO.


Again correspondents that you publish (23rd May) assume that the only international security protection Ireland can have is military. This is quite false. Adopting a fearless policy of proper neutrality and standing up for justice and against repression will make many friends and it would establish Ireland as a country which does not adhere to misguided doctrines of peace through military strength.

A competent and sophisticated policy of nonviolent civilian defence is possible which would mean that an erstwhile invader would know that any invasion would be a pyrrhic victory. It would make any possible invader (and who might that be?) think twice. The Nazi generals interrogated at the end of World War II did not know how to deal with nonviolent resistance. Ireland is ideally placed geographically to undertake such a policy and avoid the trap of military escalation which contributes to an international armed insecurity race.

l25/522 From personal email a/c

It is perhaps ironic that Tom Hogan (25th May) should accuse proponents of Irish military non-alignment of a lack of imagination. Surely it is those who would support joining NATO or favour EU military developments who are entering an imagination straitjacket and accepting military confrontation and the severe curtailing of a positive role for Ireland in contributing to peace. And regarding Irish security the lack of exploration of nonviolent civilian defence portrays a lack of imagination and vision.

Irish neutrality could be developed in so many imaginative and positive ways. This could include: Monitoring teams for conflict hotspots and ‘early warning’ purposes, support for or promotion of accompaniment organisations such as Peace Brigades International and other ‘early intervention’ organisations, building up international mediation teams, education work nationally and internationally on nonviolent organising and struggle (which Stephan and Chenoweth found so effective compared to violent resistance), the development of facilitation and dialogue at a diplomatic level, work on causes of injustice and violence, and so on.

All such possibilities are effectively dependent on Ireland being neutral. And everything mentioned above could be done for a small fraction of the cost it looks like will go on military developments.


Stephen Collins is quite right in stating (27th May) that there is an issue about what role Ireland should play in EU defence. However his assumption that this should necessarily be military is a non sequitur as Ireland could play an important role in mediation and facilitation in the cause of peace as a non-aligned country (and many other tasks for peace as well). Of course something like protecting against cyber attacks comes in to this. However defence can be non-military, including nonviolent civilian defence, and ‘human security’ is more important than military security (we were not prepared for Covid, we are not prepared to deal with global warming).

Unfortunately Stephen Collins could not resist an attack on the defenders of Irish neutrality which was unfair and unjust. To try to tar those who believe in neutrality as supporters of Putin is far from the truth, even if he only accuses “some of the most vociferous defenders” of neutrality. Also, the injustice and brutality of the Russian attack on Ukraine should not blind us to the fact that while NATO and ‘the West’ have invaded no one (at least not in this particular case and time) they contributed to Russian insecurity and isolation.

l30/6/22 Published 1/7/22

We do need a new vocabulary about security, as David O’Sullivan envisages (Opinion, 30th June). The most effective term in relation to this is the concept of ‘human security’ – what do we need to be secure in our lives? O’Sullivan refers to many different factors but none – including the Russian invasion of Ukraine – necessitate a more militarist approach by Ireland; of course we should offer appropriate support to Ukraine but the idea that Russia is a military threat here is risible, and the contribution we can make to peace in Europe could best be done in non-violent ways.

Runaway climate change is the greatest threat we face and after the effects of Covid-19 we cannot consider pandemics to be something to be ignored. Militarism contributes considerably to global warming and medical rather than military bodies are the most appropriate for dealing with pandemics.

In relation to NATO and EU militarisation, why is geographical security only thought about in military terms? There are other ways to ensure security and nonviolent civilian defence is one which is eminently suitable for Ireland but has not been explored at all. We should be looking to build structures for peace not military confrontation.

Readings in Nonviolence: Irish neutrality – What path are we on?

