The world has lost four great peace heroes recently. Here are some grateful recollections of them.
By Bernard Dreano
Mient Jan Faber was born in 1940 into a Calvinist family in Friesland, the northern province of the Netherlands. After studying mathematics, he joined the Inter-Church Peace Council (Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad IKV), of which he was secretary general from 1974 to 2003.
During the 1980-87 Euromissile crisis, the Dutch peace movement became the largest in Europe, relative to the country’s population. Its petition against the American cruise missiles returned 3.7 million signatures, a quarter of the Dutch population. And Mient Jan was very well known all over the country.
He then become a major player in the new independent European peace movements (that is, with an independence distant from the Atlanticist movements as well as from the pro-Soviet pacifists). He quickly supported the END appeal for nuclear disarmament in Europe, known as the “Russell appeal” and launched in 1980 by the Bertrand Russell Foundation. Supporters included the historian E.P. Thompson and activists including Ken Coates and Mary Kaldor.
END was organizing “END Conventions”, an annual gathering of movements, a sort of “Social Forum” before its time. These Conventions took place in Brussels (1982); Berlin (1983); Perugia in Italy (1984); Amsterdam (1985); Evry, near Paris (1986); Coventry (1987); Lund in Sweden (1988); Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque Country (1989); Helsinki in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia (1990); and Moscow (1991). The cycle ended in Brussels (1992), in a Europe that had become different.
The END developed links with democratic dissidents in Eastern Europe, a process popularized in 1982 by Mient Jan as “détente from below”. A network for an East-West dialogue was set up. Soon after the fall of the Berlin wall the network gave birth, in Prague in 1990, to the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA, referring to the East-West Helsinki Accords of 1975) with participants from all over Europe, North America and even beyond.
Unfortunately, the unified and peaceful Europe was not unified and far from being peaceful. HCA faced the dislocation of Yugoslavia and tried everything to oppose war — such as a great caravan for peace converging in Sarajevo — and other such initiatives during the wars.
Mient was very often in the field. In the fall of 1995, he opened the fourth HCA general assembly in Tuzla, to the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a few days after the general ceasefire of the Bosnian war.
The post-Yugoslav wars were not the only ones to which Mient Jan devoted time and energy. Groups from the South Caucasus, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan had participated in the second general assembly of HCA in Bratislava, and asked help to build networks of contacts and dialogues, as HCA did in Yugoslavia. Subsequently, Mient Jan often went to Tbilisi, Baku, Yerevan, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia….
At the end of the 1990s, the idea of creating a permanent network, some-what similar to HCA, in the Middle East was supported by Mient Jan. Several meetings took place with western Europeans, Turks, Iranians, Iraqis, Azerbaijanis, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese to create a Middle East Citizens’ Assembly (MECA) but the project did not survive, due to the failure of the Israel-Palestine peace process and the war in Iraq in 2003.
For Mient Jan, solidarity with the victims was always the priority, like in Kosovo or in Iraq. He had not demonstrated against the NATO intervention in the Kosovo war in 1999 and considered the necessity to overthrow Saddam Hussein at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
These positions had caused trouble within IKV. Mient Jan left the secretariat of the organization in 2003, choosing instead to devote himself to academic activities.
Later he took a distanced look at activity of the 1980s; what he called “a certain romanticism”. But, noticing the first effects of Alzheimer’s disease which were beginning to strike him, he moved away from all activities in 2014 onwards.
By Metta Spencer
Jean must have been over fifty when I met her. I brought a box of outdated Peace Magazines for her to give away at an upcoming event—probably NDP. She was a fervent “Dipper” and had run for parliament three times in the 1970s. We chatted at her front door and within a week she took over Peace Magazine’s office.
We shared a big room in Bathurst Street United Church with another organization. The magazine business was done there, but the editorial work was done at my place. Jean ran the office for, I guess, twenty years as a volunteer. She had retired and rarely mentioned her past. As I recall, she was born and raised near Thunder Bay, Ontario, and had taught school and worked as a flight attendant. She recruited other retired women to help in the office.
A year or so later I was surprised to learn that she and John Valleau had married. They didn’t make much of it, but sort of mentioned it casually when recounting their weekend.
John was a chemistry professor at University of Toronto and a founding director of Science for Peace. Jean had never married before and they were a great match.
They were outdoorsy. Long past the age for such risks, they went down the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories on a canoe. The long trip required logistical support, and were rightly proud of it.
They had a farm near Caledon and spent their weekends there, sometimes inviting friends. I recall a Thanksgiving there when John made pumpkin ravioli and aioli full of garlic. It was traumatic when they both lost their driver’s license at the same time and had to sell the farm, though I hadn’t noticed anything wrong with John’s driving on a weekend trip we took to see a play at Stratford.
For about ten years, Jean managed bingo games to benefit both the magazine and Science for Peace, which had charitable status. We ran the games at a bingo hall in the name of Science for Peace, which “bought” pages in the magazine with most of the proceeds. The money lasted several years, even after a nasty official cut off the lottery license, but eventually we depleted it.
In her matter-of-fact way, Jean could make a point without giving offence. Once when she and a young guy were carrying magazine boxes, I almost laughed at her easy comment, “You should have had a shower this morning, Mac.”
