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.

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

Ukraine: Was our adversarial democracy part of the problem?

Beware the ambitious”

by Peter Emerson

The de Borda Institute

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

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

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

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

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

The law really is an ass. (*2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(*4) Private correspondence.

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

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

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

– – – – – –

Ukraine and unarmed resistance

Ukrainians could defeat a Russian occupation by scaling up unarmed resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – – –

Jesus and Nonviolence

By Rev. John Dear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation and coups d’état

by Rob Fairmichael

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


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

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

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

What is nonviolent civilian resistance and social defence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parameters and historical experiences of nonviolent civilian and social defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

References and further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*8) Ibid, page 13.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*19) Ibid, page 10

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

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

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

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

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

Readings in Nonviolence: Irish statements about the war on Ukraine

So many words have been written and spoken about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that it is impossible to give an adequate summary. Amid almost universal condemnation and an extreme amount of bellicosity there are some that point out the hypocrisy of ‘the west’ in totally opposing “someone’s else’s” war while engaging in warfare and preparation for warfare, and being uncritical of their own warlike actions. The following is our selection of statements and letters from groups and individuals in Ireland who support a peaceful resolution; these are mainly extracts from statements rather than the whole statement.

– On 18th February, before Russia had invaded Ukraine, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire issued an open letter to Presidents Biden and Putin. “…….People of the world are afraid and many depressed. They need hope. They need to believe in themselves and others. They need a ‘light of peace’. People need to see there are people of love and courage who take risks for ‘humanity’ and follow their conscience to do the right thing. Please, Mr. Presidents, be such a light in a dark and dangerous world. Give the people hope.

Please meet each other in friendship and in respect for each other, and the sake of the great peoples of your countries, USA and Russia. Such a meeting of fraternity amongst the leaders of your nations would give hope to millions – especially young people who inherit a world so much in need of peace and reconciliation and based on love and respect……”

– The Irish Anti-War Movement said “The Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM) condemns the invasion of Ukraine this morning by the Russian military and we send solidarity to the people of Ukraine at this dangerous time. We also stand with those people in Russia and Ukraine who want diplomacy and peace instead of war.

This is a completely unjustified invasion by Russia but not totally unprovoked. We have heard much in the western media about extensive western diplomacy. With the exception of efforts by the French and German Governments this is not true. Other NATO members, particularly the US and Britain, have been stoking tensions if not conducting open warmongering. They have refused point blank to consider Russia’s genuine security concerns about the further eastward expansion of NATO. They have sent military arsenal to Ukraine and troops to neighbouring NATO countries.  They withdrew their monitors in the OSCE from Eastern Ukraine weeks ago, the very people who could have advised of infringements of the ceasefire agreed under the Minsk 2 Agreement. It is clear that Governments of certain NATO countries want a war with Russia, albeit a proxy one using the Ukrainians as pawns……….”

– Roger Cole of PANA, the Peace And Neutrality Alliance, stated “ the Peace and Neutrality Alliance is opposed to the illegal invasion and occupation of Ukraine by Russia in the same way as we opposed the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US back in 2003. “Disputes around the legitimacy and the borders of nation states must be resolved in accordance with the UN Charter and international law, not by unilateral use of force.

PANA call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces, alongside the resumption of diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis.

The situation in Ukraine is bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war. No matter whose propaganda you believe, the USA and Russia have over 10,000 nuclear weapons between them. Never forget that a war fought with even 100 nuclear weapons will destroy human civilization as we know it and devastate all lifeforms on our planet.

The Irish government could play a genuine neutral role in this conflict;

Encourage a return to the Minsk II Accord, negotiated by France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that recognized historical/cultural divisions and sought a political resolution.

US war planes continue to refuel at Shannon Airport, so how can we ensure that weapons transiting here don’t end up in the hands of militias and fascists, used to perpetrate war crimes such as the massacre at the Trade Unions House in Odessa, 2014.

This is an ideal time for our Minister of Foreign Affairs to advance Irish neutrality by de-escalating the warmongering, with an update on that old Irish Citizen Army slogan “We serve neither NATO nor Russia, but Ireland”. “

– An Irish CND/Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament statement said “Many people across not just Europe but the entire world will have reacted with shock, fear, horror and even despair at the news that Russian armed forces have launched a multi-pronged attack on Ukraine. A major act of military aggression by a nuclear-armed power raises the prospect of huge civilian casualties and a humanitarian disaster for the population of Ukraine, even without the use of nuclear weapons. The real possibility that nuclear weapons could be engaged in any ongoing conflict risks damage to human life and the environment on an unprecedented, terrifying and utterly catastrophic level……..

Irish CND joins with our colleagues in the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and veiled threats to use nuclear weapons:“We urge the international community to strongly pressure Russia to engage in dialogue and diplomacy, to return to compliance with the UN Charter, respect international humanitarian and human rights law and join relevant treaties to reduce nuclear weapons risks, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

Irish CND calls on the Irish government to use Ireland’s influence as a neutral country and as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to take a courageous, self-determined stance to promote peace through all available and appropriate international fora.“

– In a statement Afri said “Afri condemns the Russian onslaught on Ukraine. Nothing can justify such aggressive action, nor can that action resolve any valid grievance. ……Afri does not believe that the rhetoric of ‘unshakable Western unity and solidarity’ is helpful, playing as it does into Putin’s hands by suggesting a united threat against Russia. The so-called ‘Security Architecture’ resulting from the EU’s alignment with NATO has tragically failed (not for the first time) to prevent war in our common European home. Our Government and our political establishment have acquiesced in so-called ‘threat diplomacy’ while weapons were poured by all sides into a conflict zone. Shamefully, some of those weapons may well have transited through Shannon airport.

It is nonsense to claim that we are ‘militarily non-aligned’ when we have made Shannon available to US forces, when we have colluded with every step of EU militarisation, and when we now plan to produce weapons to sell to yet more warzones.

Successive governments have betrayed our constitutional commitment, in Article 29, to peaceful settlement of international disputes under international law. Our Foreign and Defence Minister Coveney ignores the support of the vast majority of Irish people for genuine, active Neutrality. That grounds the condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine. It also informs our opposition to Israeli aggression against Palestine and Saudi aggression against Yemen, to mention just two current examples, both of them supported by the Western powers with which we are urged to align ourselves.”

Galway Alliance Against War (GAAW) stated “We oppose the invasion by Russia of the Ukraine. We are deeply concerned at the loss of life, which could have been prevented through negotiation. As we have seen in conflicts the world over, most recently in Afghanistan, at the end of the day negotiations will have to take place. The way forward is for Russia to cease its military actions, withdraw its troops and for representatives of all the countries of Europe to come together and negotiate a European peace settlement.

It has to be made clear that if NATO had kept to its 1991 agreement with Soviet President Gorbachev  and not sought to expand eastwards, this conflict would never have arisen. NATO like the Warsaw Pact should have disbanded. Washington’s duplicity lies at the heart of this crisis. Its plan to surround Russia on its borders with NATO bases and missiles pose a genuine threat to that country. This needs to be recognised. We must all recognise that no country, most especially the USA, would countenance enemy bases and missile sites on its borders.

In late 2021 Moscow formally presented to its US counterpart a peace treaty. What it got in return was an avalanche of anti-Russian propaganda, which was subsequently parroted by many Western European governments, including Ireland. This does not justify Russia’s invasion of its neighbour. Nevertheless, these peace proposals need to be treated seriously by all the countries in Europe, those within the EU and those outside it.

What we demand from the government in Dublin is that it act like the neutral country we are and seek a peaceful resolution to this conflict. The crux of this conflict is guaranteeing the security of all European countries, including the Ukraine and Russia. There is little doubt in our minds that the dissolution of the NATO war alliance must be top of the agenda.

This appalling invasion is not in the interests of the people of the Ukraine nor the countries of Europe, which Russia is also an integral part. This crisis is only to the advantage of the USA and in particular its parasitical arms industry.

It is time for all the European states, East and West, to assemble and work out a peaceful resolution.”

Adi Roche, Founder and Voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children International, invoked the Hague Conventions on the conduct of war, appealing to all warring forces in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, not to make the Radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone a Zone of War.

‘I appeal on behalf of all humanity, but mostly on behalf of the citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and indeed on behalf of the citizens of Europe, to the warring armies, under the Hague Conventions, that the highly contaminated area around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, with its thousands of tons and gallons of highly radioactive material, not be targeted, or used as areas of shelling, bombardment, and ground fighting.

My worst nightmare in this conflict is that the tragedy of the Chernobyl disaster could be re-released on the world.  I fear that this area, a sacred area, an area of utter vulnerability and danger, a special area of human tragedy, could once again, have deadly radioactive contamination released, which would spread everywhere, like a great and uncontrollable monster.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has vast silos of nuclear waste and water, which are highly dangerous and volatile.  Along with hundreds of shallow ‘nuclear graves’, which are scattered throughout the Exclusion Zone, holding the contents of thousands of houses, machinery, buses and trucks, all of which have been buried there to keep the radiation underground. Should a bomb, missile, a shot-down plane or helicopter crash into this area, the consequences could be disastrous.

In the name of humanity, in the name of the children, please stop this war and declare the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as a ‘No War Zone’.”

World Beyond War Ireland said “…..Wars start on the battlefield but end at the diplomacy table, so we call for an immediate return to diplomacy and international law.

Russia’s unjustifiable military response, however, is still a response to something. So when considering a way out of this situation, and that is surely what we all want, we must consider all the players who contributed to the passage to this point. If we want to retrace our steps from destroying lives to creating a climate of peace where lives can be lived then we must all ask ourselves questions. What do we cheer for from our own couches? What do our elected officials call for in our name and in the name of our security? ….

We are now hearing the international community’s, including the Irish Government’s, justified outrage over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But why was there, and why is there, no such outrage on behalf of the peoples of Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere? What is this outrage going to be used to justify? Another crusade style war? More dead children and women? ……

In accordance with its apparent ethics, Ireland should also withdraw from military cooperation with any of the players in this amoral situation. It should end all NATO cooperation, and deny use of its territories to all foreign militaries immediately. Let’s hold warmakers to the rule of law in the place where it should be done, the courts. Only a neutral Ireland can have such a positive effect in the world. “

– In a letter to the papers John Maguire said “Please don’t anyone tell me yet again that we should embed further with NATO-compatible EU structures such as PESCO. Or that we should consider formally joining NATO – our ‘sophisticated security partners’ (Defence Green Paper 2013). Or that we should now be conveying lethal weapons into the conflict in Ukraine.