By Elizabeth Cullen


This paper will discuss the implications of Ireland’s involvement in EU related military activities and discuss an alternative, namely the adoption of an independent foreign policy. Ireland joined the European Economic Community, or “Common Market” as it was referred to then, in 1973 along with the UK and Denmark. At that stage the EEC was portrayed to Irish voters as a large market and the benefits to Ireland of being a part of it were extolled for both farmers and industrialists, who were expected to benefit from the demands of a large European market. The prospect of high farm prices, increased farm exports and higher employment was a big economic attraction of EEC membership, and the entire country was expected to prosper as a result of joining the EEC. However, the story did not unfold as many had expected. This paper relates to the impact on our military policy

Militarism and the EU

There has been a steady but silent progression to participation in military alliances. The Single European Act of 1987 referred to cooperation in a supra-national foreign policy (*1) and the more recent Lisbon Treaty in 2009 led to the “progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence” and thereby the foundation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy6 (*6) It is of concern that unlike Ireland, Denmark obtained an exclusion from participation in military issues before signing this Treaty. A common defence is an army. Ireland joined the European Defence Agency (EDA) six years later. (*2) This agency, established by the Lisbon Treaty, supports the weapons industry. Total spending by the EDA was 198 billion euros in 2020, “the highest level ever recorded” since the EDA records began in 2006. (*3)

There have been two more recent developments in our military related activities, namely PESCO and EU Battle groups. We joined PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) in 2017. PESCO was established by the EU Commission and arose from the Lisbon Treaty and was developed by a policy group known as the “Group of Personalities” (*4). This group included arms industrialists intent on finding ways for EU Governments to navigate around national sovereignty and neutrality clauses in order to foster greater EU military integration (*12).

In December 2017 after just a 2-hour debate in the Dáil, members voted 75 to 42 in favour of Ireland signing up to PESCO (*5). PESCO aims to establish an EU-wide arms industry, and the EU’s European Defence Agency will tell PESCO members, including Ireland, what weapons to buy (*6). Lobbying by the arms industry is shaping the European Union’s approach to security and defence (*7). We also committed ourselves to spending 20% of our total defence budget on military equipment and research (*12). The commitments made by countries under PESCO are legally binding in nature (*8) and include commitments:

– To regularly increase defence budgets in real terms,

– To increase defence expenditure in order to fill “strategic capability gaps”

– To aim for a “fast-tracked political commitment at national level, including possibly reviewing their national decision-making procedures”

– To simplify and standardise cross border military transport in Europe for enabling rapid deployment of military materiel and personnel

– To ensure that all projects “make the European defence industry more competitive via an appropriate industrial policy which avoids unnecessary overlap

– To commit to “agree on common technical and operational standards of forces acknowledging that they need to ensure interoperability with NATO”

In relation to the last point, regarding “interoperability” with NATO, the EU and NATO signed the second joint declaration on EU-NATO cooperation in July 2018 (*9). After this meeting NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg stated: “We just finished a fruitful meeting on NATO-EU cooperation. Over the past two years we have achieved unprecedented levels of cooperation and we have been working together in 74 concrete areas.” (*10) The summit characterised the EU as a “unique and essential partner for NATO,” and agreed that the capabilities developed under PESCO would be available to NATO and be “complementary and interoperable’(*18). Alongside conventional and missile defence forces, nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence (*11).

According to our Irish National Development Plan, spending on defence capital projects will increase from €77m in 2018 to €125m in 2022 (*12). Annual assessments will be conducted by the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” (a position created by the Lisbon Treaty) (*13) to ensure that Ireland is honouring these commitments. The Lisbon Treaty does not ban weapons of mass destruction and it does not demand that military operations will only be in self-defence or when there is a UN mandate. (*14)

The move to militarism is clear and this is acknowledged by the European Union External Action department, the EU’s diplomatic service (*15),which states that “Collectively, Europe is a very large military spender. But it is far from being a large military power. This is because of inefficiencies in spending and the so far largely untapped potential of working together on planning, procurement or research, to name but a few of the issues” (*16).

