Re-blogged from here
In honor of the Global Day Against Military Spending (formerly April 15th, now April 8-18th), here’s an essay about one of the founding organizers of GDAMS, the International Peace Bureau, which named Gangjeong Village on South Korea’s Jeju Island as a co-recipient of its prestigious annual peace prize last fall. A slightly shorter version of the essay will appear in the festival program for the upcoming International Peace Film Festival in Gangjeong, April 23-26th.
The other prize co-recipient is Lampedusa Island in Italy, and it’s meaningful that the IPB has honored ordinary people responding to extraordinary circumstances in their own communities: in Gangjeong – at the crossroads of increasingly dangerous regional tensions in Northeast Asia – and on Lampedusa – located between Europe and Africa as the primary intercontinental entry point for migrant and refugees.
Although the IPB described the peace movement in Gangjeong Village as an “exemplary non‐violent struggle at a crucial time,” the villagers there have recently been sued for US$2.9 million by the South Korean Navy, which has criminalized their protest. It’s a move that could destroy the democratically elected self-governing body of a centuries-old agrarian community. I’ll post more on this separately, as advocates of the villagers are working to get the lawsuit dropped.
If you are in Korea, please try to make it to IPFFiG, which takes place in Gangjeong Village. As a non-commercial film festival, all the screenings are free, and there will be two public forums, one on Okinawa and Gangjeong, and another on the situation in Northeast Asia. This essay introduces a festival screening that features two films, one about Lampedusa and another about Gangjeong. (by Nan Kim)
“Peacemakers in the Global Public Eye: The Island Communities of Gangjeong and Lampedusa”
by Nan Kim
“…[W]e are in total support of the villagers of Gangjeong and their friends and neighbors who are involved in a non-violent struggle to protect their homes, their environment, their heritage, and their livelihoods from the huge military naval base being constructed on such a stunning coastline. It is shameful to see such a massive military installation despoiling a beautiful world heritage site…. In the long run this military base could well be abandoned. By that time it may have been responsible for horrendous acts of violence and death. Either way the villagers of Gangjeong will be recognized by historians and the wider world to have been right to oppose its construction.
“Please be aware that we will continue to keep in close contact with the peace campaigners and work to ensure that they (and the South Korean authorities) remain in the global public eye.”
– Colin Archer, Secretary General of the International Peace Bureau. Excerpt from an open letter to South Korean President Park Geun-hye, sent on February 11, 2015.
Last August, Gangjeong Village received a rare honor from one of the most eminent peace organizations in the world. The International Peace Bureau – based in Geneva with 300 member organizations in 70 countries throughout the world – selects a person or organization each year to receive an esteemed prize that recognizes outstanding work for peace, disarmament, and/or human rights. In 2015, that award was shared by Gangjeong and another small community, the residents of Lampedusa Island off the southern coast of Italy. The IPB’s announcement described how these two island communities “in different circumstances, show proof of a profound commitment to peace and social justice.”
Located over 9000 kilometers apart, Gangjeong and Lampedusa face challenges quite distinct from each other [for more on Lampedusa, see the IPB announcement below], but the IPB’s announcement of this shared award emphasized the important connections between their respective situations: “Not only do we recognise the common humanity of those who resist without weapons the forces of domination in their own island. We make the argument that public resources should not be spent on massive military installations that only increase the tension between nations in the region; rather they should be devoted to meeting human need.”
In highlighting Gangjeong villagers’ opposition to the newly constructed Jeju Naval Base, the IPB applauded the exceptional bravery of ordinary people in sustaining their struggle for defending peace despite prolonged hardships and repression. It states, “IPB makes the award in order to increase the visibility of this exemplary non‐violent struggle at a crucial time. It takes great courage to physically oppose the government’s growing aggressive and militaristic policies, especially as they are backed by, and at the service of, the Pentagon. It takes even more courage to maintain that struggle over a period of many years.”
Established in Switzerland 115 years ago, the International Peace Bureau (originally called “Bureau international permanent de la Paix”) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. The IPB’s annual prize is named after Seán MacBride (1904-1988), a distinguished Irish statesman and Nobel Peace Laureate (1974), who served as a visionary leader in the global peace movement as co-founder of Amnesty International, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, and the Chairman and later President of IPB.
Gangjeong and Lampedusa now share the honor of a symbolic connection with MacBride’s legacy. In light of the pervasive impact of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula, it is significant to note that during the same year that MacBride won the Lenin Peace Prize (a prize sponsored by socialist states as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize) in 1975, he was also the first non-American to receive the American Medal of Freedom. Despite these exalted honors bestowed by rival states during the Cold War period, MacBride maintained his independence as an advocate for peace, denouncing both the Western military-industrial complex while also vehemently protesting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and martial law in Poland.
