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War Resisters' International at the 5th European Social Forum and 1st European Peace Action Forum in Malmö, Sweden.

The 5th European Social Forum in Malmö

Action during the ESF 2008Action during the ESF 2008

More than two years have passed by since the last European Social Forum in Athens in May 2006. From the southern edge of Europe, the European Social Forum has now moved to the north: Malmö in Sweden has been a very welcoming city for the 5th European Social Forum, and although the forum was spread out over several venues in Malmö, all of them were within walking distance.

Another big difference to Athens was that dogmatic Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, or Stalinist groups were much less dominant in Malmö, and the forum made the impression that it was much more diverse and open than previous ones (since London in 2004). The Nordic organising committee has also been very open to the request by the European Peace Action forum (EPA) to allow all EPA events to take place in the same space. Thus, there was a peace space at the European Social Forum, which was a great place to meet people and network.

It has been impossible to attend all peace related workshops and seminars and this ESF, which is a good sign. Not only as part of the European Peace Action forum, also as part of the ESF there were a lot of events dealing with the upcoming 60th birthday NATO summit, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the militarisation of the European union, and a range of other peace related issues.

It is important that the Assembly of Social Movements took up the NATO summit as an important event in 2009, and is calling for “a large demonstration in April the 4th in Strasbourg/Kehl, centre of celebration of the 60th anniversary of NATO, to say “stop NATO” and dissolving this terrifying tool of war.” And the same time, the Assembly is calling for demonstrations all over Europe, and calls on the next World Social Forum, which will take place in Brazil in January 2009, to declare 4 April 2009 a “day of international mobilisation against Nato”.

Nonviolence or Nonexistence

War Resisters' International has mainly been involved with the European Peace Action forum, but jointly with Turning the Tide and the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation, WRI also organised a seminar at the “main” ESF, titled “Nonviolence or Nonexistence”. Although we were assigned a bad time slot – Sunday morning after the party, and in parallel to the Assembly of Social Movements, about 60 people showed up for the seminar, which was facilitated by WRI Council member Stellan Vinthagen, and featured Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, Andreas Speck, War Resisters' International, Laura Ciaghi, Christian Peacemaker Teams, a representative of the International Solidarity Movement from Sweden as speakers.

The discussion focused on the need and strategy for nonviolent movements, drawing from the experience in different contexts, from the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, the intifada in Palestine to nonviolent movements in Western Europe.

NATO and the European Union

NATO and the militarisation of the European Union were two very important issues, both at the European Social Forum and within the European Peace Action forum. Within the framework of the EPA, one session looked at different aspects of NATO and EU militarisation, from the use of NATO's “Partnership for Peace” and the Eastern expansion of NATO over the Lisbon treaty and its military aspects to NATO's and the EU's military infrastructure.

WRI also participated in a session on NATO focused on the 60th birthday summit next year.

European Peace Action Forum (EPA)

EPA was made possible because Ofog (http://ofog.org) – antimilitarist group doing disarmament direct action from Sweden – initiate this effort and provided as local host.  As initiators, Ofog invited other organisations to join the coordination process. WRI got involved from an early stage in the preparations for EPA.

The plan was to have a forum inside the general ESF, focusing on peace, antimlitarism and nonviolence from a radical and nonviolent action perspective. The programme for EPA was also part of the general ESF process, but bringing together these issues in one combine programme.

The EPA programme was divided in 5 main themes: 


  • Globalisation of militarism
  • Nuclear weapons
  • The growing influence of NATO and the militarisation of the European Union
  • Nonviolence - actions, campaigns and movements
  • The militarisation of space

The coordinators of EPA managed to have all of our activities in the same venue and had a café 'Fredis' which provided the perfect place for informal chats. At Fredis we also had presentations of films and live music performances which made the evenings more enjoyable.

Workshop - Campaigns against war profiteers

The workshop on campaigns against war profiteers was part of the Globalisation of militarism theme, the other workshop in that theme was on military infrastructure.

This workshop was coordinated by WRI, bringing together different European campaigns. 

The first presentation came from Centre D'Estudis Per a la Pau from Catalonia, Spain. They began with a presentation on the arms trade in Spain - production, exports and military budget - followed by a presentation about their campaign 'BBVA without arms'. BBVA is a bank with investments in the arms trade.

Inez Louwagie from Vredesactie presented the campaign 'My Money Clear Conscience' speaking about the successes of this campaign in pressuring Belgian institutions to disinvest from what they call 'controversial arms'. She finished her presentation telling the story of how as part of the campaign they created a fake bank 'Ace Bank' in the centre of Brussels, which said that they invested in controversial businesses, so that way they could secure good investments. People were shocked from what they heard, and in the end they made a press conference saying that it was a fake bank, an opportunity that they used to show that what they showed as illegal in their fake bank was the same that many 'legal' banks are doing on a daily basis.

Cajsa Nykvist and Anna Sanne Göransson from Ofog told us about the disarmament work of Ofog, focusing on their Disarm Camp 2008, which is a camp that takes place in Karlskoga, home of the two big companies - BAE Systems Bofors and Saab Bofors Dynamics (together known as ”Bofors”). Weapons produced in Karlskoga are used in wars all around the world and Sweden is today the 9th biggest seller of weapons in the world.