This level of ignorance among EU citizens about the EU’s CSDP and PESCO is concerning; only 12% of European citizens claim to be aware of the mutual defence clause and to know what it is. (*14)

An independent foreign policy

The long-standing government definition of so-called “military neutrality” as “non-participation in military alliances” has been described as nonsensical in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty ratification (*17). Can we be reassured by Leo Varadkar’s statement in 2018 that “We are not going to be buying aircraft carriers; we are not going to be buying fighter jets; and we are not going to be shopping around military trade fairs.”? (*20)

Despite Varadkar’s assurance, Ireland’s neutral or independent foreign policy is seriously at risk. Professor John Maguire writes (*18), “let us look at the list of “nothing-to-see-here”: with Irish government acquiescence we have yielded an EU Common Defence Fund; a joint EU military HQ; EU Battle Groups (in which Ireland participates); a centralised EU military budget and research programme, and a European Defence Agency (on whose board Ireland sits) promoting ‘a single market for defence’. And of course everyone signed up to PESCO gets a CARD: Co-ordinated Annual Review of Defence”. In Operation Sophia, which Ireland joined in 2015, 25 EU states combined to return refugees to the hell they have just attempted to escape; Minister Paul Kehoe explained to the Dáil that Ireland was now participating in “a military mission”. (*26)

A further four statements illustrate the intention of the EU to militarize:

– In 2000, Romano Prodi (then president of the European Commission) stated: “When I was talking about the European army, I was not joking. If you don’t want to call it a European army, don’t call it a European army. You can call it “Margaret”. You can call it “Mary Ann”. You can call it any name”.(*19)

– In 2017, Jean Claude Juncker, EU Commission President proclaimed that: “By 2025 we need a fully-fledged European Defence Union. We need it. And NATO wants it.” (*18).

– In 2018, Angela Merkel stated:But I also have to say, seeing the developments of recent years, that we have to work on a vision to establish a real European army one day.”  (*26).

– And more recently, Ursula von der Leyen, the current President of the European Commission, is reported as saying: “The exit of Great Britain from the EU opens up new possibilities for intensifying military cooperation among the member states”. (*27)

While the Schumann declaration declares a desire for peace, Commission President Romano Prodi stated that “The two pillars of the Nation state are the sword and the currency, and we have changed that” (*22).

The characteristics of “active” neutrality have been outlined by Devine and include the primacy of the UN, peace promotion and maintaining Ireland’s independence, identity, and independent foreign policy25. Sovereignty is the ability of a country to make its own laws and to decide its relationship with other countries. This becomes even more critical when one considers that the former German Defence Minister and now President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen has called on a number of occasions during the last year for decisions under the EU’s Common Security and Defence (CSDP) to be made by qualified majority voting (QMV) rather than unanimously. “We are thinking about perhaps moving towards a majority vote in diplomacy and foreign affairs so that we can respond rapidly to crises and speak with one voice, one European voice,” she said recently; ‘and so you cannot be blocked by one country”. (*23)

The question has to be asked why we have not gone down the road of using the United Nations as a mean of addressing international conflict issues. The UN Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 members, and Ireland is one such member. The Security Council is mandated to take the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or an act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of settlement. It may resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security (*24) .

We need to strengthen and support the UN. It is of paramount importance that we call a halt to the creeping militarization of the EU, or at least Ireland’s role in it. And there is support for this. An MRBI poll in June 2001 showed 72% of Irish people supported Irish neutrality (*25). While a Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks poll (*26) in March 2022 revealed that 49% of the population agreed with the statement that “the original concept of Irish neutrality was out-of date”, nevertheless, 63% of the same sample agreed with the statement that “Ireland should remain militarily neutral in the war waged by Russia against Ukraine”. More recently still, an Irish times/Ipsos poll (*27) in April 2022 found “overwhelming support” among the Irish population to retain our current model of neutrality, with two thirds of voters not wanting to see any change.

What needs to be done?

