The Independent Peace Movements in Eastern Europe

By John Bacher

Significant independent peace movements have arisen in Eastern Europe. In each of the Warsaw Pact states where they exist these reflect the particular national conditions which

shape their citizens' concerns and involvement for peace. What they have in common is an ability, unlike the official peace councils, to express concerns for peace that differ from the views prevailing within their respective governments, although always with varying degrees of personal risk.

German Democratic Republic

It is in the two Germanies that the absurdity and the dangers of the Cold War are most evident to the general population. It is here that the first nuclear "theatre" battleground is most likely to be located. Despite the division of Germany into two states, close personal and cultural ties between citizens create rational resistance to the Cold War ideology of both blocs. Television programs from both states are viewed on each side of the border. Every year West Germans make three-and-a-half-million visits to East Germany and some 40,000 East Germans visit West Germany. The similarities between the two German states account for much that is similar in their peace movement.

The resurgence of the nonaligned West German peace movement, with its strong support for the withdrawal of foreign troops and missiles from West Germany, for the dissolution of NATO and the creation of a neutral state, has helped to spark the birth of its East German counterpart. The Greens' desire to get rid of NATO has changed the whole situation in the GDR, where the government cannot explain them away as part of the power complex in the West." The Greens have organized simultaneous peace demonstrations in both West and East Berlin. And GDR authorities have banned all known Green activists from the East.

The East German independent peace movement has emerged over a decade in the context of a military ethos exaggerated by the state's lack of historical national identity. Patriotism is difficult to engender here. Consequently a belief in the state's soldiers as the peoples' defenders against the reactionary militarists of West Germany is taught from the Kindergarten level. Children assemble toy tanks in school. Arithmetic books feature pictures of guns and uniforms. A grade nine civil defence text shows how to construct fallout shelters. It also depicts drawings of men in gas masks and vacuum cleaners, ridding homes of radioactive dust after a nuclear blast. After viewing this material, journalist Adam Hochschild commented in Mother Jones that it was like a "parody of our own civil defence propaganda of the 'SOs, based on the same myth of easy survival in a postnuclear holocaust world."

The first independent peace activity in the GDR was a response to the introduction of conscription in 1962. Some 3000 persons refused service on the grounds of conscientious objection~ Less than a dozen were actually imprisoned. The national Lutheran church took up their cause, and its pressure resulted in the creation in 1964 of special army "Construction Units" (Bausoldaten) for conscientious objectors. This remains the most liberal provision for conscientious objection in any of the Warsaw Pact states. Popular pressures against militarization since 1975 have increased the civilian quality of this construction corps. Former members of the Bausoldaten have become prominent in the independent peace movement. They have kept in touch with each other and have organized peace seminars. Their distinctive clothes have been called "a uniform for a division of the peace movement, an East Germany speciality."

Recent militarization in the GDR has stimulated new independent peace action. In 1982 a new conscription law permitted the drafting of women, which resulted in protests from several hundred women. Similar protests emerged in 1978 over the new "Defence Studies" in high schools. This led both West and East German churches to campaign for a program of peace education.

A surprising boost to the GDR's independent peace movement came in 1981 from the Berlin Writers' Gathering for Peace, organized by that nation's Academy of Arts and Academy of Sciences. Despite the state sponsorship of the event, no attempt was made to screen the participants politically. They included even former East German writers who had been exiled to the West for their dissident views. Many officially acclaimed GDR writers expressed support for independent initiatives for peace in their own country. Although the Western media tended only to focus on evidence of Eastern European dissidence, and the Eastern media focused on Western writers' criticism of their own governments, the GDR Academy of Art published a verbatim transcript, the 3000 copies of which were immediately sold out. The writers' resolution supported "all attempts to ensure peace through disarmament, whether or not they have the blessing of the government in question." Taking up the defence of those who have been persecuted for peace was proclaimed as a duty. At the urging of the Vice-Chair of the Russian Writers' Association, a motion was passed urging that "simultaneously and without reservations the two military blocs should be dissolved."

