On Saturday 14 March, I woke early and was up and about with an uncharacteristic spring in my step. I can hardly remember such a joyful start to a day.
Okay, the sun was shining and a chaffinch trilled in the garden, and I’m sure that had something to do with my mood. But the real reason I was so enthused – and activists may need to take a seat – was because I was going to a meeting!
A reinvigorated Cynefin-Y-Werin (Common Ground) network met at the Morlan in Aberystwyth that Saturday afternoon, and top of the agenda was a Wales Peace Institute.
Some of us had been working towards this meeting since the 2008 Wales Peace Festival in Bangor. It was there that Jill Evans, Chair of CND Cymru, raised the prospect of an institute for peace in Wales. And the idea acted as a catalyst, rousing the Cynefin-Y-Werin to action.
The Aberystwyth meeting was attended by “delegates” from across Wales. We tried to envision - five years on - how a Peace Institute would work, what it would do, who it would work with, where it would be based…. Then we carried out a back-casting exercise, trying to put in place the material steps necessary to achieve our vision.
With a particular focus on the model of the Flemish Peace Institute, which some delegates visited earlier in the year (see last issue), we were inspired by a comprehensive vision of an Institute which: has the ear of government and is constitutionally guaranteed a response to its advice; maintains its credibility via excellent research; represents the people of Wales and our traditional commitment to peace; reaches out to the children of our nation, fostering an informed culture of peace.
Jill Gough of CND Cymru said: “A Wales Peace Institute or Academy would be a first port of call to provide a peace and justice audit of government and business proposal… an institute independent of government or political parties, partly academic, working for and with a broad spectrum of individuals and organisations from community-based campaigning and action groups around the country, to academic authorities on human rights, nonviolence, conflict resolution’.
Of course the Flemish model will have to be adapted to the context of Wales, not least to Cynefin-Y-Werin’s demanding vision and the fact that the Welsh Assembly government does not have the power of its Belgian counterpart: many decisions affecting a culture of peace in Wales, inflicting indeed a counter-culture of militarism, are made in Westminster.
That said, the meeting determined to draft a provisional charter of principles and practices for the Institute and to canvass opinion and support in the widest possible section of civil society, including not only the peace and justice movement, but trade unions, churches, NGOs and diverse community groups. Moreover, we delegates set ourselves deadlines for the first bold and hopeful steps.
By the time I arrived home the sun was down and the chaffinch roosted quietly somewhere. But I still have a song in my heart.