Finally we had a presentation from Rolf Lindahl from the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society  (SPAS) presenting the work of SPAS against Swedish arms exports. Rolf also presented the European Network Against Arms Trade network which is an important place for sharing information and working together against arms trade in the region.

Workshop - Nonviolence training

As part of the EPA, War Resisters' International organised a session of trainings in nonviolence, focusing on different parts of a nonviolent movement – from preparing for a single action, over the development of a campaign up to looking at a movement at a whole.

The session began with an introduction by WRI Council member Stellan Vinthagen. Following this, it was split into three parallel sessions: preparing for action, facilitated by Inez Louwagie and Martin Smedjebak, tools for campaign development, facilitated by Stellan Vinthagen and Javier Garate, and Movement Action Plan, facilitated by Marcus Armstrong and Andreas Speck.

In total about 60 persons participated in the nonviolence training sessions, and generally it showed that it is possible at an event such as the ESF to not just listen and discuss, but also to get more practical and do training.

Action against Aimpoint

Friday, 19th of September was the day of action at EPA. The plan was to do an action together as EPA, people were welcome to join small groups or to join the general action organised by EPA.  The day before saw trainings for preparation for action and also a lot of work preparing banners for the action.

The company, Aimpoint - or the more suitable "Shamepoint" - manufactures red dots sight used by armies around the world, including the US army in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Most of the people who took part in the action travelled together from the EPA venue to the offices of Aimpoint where the bus driver was so kind to let us all in without having to pay for the bus ticket  - what a good way to encourage disarmament actions!-  Our bus was followed along all the route by the Swedish police, it felt like having an official escort for our action. A special feature and new to international participants was the presence of Dialogue Police and Dialogue Demonstrator who are responsible for communicating what is happening with the other side.

Once we arrived at Aimpoint, a small group, formed of members from Switzerland Without an Army, Vredesactie and Ofog climbed the fence and got inside the facilities of Aimpoint. The group was holding a banner that read “war starts in Europe let's stop it from here! Aimpoint kills”.  While the group was inside Aimpoint's premises, a group of around 100 demonstrators made noise to expose the company as a war profiteer, a group from the clown army kept us all in a positive friendly action attitude. After some minutes the group that made it inside was arrested and taken in police vans to the police station. As part of the action we had a 1 minute long scream, for all to take out our frustrations and non-acceptance of what the company is involved in. Following the scream around 50 of the demonstrators did a die in representing the victims from the wars Aimpoint equipment is used in.  One member of the clown army was detained when she climbed the fence, but later was released and not taken to the police station.

The action finished with a big sheer, which was a good end to a positive and friendly action against a Swedish war profiteer. Again we all jumped on a bus, this time even with the help of the police to make sure that the bus will stop for us.

The group of arrestees were release a few hours later.

EPA's closing session

The closing session was more for looking at the future than as a evaluation of EPA. We divided in three groups: coordination of actions, information sharing and another EPA?

Coordination of actions

This group looked at different actions that are taking place in the coming year, looking at what the groups around EPA would be interested in doing. One clear position is that there is interest to continue working and doing actions together. The group came up with a list of actions planned for the coming year.

2008

October

November

2009

March


  • 20 – 23 : Coordinated actions as part of the build up to NATO summit

April


  • 4: Summit 60 years of NATO

October

We focused on two main upcoming actions:

* Decentralised day of action “War Starts from Europe” - proposal that came out after the NATO Game Over event last March in Brussels. To get groups to do  action against military infrastructure locally. Number of groups involved with EPA said that are planning actions, but also there is uncertainty about how many groups are actually planning an action. It was said that we need that the EPA website has a space for groups to post their actions plans and need to get people to promote the action to other networks, like the No Bases and Keep Space for Peace. We will continue using the NATO Game Over list serve to coordinate these actions. People interested in joining it should contact the WRI office at info@wri-irg.org

* NATO 60 years summit - There are a number of activities prepared for the NATO summit and groups involved with EPA are also part of the preparations for them. The first weekend of October there will be meetings in Stuttgart and Hamburg as preparation for the actions against NATO. In January there is planned a meeting for the more action oriented activities against the summit. There will be action camps during the summit and it was decided to have a EPA 'barrio' at the action camp, where we can organise coordinated actions as EPA at the summit and have our own space for sharing between the groups involved with EPA.

Information sharing

The www.europeanpeaceaction.org site will continue to be a site used for EPA, with report from actions and for preparation for upcoming events. The site should be integrated to the WRI  and the McMilitary site .

The EPA newsletter will continue to be produced but needs an editorial group for it. There will be an EPA list serve, but needs clarification what will be the difference with the NATO Game Over list.

Another EPA?

We want to continue meeting as EPA, the suggestion was to attach EPA meetings to other events. It was not said how regular this meetings should be. For next year it was suggested to meet as EPA at the events around the NATO summit.

The need to involve more groups from Central and Eastern Europe was raised, by having a EPA meeting there could help in this process.

The next ESF will be in Turkey in 2010, but it was not discussed if we want to have a EPA presence there.