On January 25, 1982, a month following the Berlin Writers meeting, the Berlin Appeal was launched. It called for the creation of a European nuclear weapons free zone, negotiations by the two German states for the removal of all nuclear weapons from their soil, withdrawal of all foreign troops from the two states, and guarantees from the former Allied nations of nonintervention in the affairs of the two Germanies. It also urged the banning of war toys, replacing defence studies with peace studies, broadening the alternatives to military service, and removing military displays from public celebrations. The Appeal characterized "so-called civil-defence exercises" as "a method of psychological preparation for war." The authors of the Berlin Appeal were Robert Havemann, one of the GDR's most famous critical Marxists, and Rainer Eppelman, an East Berlin pastor specializing in work with young people. The Appeal was deplored by the conservative Berlin Brandenburg Lutheran Church as being full of "insinuations that have no place in the discipleship of Christ" and for painting a "distorted picture of those who bear political responsibility." Over 2000 signatures to this appeal were obtained in the GDR within a few weeks of its launching. And a translation of it won the support of British trade unions and peace groups.

The Dresden Peace Forum occurred in February, 1982. It rernains the largest independent peace action in Eastern Europe, involving 5000 young activists who gathered from all over the GDR, despite official harassment, in a Dresden cathedral which still bears the scars of the city's bombing in 1945 by the British and Americans. Four church officials spoke and answered questions. One bishop was roundly hissed and whistled for expressing his opposition to the Berlin Appeal. At 10:15 pm, the exact moment of the beginning of the Western bombing thirty-seven years ago, about 2000 persons arose and filed out. They walked with candles to the ruins of another church half a mile away, which serves as a memorial to the destruction of the city. The crowd sang and stood for several hours on the ruins, arms linked.

Many of the Dresden participants wore a fabric badge sewn to their sleeves. This began to be recognized as the symbol of autonomous peace activists in the GDR. The badge depicted a statue which the Soviet Union had presented to the United Nations in 1961 of a man beating a sword into a hammer. This badge became adopted by many young people as an emblem of their concern for peace. Badges were banned in schools and colleges and persons were refused admittance to trains for wearing them. The state launched a propaganda campaign against the badge wearers. Sometimes this backfired. After a Mayor declared that "Those who wear the 'Swords into Ploughshares' emblem will tomorrow be wearing the West German flag, and the next day the swastika," his audience got up and left. Eventually the badge was simply formally banned - but young people resorted to wearing blank patches on their shoulders, or wearing the Soviet postage stamp depicting the sculpture. The badge is still worn in gatherings held in churches.

In the fall of 1984, GDR authorities began a severe repression of the independent peace movement. The most active militants were jailed, or driven to emigrate. One was sentenced to forty-two months imprisonment for possessing a Solidarity badge while serving in the army.

Yet, despite repression, the independent peace movement continues. Some 3000 youthful participants were involved in a peace workshop held in an East Berlin church. The Lutheran Church of the GDR issued a proclamation against deterrence, and 9000 people urged the banning of war toys. Independent peace activists from the GDR wrote to the 1985 END convention, calling for a new politics by the European peace movement rooted in the labor movement. This was seen as already evolving: The peace movement was becoming a "survival movement in which ecological, emancipatory, and social questions are jointly considered." Despite their continuing persecution, GDR independent peace activists remain firm in their rejection of NATO weapons deployment measures. They strongly endorsed the agreement between the GDR and West Germany's Social Democratic Party for a chemical weapons free zone in Europe.