Please just tell me how any of the above is compatible with our Peace Process’s bedrock of ‘exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences’, or our Constitution’s commitment to ‘the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination’ (Article 29), or the UN Charter’s primary task ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.”

– Also in a letter to the papers Edward Horgan said “Some commentators have been using the tragedy of the Ukraine conflict to attack those who have been promoting neutrality and peace. Words like hypocrisy have been bandied about. Criticising the criminality and recklessness of Russia is fully justified, and all genuine peace activists do so, but one dare not mention the wars and sanctions (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen) that have cost the lives of up five million people since the first Gulf War in 1991, including the deaths of about one million children due to war related reasons. Daring to mention these gets one accused of ‘ah but whataboutery’. Our adopted Irish/American leaders can do no wrong. Bill Clinton was US president when NATO attacked Serbia in breach of the UN Charter in 1999. Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and went on to order drone attacks and targeted assassinations that killed thousands of innocent civilians. Joe Biden as US vice-president actively supported the US wars in the Middle East. All illegal killing and all wars are dreadful. Is it not hypocrisy to focus only on Russian breaches of international laws that are killing Europeans, while playing down or ignoring equally serious, or more serious, breaches of international laws by the US and NATO, when such illegal regime-change wars have caused the deaths of so many non-Europeans? All lives matter. These Middle East wars and NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders have been a significant background factor, but not justification, for Russian criminality. Neutrality should have been the solution for the Ukrainian crisis.”

In a statement StoP/Swords to Ploughshares network stated “Swords to Ploughshares (StoP) condemns Russian military aggression against Ukraine. This Russian attack on Ukraine is a violation of international law and is having devastating consequences in the form of death and destruction for the people of Ukraine. We also express our solidarity with those courageous citizens of Russia who have taken to the streets to protest Putin’s war on Ukraine.

This aggression demonstrates the dangers of military confrontation and competition between two military blocs armed with nuclear weapons, NATO and Russia. NATO’s eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War has undermined security for the people of Europe and has created the context for Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. NATO, like all military alliances, has provided the conditions for war rather than preventing its occurrence.

We must resist efforts to use Russian aggression against Ukraine as an excuse for supporting Ireland’s ongoing collusion with the U.S. and NATO through the use of Shannon airport by the U.S. military, as an opportunity to increase Ireland’s involvement with EU militarisation, and to boost weapons production anywhere on the island of Ireland. It is important to protect Irish neutrality as a basis for the peaceful resolution of conflict in accordance with Article 29 of the Irish constitution and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement…….” and

Amnesty International has been monitoring and publicising human rights abuses in the war including the use of cluster munitions in an attack on a preschool in north-eastern Ukraine which was hit on the morning of 25th February while civilians took shelter inside, killing three of them, including a child, and wounding another child.

Readings in Nonviolence: A rehearsal for reality – An interview with Karen McFarlane

Art and peace series

Karen McFarlane has been involved in community relations and social theatre for years. She works with Partisan Productions, a professional Theatre and Film production company (core funded by CRC and ACNI) committed to creating socially engaged art working with communities on social and political issues.

Interview conducted by Stefania Gualberti

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

Karen – None of it was intended. Everything happened – for a reason – accidentally. I did my degree in English and film studies. My focus at school when younger was science based. My mum died when I was 16 which didn’t impact on me consciously for a long time, but later I realised that it completely changed my focus and direction more toward the arts.

I have been very lucky in my career. My first full time job after graduating was with the first branch of Waterstones in Belfast. Setting it up from a shell of a building to a fully functioning book store and I was put in charge of running the Children’s section which I really enjoyed as I had become a mum during my time at University. I progressed well for a number of years but became disillusioned as it moved from the love of books and recommendations to the realisation that money making was paramount to the organisation. It wasn’t my cup of tea. After a few changes in the book trade I then became redundant and unemployed for many months – it was a difficult time.

I eventually found an ad in the paper looking for unemployed women to take part in a film training programme – friends and family thought it sounded dodgy but I went for it anyway and it opened up a number of opportunities for me. It was a training course for film festival management, being run by Cinemagic under the auspices of The Nerve Centre. It was a year-long programme studying every aspect of managing and running a film festival. It was a really enjoyable art programme that tied into my degree in English and Film Studies. The festival exposed young people to foreign movies and offered opportunities to attend workshops with actors, directors, writers etc.

Most of the audience would have been children brought by schools or sometimes by parents, but they would have been mostly middle class pupils and families. I was more interested in trying to reach less privileged young people and eventually went from administrator in Cinemagic to Outreach coordinator, which was the start of what I am doing now in many ways. I was bringing projector, screen, films by taxis and buses out to different community centres, traveller camps, youth clubs etc showing films, talking about films and giving the young people access to films they wouldn’t see anywhere else. Most of the children I was interested to reach out to would have never been to the cinema to see any films.

When funding ran out for my post, I started to work in Ballynafeigh Community Development Association (BCDA) surprisingly as I hadn’t had a community development background. We were looking at Ballynafeigh as a shared neighbourhood working with other communities in Northern Ireland who identified as shared and what lessons we could all learn from each other particularly in a post conflict society. As part of that project, we employed Partisan Productions to do a piece of Forum Theatre and that was the start of my interest in social theatre. It was a very difficult project negotiating the conflicts between the needs of the community and the artistic aesthetic. One example of the issue tackled was of flags going up in a neighbourhood which was supposed to be shared.

Forum theatre terrified me at first. A short piece of theatre is constructed, in this case 45 minutes long, which brings up the issues that have been researched with people in advance (through interviews or workshops in the community). This production was called “Stevie’s Big Game” and focused on shared neighbourhood issues. In forum theatre after the piece has been played for the audience, it is played again and the audience is asked if they want to change anything, find solutions. You are completely reliant on audience participating and they can decide to shout some suggestions from their seats or get up on stage and replace the actor in acting solutions to the problem they are facing. Every night in the side wings we were worried that nobody would get up, but every night we were inundated really.

In every experience I always found that there is somebody willing to get up, to give it a go and try this format and it astounded me every time. In this format of forum theatre there is a figure called a joker which interfaces between the audience and the character on stage. They are the ones who will encourage the audience to participate, at least to start shouting suggestions about what they want to happen and then encourage people to get up on stage. Sometimes you would have people who are reluctant to get up on stage but never to shout out suggestions. We will never force anyone to get up on stage or do something they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. Even if you end up in a discussion you are still looking at issues and finding solutions. After this experience I trained in Dundalk on Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed which forum theatre is an integral part of.

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

Karen – Forum theatre is very powerful. At the time when I was first involved with social theatre, we were doing some work with young people. The relaxed atmosphere that they brought to the show was hilarious. They all brought lots of sweets, crisps, juice but they were really engaged. The issues they chose were very different from the ones the adults chose. Their sense of morality was very different. There was a scene where there was a potential affair happening between two people, flirting and the young people were outraged, they hated it: if you are married to one person you can’t be flirting with another. The issue never came up with the adults.

From the ridiculous to the more sublime; the flag issues. There was a scene where the main character is trying to sell his mothers house and he doesn’t have an issue with the flag per se as he is from the same background, but the flag going up is going to affect the price of the house. When the kids were asked what they would do in that situation one of them suggested the use of physical violence. When he was invited on stage to perform it, he knew he was going to look ridiculous if he tried to hurt the actor, so he engaged him in a conversation. He had to try and find different ways. Just this example for me showed how powerful this format is. The conversation didn’t go as he had thought it was going to go, he had to think what else can I do here? He realized he had different options.

Stefania – How can socially engaged theatre help tackle racism and sectarianism locally or build relationships?

Karen –The idea of tackling racism and sectarianism is very funding lead. There is a certain amount of dishonesty that comes with that. Because you can’t tackle sectarianism and racism doing just a workshop. You need continuous work and you need to be able to build relationships and chip away at some of these issues, then you have some hope. I don’t know if the young person I was talking about earlier had a positive impact from participating in our project, but I know his life turned around. I can’t tell you if it had an impact on him at all, but I would like to think that maybe it did.

I think we all need to think about the language we use when doing this work. For instance we have been working with a group called ‘Stop Attacks’. We are all familiar with the term ‘punishment beatings’, but this has all sorts of connotations, not least that the young people deserve the violence that is used to control and manipulate them. It is ultimately child abuse though and we are working with this group to bring awareness about the brutality and coerciveness of such practices.

Social theatre gives you a way of building relationships and looking at things from different perspectives. It offers you the opportunity to realise there are always different options and choices.

Five or six years ago, there was a theatre production we did in East Belfast, “East Belfast Boy”; a traditional piece of theatre based on community research and what young men were experiencing in the area. Young men on the 12th of July with their aspirations and/or lack of aspirations.

East Belfast boy” was very successful, we had to turn people away every night. We don’t charge for tickets. Sometimes we work on donations but mostly is just free in. Board members didn’t even get in to see it, we really didn’t expect to have so many people. It was a massive success. It was only a couple of years later we were told a couple of the men working in the community centre had a bet that nobody was going to show up to this theatre production in their area. They were gobsmacked and admitted that they were wrong and pleasantly surprised.

Stefania – Why did you think it was so successful?

A lot of the issues you find in one community are relevant to many other communities and are also rarely explored within the local areas. We make a real effort to transform buildings – in this instance a somewhat dilapidated community centre – into what looks and feels like a real theatre which impacts on the local community and creates a word of mouth pull to our events. This was also part of the Eastside festival which helped.

A journalist (Robert) came along and wrote an article in the Irish News. His story says everything about what we are trying to do. He talked about coming into the venue to see the show and almost turning his car away as in the area there are murals, flags and is very well identified as a unionist, loyalist area which made him feel very uncomfortable. He made himself overcome the fear and went in anyway. The article said how fantastic the show was, but the most important thing was about his experience. After going in he met a person from the Arts Council, myself and the writer/director Fintan and some of the people from the community centre. As he walked out, he realized he had left the programme behind and he went back to get it and he describes it as “it felt like going home” because he had met such nice people and felt so welcomed there. His opinion of what he was about to experience had completely changed. To me that says everything about the power of art, and how transformative it can be.

Stefania – How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as actors or theatre experts?

Karen –There are a lot of barriers when it comes to theatre as it is surrounded by snobbery. There are rigid rules in theatre but in our projects, we try to make it accessible. I am not suggesting that our projects would make people go to the theatre more, but we bring the theatre to them.

We always present the productions in the community, but we try to transform the space into a theatre space. We worked in West Belfast- Poleglass- on a show about suicide, there was an epidemic in the area at the time amongst young men in particular. “I Never See the Prettiest Thing” was staged at the Brook recreation centre, a massive sport centre in the middle of the community, and we completely transformed the space. We brought in a full light kit, projectors for digital imaging, full set and staging and made it as professional as we possibly could. Another journalist interviewed us and said I didn’t even know this theatre existed. She thought she was in a real theatre. We like to transform spaces. 99% of our audience would have never been to a show so it is important for our audience to see something in their area which has changed the community into something different.