Jean and John were politically to the left of me. If I introduced her to a friend on the street, she’d give a speech and invite this new “friend” to one of her political causes. John and I sometimes argued, but Jean and I never did, though I think she had belonged to the Canadian Peace Congress, which I considered almost Stalinist. Nevertheless, when I was deported from the USSR for associating with dissidents, that didn’t faze her, and when the Berlin wall came down, she remarked, “You’ve been vindicated, Metta.”
They went downhill cognitively together, living in an elegant retirement home for progressive activists. John died first and she moved to the wing providing constant care. She called me a few times, but when I tried to phone, the calls were filtered. She complained that she was “in prison” because she could not go out by herself but was mollified when I said it was the best place for her anyway. Because of COVID, we didn’t meet again. Jean Smith was the salt of the earth. Blessings and farewell, dear friend.
In Loving Memory of Peter Ackerman
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) mourns the loss of Dr. Peter Ackerman, ICNC’s Founding Chair, who died on April 26, 2022.
Peter was a visionary in the field of civil resistance, earning his PhD in 1976 from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His dissertation, titled “Strategic Aspects of Nonviolent Resistance Movements,” focused on a topic that would animate his work in this field for over forty years.
Author of several key publications on the role of strategy and skills in civil resistance campaigns, he passionately committed himself to advance knowledge and understanding of how civil resistance can achieve rights, freedom, and justice around the world.
Peter’s activities and philanthropy touched people internationally. He co-founded the Albert Einstein Institution in 1983 to further develop the field of civil resistance, and went on to co-found the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in 2002. He supported groundbreaking research, workshops, the development of award-winning documentary films, translations of educational resources, a growing community of practitioners and scholars, and decades of projects and programs related to civil resistance, democracy, and human rights.
ICNC Senior Advisor Hardy Merriman stated: “Peter dedicated himself to one of the greatest drivers of freedom and human rights in the world. His contributions, partnership, and bedrock support of this field are a part of his vast legacy.
“I know that dissidents, organizers, scholars, and members of the policy community will continue to draw from the resources that he created and enabled, and they will be more effective as a result.
“Peter will be deeply missed. This field has lost a giant. To me and so many others, Peter was a colleague, a mentor, and a dear friend. It was a privilege to work with him as he championed his causes fearlessly. We honor his life by doing the same for a more just and democratic world. Thank you Peter.”
— The staff, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict
By John Sloboda
Bruce Kent was Britain’s most effective anti-nuclear campaigner of the 1980s, at a critical point in cold war history, with the escalation provoked by the siting of US Cruise and Pershing missiles on European soil. At the time, Bruce was General Secretary of the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
CND had fallen into decline after the early Aldermaston marches of the 1950s, when the philosopher Bertrand Russell was one its leading figures, but the siting of Cruise missiles at the Greenham Common US Military Base just outside Newbury, re-ignited organised protest and raised it to a level never before experienced in Britain, also linking the UK to parallel movements in other European countries. Bruce was the right person at the right time to be the enormously effective public face of this movement.
Kent’s great talent, perhaps one could say genius, was public speaking and impromptu debate. He spoke with great authority, based on deep knowledge, but also with passion and eloquence. He went all over the country, speaking in remote village halls, large urban arenas, rallies and — increasingly — on national media to audiences of millions. He was always ready to engage face-to-face in the cut and thrust of vigorous debate, and his handling of critics was as firm as it was compassionate. It was after attending one of Bruce’s many public appearances in 1982 that I had my “damascene moment”, and from a prior position of some political ignorance and apathy, committed myself to the peace movement on a long-term basis.
Bruce’s argument was essentially a moral one. Nuclear weapons had the capacity to kill millions and make the planet uninhabitable. If we kept them, sooner or later they would be used, whether by accident or design. So we had better get rid of them, and the best way for that to happen is for one country to lead by example without waiting for others to follow. And that was what CND (and the Labour Party) called for the UK to do, in a 1983 general election of which the nuclear issue was a defining one.
This was the high-point of the anti-nuclear movement in the UK, able to mobilise hundreds of thousands at high-profile rallies, and with polls showing that up to 30% of the electorate supported the CND/Labour position. So scared was the consevative government headed by Margaret Thatcher that they set up a special unit to undermine and vilify Kent’s CND, including manufacturing the infamous (and totally false) allegation that CND was funded and run from the Kremlin.
Bruce Kent never descended to tit-for-tat, stood above all that, and kept to arguments of substance and principle, for which he gained the respect even of his political opponents. Labour lost the 1983 election, and by 1989, when the USA removed its provocative missiles from European soil, CND’s massive influence slowly began to wane.
Bruce Kent was an unlikely political superstar. No pacifist, he served in the military before deciding to become a Roman Catholic priest. Although he later left the priesthood, he always remained a staunch Catholic, and his anti-nuclear convictions were rooted in his strong faith. He retained a strong connection to Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, throughout his life.
Kent was also president of the International Peace Bureau from 1985 to 1992, and of the National Peace Council in 1999-2000, and many other organisations and individuals benefited from his wise counsel and clarity of vision.
Bruce Kent was no lover of the internet or modern communications technology. Right to the end of his life he prioritised the face-to-face encounter, rooted in specific localities, supplementing this by telephone calls and post where necessary. His skills and orientations were tailor made for a pre-internet age, and in the peace movement of the 1980s he had no equal.
John Sloboda is co-founder of Iraq Body Count, was Executive Director of Oxford Research Group, and founding co-Director of Every Casualty Worldwide.