Hungary

Unlike the independent peace movement in the GDR, which has been the leading force for social change, the Hungarian movement has been caught between absorption into the most sophisticated official Peace Councils of Eastern Europe and commitment to "semi-illegal" circles of dissent. The first course sacrificed the ability to put forward independent alternatives, while the second risked isolation from the Hungarian population. Hungary's independent peace movement operates under limitations arising from the nation's aborted 1956 revolution and the liberal compromise by which the Soviet Kadar regime managed to win back popular support for the social order. Actual participants in the revolution were ruthlessly persecuted: 2000 were executed. Yet there was no generalized terror and Hungarians emerged with more personal freedom than citizens of any other Warsaw Pact state. The complexity of this situation, called "incipient pluralism" by optimists and "civilized repression" by pessimists, is the key factor in influencing the scope of Hungarian peace initiatives. E.P. Thompson, in his book Double Exposure, notes that "even in discussions with official persons one may be told, in a man-to-man 'off the record' sort of way, that Hungary is a small and weak country with powerful neighbors, and regrettably the limits of any autonomy are strictly confined." In this way the "legacy of 1956 still hangs over all discourse."

Until 1971, there was no provision for conscientious objection to military service. Consequently, there were about 200 persons in prison by 1977 for the crime of refusing military service. The law was then amended to provide alternative service but only for those whose motives are purely religious, so that individual conscience did not count. Catholic theologians defended the government's actions, however, on the grounds that conscientious objection was incompatible with the Roman Catholic faith. A number of Western theologians replied to the contrary.

Unlike its counterparts in Poland and East Germany, the church hierarchy in Hungary is determined not to let any expression of sympathy for dissent undercut its good relations with the regime. Consequently the government does not need to injure its liberal reputation by persecuting Catholic peace activists. Independent peace action from Hungarian Catholics is organized on the grassroots, community level. In the summer of 1981, a popular Budapest priest, Laszlo Kovacs, preached at a religious festival that Christians who reject Jesus's principles on nonviolence were possessed of a faith that, to use Marx's phrase, was no better than opium. In response, Cardinal Lekai suspended Kovacs and a priest who defended him from their positions for six months.

The independent peace action supported by the Dialogue Movement sought to stay within the confines of the post-1956 level framework. E.P. Thompson saw this desire to remain within acceptable discourse expressed most vividly when he viewed a middle-aged man being shunned by Dialogue members for urging the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. Many members of the group felt the man was actually a secret police agent attempting a provocation. In its determination to function in an open, legal way, Dialogue did not call for troop withdrawals or public discussions of the arms budget. Only by supporting alternative military service did Dialogue take a significant stand for change in Hungarian government policy.

Dialogue's founders were motivated by the inability of the official Hungarian Peace Council to induce the nation's youth to work for peace. When pressed to organize peace rallies, the Council could not answer until it had consulted with the Communist Party. Such "bureaucratic" methods turned off Hungarian youth, despite their anti-militarist sentiments.

Out of its desire to work as an open, legal organization, Dialogue invited members of the official National Peace Council (NPC) to its first meeting in June of 1982 at a private home in Budapest and began to provide the NPC with unlimited information about its activities.

Dialogue's efforts were abetted by the actions of other independent peace groups. Catholic pacifists became more active, and high school students organized the Anti-Nuclear Campaign group in 1982. After being warned by the police, ANC members agreed to a NPC demand that they limit their protests to opposing American weapons.

Hungarian artists formed the Indigo organization, with the objective of transforming military products into useful consumer goods. This group created a design for a Dialogue badge, which was brought out of Hungary by E.P. Thompson and manufactured in Britain by European Nuclear Disarmament. Activists brought the badges into Hungary on visits and by December of 1982, fifty Hungarian activists and a few hundred followers were wearing them. After authorities denounced this "foreign intervention" Dialogue replaced the badges with paper stick-ons of their own making.

Indigo's artists also made silk screen posters for Thompson's November 1982 visit to Budapest. Thompson used the occasion to negotiate with the National Peace Council to obtain legal recognition for the Dialogue movement. The NPC wanted Thompson to give a speech which would be broadcast over Hungarian state television. He declined this invitation because the authorities had refused to allow Dialogue to book a hall in Budapest so that Thompson could speak under its auspices. Later, Mary Kaldor of END and Mient-Jan Faber, a leader of the Dutch peace movement, spoke at the NPC's assembly hall, with Dialogue's representatives present on the table's Presidium.