Stefania – How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Karen – I have real difficulty with this question because I’m not sure that it can. There are obviously art therapists who do fantastic work. And art can be very therapeutic and can be used to help people overcome trauma. We would never claim that we do that. There are some processes that claim to be healing trauma and I feel very uncomfortable with that, as I think they can potentially re-traumatise people. In our workshops we are always careful that people are not playing themselves and if someone wants to bring their story, we are careful that somebody else would play the character to create that distance. To understand you have different choices in life, you need some sort of distance. If you are emotionally involved, it is very difficult to come up with options. I know some people use art and theatre as a form of therapy, but it is not our approach.

The intention is not healing trauma but I am aware in the piece we did about suicide the audience were very affected but in a positive way. We had comment cards and everyone came back with positive feedback about the show and on how people related to experiences of suicide somewhere in their lives, family or friends. One of the youth groups that came along to the production said that even if a lot of young people had experiences of suicide, they were never able to talk about it before the show but did talk openly after. Social theatre has the power to make people more aware and create opportunity for discussion. If it makes a difference to some of the participants and audiences that’s good enough for me.

Stefania – Is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Karen – I have named quite a few. One takes us to a different level. Before the pandemic we worked with young men and what makes some of them join paramilitary organisations and we had really started getting into the depth of some of the issues. We had a show called “Time of my life”. The Department of Justice became really interested in this piece of theatre as some of them came to see it in the community organisations. They and PSNI funded us to tour it. In 2019 we went to Newtownabbey, Dundonald, Carrickfergus, and other community organisations. The plan was to take it into the North-West, Derry was interested but because of the pandemic we had to cancel it.

It looked at how little some of these lads have a lack of hopes, lack of aspirations, education system letting them down, community organisations letting them down. Debt and drugs being massive issues that lead them into getting involved with paramilitaries. We also collaborated with the youth detention centre.

We looked at all of these issues during the discussions after the performance and it was very interesting to look at the different perspectives the various audiences had. When we invited statutory bodies to participate, their input was very different from the young people in the community centres. It indicated the massive gap between the perspectives of what happens on the ground and the perception of statutory bodies. They are trying to influence the issues which are very far from their reality. The people from the local community could watch, laugh, empathise. The statutory body would sympathise but felt they couldn’t laugh. The suggestions on what can be done were more effective from the community, while the statutory bodies were confined to policy issues. The relationship is top-down. It’s a pity the programme was interrupted but fingers crossed we will be able to continue because it had a real potential to impact on both the community level and on policy.

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

Karen – One of the learnings is about how a lot of the problems we are trying to deal with are systemic. How can we influence policy? That’s tricky, it is not easy to do, and you need to know how the system works to have an impact on it. That is probably a challenge and a learning for the future.

In Forum theatre we talk a lot about power. Who has power? When we are doing our workshops, we deal with power at a very basic interpersonal level, it is not legislative theatre which tries to impact on policy.

To go back to the language used -often the discourse goes towards “we are all be the same, we are all human”. That really annoys me. We are not all the same, and we shouldn’t. We should celebrate the differences. I was asked to do some workshops in a diverse parent group. They all lived in the same area and their kids go to the same school. The kids play with each other and have no issues with diversity, the parents didn’t know how to talk with each other. Do I say hello to the woman with the scarf? With the fear to offend, we do not communicate.

I think we need some more honesty with this kind of work as none of these issues are going away any time soon.

One learning that I think we all forget too often is how important it is to have fun with what we are doing. Working with Women’s Groups taught me this more than anything. The groups tend to come into the room talking about their worries – caring for children, grandchildren, lack of money, health issues etc. And for the short time they are concentrating on the games and exercises in a workshop they forget about all of that and have fun. As adults we forget how much we learn from enjoying ourselves.

– – – – –

Readings in Nonviolence:

The excuse of job creation in military investments: the case of Spain


This piece is being used here for several reasons. As the Irish state strongly backs military production in Ireland (Northern Ireland is even better linked to the military-industrial complex) a counterweight to their spurious arguments is needed. And one of the most important points – for those thinking in terms of jobs – is that investment in military production is a poor, indeed pathetic, job creator; just look at the figures quoted below. This should be noted aside from questions of morality and selling weapons to countries which cannot afford them and may use them for nefarious purposes. And the arms industry is notoriously corrupt; bribing politicians to buy particular armaments is not only corrupt but deeply, deeply reprehensible at every level.

We thought it would also be interesting to take this Spanish example, a country about whose army and arms industry most people in Ireland – and elsewhere – probably know little. But it portrays and analyses a typical example of many believing the hype which is touted about the military and arms production.

From Pressenza International Press Agency accessed via Transcend Media Service

When the General State Budget is presented, the Minister of Defence of the day insists that the multimillion-dollar expenditure dedicated to the purchase of armaments generates employment. But, as the authors point out, a comparison of the jobs created in the military and in other areas allows us to question the dominant narrative.

Military investments are usually justified by the jobs they create. The latest example is the army’s logistics base. Several municipalities competed to host the installation and, in the end, the Ministry of Defence decided to install it in Cordoba, as it was the option that offered the most advantages. The choice of this city as the site of the base has had the support of all the city’s political, economic and university sectors. Even the political left has joined the municipal initiative with little debate. The initiative has not been questioned, at least not publicly.

The base is part of the plan for the Concentration of the Army’s Central Logistical Organs, which aims to concentrate the current twelve army logistical centres into three. It is estimated that the future Cordoba base will require an investment of 350 million euros. The Cordoba City Council approved an allocation of 28 million euros (with the corresponding modification of the municipal budget). The Andalusian regional government has pledged to contribute 100 million euros to the project. All this with the aim, they say, of “creating employment”.

It is very significant that, in the Moncloa press release announcing the construction of the base, a very visible box highlights that the base “will contribute to the creation of more than 1,600 jobs”.

When the General State Budget is presented, the Defence Minister of the day, whether from the PP or the PSOE, insists that the multi-million-dollar expenditure dedicated to the purchase of armaments generates employment. Job creation is also used to justify arms exports, even the most controversial ones. The military industry, and those who promote it, insist that their activity generates employment. All of this, surely, to counteract, silence or attenuate the majority rejection of arms manufacturing among the civilian population. Unfortunately, as a rule, they succeed.

Any industrial investment generates employment. But in many cases, this is not enough to justify certain activities, such as those that have undesirable impacts on people or the environment. Fortunately, on some occasions, projects have been stopped for precisely these reasons thanks to the denunciation and pressure of organised civil society.

A given investment in the health sector generates 2.8 times more jobs (almost three times more!) than the same amount invested in the military sector.

Every economic actor, including the military, should be accountable to society for its activities. And while it is true that military investments generate employment, the harmful effects on people and the environment should be included in their assessment. We cannot forget the direct effects of the use of weapons (people killed, wounded, disabled, with physical and psychological consequences, etc., as well as serious damage to the environment). In addition, however, the promotion of the military industry increases the militarisation of society, so that armed and violent conflict resolution is encouraged instead of mediation and peaceful conflict resolution. And how does the military industry evaluate these pernicious effects – should it only take into account the jobs created? But even the military industry’s much-vaunted job creation is questionable; let’s look at it.

In a study by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, published by the Watson Institute at Brown University, employment multipliers are calculated for a million-dollar investment in different sectors, including the military sector. The results are compelling.

According to the study, for every million dollars of investment in the military sector, 5.8 jobs would be generated in the military industry and another 1.1 indirect jobs, most of which would be jobs associated with the supply chain. That is a total of 6.9 jobs per million of investment.

In contrast, if the same investment were made in the renewable energy sector, a total of 8.4 jobs would be created in the case of wind energy and 9.5 in the case of solar energy. Retrofitting to improve energy efficiency would provide 10.6 jobs for every $1 million of investment.

Infrastructure investment (construction of streets, roads, bridges, schools, public buildings, etc.) would create 9.8 jobs per $1 million.

Job creation in the education and health sectors is even higher. Thus, for each million dollars of investment, 14.3 jobs would be generated if the investment were directed towards health and 19.2 if the investment were made in primary and secondary education.

In other words, according to the study, a given investment in the health sector generates 2.8 times as many jobs (almost three times as many!) as the same amount invested in the military sector.

Thus, according to this report, if the objective of an investment is job creation, investments in the military sector are the worst option. It is surprising that this fact is not taken into account in the discussion of military investments.

In Spain, the arms industry plays an important role. In recent decades, Spain has been one of the world’s largest arms exporters. According to Sipri data, Spain was the seventh largest arms exporter in the period 2016-2020. But its export activity in other sectors is not so relevant; according to World Bank data, Spain is the 16th largest exporter in the world.

Why does the Spanish state occupy such a prominent role in arms exports while it lags behind in exports as a whole? The answer lies in the notorious support given to arms exports by the different governments, whether of the PP or the PSOE. This support has even included the direct intervention of the Royal Household. The arms industry is therefore a matter of state. Surely, being among the main arms exporters is of geostrategic value for Spain and gives it international prestige among its allies. It is not, therefore, only a question of job creation.

Let us remember that some of these exports, such as those to Saudi Arabia, are particularly controversial and have been denounced by several organisations, which believe that they should be considered illegal under Spanish and European legislation on arms exports. And we cannot forget the corruption related to the arms trade; we cite as an example the case of the Defex company (51% state-controlled through SEPI) selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Public investments should pursue the public good and the improvement of people’s lives and the preservation (and repair) of the environment. Investing in sectors such as education, health, renewable energy and infrastructure would satisfy the needs and demands of the population and generate many more jobs than the same investment in the military industry. Moreover, military investments cause an opportunity cost, i.e. they reduce the benefits that would be obtained if the investment were directed to other sectors that would create more jobs.

Moreover, do we really need so many weapons? The recent pandemic has highlighted the weakness of the health, care and education sectors in Spain. Would it not be more beneficial for the population to invest in these sectors rather than in the military sector? Given the current situation, immersed in a social and environmental crisis, would it not be more appropriate to invest in housing rehabilitation, the installation of renewable energies, the hiring of more teachers and health personnel? In this way, in addition to generating more jobs, it would improve people’s quality of life.

– – – – – –

Readings in Nonviolence

Looking back to look forward


As campaigning on the ecological crisis continues apace at the time of COP26, we thought it relevant to share a section from the WRI/War Resisters’ International Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns, specifically a section on studying particular campaigns in order to learn from them – and, as stated below, it can also be used in advance to mark issues which need considered in organising a campaign.

