Nonviolence: a style of politics for peace & the EU
Seeking to build on Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message: A Style of Politics for Peace in which Francis invited the international community to make better use of nonviolent strategies, on 21 April, Pax Christi International hosted a lively panel discussion at its Brussels office. Pax Christi believes that the EU, along with its member states, has an important role to play, having employed and supported financially a wide array of external assistance instruments for the prevention of violent conflict and peace building.
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK, moderated the panel discussion, with panelists Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International; Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, a Sister of Loreto, professor at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi and member of Pax Christi International’s board; Canan Gündüz, mediation adviser at the EU External Action Service (EEAS); and Joachim Koops, dean of Vesalius College, Free University of Brussels (VUB) and director of the Global Governance Institute (GGI). The panelists thus represented a variety of backgrounds (grassroots, policy, research) and were able to speak about the potential for using nonviolent strategies and tools in responding to conflicts in the world. They also identified the challenges facing nonviolent strategies. The second part of the panel discussion looked at the link with EU policies.
Nonviolence: a surer way of guaranteeing peace
In her opening remarks, Ms. Gaffney said that Pax Christi International was born out of the experience of war in Europe, ‘so we have a link and commitment to the EU.’ She mentioned the Nonviolence & Just Peace conference held in 2016, when the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative was created, and noted that the fruit of the conference was the 2017 World Day of Peace message, which acknowledges that nonviolence connects with politics, economics, culture, dialogue, and advocacy.
Ms. Dennis referred to the EU as creative and courageous, pointing out that Pax Christi International ‘believes much more creative energy and resources to peaceful methods are essential to addressing huge challenges of today.’ She shared the findings of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, whose book, ‘Why civil resistance works,’ presents strong empirical evidence that active nonviolence succeeds at a significantly higher rate than armed struggle. She also noted that a positive step in avoiding violence is investment in community-rooted civil society organizations whilst at the same time recognizing that the concepts of “grassroots” and “civil society” should be defined according to their particular context.
The need for training in nonviolence
Sr. Wachira shared African grassroots approaches to nonviolence. She discussed traditional forms of reconciliation and “justice-making”. These are restorative rather than adversarial, and focus on rebuilding relationships in the sense of person-to-person reconciliation. Sr. Wachira explained the philosophy of ubuntu: ‘I am because we are.’ Regarding what the EU can do, she said it is important to support both research endeavours at universities -- where there can be ‘training of trainers’ -- and financial support of grassroots efforts: ‘The solutions are there.’
Subjects addressed by audience members’ questions and comments included the definition of violence (both physical and spiritual), the critical need for a strong civil society, and the requisite for both grassroots and top levels to work together.
Speaking from the perspective of the EEAS, Ms. Gunduz reminded the audience that the EU itself is an ideal institutional example of nonviolence. ‘What looks like a bureaucracy project is a nonviolence project actually and nonviolence references can be found in the treaties of the EU deriving all sorts of policy commitments.’ She mentioned several examples of strong elements of nonviolence in EU statements, such as recent ones on Syria and Yemen, and emphasized the EU’s commitment to mediation at all levels. She pointed out that the EU is an international ally for nonviolence, but also that we need to address its challenges and limitations.
The EU and conflict prevention
Prof. Koops highlighted the EU priority of conflict prevention, which is now on the agenda of every single organisation and government, and that we have seen diplomatic successes. He reminded the audience that the EU focuses on an integrated, comprehensive approach, and that military use is seen as part of the ‘full spectrum of tools [which] need to [be used] wisely.’ However, the ‘responsibility to protect’ first says that there is a responsibility to prevent, and a responsibility to rebuild. He also pointed out conflict prevention and peace building are heavily underfunded when compared to military funding.
A topic discussed by the panel was the EU’s role in supplying arms to others: ‘How do we counteract the financial interest of EU states in arms?’ Important questions concern the need to ‘educate people to not turn a blind eye’, to address both structural and economic violence, and how to mobilise interest in on-going conflicts in order to generate action.
Judy Coode, Project Coordinator,
and Alice Kooij Martinez, Advocacy Officer,
The views expressed in Europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.