Dialogue also participated in a fast in solidarity with the occupiers of the cruise missile base in Comiso, Italy. And it was allowed to participate on May 7, 1983 in a peace march organized by the NPC. It could not carry its name on separate banners, but spontaneous slogans shouted during the march could not be censored. Police exchanged running reports with themselves over walky-talkies and took photographs of Dialogue marchers with cameras built into handbags.

Dialogue has since been able to develop a lively samizdat press on a variety of forbidden topics. In 1980 it attempted to participate in national and local elections and, when this was refused, issued leaflets urging an electoral boycott. Earlier it had formed a Foundation to Assist the Poor in Hungary, which has also been able, in cooperation with Solidarity, to provide summer holidays in Hungary for children of poor Polish families. Unlike those in other Eastern European re imes, Hungary's dissidents did not face expulsions and prison terms. The liberal regime meted out instead relatively mild forms of repression such has removing its leaders from their jobs and denying them passports for travel abroad.

Dialogue kept aloof from the dissident groups in Hungary who functioned semi-illegally, with secret meetings and an underground press - not out of fear for future careers but out of conviction that clandestine means would weaken their influence among the Hungarian people. One Dialogue leader told E.P. Thompson that some authorities feared its influence "so long as we are semi-legal" since this enables the group to reach a wide public, especially in the schools. Dissidents on the other hand, tended to regard Dialogue's search for legal recognition as futile, and opposed cooperation with the official peace councils.

Eventually internal debates in the ruling circles of Hungary's Socialist Workers' (Communist) Party and pressure from the Soviet Union moved to make Dialogue an illegal organization. The decision from Moscow appears to have been related to the inability of the Western peace movement to stop the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles and to the proclamation of martial law in Poland. The new, hard line of the Soviet Union against the nonaligned Western peace movement was enunciated by Soviet Peace Committee President, Yuri Zhukov in December 2, 1982. He charged that END sought to "split the anti-war movement," so as to "infiltrate cold war elements into it" and that it sought to undermine the anti-war movement and to "conceal and justify" the aggressive militarist policy of the U.S. and NATO. After all this polemic, all Eastern European peace councils withdrew from the Berlin conference.

The repression of Dialogue began with members being given a "good talking to" by university department chairmen and party secretaries at their places of employment. Parents were warned that their children's careers were at risk for participating in such an organization. When Dialogue members attempted to attend the Prague World Congress, they were met with tear gas, arrests, and later deportation back to Hungary. In July of 1983 police cancelled Dialogue's efforts to establish an international summer camp for peace activists. Even four Greenham Common women were expelled from Hungary, despite the fact that they were treated as heroes by the nation's press.

The repression, however, by avoiding lengthy prison terms and show trials, caused a split in Dialogue. One splinter of it formed a new peace group that was authorized by the National Peace Council. Named 6-4-0 (after the numbers of years Hungary spent in the first two world wars and the hope that a third war will not arise), the organization sought to reach youth who were turned off by the stuffy style of the NPC. NPC policies on peace, however, were accepted.

Dialogue's remaining members accepted the oppositional position they had been forced into: They established an underground paper, which continues to stress the need for a truly international peace movement. On July 27, 1983 Dialogue proclaimed a park in Budapest to be a nuclear weapons free zone. In December of 1983 Dialogue members dressed up as Santa Clauses on roller skates and appealed to shoppers for a nuclear free Christmas. Police did not interfere with this or the group's most recent action on Hiroshima Day of 1985, which was marked by sketching shadows on sidewalks.

Czechoslovakia

The independent peace movement in Czechoslovakia is an integral part of the democratic opposition, led by the Charter 77 organization. In contrast to the violent aftermath of the revolution in Hungary, there has been a strong continuity here in the struggle for socialist democracy.