Some campaigns are, of course, small and limited rather than societal, national or international in scale. The extent to which some of the questions below are relevant will vary but that is fine. We can see what is relevant and reflect on those. And if we don’t ask the right questions we certainly can’t arrive at the ‘right’, or most appropriate, answers.

INNATE is also currently doing some work on Irish peace movement history, admittedly – given its resources – in a very limited way, and the questions here can be relevant for any political campaign.

This Handbook contains enough wisdom and practical advice to last us, and challenge us, for a very long time. It is available on the WRI website at and paper copies can also be ordered.

Campaign case study guide

It is important to document campaigns so people can learn from them. Just as we have learned from the nonviolent campaigns of people throughout time and around the world, documenting our own struggles and stories may help people in other times and places. This guide, created for WRI’s Nonviolent Social Empowerment case studies, can be used by an individual or group to determine the information needed to construct a case study of a campaign. This guide can also be used to remind us of what we need to consider in organising a campaign.


  • Nature of the campaign – what was/is the issue? when did it start/finish?

  • Geographical and (brief) historical context

  • Participants – who (analysis of class, race/ethnic, gender, religious group, age, sexuality, ability, other) – did this change at different phases of the movement?


  • Starting point

  • Were there (have there been) distinct phases?

  • Were there particular moments of expansion?

  • What were the peaks?

  • What were other key events?


  • Was there a public profile of wanting to avoid violence?

  • Was there a declared public policy of nonviolence?

  • If so, what was meant by nonviolence?

  • Was there consensus around this? What kind of differences around this?

  • What measures were taken to implement a policy of nonviolence?

  • Was there nonviolence training? Were there nonviolence guidelines?

  • Was the campaign seen as shifting the values of society more towards nonviolence?

  • Were there particular sources of inspiration for types of action or ways of organising?


  • What use was made of official channels, lobbying, electoral processes, constitutional mechanisms, and with what impact?

  • How was the mainstream media used?

  • What role or influence did they have?

  • How did they try to develop or use their own public media or alternative media? With what impact?

  • Did the campaign try to establish alternatives? Were they meant to be temporary or permanent? What happened?

  • What kind of means did they use to build a movement culture or sense of connectedness? To what effect?

  • Did they use withdrawal of cooperation as a tactic? At what stage? With what effect?

  • Did they try to directly disrupt of obstruct an activity they were campaigning against? At what stage? With what focus? With what participation? With what effect?

  • How did they use conventional means of protest? How did they combine them with other methods?


  • Did the campaign agree on a formal structure?

  • What informal structures played an important role?

  • Was the campaign concerned to have a participatory structure of organisation and decision-making? If so, how were people trained in the process?

  • How did the campaign link with other groups/movements?

  • What importance did you give to coalition-building? With what criteria for alliances?

  • How did the campaign address the needs of activists to learn, to grow, to rest, to sustain their commitment?

  • How did the campaign address the possible contradiction between the needs of security and the desire for participation?

  • What kind of repression did the movement expect to face? What provision did they make to support the people most affected?

  • Did the campaign have a clear time frame and concept of strategic development?

  • How did the campaign develop its resources (human, social, economic)?

Goals and outcomes

  • What were the initial goals?

  • How have the goals evolved? Why?

  • Was it an aim to empower participants? In what way?

  • How were the goals framed – e.g. with what type of slogan?

  • Was there the flexibility to revise goals, e.g. to respond to particular events, or to build on success?

  • How did they expect the institution holding power of those who ‘benefit’ from being dominant to change? (e.g. to be converted, to accommodate some of your demands, to be coerced into accepting the demands, or to disintegrate/dissolve)

  • To what extent did they achieve their goals? – short, medium, long term

  • With what side effects? – positive and negative

  • Did their adversary make any mistakes that significantly helped their cause?


All the questions have some kind of link with empowerment. This concluding section returns to some themes but with more focus. Answers need to encompass the dimensions of power within, power- with and power-in-relation to.

  • Who was empowered? to be or do what? (to join in, to share responsibility, to take

initiative, to maintain their activism)

  • What contributed to this sense of empowerment? (e.g. training, group confidence,

achieving strategic goals)

  • How did the experience of different phases of a movement affected the sense of


  • What about people involved who did not feel empowered?

  • How were strategies of empowerment discussed / constructed? personal, group,


  • Was any participant/group disempowered – how? How did this effect the campaign?

  • Nature of the campaign – what was/is the issue? when did it start/finish?

  • Geographical and (brief) historical context

  • Participants – who (analysis of class, race/ethnic, gender, religious group, age, sexuality, ability, other) – did this change at different phases of the movement?

Readings in Nonviolence: In the new cold war, we have no future

by Yurii Sheliazhenko


Truth may or may not be the first casualty in war but in an atmosphere of perpetual war and rumours of war then truth is extremely vulnerable, and everyone risks being deceived. Perceptions of truth can also be a bit like ‘our’ speaking accent; ‘we’ tend to think we don’t speak with an accent, it is people different from us that have an accent. In the same way, we can be so immune and inured to our own society and its propaganda, so familiar with its ways, that we feel we are presented with the truth, even if nothing can be further from the truth.

Western relations with Russia have been a developing nadir of the post-Cold war period. ‘The west’, particularly by taking NATO to the edge of Russia, has contributed considerably to poor relations between countries and to the development of authoritarianism and xenophobia in Putin’s Russia. Please note that we would be highly critical of Russian repression of civil society internally, and of Russian military actions in the region, e.g. the Crimea (annexation) and eastern Ukraine (disguised attempts at annexation), as well as in Syria.

So it is always a breath of fresh air when we are given an account of situations as they are, free from the blinkered, tinted spectacles of one side or another. This is the case with this report from Ukraine by Yurii Sheliazhenko. Thank you to VredesMagazine and War Resisters’ International/WRI for this piece.

– – – –

* A manuscript published in Dutch translation under a title "A pacifist voice from Ukraine: in the hybrid clamp between NATO and Russia" in VredesMagazine, vol. 14 iss. 4, 2021. Vredesmagazine is a joint publication of half a dozen different peace-oriented organisations in the Netherlands. 


As Ukraine became a battlefield of the new cold war between United States and Russia, our peaceful life was torn apart by militant domestic nationalism and both competing aggressive imperialisms. We should get out from a dead corner of permanent war, economic and democratic decline, but it is not easy to pursue hopeful future.


Many of our troubles are caused by a fact that whole world stuck in the past. This hot summer revealed it vividly.
Summit of NATO, this relict of cold war epoch, positioning itself as the strongest democratic alliance in history and a leading contributor to international security, endorsed new nuclear arms race against Russia and proclaimed opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was supported by the majority of United Nations.
Zbigniew Rau, Gabrielius Landsbergis, and Dmytro Kuleba, foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, signed a declaration claiming common historical heritage of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It mentions “European identity of Belarusians, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ukrainians” suggesting they fought in the past and should fight again “despotic Russia,” and Ukraine should join NATO.

Then President of Russia Vladimir Putin wrote a long doctrinal article about “historical unity” of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians as descendants of Ancient Rus, which should stay together against supposedly hostile United States and European Union. He emphasized that those who turn Ukraine in the enemy of Russia “will destroy their own country,” threatening: “we will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia.”

Dark histories invoked by politicians weaponize dangerous half-truths. Building the myth of “us” against “them,” high-ranked storytellers try to erase from popular memory biological unity of all humans, intercultural capacities to find common ground, and long historical periods of relative peace when feelings of universal brotherhood and sisterhood were widespread.


Strong rhetoric rooted in violent history always ends badly. When NATO launched missile defense system in Europe and welcomed planted “aspirations” of Ukraine and Georgia to became NATO members in 2008, Russia claimed post-Soviet sphere of influence by military force in South Ossetia and political mobilization of Russian diaspora around former USSR.

People of Ukraine were cornered by these great power tensions and forced to decide what side should we take. Ironically, instead of the dead corner metaphor we prefer to be optimists and call it opportunity for democratic choice, made by public gathering at square (“maidan” in Ukrainian), in particular Independence Square in Kyiv.

In 2013-2014 admirers of Nazi era ideologist of Ukrainian ultranationalism Stepan Bandera in Western-funded right-wing Ukrainian civil society networks, so-called Maidan movement, started series of massive protests and riots against former pro-Russian president Yanukovych, broke EU/Russia mediated agreement about peaceful transfer of power to pro-Western opposition, and pressured for prohibition of Russian language usage in local self-government bodies.

Simultaneously, admirers of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in Russia-backed right-wing civil society networks, so-called anti-Maidan movement, rioted against strengthening pro-Western ultranationalist political elite, supported Russian military takeover in Crimea and hybrid warfare in Eastern Ukraine.

Seven-years’ war in Donbas between Ukrainian and pro-Russian combatants killed and wounded tens thousands of civilians and deprived of home more than two million. Both sides, according to OSCE reports, almost every day violate ceasefire established by Minsk agreements, and Ukraine refuse to negotiate peace with separatists, as Russia demands, claiming they are agents of Russian occupation.

Geopolitical ambitions prevail over concerns about life of people. Consequences are tragic, as in situation when separatists fighting Ukrainian military aircraft with Russian Buk missile system shot down civilian airliner MH17, killed 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

In Crimea seized by Russia people suffer irrespectively of their (non-)allegiance to Ukraine, either from political repressions by de-facto authorities or from international and Ukrainian economic sanctions, including water blockade.

Great powers play with fire, organizing frightening military operations in and around Ukraine. NATO and Russia send troops to secure their interests on the ground, simulate naval war with each other during dangerous drills in Black Sea. In arms race with Russian nuclear-capable navy in Crimea, NATO plans to build two naval military bases in Ukraine.

Each side in the hybrid war tells compelling but yet a half-truth, or, to say sincerely, a false story, why it is “just war” of self-defense. These stories are good illustration of 1921 Bilthoven statement of principles adopted by war resisters: we should not support any kind of war, “aggressive or defensive, remembering that modern wars are invariably alleged by Governments to be defensive.”


Hybrid war corrupts and blows up all usually peaceful spheres of life. Ruthless populist networks, far-right sentiments, and propaganda of hatred provoke more and more bloodshed. Neo-Nazis fought on both sides of Donbas war, Russian National Unity and Varyag Battalion for separatists, Right Sector’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps and Azov Battalion for government. Returning home, they teach kids to hate and fight in militarized summer “patriotic education” camps.