Three things need to be done.. Firstly and most importantly, we must stand up for what we believe in. As Devine states, “Neutrality is not for the faint-hearted; rather, it is a courageous non-aggressive stance in a world in which most small states simply “bandwagon” with an aggressor, as opposed to striking an independent path for peace”.25 (*25) It is vital that we incorporate a constitutional provision on neutrality into our constitution and a referendum has been called for to enshrine the Triple Lock (*28) in that; as Farrell states, (*23) Not to do so leaves the way open for a future Irish government to try to dispose of the requirement for a UN mandate, leaving only cabinet and Dáil approval, a foregone conclusion in the current political set-up”.

Secondly, we could reject being part of the military development of the EU and obtain a defence opt-out like Denmark has done i.e. the Danish people support the “opt-out” clause that prevents Denmark being involved in the militarization of the EU. The Irish Government could utilise the simple process, namelynotify its intention to the Council, which shall take note that the Member State in question has ceased to participate.”. (*18). The Danish taxpayer does not pay for EU military projects, and Danish soldiers do not wear EU uniforms or participate in EU military operations (*22). Saying NO to the EU defence policy does not prevent Ireland from being a responsible independent nation that works for peace globally. Ireland can still participate in the UN’s peace missions around the world. We can help to remove land mines in former war zones and we can stop the weapons trade to countries that constantly violate human rights (*22). Bring neutral does not mean being silent.


It is of vital importance that we review the impact that membership of the EU is having on our foreign policy, and our membership of military alliances. Doing nothing about our current situation will allow Ireland to drift into an EU super-state over which it will have no control. In effect, EU membership has fundamentally subverted the national independence of Ireland and is in direct opposition to the proclamation of “unfettered control of Irish destinies” in 1916. Democracy can only exist at the level of the nation state, where there is solidarity and mutual interest.

When we were warned not to let Ireland be in the “slow lane” of Europe, and to vote for several European treaties, we were not told where the fast lane of Europe was leading to. There is no shame in admitting a mistake. These is however, dishonour in knowingly and wilfully bringing Irish people down a path that they do not wish to be brought.

(*1) Summary of the Single European Act Accessed 9th Feb. 2021.

(*2) “The road to the EU army” Accessed 9th Feb. 2021 and Article 5 of the NATO Pact says countries have a defence pact to go to war if one member state of NATO is attached. A more specific mention of the use of nuclear weapons can be read via the NATO Nuclear Policy Directorate.

(*3) Accessed 14/5/2022

(*4) “PESCO, Industry and War!” Thomas Pringle TD in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*5) PESCO and Militarisation. Mick Wallace TD in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*6) “PESCO is not about peace, it is about preparing for EU wars”. Accessed 9th Feb.2021

(*7) Accessed 9th Feb.2021

(*8) Accessed 9th Feb.2021

(*9) Accessed 9th Feb.2021

(*10) The Militarisation of the EU! Frank Keoghan. in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*11) Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*12) “One year on – the price of joining PESCO, Paul Cunningham Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*13) Notifications on PESCO to the council and to the High Representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*14) “Denmark has rejected participation in the militarisation of the EU. Hopefully Ireland will do the same!” Lave K. Broch, in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*15) Accessed 9th Feb.2021

(*16) Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*17) Dr Karen Devine of Dublin City University, Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*18) “A vivid impression: The repressed potential of Irish neutrality” John Maguire in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*19) Independent, 4 February 2000 quoted in

(*20) 9th Feb. 2021

(*21) Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*22) “1916 values diverted”, The Village magazine, Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*23) Niall Farrell in Clare Daly et al, PESCO: Irish Neutrality and the Militarisation of the EU (Dublin 2019). Available from

(*24) Accessed 9th Feb. 2021

(*25) Accessed 9th Feb. 2021



(*28) The Triple Lock was to ensure that, where the size of a Defence Forces contribution was more than 12 personnel, Irish soldiers would not serve abroad unless there was a UN Security Council mandate, along with Dáil and government approval. But it has effectively been abolished by the Irish government so as to ensure full participation by the Irish Army in the EU Battlegroups.

– This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in People’s News, the newsletter of the People’s Movement

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 art and peacebuilding?

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.

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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.

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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