Except for Poland, in no other Warsaw Pact state is the official peace council held in as low popular esteem as in Czechoslovakia. This stems in part from the replacement of the national peace council in 1968, after it condemned the Warsaw Pact invasion, with a more pliant body. Such a popular attitude made it difficult for Charter 77 to take up the peace issue. Czech playwright, Valclav Havel, observed that while people "listen with interest to other Charter 77 documents in foreign broadcasts, seek them out and copy them," Charter 77's documents, dealing with "peace" are guaranteed universal uninterest in advance. The word "peace" has been "drained of all content" because of the nature of state propaganda. "For 37 years," Havel explains, "our citizens have been required to carry the same old peace placard in the mandatory campaigns. Every possible and impossible open space" in the country, "has been decorated with slogans such as 'Building up our homeland strengthens peace.'" Peace becomes an official incantation which the state mutters when doing "whatever it has been ordered to do." Govermnent controlled media sources convey the impression that peace rallies in the West are proof "that the people of the West can hardly wait for Communism of the Soviet type."

Valclav Havel is a Czech playwright and peace activist He sees great similarities between his group and his Western counterparts.

Charter 77 exile Zdena Tomin told END that only after two years of exile was she able to realize "that the accusation of historical naivety held against the British and other West European movements for nuclear disarmament is untenable." Tomin notes how the Prague park on which young people commemorated John Lennon's death with flowers and peace messages in chalk was "whitewashed daily by the police" and the independent peace activists who visited it were "dispersed or interrogated."

Havel recalls his empathy for his Western "brothers and sisters" in the peace movement; he had realized that "those young long-haired people who keep demonstrating for peace in various Western cities" and whom he and his fellow prisoners were forced to watch on TV were not "indifferent to the fate of the world." They were taking upon themselves "a responsibility outside of their own personal well-being" which in "more difficult circumstances is exactly what we are doing."

To the surprise of E.P. Thompson and other END activists, the Charter 77 group proposed that he and similarly minded peace activists attend the World Peace Council and Czechoslovakian government-sponsored World Assembly for Peace and Life Against Nuclear War. Charter's letter to Thompson explained that a similar opportunity had been missed in 1976 when the Eastern European Communist Parties had met. This meeting had had considerable potential, but unfortunately no mention had been made of the internal problems of Eastern Europe because the representatives had compromised too much. Charter 77 urged that the democrats at the Prague assembly "seek to break through the barrier which the more democratically minded among the Communists failed to break through seven years ago.

Nonaligned Western peace activists did follow this advice and debate on the problems of Eastern Europe did take place. It was a disappointment, however, since it illustrated how many Western peace activists, out of a tendency, as Charter 77 put it, "to isolate peace from the whole pattern of social relations" do not sympathize with Charter 77's struggle. For example, a West Berlin delegate received a "storm of applause" for charging that "the so-called dissident issue was not a matter for the international peace movement, but something that had been injected into it artificially by anti-communists."

In order to improve on the situation revealed at the Prague conference, Charter 77 called for "an effective timetable of common effort to win allies for this movement," and the formulation of a joint statement by groups in the Western and Eastern peace movements.

Such a joint statement was drawn up for the END Convention in Perugia, Italy, July 17-24, 1984. Western signers included the Swiss Peace Council, the French CODENE organization (Coordination for Nuclear Disarmament in Europe), prominent socialist theoreticians Ernest Mandel and Michel Raptes, and German Green party member of Parliament, Petra Kelly. Signers from Eastern Europe included eight members of Charter 77 and six members of a Czech socialist opposition group. Six members of the Hungarian Dialogue group living in the west also signed the statement.

The joint declaration set out a common platform for Western and Eastern peace activists. The signers pledged "to oppose every new missile that is deployed in Europe West and East." "Terror knows no balance." The declaration called for regular meetings between Western and Eastern peace activists, freedom of travel, regular public access to information on military expenditure in the two blocs, and an end to the persecution of peace activists. The statement also called for "peace links between groups, institutions, and towns in East and West, and trans-bloc nuclear free zone initiatives."