News is not news anymore, media aren’t media; they are Russian or Western propaganda subject to information war and censorship. The same problem with education and science, battle of historical half-truths is good example. Law is turned to lawfare: instead of human rights, we protect politically expedient rights of “our people” and punish “enemies” as severely as “we” can.

Ukrainian civil society was polarized and weaponized by the notions of exclusive identity, awaken by the new cold war. Ukrainian nationalists refuse to tolerate any tradeoffs to Russia, gather rioting crowds against implementation of Minsk agreements, violently silence opponents. There are also right-wing proponents of Russia and Soviet past; formally, they call for peace, but in fact it is call to take side of Russia in the new cold war.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected after promising peace, stated that peace should be “on our terms” and shut up pro-Russian media in Ukraine, like his predecessor Poroshenko blocked Russian social networks and pushed official language law forcibly excluding Russian from public sphere.

Zelensky’s party Servant of the People committed to increase military spending to 5% of GDP; it was 1,5% in 2013, now it is more than 3%. With majority in parliament, presidential political machine concentrates political power in Zelensky team’s hands and multiplies militarist laws, such as draconian punishments for evaders from conscription and creation of new “national resistance” forces, increasing personnel of armed forces in Ukraine by 11 000, creating military units in local governments for mandatory military training of millions of people aimed to mobilize whole population in the case of war with Russia.

According to the 2019-2020 EBCO annual reports “Conscientious Objection in Europe,” those who refuse to kill have a little chance to legal recognition and protection of their beliefs during conscription in Ukraine and Russia, not to say in separatist “people’s republics.” Alternative non-military service arrangements are hardly accessible, discriminatory and punitive in nature.


Public opinion polls paradoxically show that majority of people demand peace, but trust Armed Forces of Ukraine more than any of political institutions. Faith in “peace through victory” is result of political illiteracy and lack of peace culture.

Peacebuilding projects funded by international organizations heal some wounds of war, but strategically are focused on social cohesion around militant national identity. Many of them avoid to use the word “peace” itself because of patriotic reasons: right-wing propaganda equates it with “Russian world.”

There is no strong public voice of common sense in Ukraine denouncing in principle and impartially toxic militarist policies and identities, like Stalinist and Banderite, or generally denouncing all war and preparations for war. Main churches, while sometimes praying for peace, made clear unequivocally what side they took in the geopolitical battle.

Consistent pacifists, religious or secular, in our society are tiny minority treated like dreamers, in the best case, but usually as heretics and traitors.

Pacifist Ruslan Kotsaba who denounced mobilization to Donbas war in 2015 YouTube video was jailed for treason, acquitted and released, put on trial again with mobs of haters surrounding the court during every hearing. Recently neo-Nazi assaulted him on railway station, he lost sight on one eye because of splashed brilliant green. Police failed to arrest perpetrators.

Netflix sci-fi war film “Outside the Wire” prognoses endless violence will turn Ukraine into wasteland during coming decades. The only way to prevent such grim future is to learn how to achieve peace by peaceful means, but very few people believe in such perspective and work on it.

Despite challenging environment, we try to build peace in minds and in real life of people on the basis of consistent pacifism, according to War Resisters’ International declaration, using our limited opportunities and resources. It seems that whole worldwide anti-war movement do the same. For progress in this cause, we need to develop and enact universal peace plan more effective and realistic than strategies of the new cold war.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Yurii Sheliazhenko is executive secretary of Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, member of the Board of European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, member of the Board of World Beyond War. He obtained Master of Mediation and Conflict Management degree in 2021 and Master of Laws degree in 2016 at KROK University, and Bachelor of Mathematics degree in 2004 at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Apart from participation in the peace movement, he is journalist, blogger, human rights defender and legal scholar, author of tens of academic publications and lecturer on legal theory and history.

– – – – – –

Readings in Nonviolence: Truth, Accuracy in Media

Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)What and where is truth in the media? In relation to Afghanistan, or indeed anywhere else, we have to sift through a morass of self-interested opinions and ‘facts’ which may be anything but the unvarnished truth, insofar as that can be accessed. What follows is a slightly edited editorial from Transcend Media Service of 23/8/21 which has loads of links (these have been removed here); you can access the original, and links, at

This is of specific relevance to peace because the reality of situations can be twisted and distorted to justify a stand – or, indeed, in the case of Afghanistan, excuse massive failures by those who supported armed intervention.

In printing this article we are certainly not saying we should take everything in it as true and accurate either but rather it should be taken as an alternative view which can help us provide a reality check on our usual media sources. There are wider issues in relation to ‘peace journalism’ which are not covered here.

Truth, Accuracy in Media:

An Analysis

by Jan Oberg, Ph.D. for TRANSCEND Media Service [23/8/21]

When it comes to Western mainstream media’s coverage of international affairs, I would today dare the hypothesis that 10-20% is truthful, 20-30% is fake and narratives and 50-70% is omitted (see definition in point 2 below).

This is not a scientific statement or hypothesis that I have tested empirically; rather, it is my judgement based on two things: a) witnessing over some forty years the decay of the mainstream media’s international affairs coverage and b) my experiences from conflict zones such as e.g. all parts of former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq before it was occupied, Iran, Syria and China and comparing them with the media images conveyed by the mainstream Western press.

In TFF’s recent analysis ”Behind The Smokescreen. An Analysis of the West’s Destructive China Cold War Agenda And Why It Must Stop”, we make use of the following nine Mainstream Media Manipulation Methods, MMMM:

  1. Fake – lies, deception, inventions or whatever else that cannot be judged/verified as empirically valid; presentation of institutes and scholars as ‘independent’ and defining publications as based on scholarly research when they are not – are typical examples.

  2. Omission – leaving out essential perspectives, facts, analyses, experts/expertise, literature, counter views, possible alternative hypothesis and explanations of found results. When taken together, the omission is often much more distortive than fake (and less easy for the public to detect).

  3. Censorship – meaning a government tells the media (by law or less open and verifiable methods) what the limits are. When a few of the countless millions of possible stories that could be told from around the world are selected for the front-pages, it is also the result of censorship, not only omission.

  4. Self-censorship – news bureaus, editors, reports and journalists know the standard operating procedures and stick to them because it is convenient and typically secures that they keep their job. It’s built on a kind of group think. Censorship and self-censorship define the discourse and its framework and what thetruth is, commonly understood/accepted as part of that local culture and perceived as ‘natural’ – that is, also politically correct.

  5. Framing – is a somewhat difficult concept because it can mean many different things. It can mean setting the frames of “what are we talking about here?” It can also be framing as orientation and interpretation – “In social theory, framing is a kind of interpretation, perhaps a set of anecdotes, historical events and stereotypes that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events.” Media framing builds on these dimensions but adds something specific – “the parameters of the discussion itself – the words, symbols, overall content, and tone used to frame the topic. When compared to agenda setting, framing includes a broader range of cognitive processes – such as moral evaluations, causal reasoning, appeals to principles, and recommendations for treatment of problems.” Simply put, it’s about how a story is packaged.

  6. Constructed narratives – stories that more or less substitute for reality and makes reality- and source checks superfluous or even dangerous (for the maintenance of the fake/omission report). Narratives are often gross simplifications of a complex reality and use everyday ways of thinking that everybody can relate to without much knowledge of the substantive issues. Boiling down a complex conflict to a struggle between bad guys and good guys is an example.

  7. Propaganda and other distortions – let us quote the Cambridge Dictionary: “information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions” – one example being political/wartime propaganda.

  8. Psychological warfare or psychological operations (PsyOps) – close, of course, to propaganda but often defined as influencing other people, not our own. However, that is not the case today. Undoubtedly, governments also do PsyOps on their own citizens – such as constantly instilling in them a sense of being threatened by foreign countries, weapons, terrorists – or by Some has called this fearology – governance by instigating fear. People who fear are much more willing to accept controls and limitations and to obey than those who do not fear – as we have seen when it comes to accepting all kinds of measures to combat terrorism and pandemics. PsyOps are broader and aim to influence a target audience’s value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behaviour. It can be used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviours favourable to the originator’s objectives and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag  tactics.

  9. Cancel culture – a more recent term – is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrown out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism have been “cancelled” mostly because of their views or behaviours. The expression “cancel culture” has predominantly negative connotations and is commonly used in free speech and censorship debates. From another perspective, it is a demand/punishment having to do with someone who is politically (non)correct and/or challenges the framework of the “Zeitgeist.”

These methods are an integral part of today’s Western mainstream media and, thus, political reality. While each has its distinct character, they also overlap and are used in clusters that fit the chosen political agenda.

In the above-mentioned report we apply them to the Western mainstream media’s treatment of everything China but it is part and parcel of all mainstream global media coverage. In what follows, I shall try to apply some of them to the war on Afghanistan in general and the August 15, 2021, Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan in particular – aware that it can only be hints without lots of documentary links. (The numbers below do not indicate priorities).

We are/were told…

1… that all this started on October 7, 2001.

It didn’t. The ”it” that started was not the violence but the conflict and that was all about the first Cold War between the US/NATO and Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact. Concerning Afghanistan, it began with Operation Cyclone in July 1979, four months before the Soviet invasion. It is one of the longest CIA operation having cost more than US$ 20 billion.

2… that the purpose of the war and occupation was to fight terrorism which had manifested itself in New York and Washington on ”9/11.

That was the pretext; however not one Afghan had participated in the terrible terror attack (which wasn’t a war by any definition) and should never have been misused to start the thousandfold more killing Global War On Terror (GWOT) still going on with exclusively counter-productive results (see later). George W. Bush refused to deliver documentation for the US assertion that 9/11 was masterminded by Osama bin Laden and, therefore, the Taliban refused to deliver him in exchange for such documentation.

3… that the installed government and the Afghan military forces cowardly ran away and there was no purpose in trying to fight for Afghanistan when its own government and military didn’t do it.

The simple fact is that the US spent US $ 86 billion on giving Afghanistan the wrong kind of military with which no one would have been able to win in what is fundamentally a rather low-tech guerilla war in a mountaineous environment. (Nothing learned since Vietnam).

4… that it wasn’t about nation-building but about eradicating the forces that hit the US on 9/11 and develop a national defence force to guarantee that Afghanistan would no longer serve as a base for terrorism that could reach the West.

On the contrary. It was, at the very least, about some nation-building and imposition of Western values. The US has promoted and increased militarism and terrorism worldwide instead of defeating it. In 2000, US State Department had about 400 people dying in global terrorism annually; according to the latest Global Terror Index, the figure today is 16.000, or 40 times higher. GWOT must simply be the most stupid war ever fought.

5… that improving the lot of Afghan women through e.g. education was a major – noble – motivation for the invasion and occupation.

