“We need to prevent pacifism from turning into merely intermittent protest”, Luciana Castellina says

Speech of the founder of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto and of the Partito di Unità Proletaria, former MEP Luciana Castellina, at the ‘Europe for Peace’ rally on 5 March in Rome.

Beyond the war itself I have been becoming increasingly worried about what is being created in Italy, beginning with how the TV channels are behaving. There is really a reason to be afraid.

On the other hand, I was happy to see our peace movement again in the street, after so many years, the movement of us old people from the 1980s during the last years of the Cold War and then again in the streets during the first and second Iraq War, when the New York Times wrote of the movement: ‘The second international power has emerged.’ And acting – intelligently – as it did, also during the horrific Yugoslav conflict.

Since then twenty years have gone by. And unfortunately the reason for our reunion is the criminal and also stupid military occupation of the Ukraine – an act that could have unthinkable consequences.

If our government leaders and their minstrels, instead of intoning patriotic hymns to ‘Western values’ and instead of the irresponsible decision to send weapons to Ukrainians, knowing full well that they cannot win against Russian tanks but only offer themselves as victims of a terrifying bloodbath – if instead of this they were to contemplate how to be effective in pursuing an appropriate compromise, it might still be possible to stop everything from degenerating into a world war, fought on the territory most saturated with nuclear power plants on earth.

That Europe should assume the responsibility of providing mediation – because neutrality is a feasible objective – this is what we have to succeed in bringing about.

Still, I asked peace activists to come together in collective self-criticism: We have been active and ready to respond in moments that were explosive, but we were not paying attention during the long phases in which the disasters were being prepared – in particular regarding the policy advanced by the European Union. We did not project adequately, or long enough, how serious it was to miss the opportunity of the fall of the Berlin Wall to concretise our old slogan: ‘A Europe without missiles from the Atlantic to the Urals.’ That is, we failed to force our governments to do what they actually agreed with Gorbachev to do: that once the Warsaw Pact troops were withdrawn the same would occur with NATO troops. We didn’t prevent the expansion of the European Union from building another military wall that isolated Russia rather than involving it in the construction of a cooperative network. And, more recently, we didn’t pay enough attention to the civil war that was devastating the Russian-Ukrainian border region starting in 2014. We ignored the increasing frustration of the Russian population at having been marginalised and scorned. Thus we too are responsible for having contributed to the growth of Putin’s dangerous power, fed as it is by the humiliation of the Russian people.

I would ask all of us to reflect on our negligence. If we no longer want to consider war as an instrument of foreign policy – as we ought not to – we then need to prevent pacifism from turning into merely intermittent protest.

Wars can only be stopped by combating the processes that prepare them – this is the time perspective in which we need to intervene. Now that the mess has been made we can still do many useful things, so we need to roll up our sleeves. ARCI[1] has proposed the organisation of a bus caravan, not to bring us to Ukraine, which would only create confusion, but ‘buses that are empty, with only the indispensable on board: a driver and an organiser’. Because this is what the Ukrainians now need: a means of transportation to get them out of harm’s way.

It may well be that many Ukrainians – the courageous men who have stayed behind to fight – will not be content with this. But it is our responsibility to explain what Pope Francis once said out of a sense of realism: even just wars can no longer be waged today.

This is not an invitation to capitulate. It is only an invitation to understand that today – in the presence of weapons of mass destruction – we have to fight with our minds rather than with guns, that this is no longer a time to repeat the Sapri Expedition,[2] ‘when 300 strong and able youths were killed’. Today it is billions who would die. 


[1] Italian Recreational and Cultural Association, the national network of neighborhood clubs established after the Second World War in Italy, breinging together elements of the Italian Communist Party and the cooperative movements and the center of gravity for the historic peace and anti-globalisation meovements.

[2] An operation mounted in 1857 by revolutionary followers of Mazzini during the Italian Risorgimento.

Read the transform! europe Peace Manifesto here.