The Perugia confrontation achieved the pressure on East European regimes which Charter 77 had hoped to win at Prague. Some 57 seats were left empty in honor of the peace activists from Turkey and Eastern Europe who were prevented by their governments from attending. At one point a militant group of delegates, led by the German Green Party, donned gags and raised banners calling for the release of all peace campaigners in prison. Official East European spokespersons were peppered with questions concerning the military policies of their governments and the fate of imprisoned peace activists. These Warsaw Pact Peace Councils' delegates walked out after a young woman explained how she had just been expelled from the GDR for her peace activism. An attempt by the Soviet Union to have a joint statement by affiliates of the World Peace Council failed because of opposition from the French, Italian, and Spanish Communist Parties.

Charter 77 has formulated effective links with independent peace activists in East Germany. In both countries, the issue of the future of their nations is closely tied to matters of East-West conflict, which has diminished the sovereignty of both of their respective states. In a 1982 statement, Charter 77 pointed out that the "departures of Soviet troops from the territory of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the assertion of our republic's full sovereignty would contribute to detente in Europe" and would "be welcomed by the mighty peace movement which is galvanizing the entire continent." Also in 1982 Charter 77 issued a statement in support of the independent peace movement in the GDR.

Czech independent activists have taken important actions for peace in their own country. Most significant was a demonstration held during the World Assembly for Peace and Life Against Nuclear War, in Prague's Wenceslaus Square. Some 300 young persons demonstrated, chanting "We Want Peace and Freedom." They were attacked by club-wielding policemen under the pretext of preserving calm in the capital. Several young men were beaten up with rubber truncheons. A government spokesperson, Marcel Noic, maintained that "as in all large cities, night calm has to be preserved."

Poland

In Poland since the proclamation of martial law on December 13, 1981, independent peace activity has involved the continued underground life of Solidarity. The issue of peace activism is complicated by pro-American and anti-Soviet sentiments in the general population which the decision to ban Solidarity and the ensuring Western sanctions inevitably increased. It has also been further confused by the distortions of the Western mass media to portray Solidarity in an image favorable to the Cold War. For example, a New York Times reprinting of a statement by Adam Michnik, a long time KOR (Workers' Defence Committee), now KOS (Committee of Social Resistance) leader, excluded all portions dealing with his solidarity with the struggles of the people of Chile and with the Western peace movement. Similarly, in their coverage of the Western peace movement, Polish television and government papers exclude statements of support for Solidarity. Despite such barriers, the Western peace movement and Solidarity have arrived at a mutual understanding.

The fortunes of Solidarity and the Western peace movement are in many ways closely linked. An editorial in the October 26, 1981 Daily Telegraph observed that the crushing of Solidarity would have by then taken place has not it posed the danger of stopping the "European peace movement in its tracks~" E.P. Thompson, in his book Heavy Dancers, points out that a record two million people marched for peace in Western Europe in October and November of 1981. He estimates that had not the proclamation of martial law put the peace movement on ice, it would have grown to three or four million in 1982.

Before the rise of Solidarity, KOR performed a role quite similar to that of Charter 77. Its initial aims were the defence of workers against imprisonment and reprisals for actions such as strikes and demonstrations. KOR's leadership skills were important in organizing discontent along peaceful lines, and in ensuring the birth of Solidarity rather than provoking a repeat of the violent conflicts of 1970. Solidarity has expressed support for the struggle of the people of Chile, which, like theirs, is nonviolent and aimed at securing fundamental human rights.

KOS's critical stance toward U.S. foreign policy has undermined its support among the Polish people. When its underground journal condemned the American invasion of Grenada, some readers suggested that the issue was a forgery written by the secret police. KOS and Solidarity leader Jacek Kuron have told how when KOS's underground paper began the discussion of peace, its circulation started dramatically declining. The experience of the Polish people with state propaganda, as Kuron explained to the Dutch movement leader, Mient Jan Faber, is such that they 'just become sick" when they hear a speech on peace beginning. Kuron notes that it is unfortunately the common opinion that Reagan's policies are most favorable for Poland.

