Disarmament Campaigns

By Disarmament Campaigns

Glasnost, Perestroika, and the Peace Committees of Eastern Europe

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE EAST EUROPEAN PEACE Committees and Western Independent peace movements has always been at the very least, ambiguous. The reason for that has been obvious: Their respective social and political settings are completely different and asymmetrical.

Despite the various definitions of "independence" created to bridge such differences, time has shown the East European Peace Committees acting as the ears and mouths of their governments' policies, while Western peace movements act as "their majesty's (more or less) loyal opposition." This was a structural phenomenon deriving from the type of societies themselves, and not just (as sometimes claimed) the fact that "some governments happen to pursue peace politics and others not."

Do glasnost and perestroika change these facts and characteristics? On the basis of what I have observed, I really consider the efforts to "open up" and "restructure" the societies of some East European countries as substantial and important. One would like to see Western responses to these efforts to be as substantial and serious. I think that it was correct for "Disarmament Campaigns" at the top of their directory of Eastern Peace Groups, distributed during the END convention, to add a special remark, pointing out the relation between glasnost and perestroika and a growing plurality of views, expressed within many East European Peace Committees. One example of that was the presence of a member of the "Trust Group East-West," Irina Krivora, at a Soviet Peace Committee conference held in Moscow. She was invited by its chairman, at the request of some Western peace activists.

This same peace committee came to The Netherlands at the invitation of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council (IKV). Included in this delegation were famous [Soviet] journalists from OGONYOK and Literaturnaja Gaseta, who expressed strong desires and ideas for changes in both domestic and foreign relations in the Soviet Union.

In addition, the Hungarian peace committee is working with a formula which allows more voices (such as Group 4-6-0) to be expressed. We observed this at a meeting in Amsterdam, during the framework of the so-called Dutch-Hungarian delegation held last June. As a whole, their peace committee also joined the Liaison Committee of Eastern Nuclear Disarmament (END) by signing the END Appeal at the Coventry convention. On the other hand, the peace committee in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was not only absent, but had also been active in keeping their citizens and their rock group "Pankow" from attending. This was done as a protest to this year's program, varying little from previous years.

Members of the Czechoslovakian peace committee whispered about their desires to play a role in a process of glasnost and perestroika in their country. They are planning a series of meetings with Western peace groups and will not obstruct meetings between Western groups and Charta 77 taking place in Czechoslovakia. Of course, such an impression can be counter-balanced by another set of facts.

The Polish Peace Committee, which also wants to be seen as a plural body "consisting merely of dissidents," firmly opposes the recognition of the group "Freedom and Peace" as a major and legal peace initiative in Poland. The peace committee of the Soviet Union included in its END Convention delegation a person whom it hoped would be accepted by Westerners as a representative of the Moscow Trust Group (MTG). This was done despite a clear statement by the group that she was no longer a member. Political conditions were imposed upon the MTG by the Soviet Peace Committee for taking part in a delegation to the convention. These terms were rejected by the group.

An accurate observation of these facts show an overall parallel with the new positions of the respective East European governments (some members of the peace committees in countries where glasnost and perestroika are welcomed have examined some issues further than their governments) Does that mean there have been no fundamental changes? Or that we therefore should neglect developments and changes that we have observed? That would be a very formal and unproductive position!

The possibility of a growing pluralism inside the peace committees is good in itself, and some positions in particular are to be welcomed as an elaboration of the same new thinking that we as peace movements are working for. New developments in the various societies will be both promoted and made possible.

We should however, not overstress our expectations, particularly because of the structural positions of the peace committees within their societies. When at a meeting someone in the Soviet Peace Committee enthusiastically claimed that his committee was at the roots of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, Burlatski, the political commentator at Literaturnaja Gaseta just smiled. "Let us say, the peace committee provides a platform for various discussions on peace and détente in our society," he said.

That, in my view, is the clearest definition of both what peace committees could and should do, and of what they cannot, and should not be expected to do. They are not peace movements in the Western sense of the word. They are not, by definition, on the side of new, independent or spontaneous peace groups in their countries. They even often block these initiatives as long as possible, and sometimes adhere to the "universal human" rule that groups tend to close themselves to outside influences.

What we can and should ask for, is that they allow and facilitate growing pluralism in their debates and ranks. Why don't they concentrate their role in a more infrastructural and material way and lessen their ideological and political perspective? Facilitating contacts, East and West, visits by various delegations and the inclusion of new groups into the older, more established ranks? That would mean, however, the cessation of imposed political conditions on people requesting their cooperation and facilitation by peace groups. For Western independent peace movements, that would certainly give a platform to co-organize programs, widening and spreading such discussions and contacts throughout various sectors in our respective societies. This will facilitate implementation of the Helsinki agreements. It goes without saying however that this can never, for Western peace groups, substitute for contacts with their various sources of independent peace-thinking groups and related organs, in their societies as they really are. It is even more appropriate to state this "the other way around," since peace committees take glasnost and perestroika more seriously, they, and we, should be more deeply related to such independent peace initiatives and groups. This is what independents from East and West discussed amongst themselves at the Coventry END Convention. It has been decided and it will be acted upon. By Wim Bartels, International Secretary of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council and Coordinator of the International Peace Communication and Coordination Centre (IPCC).

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Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987, page 44. Some rights reserved.

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