Until recently, the IPB prize has been awarded only to individuals or organizations. The only precedent for an island community to receive the MacBride Prize came the prior year in 2014, when the IPB honored the people and government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. That award was in recognition of the legal case submitted by the RMI to the International Court of Justice, against all nine states with nuclear weapons, for failure to honor their disarmament commitments. For Gangjeong and Lampedusa to win this prize last year therefore reflects a commendable trend where the IPB has begun recognizing the difficult and courageous efforts made by ordinary people working among their local communities, where their everyday struggles for the sake of peace have taken on global significance of the highest order.
The prize was formally awarded on October 23, 2015, in Padua, Italy. At the ceremony, Gangjeong’s co-Vice Mayor Go Kwon Il received the medal on behalf of the village, and the island of Lampedusa was represented by Mayor Giusi Nicolini. The awarding of these prizes occurred as part of “Peace Paths,” the IPB’s annual conference, which in 2015 was held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the entry into force of the Charter of the United Nations. The “Peace Paths” conference was co-organized by the Human Rights Centre of the University of Padua and the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Democracy and Peace.
Recipients of the non-monetary prize each receive the IPB medal made of “Peace Bronze,” an alloy created from disarmed and recycled components of American nuclear weapon systems. The Seán MacBride Prize is also made possible by the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whose members have sponsored the arrangements for the medal every year since the inception of the Prize in 1992.
Thanks to the International Peace Film Festival in Gangjeong, Lampedusa and Gangjeong again join together in the global public eye. Through the screening of two compelling documentary films, “Persisting Dreams” (dir. Côme Ledésert, 2014) and “Oyster” (dir. Yoonsoo Lim, 2012), this special program focuses on the stories of residents of these two island communities, which now share a profound connection both in history and in solidarity for peace.
Professor Nan Kim is a member of IPFFIG’s Advisory Committee. She is Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Regional Editor of the Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, and a Steering Committee member of the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea (ASCK).
From the IPB announcement of the 2015 MacBride Prize:
LAMPEDUSA is a small island in the Mediterranean and is the southernmost part of Italy. Being the closest part of the territory to the African coastline, it has been since the early 2000s a primary European entry point for migrants and refugees. The numbers of persons arriving has been rapidly increasing, with hundreds of thousands at risk while travelling, and over 1900 deaths in 2015 alone.
The people of the island of Lampedusa have given the world an extraordinary example of human solidarity, offering clothing, shelter and food to those who have arrived, in distress, on their shores. The response of the Lampedusans stands out in stark contrast to the behaviour and official policies of the European Union, apparently intent only on reinforcing their borders in the attempt to keep these migrants out. This ‘Fortress Europe’ policy is becoming more and more militarized.
Aware of its multi‐layered culture, which epitomizes the evolution of the Mediterranean region where over the centuries different civilizations have blended and built on each others’ developments, with mutual enrichment, the island of Lampedusa also shows the world that a culture of hospitality and respect for human dignity are the most effective antidotes to nationalism and religious fundamentalism.
To give but one example of the heroic actions of the people of Lampedusa, let us recall the events of the night of 7‐8 May 2011. A boat full of migrants crashed into a rocky outcrop, not far from the shore. Although it was in the middle of the night, the inhabitants of Lampedusa turned out in their hundreds to form a human chain between the shipwreck and the coast. That night alone more than 500 people, including many children, were carried to safety.
At the same time the people of the island are very clear that the problem is a European one, not theirs alone. In November 2012, Mayor Nicolini sent an urgent appeal to Europe’s leaders. She expressed her outrage that the European Union, which had just received the Nobel Peace Prize, was ignoring the tragedies occurring on its Mediterranean borders.
The IPB believes that the dramatic situation in the Mediterranean – constantly visible in the mass media ‐ must be at the top of Europe’s urgent priorities. Much of the problem springs from social injustices and inequalities resulting in conflicts in which the West has – over centuries ‐‐ played an aggressive role. We recognise that there are no easy solutions, but as a guiding principle, Europe should be honouring the ideals of human solidarity, over and above the cynical considerations of governments and profit/power/resource‐seeking entities. When Europe contributes to the ruining of the livelihoods of people, as for instance in Iraq and Libya, Europe will have to find ways to help rebuild those livelihoods. It should be below the dignity of Europe to spend billions on military interventions, and yet not to have the resources available to meet the basic needs. The most vital question is how to develop cooperation between people of goodwill on both sides of the Mediterranean in a long‐term, constructive, gender‐sensitive and sustainable process.