By undermining respect for the Polish army, once revered as the defender of the nation because of its role in World War II, the proclamation of martial law has opened the way for new independent peace action in Poland. A Polish group recently took up the demand for a limitation on military education in schools.

Despite many affinities, KOS's relations with the Western peace movement have been more strained than those of any other dissenting group in the Warsaw Pact states. There was resentment in KOS over the lack of an invitation to attend the 1984 END convention,

particularly since KOS opposes the deployment of any new nuclear missiles in Europe, while the Polish National Peace Council, which was invited, opposes only American missiles. Some elements in KOS fear Western unilateralism could strengthen the USSR and thus increase the danger of war.

The recent advances in the dialogue between nonaligned Western peace activists can be seen in the statements made by Kuron and Lech Walesa to the 1985 END Convention. Walesa's short, sympathetic message began by telling END that it was with "great interest and approval that I am watching your work toward peace ~" A much longer analysis, with new, concrete proposals for building peace, was given by Kuron in a mid-April 1985 interview by Faber. Here Kuron presented a "program of neutralization and demilitarization of Central Europe." Calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops and nuclear missiles from the two Germanies, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, and Greece, Kuron pointed out that this would separate "the blocs about 1000 kilometers from each other and would create an extremely significant relationship or network of cooperation in the heart of Europe." He told Faber that "the stronger the struggle for a higher standard of living and, along with this, the more human and civil rights we gain, the smaller the possibility of an arms buildup by the Soviet blocs."

USSR

There are some fundamental differences b tween independent peace activists in the USSR and in other Warsaw Pact states. In the GDR, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, the task of peace activists is to channel widespread popular discontent so that it can be an effective vehicle for social change. In the USSR, the peace activists are appealing to a population which knows all too well the dangers of war, but which has been told that the way to prevent a repetition of these horrors is the strengthening of the Soviet military to withstand the forces of Western imperialism. In this circumstance, it is easy to understand that most Soviet peace activists would attempt to undermine the Cold War climate promoted by the hawks of the USSR's establishment by focusing on trustbuilding. That this approach seems to win the support of most Soviet citizens is suggested by the favorable reception these groups petitions receive from persons on the street, before such encounters are broken up by the police.

Leaders of the independent peace movement in the USSR are more persecuted than their counterparts in other Eastern bloc states. As a result, leaders of the Moscow Trust Group appear to be more aware of the activities of their counterparts in other Eastern European states than of those in the distant regions of their own country. Persons from groups in different cities have been arrested for trying to contact each other. In this context, however, it should be remembered that repression is even greater in Romania, where no independent peace group has arisen at all. Exiled Moscow Trust Group member Mark Reitman says that the "very fact that the independent peace movement is permitted to exist shows that the authorities have more or less begun to understand." He believes that the Moscow Trust Group could not have survived "if it did not have supporters in the top ranks of the Soviet hierarchy."

In view of the paranoia with which Soviet authorities view independent action for peace, it is appropriate that the more radical and youthful section of the Soviet peace movement has adopted the name of Independent Initiative. The group was formed after the death of John Lennon. His phrase, "all we need is love," has become their slogan. They argue that "only love will save us all," saying they "feel close to young people in America," being united with them through "common hopes and common paths, even though these often take forms that seem absurd to our older generations."

Unlike the Trust Group, Independent Initiative criticized Soviet society, calling for alternatives to military service, the abolition of the death penalty and an end of the USSR's intervention in Afghanistan. On June 1 of 1984, 400 persons were arrested at an Independent Initiative demonstration calling for the U.S. to leave El Salvador, the Soviets to leave Afghanistan, and both to take their rockets out of Europe. One December 11, 1984, in Moscow's Lenin Hills Park, they mounted an anti-war demonstration dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. Several hundred persons took part and although 150 persons were arrested, all were released by the evening of the same day. Persecution centered on the group's founder, Yuri Popov, who was taken to Psychiatric Hospital Number 14 in Moscow and given forced 'Therapy.