Undoubtedly, over these 20 years of Western presence, millions of Afghan women have been educated and now see more opportunities. However, it is naive beyond the acceptable to believe that such a human rights motivation was central to US/NATO policies. Additionally, if you improve education – what’s the use if you do not do a lot of other things – which could have been done as US economist Jeffrey Sacs has eloquently stated.

Had the US done anything wise and good for the Afghan people, the Taliban would not have had a chance to come back. So, it can be argued, the US has fought the Taliban for 20 years only to make its return unavoidable. Had the US/West’s mission been predominantly civilian, respectful of Afghan culture and really about human rights – the military would have gone home at least 15 years ago and the rest been one huge foreign-assisted development project.

And a final observation on this: Western mainstream media’s only reference to George W. Bush – perhaps the largest contemporary non-convicted war criminal – is that the withdrawal was bad because he fears for the future of Afghanistan’s girls and women – one of the more shameful interviews brought by Deutsche Welle.

We were/are not told…

1… that 9/11 was a pretext rather than a cause. Neither what the real story of 9/11 was. Too much in the official account doesn’t make sense.

2… that Afghanistan’s geo-political position and its incredible reservoir of minerals was a much stronger motivator for the operation.

3… that the US fundamentally saw Afghanistan as a piece in a very large puzzle of the game at the time against the Soviet Union – and, more recently, against China. Remember Kissinger and Brzezinski? And the writings of Ahmed Rashid? And the role of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence ISI – there isn’t much it has not been involved in…

4… that the US has created (the preconditions for) and supported terrorist movements where and whenever it saw it fit be it the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS and, and the Muslim Uyghurs from Xinjiang – 5000 of them operating in Syria fighting with Western-supported terror groups mostly trained, equipped and financed by leading NATO members, Turkey in particular. They organisation, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, ETIM, has its exile government in – yes, of course – Washington. Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, already in 2017 told VOA that ISIS is a tool of the US..

5… that NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, as in – say – Yugoslavia, is one huge violation of the letters and spirit of its North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 (and the UN Charter, Article 1 in particular) and that 9/11 was not a war and, therefore, the Treaty’s paragraph 5 should never have been activated and NATO should never have been in Afghanistan.

6… that there were alternatives to war on Afghanistan and that it would not take much intelligence to have shaped some kind of presence in and influence on the Afghan society in ways totally different from the militarist approach that would likely have yielded much better results today.

7… that the heroin element of it all has always been very important – among other reasons to finance CIA’s covert operations in and around Afghanistan.

8… that the US has operated in ways that could not but make Afghanistan one of the most corrupt places on earth and that the US gave up already in 2011 to do anything about it. And corruption here means both economic and in terms of the ”puppet” people (and CIA operatives) it appointed and relied upon, fleeing President Ashraf Ghani only being the latest.

9… that if you look at maps of oil and gas pipelines, a huge Great Game has been played for decades; one of the world’ leading analysts and commentators on this region, Pepe Escobar, has called Afghanistan “Pipelinestan” for a reason. .

10… that Afghanistan – and the withdrawal – may have a lot to do with the US’ China Cold War Agenda, CCWA ,and the Biden Administration’s Number 1 priority to destabilise, contain and demonise China and its Belt & Road Initiative, BRI.

11… that the US has learned nothing from its war fiascos since Vietnam and that, as Andy Mack stated it brilliantly as far back as 1975 that big countries lose small wars or wars in small countries mainly because over time the aggressor loses domestic cohesion and the war itself legitimacy. Afghanistan has always been ”the graveyard of empires” – it may well turn out to be the fate of the US Empire too, but Afghanistan won’t be in the future simply because after the demise of the US Empire, there will be nobody who is mad enough to impose its own system on the rest of the world or try once again a ”mission civilisatrice;”

12… that every and operation of this type fundamentally rests on racism or white ”cultural” superiority or as Norwegian philosopher, Harald Ofstad, has termed the same – our contempt for weakness quite similar to the values of Nazi-Germany. See his immensely important book, Our Conetmpt for Weakness (1989).

13… that the human and other costs of the war on Afghanistan and all the Global War On Terror, GWOT, are obscene and absurd and a major reason the United States is in decline and its empire will fall (which will lead to the breakdown of NATO); a very comprehensive  – and heart-breaking – documentation is found at the Costs of war Project at Brown University.

14… that, simply put, to fight terrorism by killing terrorists is as stupid and morally reprehensible as eradicating diseases by killing the patients; one must understand the much more comprehensive mechanisms by which a human being turns into a terrorist. But that is too sophisticated for an Empire which is/will be second-to-none only in military power and therefore has only one tool in its toolbox – a hammer.

In conclusion, with Afghanistan being yet another predictable fiasco, one must ask questions today such as:

  • How would it be possible to spend US$2,261 trillion, cause millions of deaths in the Middle East as well as 37- 50 million people’s displacement plus 7,000 US servicemen and 30,000 vetyeran suicides – the latter alone 10 times the number of people killed on September 11 – only to achieve nothing good and still be seen as a world leader? It won’t.

  • The Soviet Union wasted 7 years in the ”Graveyard of Empires,” and Gorbachev was smart enough to see that it was futile and morally wrong to be there. It took the US more than double that time and with a disastrous withdrawal chaos and suffering still going on at the time of writing. What fragmentation inside the US is this the consequence of? And how much stronger will that fragmentation become now inside the US – thanks to real issues and blame games in (Brain)washington and NATO? Is The US Empire survivable or will it be over in 4-5 years like the Soviet Union after Afghanistan? (Add this to the above 14 points of what is omitted from the media – and political debate and research).

  • Will the US try to be in Afghanistan in another way because the withdrawal also has to do with freeing resources for the new US China Cold War Agenda? And how will China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Russia handle this new situation?

  • Will Russia, Iran, India and, not the least, China the next 10-20 years handle Afghanistan in a fundamentally different way? (It would be easy to do better than the US). Will Afghanistan’s future as an important member of the BRI become something different from what it was and is at this moment?
    We are living in very interesting – and dangerous – times. And we will until the – new Evil – US Empire has sunk like Titanic and the US decides to pursue fundamental domestic structural changes, abolishes its Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, MIMAC, and – thus – can again thrive as a normal and creative country that is a force for the global common good and not the common evil of the world.

It’s perfectly possible and those who can should lend the self-destructive US a helping hand before it is too late.

Readings in Nonviolence 291

Art and peace series

Music is the dialogue

– An interview with Darren Ferguson

“My identity and my history are defined only by myself – beyond politics, beyond nationality, beyond religion and Beyond Skin.”

Darren Ferguson, is a musician, a community worker, and a peace activist. He founded Beyond Skin in 2004 to tackle racism and sectarianism at a local level, to encourage positive social change and empowering people to celebrate diversity.

Beyond Skin is a diverse team of artists, facilitators and peacebuilders who design and facilitate different creative projects using intercultural music, arts, dance, digital media and sensory engagement.

Beyond Skin has been using artistic methods for global education and peacebuilding with local councils, education boards, schools, community groups, businesses and social enterprises across Northern Ireland and has been collaborating with different organisations and individual internationally.

This year Beyond Skin will deliver 35 different projects active involving people from 23 different countries. To name a few: Orchestra for change, Peace in Mind – The 100, Youth4peace, Blueprint are some of the projects which connect local artists and communities with artists and organisations in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Japan, Zambia & Kenya.

The interview was conducted by Stefania Gualberti.

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in music and peacebuilding?

Darren – I was influenced by a lot of things I was doing as a community worker. In my youth I was volunteering for different faith groups, and I volunteered to go to Romania and worked for a couple of projects which ended up lasting over a decade and set up a charity there with various other people. I was influenced by both the community sector but also by popular culture. Musicians like Peter Gabriel, who was using music for speaking out about human rights and also Nitin Sawhney, a British born Asian artist – we took our name Beyond Skin from one of his albums Beyond Skin. There was another project called “1 giant leap” with these two music producers who travelled the world to try to find out what connects us all as human beings and used music as their narrative. Those three different projects really influenced me as well as popular culture, and as a community worker I just loved being around people and I got involved that way.

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

Darren – I’m always learning from other people, every day. A good friend of mine Mark Smulian who did amazing thing with music bringing young people from Israel and Palestine together and is doing lots of things with music for mental health, he reminds me constantly that we are all creative, everyone is creative. Some people have talents such as someone can sing, others are really good dancers. We are all creative. Those of us who are blessed with legs doesn’t mean we are Usain Bolt. Some people have talent, and they can run really fast.

People are creative beings, it’s innate in us, it’s in our DNA. We can also clap together in time randomly, no other creature on earth can do that.

We are creative and we are designed to work together. We have all seen the power of music, especially during COVID time, it got everybody through this traumatic experience. When you see the impact of music and other art forms it makes it obvious to connect it into peace building and community work, why wouldn’t you?

I get invited to a lot of peace conference, peace events and they don’t lead themselves in a way that we function best as human beings. Human beings function at their very best around music, art, green spaces, food, and drink. When we are together in these spaces, we create things, things will come out and we have great time building relationships, relating with one another. When you are in four walls in a hotel room for a conference you don’t have that, it doesn’t have that big impact.

I think we have got to look at how we interact and relate as human beings and integrate that more into peacebuilding.

We tend to think of arts and culture as something you go to: you go to the theatre, to the cinema and so on. But when you wake up in the morning art and creativity is in everything. What we choose to wear in the morning is being creative, we create when we cook, and we are creative when we navigate life challenges, how we deal with things. It’s in us and that should be brought more into peacebuilding so people can relate to that more.

Stefania – How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as musicians or knowledgeable about music?

Darren – At Beyond Skin we try to engage people into music and sound. Sound is very important in how we relate to our environment; it is all around us. A great example is a project we did for Make Music Day4’33. It is based on a famous, very experimental composer called John Cage who is no longer with us. He composed 4’33”, a piece where musicians don’t play anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds and he copy righted. We are replicating that project in collaboration with the John Cage Trust, and we asked 23 musicians from different places in the world to send us videos of themselves not playing anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds and we put a compilation together.

His thought process as composer was that there is always sound. As I am talking to you, I can hear the fridge buzzing, I can hear birds outside, I can hear traffic from the motorway. That is a composition. When we hear the musician from Sri Lanka you can hear the sounds from the environment there. In the piece from the Victoria Falls in Zambia, you can hear the water in the background. Sounds and music are often separated but they are so connected. If you look at Belfast, in West Belfast you have big diesel black taxis which service that area. That is a sound familiar only with that area, you have always that sound on the background and people do not realize that, but when they wake up in the morning they know where they are when they hear that sound. If you were to take those taxis away people would miss that sound and feel maybe a slight unease, as it wouldn’t sound as their environment.

