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Page 8
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Peace-Seekers Organize in Switzerland

By Edessa Ramos

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The first mass protest against the (then impending) war in Iraq took place in Berne, the capital of Switzerland. It was freezing on that Saturday, the 17th of February. From little children in prams to fur-clad ladies and elderly folk, over 40,000 protesters flooded the streets of the medieval city. It was the largest since the 1983 peace demo. A record-breaker for so small a country with only six million inhabitants. "We are against a war that would be paid for by millions of people around the world through heightened joblessness and deeper poverty," declared one speaker. It was a rare moment for a population that is often perceived as distant to world affairs, being in a "neutral" country. A people often misjudged as apathetic or apolitical because their voices are seldom heard in the realm of political affairs. Well, this time the Swiss are speaking out. And their voices are definitely declaring NO to this war.

Switzerland is also the home to many foreigners, including a huge community of American expatriates. Altogether, the people in Switzerland are expressing open criticism of US foreign policy. "War as a first resort" is never acceptable, the people say. You will hear them in heated discourses in bars, neighborhood restaurants, even fire department meetings. They have already been perplexed by the heavy US presence in the Balkans which did not result in any concrete reconstruction of that region. They decry the US war in Afghanistan, which is still ongoing despite the loss of interest on the part of the media, and which, in their perception, did not bring about the promised postwar measures towards normalization. They are angered by the rhetoric about American democracy being the only existing and acceptable style of democracy in the world. They are concerned about US intervention in the Middle East which has brought no concrete contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All these built up to the current vehemence with which people here in Europe react against the American-led war in Iraq. Disgusting, they say, how one government could so easily use brute force to bend another country to its will, consciously blind to the massive suffering it would cause undefended civilians, and in arrogant disregard of all UN efforts to find a peaceful solution. Totally enraging, they say, to seek war when so many countries have declared that a "first strike" option should never be an option. And shameful that the UN has allowed itself to be so bullied and made irrelevant.

Last week, US embassy representatives met with students during an info forum in a Zurich high school. The embassy officials were seemingly unprepared for the avalanche of criticism from the young people. What gives the USA the right to be world policeman, asked one student. War is never the solution, said another. The teenagers exhibited such high levels of awareness and uncompromising positions that the teachers themselves were amazed.

More and more balconies are being adorned with the "peace flag." The flag's official distributor in Switzerland, reports a sale of over 40,000 in ten days.

Folks are shedding tears over the images of civilian casualties on TV. They are profoundly disturbed by the look in the eyes of the captured US soldiers they saw on CNN. I know people who have arranged their lives so that they can hop on a train and join the next demonstration in Milan, the last of which numbered over one million. Many more satellite demonstrations are erupting in various cities in Italy, Germany and Switzerland, not to mention the massive mobilizations in London.

And last week, in a call for sobriety at a time of insanity, a poetry event was held in a cafe in Berne. Eight poets, including myself, read poems in English, German, French and Italian to a packed audience. The event was organized by Franz Andres Morrisey of the University of Berne in response to a call by the Poets Against the War movement in the USA. Emotions ran deep, anger was profound. When I walked in there with my guitar and my pieces of paper, I looked into the sober faces, listened to the low murmurs of solidarity, and saw immediately that hope remains alive: in gatherings like these, inside sober cafes or out in angry streets, where one could easily mistake the surroundings for any city in the world. Hope lies in the hearts of ordinary people who deny legitimacy to the US government and its allies for their acts of aggression. From one end of the earth to the other, even the most quiet villages in the most isolated mountains, the protests are uttered in all languages. And this tells us that for as long as people are vigilant, something is about to give, and things will change.

During the '90s, Edessa Ramos was an active member of various solidarity movements in Chicago, including VVAW. Before that, she was a human rights activist in the Philippines.She currently lives in Switzerland where she writes, teaches language, organizes inter-cultural theater, and develops innovative learning modules for fighting racism. She has published two books and performed in the literary festivals of South Africa and Central America.

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