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Caravan returns to N. America

Metta Spencer — July 1984

TORONTO – After three and a half months in the Eastern and Western blocs of Europe, a group of 15 pacifists from Canada, the United States, and Norway is now completing a tour of this continent. On June 4, the group, called the International Peace Caravan met briefly with Prime Minister Trudeau and on the following day with Toronto’s Mayor, Art Eggleton. Later that day they shared their impressions in a meeting with a small group of peace activists.

During this meeting, spokespersons for the caravan explained how a conviction that international tensions are based on fear and ignorance had influenced them in deciding to promote two specific suggestions during their travels -people-to-people exchanges (especially of youths), and the creation of a network of sister cities. They have discussed these ideas primarily with other peace groups, but also with government representatives.

Members of the caravan cited Aalborg, Denmark and Sheffield, England as the Western cities that had most successfully twinned with Eastern counterparts. (In Aalborg, the money for all events is raised by clubs and other nongovernmental sources). However, the group cautioned other cities not to expect quick results in organising such a relationship, since it took Aalborg and Sheffield years to reach their present degree of intense activity.

Douglas Cowell, a member of the caravan from Victoria, B.C., mentioned that Canada is greatly respected in Europe. However, members of the group were often asked how Mr. Trudeau could be for peace and yet for the cruise testing. Other Europeans found it remarkable that Canada could manage to do so much for peace while remaining the closest ally of the Unite States.

Cowell also said that the West German peace movement reminded him of Canada’s: too fragmented, and run by grass roots organisations. He noted that membership in the West German movement dropped after the missiles began to go in, and West German peace activists are in the midst of reevaluating their approach. A large contingent of the West German movement has decided that it’s time to become violent.

In East Germany, the caravan group met with representatives of both the official and unofficial peace movements. The latter is allied with the churches, especially the Catholic church.

Cowell also mentioned the aspirations of the peace movement in Scandinavia. While it is widely believed that Iceland has too many U.S. bases on its territory for it to be part of a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) (See The Peace Calendar, June Issue) there is much talk of a mainland NWFZ which would include Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Norway is viewed as the weak link in organising such an agreement.

While the group spent only 16 days in the Soviet Union, they found themselves warmly received everywhere, and were able to meet with many members of the Soviet Peace Committee, both the national leadership and the local workers. (People contribute one day’s work per month to the committee, which provides it with a very large fund to use for conferences and publications.) They also met with peace groups organised through the workplace.

The caravan found that peace education is stressed in Soviet schools, but with a different angle from the pacifist approach that predominates in the West. Thus Soviet people insist that they are willing “to fight for peace to the last drop of my blood,” and their “peace monuments” are the war monuments in memory of those who fell in a war that happened because they didn’t have enough guns and tanks. Although now they have the guns and tanks, they bitterly resent having to pay for such military outlay, and blame the U.S. for inventing more and more new weapons and “forcing” them to keep up when they need to spend the money on better things.

The caravan members stressed the importance of consensus to the Soviets. They said that they never heard anyone in any of the peace groups disagree with another member, although behind closed doors there are supposed. to be vigorous disagreements. :

The group happened to be on hand when an election was held to choose a new member of the Supreme Soviet. Voting day is declared a holiday, and in the area around the booths, singers and dancers were performing. The voter turnout is about 85 percent, and voters get to vote yes or no for the single candidate who is named on the ballot. (It doesn’t often happen, but sometimes candidates have been replaced when too many people vote “no.”) Moreover, the voters have a place to write messages telling the government what they want; 70 percent of the voters in the election the caravan witnessed called for more peace initiatives.

While the caravan had decided from the outset not to raise such thorny issues as human rights with their Soviet hosts during their short stay, another group from the American Friends Service Committee arrived in Moscow a few days after their visit and did bring up that question, and the Caravan members felt that the two groups had complemented each other nicely in that regard.