The ‘Wales Peace Festival 08’ took place in Bangor over the weekend 18 – 19 October. Organised by Bangor and Ynys Môn Peace and Justice Group, the event produced inspiring proposals for an enhanced culture of peace. Speakers included former Guantanamo kidnap victim Moazzam Begg, MEP Jill Evans, Peace News editor Milan Rai, Greg Muttitt from the Hands off Iraqi Oil Campaign, and Dr Ambrose-Oji discussing the effects of climate change on Africa. Stephen Thomas of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs opened the Festival and in the final plenary session summed up on the theme of building for peace.
Although most of the speakers admitted to tough times for peace, justice and social movements pursuing those ends, the overall sense of the conference was positive. Moazzam Begg, for example, announced that he will embark on a speaking tour with one of his former guards from the US torture camp. Greg Muttitt spoke of the success of the Iraqi people, and especially the bravery of trade unionists, in refusing the exploitative “oil law” that the US and companies such as Shell, BP, Exxon and Total seek to impose by any means.
Inspired by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and particularly the Flemish Peace Institute in Belgium, Jill Evans spoke of her wish to see a Peace Institute in Wales. This call clearly resonated with the audience and inspired much debate. The Flemish Peace Institute is “a paraparliamentary organisation within the Flemish Parliament” in which civil society is represented via a Board of Directors and a Scientific Council that supervises research. The Peace Festival debate centred on the form a similar organisation in Wales might take. What role would the Assembly government play? Could a Peace Institute involve a network of universities in research? Would it encompass issues of social and environmental justice? How would “ordinary citizens” be guaranteed a voice?
The task of pursuing these questions was taken on board by Cynefin y Werin (Common Ground) “a network of organisations which promotes equality, peace, justice, human rights and cooperation between nations, peoples and communities on the basis of sustainable environmental, economic and social development”. Created in 1998, Cynefin y Werin attracted around 60 member organisations and held regular all-Wales meetings. Although activities have declined in recent years, the Peace Festival inspired a new energy and will to reinvigorate the network. Along with researching a Peace Institute, Cynefin y Werin elected to reinstitute all-Wales meetings, secure funding for an annual festival, and widen participation in the network.
“We are trying to find an alternative name for the now annual Peace Festival which has previously been held in Aberystwyth and Caernarfon,” network member James Maiden said. “This isn’t a meaningless rebranding exercise. Although the Festival is always a great event, we do have a wider agenda than ‘peace’. We want to welcome social and economic justice groups and active climate change campaigners into Cynefin y Werin. And we want the Festival to be the beating heart of the global justice movement in Wales.”