The Independent Initiative Group has established itself in both Leningrad and Moscow and groups similar in objectives to the pioneering Moscow Trust Group now exist in 12 cities in the USSR. One of the newest peace groups is in Illists, the capital of the Kalamyskskaye Autonomous Republic. After communicating with the Moscow Trust Group, Illists peace activist Gennody Valgynov was held in a psychiatric hospital from September 1983 to February of this year.

The rapid growth of the independent peace movement across the USSR is an important indication of its success since its founding on June 4, 1982 by 11 Moscow academics, artists, and physicians. Of these eight (largely Ph.D. level researchers and professors), only one, Yuri Medvedkov, is currently holding a university appointment. Although he suffered a demotion, he has been somewhat protected by his reputation in the international geographic community and by his tenure as chief ecologist for the World Health Organization. Other founders holding Ph.D.s are currently working as night watchmen or street sweepers. The sense of frustration

that led these men and women to take this dangerous initiative was expressed by the Trust Group founders to Danielle Grunberg, a Western peace activist. They told her that "At the Academy of Sciences in Moscow we have no meetings about peace. We did have a meeting to express support for the Argentine Junta during the Falkiand War and to judge UK as aggressors. There was no discussion - just an official point of view.

Olga Medvedkova, like her husband, a Ph.D. level ecologist, told Western delegates at the festival that the founders were "sick and tired" of the hatred that is characteristic of the cold war. The Group has as its focus, attitudes, not weapons. It is people, they say, who actually do killings.

In its initial 1982 appeal, the Moscow Trust Group made 30 proposals for building trust between the peoples of the U.S.A. and the USSR. Among those especially cherished by the Trust Group is the exchange of children between the two nations. One of their statements pointed out that leaders might "think twice before starting a war if their children were in each other's country." Numerous proposals were made for increasing contacts between the people of East and West. These include the establishment of pen pal networks, marriage bureaus to reduce the red tape encountered in applications for marriage between Soviet citizens and Westerners, a reduction in postal rates for correspondence with the West, easier availability of tourist visas and the use of films and audio-visual equipment to encourage the learning of English and Russian. To counter cold war stereotypes it proposed that a joint program for peace education be made compulsory in Soviet and American schools. Joint projects such as regular cooperation on space missions and cultural and medical exchanges were advocated. It was suggested that open discussion between representatives of both governments be broadcast over television, with the opportunity for people to phone in and question the speakers. The Trust Group also called for a guarantee that no embargo be placed on trade relating to agricultural products, medicines, and primary resources. The establishment of Moscow as a nuclear weapon free zone, and a ban on nuclear weapons testing.

The persecution of two Moscow Trust Group members should be of particular concern to Western peace activists. One, Alexander Shatravka was sentenced to three years in prison for circulating the initial appeal of the Moscow Trust Group. Another, Dr. Vladimir Brodsky, was convicted on an absurd charge of assaulting two police aides. The Moscow Trust Group suggests that Brodsky's persecution is an effort by USSR hawks to gain power in the new regime of Mikhail Gorbachev. They urge Western peace activists to pay attention to Soviet politics, in which decisions are shaped by "a competition between dovish and hawkish tendencies," which is never conducted in the open.

John Bacher (Ph.D. History, McMaster University) attended the International Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow this summer as a delegate from the Union of Graduate Students, McMaster. He has done research on military research and development in Canada. He is a member of Alliance for Nonviolent Action, Hamilton, and AC7; Niagara, and is past chairman of the peace and disarmament committee, Ontario Federation of Students.

Peace Magazine December 1985

Peace Magazine December 1985, page 8. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by John Bacher here

Peace Magazine homepage