All those elements are important when we interact music and sound. What makes us feel safe and how we step out of our comfort zone and meet people from different cultures and engage with them because, it is all relevant to all of us as human being. How do we engage people with sound? The 4’33” is a great example of that, and everyone can take part, you don’t have to play an instrument.

It is a mindfulness exercise as well, so important coming out of this pandemic which affected everyone in our mental health, if people say they were not affected they are lying. Sound and music give a great opportunity to be mindful, be still and focus on sound. How our brain respond to music is a chemical reaction and the benefits are widely researched.

Inner peace, once you have inner peace you can bring peace into the world. It is that simple, we have to be at peace with ourselves and with our neighbours and then extend to the wider world. The different levels are very much related.

Stefania – How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Darren – It has been well documented, especially in the last few years with the neuroscience research, the impact of sound and music in the healing process.

We work with people who live in countries experiencing violent conflict. Music is a good way to process what might have happened to you. Not to put it away, as it will always be there, but to help move on. We all have this music centre in our brain, it is a chemical reaction, which trigger us, music can be used to deal with trauma in a certain way. It works both way for the people creating and playing the music and for the people listening to it. Art is a very personal experience. When you look at an art gallery you could have someone sticking a bit of tape on the wall and that’s considered art, or somebody could consider the Mona Lisa art, but in my opinion, it is all art. That’s the beauty of art. It is not about being good, that’s subjective.

I think art can have purpose and no purpose. Art is about freedom and expression. Sometimes we forget that. Some of the peacebuilding projects which involve art limit people. I have done a lot of research on social media and YouTube and I have done a presentation on how we make peace infectious. You look at YouTube and there might be a well-done video on the issues of refugees, and it might have 2 million views. Then there is a video of a cat in a bath, and it got 80 million views and you go: “how is that more attractive to people?” We are obviously missing something of what attracts people to things and why that is. I believe the peacebuilding sector needs to look at popular culture to bring new people into those spaces and attract new people.

At Beyond Skin we have always done wacky things. An example is one day I noticed there were all these pop-up stands and people sitting behind tables presenting themselves at events, why would we do that? So, we decided to retire our pop-up stand. We had an official photographer to do a story for us, in a very humorous way but also as a way of challenging the sector in a creative way. If you want to do something as an organisation, association or collective, you don’t need a pop-up stand, just do it. Instead of sitting behind a table, sit in front of it, speak to people. You are the pop-up stand; you are the story you don’t need a pop up stand. It was a way to give people a wee shake and look at why we do things? How we do things, and do they work? Why things like the pop-up stand become normal? We love to challenge the status quo in a creative way.

Stefania – How do you work with people who reject certain music as ‘theirs’ rather than ‘mine’?

Darren – Yes, interesting question as here in Northern Ireland music has divided communities. We have a project at the moment with people part of a marching band from Protestant culture working alongside heavy metal rock musicians. We always bring it back to the music.

We did an event at the Black Box- a music venue in Belfast- and we had three Loyalist marching bands (all men) and we had guest musicians from Colombia and female musicians, as it can be very male dominated sector. We did it and it was great. We got great feedback and one guy came to me and said: “It is great what you have done here” and I responded, “What is so great about bringing musicians together into a music venue?” Sometimes the politics take over. Those were just some guys learning to play, read music, the band gave them a place where they felt they belonged and gave them the space to be creative. That’s overlooked.

In the new project we are creating a heavy metal flute marching band. That is to open up to audiences who might have not listened to that kind of music and going beyond the stereotypes. Music is a great way to do that, connect people.

We did another project with Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, and it opened up to people who said “I have never listened to that music” but through these projects they have been introduced to this other music and I find this interesting.

As my friend Mark would say “Music does not assist the dialogue, music is the dialogue”. Getting people together to do art and play music is a way of building relation and relax to talk about their culture. In some peacebuilding events you bring people together, strangers, and they are encouraged to talk about the issues. You would not do that in real life, why would you do it there. You need to build up trust and relationship.

At Beyond Skin we need to justify it with the funders that we are doing it in a different way, but this is more effective. Sometimes peacebuilding can get very boring! I have been to many boring peacebuilding events. Why are we here? I could be doing something much more interesting, fun and get people to talk about serious issues as well.

I was in Japan before the pandemic last year and I was at an event organised by this organisation who is doing music and peacebuilding. They are the largest music peacebuilding organisation, they are called Min-on Concert Association, they have been going on for 40 years and they have one million volunteers. How do we get one million volunteers? How do you sustain that? I had a meeting with the founders to talk about how they did that. I could see their smile the joy was apparent. I thought, whatever you have, I want that and that is what is really attractive. I had been at a antiracism event where lots of people were really angry and they were right to be angry but I left feeling angry. I don’t want that, that is not attractive, no wonder they struggle to get members. In this association, you have people with smiles on their faces, they are well aware of the problems of the world and they say: let’s deal with that!

There is nothing fun about racism and sectarianism but there is a way to use fun and joy to deal with those issues by engaging people in dialogue. We have to find ways to attract people (the cat in a bath).

Stefania – How can global education help tackle racism and sectarianism locally?

Darren – Before Beyond skin I worked with developing organisations who worked with countries struggling with poverty and in global education programmes. The project “1 giant leap” looked at issues that connect us, love, faith, death, sex, money… all the subjects that relate with all of us.


One of the big issues at the moment is health as well as gender inequality. I have a four year old girl and I am thinking about her future and what she will be dealing with, we should have tackled those issues years ago (pay gap, accessibility and patriarchy).

Global education for me is listening and learning from our global neighbours. When the pandemic hit, we contacted our friends in Africa, they always had restrictions and always have done with less than we have. So, we asked how are you doing it? We should be doing the same. Learning from them. Our partners in Zambia are well ahead of us in terms of renewable energies, they are doing tremendous stuff! It is important to learn from our global neighbours.

Stefania – Is there a particular project or engagement that stands out for you that you can talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Darren – Not one particular project. We did a conference in a very different way as we left 50% of it unprogrammed, a space for what was emerging. It was March 2017 and it is difficult to describe, it was powerful. At that event my friend Mark got up to the stage saying, “Music does not assist dialogue, music is the dialogue.” We got into this discussion on how the funding can be restrictive and put you in a box. A lot of artists felt like that. If you are from Africa that doesn’t mean you need to do drumming; you like jazz, do jazz. Don’t let people put you in a box, be creative. That opens the door for us. A big initiative called Art Dialogue was born out of that. 30 artists collaborate together from different countries in very creative and innovative ways. That conference was one of those moments of realization, we need to be freeing artists and not being restricted/restrictive. Freedom in art to make a difference; freedom from labels, expectations and stereotypes and bringing fun and joy into the process.

We get invited to help organise multicultural festivals. I ask, what is the difference between a festival and a multicultural festival? Just mainstream it and call it festival so it becomes normal to have a diversity of people collaborating in it. When I hear Chinese people called minority when they are in fact a global majority, I think we need to change perspective, from our inward perspective. Let us focus on our language, what is a minority? What are we saying? It gives a distorted perception of reality. I think with art you can “shake the tree”, challenge people and wake them up a little bit.

Stefania – Could you share or summarise some of your learnings in your years of experience?

Darren – Every day is a school day, every day I am learning. There are no experts in peacebuilding. Peace is a process, a process of learning.

Get people together around food, music, art and green spaces and things happen.

Take risks, we constantly say let’s do this and deal later with the consequences.

Understand where people are coming from, you don’t know what they are going through. We have to be really empathetic with our fellow humans. We can’t judge people from what we see, as we don’t have the full picture -social media doesn’t help as it is very reactive, you wouldn’t do that to somebody in person, we need to bring back people to human interactions.

– – – – – –

Raytheon in Derry

June 2021 StoP webinar report

by Eamon Rafter

The webinar was organised by StoP – Swords to Ploughshares, a new Irish network against the Arms Trade. With Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast grant aided by the UK government to manufacture military drones and their continued support for arms production at Thales, it was decided that it was a good time to get together to celebrate the removal of Raytheon from Derry to inspire resistance to current development in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The webinar was introduced and moderated by Joe Murray of AFRI. He spoke about how he saw a picture of John Hume and David Trimble welcoming Raytheon to Derry in 1999 as the ‘first fruits of the peace process’. The shocking irony of this had inspired him to hold a public meeting in Derry along with Children in Cross fire and this included students from East Timor at a time when weapons from the UK were being sold to the Indonesian military for use in East Timor. Out of this meeting FEIC – Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign was founded who along with Derry Ant-War Coalition (DAWC) and others built the campaign against Raytheon.

Jim Keys was one of the people behind the FEIC campaign and he gave an overview of how this cross community group with no party affiliation operated as a loose alliance who took on Raytheon. Following the AFRI meeting they had worked on an East Timor mural and set up a citizens jury to consider the appropriateness of Raytheon coming the Derry. The jury returned a verdict of ‘not welcome’ and a monthly vigil was established outside the Raytheon offices. A symbolic grave was dug here to mark the innocent victims of the weapons industry and signs around the city, the appearance of the theatrical ‘stealth monster’ and various actions took place which included the use of the Free Derry wall.

Politicians didn’t engage though in 2003 the City Council did oppose the war in Iraq. Raytheon did not engage or make a response to any of this, though they claimed that the Derry operation was essentially a civil one. Jim pointed out that Derry was a place where people understood what it was like to be ‘collateral damage’ and this was important in the development of the campaign. With a vigil in the Guildhall Sq, a shroud covering the Free Derry Wall and the Black Shamrock symbol of Irish neutrality and opposition to war, the campaign broadened across the city and in Feb 2008 a plaque was placed on the city walls dedicated to lives lost as a result of weapons made in Derry. Though the campaign would continue with regular vigils it would take a more public action to have greater effect.

Eamonn McCann, who had been a key leader in the civil rights movement, was one of the six of the Raytheon 9 who stood trial for occupying the Raytheon offices in August 2006. He talked about what had led to the occupation and how they were vindicated in court. A meeting of DAWC had taken place in Sandino’s Bar on 2nd August to hear former U.S. army interrogator Joshua Casteel. Hearing about the recent Israeli massacre in Qana, Lebanon on 30th July, the Raytheon connection was made and it was decided to occupy the plant.

It was felt that everything had been tried to engage the politicians and media and that vigils would not be enough to close down Raytheon. There had been no support from the mainstream who said they were against weapons manufacture but did nothing against it. The occupation of 9th August (the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing) was a last resort and McCann talked about the ‘semi-spontaneity’ of the event. They didn’t expect to get in but had managed to rush the door as an employee went in and once inside proceeded to throw computers and materials out the window. The eventual arrival of riot police in full armour saw nine men seated quietly playing cards and they were arrested and subsequently put on trial.

Eamonn Mc Cann talked about the case that was presented at that trial in 2008 and how the six men were acquitted. The case was based on the fact that the law would not see their action as defensible, so they had to show that they were actually trying to save lives, stop or delay a war crime, not just protest against it. They had to show that they had previously done everything that was possible and only after that failed did they commit to action in the reasonable belief they could stop war. The involvement of the Derry Raytheon plant in the development of rocket guidance systems and interconnectedness of the computer system with the Scotland plant meant they had legitimately targeted this to put the system out of action to help prevent a greater evil. In effect they put Raytheon on trial and their defence was McCann claimed ‘unassailable’. This gave it a certain international resonance and he felt that the Derry action had a real effect on the morale of victims in Qana, who they later went to visit.

He said it was the best thing he ever did and that it is never futile to stand up against war, even though you think it won’t achieve anything. The accumulation of actions, protests and messaging had been important so it was not a one off event. The trial victory was the pay-off for many previous events. It was important that the occupation was not over-planned and had some element of spontaneity. Neither was it just about the ‘burly men’ who were arrested, as women had been hugely involved. He said it was essential ‘to do everything patiently, but not to be afraid to be daring when the moment comes’. You need to wait and be alert for that moment.

Goretti Horgan was one of the nine women who entered the Raytheon offices in a third occupation in 2009. She spoke about being motivated by the Shannon 5 who had earlier attacked a US military aircraft in Shannon Airport and been through a long trial at which they were acquitted. Goretti had been present at the second occupation though at the time left before the arrival of the police to avoid being arrested. She emphasised that women had always been involved in the protests and actions and that Israeli bombings of Gaza had also been an influence on the women’s occupation. The precision guidance systems used in the Israeli attack were developed by Raytheon.

The women’s occupation may not have done as much damage as the men’s but it had stopped the plant functioning and kept the opposition to Raytheon going which was important. This time the main frame computer had been encased in steel so water couldn’t damage it. She said it was an educational process where they learnt a lot about the arrogance and lies of the arms industry. The sheer horror of the weapons they manufactured was shocking and it was hard to conceive how people thought them up in the first place. ‘We have to do whatever we can to end this evil trade for once and for all’ she said. The women were also put under trial and acquitted.

There was some discussion at the end of the session and some conclusions were drawn. Protests had never stopped after the trials and Raytheon eventually announced their departure in January 2010. They denied this had anything to do with the protests but under Freedom of Information it was revealed that they had said they couldn’t stay because the legal system could not guarantee their safety. It was mentioned that global solidarity is important and the protests at Raytheon in Tucson, U.S., had taken inspiration from what happened in Derry.

It is essential to know your rights and work together to get rid of the arms trade. We need to draw on victories like the one in Derry to give us momentum, just as the Dunnes Stores strikes against South African apartheid and solidarity with East Timor had had an effect. A new phase of protest would now be required to oppose recent arms contracts in Belfast and extractive industries. Derry activists were ready to be involved again and this time would make connections with climate change and what arms trade does to the environment.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 290

Art and Peace series

In the space between –

an interview with Viviana Fiorentino

Viviana Fiorentino is a teacher, writer, poet and activist. She is Italian and lives in Belfast. She published in international webzines, journals and in anthologies (Dedalus Press, 2019; Salmon, 2020); In Italy, a poetry collection (Controluna Press) and a novel (Transeuropa Publishing House).

She co-founded two activist poetry initiatives ‘Sky, you are too big’, a celebration on international migrants day which combines poetry and music from migrant artists living in Northern Ireland Letters with wings’ (founded on Poetry Day Ireland 2020) is a poetry campaign in support of artists in prison that collected 727 poetic letters to be sent to artists in prison for their art and/for defending their freedom of speech and human rights. ‘Letter with wings’ as part of the ‘Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics’ in 2021, organised “When art meets activism”, an online event dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (Kurdish origin folk musician and political prisoner in Turkey).

She is on the editorial staff of Le Ortique, a blog and an initiative that voices and rediscovers forgotten women artists.

She facilitates the creative writing and photography project “Same/Difference” (Quotidian – Word of the Street Ltd – exploring themes like identity, belonging, diversity and peacebuilding.

She was interviewed by Stefania Gualberti.

Stefania: How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and activism?

Viviana: The truth is “I don’t know”, exactly. If I look back at my background and experiences which led to my involvement in art, it comes to my mind all the times that I walked back and forward, that I changed my path, all the times I questioned my perspective, interrogated my way of living. My background is made of this: lots of intertwined paths. These doubts and questions led me to my involvement in art.

My first path was to study Natural Science and Biology. The connection to nature and the environment around me was for sure very important for both my involvement with art and activism. My art is a way for me to connect with the world around me, with the nature and the environment. Activism for me is living as communities which means to connect with the world around us, nature. Nature is made of human beings as well. Sometimes we perceive nature as non-human animals and plants, but nature is the whole environment, including us and all the millions of interactions between ‘we’ animals and organisms. If we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves too, this is a form of activism.

My background is also influenced by the fact that I travelled a lot in Europe. I was born in Italy and after secondary school I left the country and l went back to Italy and left again when I was 28. I lived in Switzerland, in Germany, in England, back in Germany and finally in Northern Ireland. These changes in ground and languages gave me the opportunity to shift my point of view many times. I think a revolution of the point of view is at the base of art. When you create art, you have to look at the world around you, or anything that is ‘the other’, from a different, new, perspective. To express it you need to be outside for a moment, in a space which is in between. This space allows you to create something new.

Stefania: What do you feel is special about art to challenge, connect and transform?

Viviana: Every day we listen to thousands of words, from the radio, the media, from the people around us as we receive the news from the world. In a way we become anaesthetized, we lose contact with words, we forget the meaning of words. Art, writing in my case, put these words back in a new context. That way we have a kind of revelation again from the words. This is the challenge. The art has a transformative quality. As we get this revelation, we finally see the new meanings of the words, from which we were anaesthetized, we have the possibility to transform our feelings of rage, despair, sorrow into something new, into something that can be beautiful through the act of creating.

Stefania: How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Viviana: There are two sides: one side is the power of transformation of collecting your experiences and reshaping them. The other side, the healing process, is not in the art itself but in the connection that art offers us. We create art to communicate with “the other”. For example, when I write a poem, at the end, I create a connection with another person. The healing is there whenever I reach somebody else. It can be just one single person, it can be in the future, it doesn’t matter. This connection, this possibility we have, is a flow of love.

I am not sure that art can be healing for the person who is creating it, it might sometimes, for me the healing happens in the moment the artist and the receiver connect. When you as an artist reach someone and when someone is reached by the art. The healing is not in the art but in the connection thanks to the art.

I think sometimes creating can be energetically tiring as you have to put together your fragmented pieces and you have to recollect your experiences that maybe traumatized you, so it can be a problem of re-suffering. In that moment of recollection the artist does a leap: you leave your specific individuality, your ‘ego’, for making that experiences universal. Before reaching the page, there is a process of growing, so to say, for you as artist. Somehow you are you look at yourself from outside.

This moment when you are in between space, in this outside space, is when you look at your life, and say, look that was me, but now it is an experience for everyone – you want in fact talk to many others – it becomes a universal perspective. It’s the growing of a new possibility, like a seed, you see you can grow from there. You can move forward from that experience. So, at the end, I can heal from that experience thanks to the other person that I imagine will receive my art. Art is art if it is universal, if it has something that can speak to others.

Stefania, you also asked me about the collective levels. In this sense, art can be a glue, because of its power of universality we can stick together. We can find a collective voice, in a poem, in a painting, so we can imagine something together.

Stefania: How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘writers’ or ‘poets’? How can poetry be accessible to everybody given that it is sometimes seen as the most pretentious of the arts?

Viviana: It is a challenging question because the inaccessibility of poetry comes, I think, from an old way of talking or reading poetry in education. Because of its nature, most poetry can talk to everyone, and it is largely accessible, it depends on how we read it. What is a poem? It is something written on a piece of paper. It is like a stone, it does not speak by itself; we need to give it a voice. How is the stone made? Maybe it is sedimented with water, but where does it come from? The same questions can be asked for a poem.

In a poem, what are the meanings of the words? What are the sediments that made it? What is the poem saying to us? Doing that, we give the poem a voice and doing so we recognise a part of ourselves in there. Looking for the voices inside us and bringing them to the surface is a way to say, Look, that is what I understood, what do you think? This question is poetry.

Each art has its own tools and techniques you need to learn if you want to be a professional, but the kernel is this voice which is inside of everyone.

Stefania: How has your bilingual and migration experience facilitated your engagement in this area?

Viviana: In Northern Ireland in particular, there is a movement from the reality which was true 30 years ago of a net division between two different groups. Now there is a wealth of different cultures which still needs to be recognized by the society. Each migrant here has this beautiful great possibility to be a bridge for those people who think they are still divided. People who have more than one language, more than one culture, can be a present for Northern Ireland.

Stefania: In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Viviana: There are two main projects that are part of my art and heart. One is Same/difference devised by Quotidian artists Maria McManus, Nandi Jola, Bernarde Lynn and I. It is a series of creative writing and photography workshops. The project has been implemented for the first time in Portadown supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council  through Peace IV funds. It was then followed by further implementations of the project with two further series. It examines the concept of identity, belonging, home, diversity and peace-building, through creative writing and expressive abilities and explores the lived – experience of migration.

The common thread is to see ourselves with the eyes of the others, being in dialogue with the others, understating my own story and listening to the others’. The groups we worked with actually represent Northern Ireland’s society today, diverse.

Letters with wings was born last year (2020) during the first lockdown when the feeling of constraint in our house was a good opportunity to emotionally connect with artists and people who all over the world were imprisoned for fighting for human rights or for defending freedom of expression. We asked the public to send on social media artistic letters to address to the artists who were imprisoned. We collected more than 700 letters and we are in the process of sending these letters. The letters can be read in our website ( It was fantastic, we had a great engagement as people felt the necessity to reach out to the artists who were imprisoned. It was a community project, which was the strength of it, to do something together, to imagine a possibility all together.

I would love to finish up this interview with a poem that actually inspired many of the projects I talked during this interview. I initially wrote it in Italian then Maria McManus and I worked together toward a translation in English. Please take it as a way to thank you for this opportunity.

I – Landing


Sky, you are too big;

Persian Blue –

I cannot know you.


Instead, I call on you, Land;

give me a place to put my feet,

a home for my uncertainty,

a place to doubt.


A place to live.

– – – – – –