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For a culture of peace

In his speech at the Easter March in Mannheim on 30 March 2024, Franz Alt calls for more diplomacy in the Ukraine war, a ceasefire in Gaza, a no to the arms race and Germany’s accession to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Dear friends of peace!

Two years ago, the Russian army invaded Ukraine, violating all the rules of international law and the entire European post-war order. The result today: millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass torture, raped women, sexual violence has become an epidemic, thousands of children abducted, kindergartens, schools, museums and countless buildings destroyed and huge environmental damage caused. The EU speaks of over 70,000 war crimes. Vladimir Putin has thus become one of the greatest war criminals in human history. War is never a means of resolving a conflict, war is always the disease.

We currently spend more than 2,000 billion euros on armaments worldwide every year and at the same time let millions of people starve to death. In a television interview, peace politician Mikhail Gorbachev once asked me the question: “What would the world look like today if we had invested the many billions of dollars after 1945 in overcoming poverty and in education instead of in armaments and preparations for war?”

Today, experts have the answer: one tenth of global armaments money would be enough to overcome hunger in the world, and a second tenth would be enough to finally give all the world’s children an education.

At the same time, however, we are fighting another war in which mainly the rich countries are involved. This is the third world war against nature: if we had an ecologically realistic news programme on ARD this evening, what would my colleagues in Hamburg have to say at 8pm?

You would have to say:

  • Today, on this one day, we have wiped out 180 animal and plant species worldwide once and for all;
  • Today again we have produced an additional 50,000 hectares of desert;
  • Today, as on every other day, we have lost 80,000 tonnes of fertile soil and added a quarter of a million people worldwide and finally:
  • Today, once again, we have blown 180 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the air.

For more than 2,000 years, the ancient Roman principle “If you want peace, prepare for war” has applied. The result: 2000 years of repeated wars, mass misery and millions of deaths. As long as wars are prepared, they will be waged. We are all experiencing this painfully in the Ukraine war. President Putin has been preparing this war for a long time. We have also been preparing for the third world war against nature for over 100 years by burning coal, gas and oil. And yet we have known for a long time that a 100 per cent switch to renewable energies is possible. The sun alone sends us 15,000 times more energy every moment than all eight billion people currently consume.

What if we were to live by the motto: “If you want peace, you have to prepare for peace”? And how would that work in concrete and practical terms? Our endeavour must be to win peace in the future and no longer war.

A new policy begins with new thinking

Mikhail Gorbachev, a real politician with vision, successfully demonstrated this to us over 30 years ago. The result of his policy has given us thirty years of peace in Europe. Why? Because he had the courage to lead the way and focus on realisable visions in an environment of hardliners, and for the first time in human history entire weapons systems could simply be scrapped. Scrapped in a controlled manner. 80 per cent of all nuclear weapons were scrapped around 30 years ago.

And today, after the old madness of the nuclear arms race has just started all over again? No Gorbachev far and wide. But once again thinking in terms of the old logic of war. And Putin wants to conquer more territory in Ukraine, but also elsewhere. In his imperialist dream, he sees himself as the successor to the tsars and the old Soviet Union. And the worst thing about it is that he is supported by Christian church leaders in particular, such as the Orthodox Patriarch Cyril, who talks about “holy war”. There is no worse blasphemy than the word “holy war”. And so Putin can even threaten nuclear war with the support of the Church. A prince of the church as Putin’s altar boy – that is the spiritual catastrophe behind the catastrophe.

© Benevento Publishing
© Benevento Publishing

What would a nuclear war be, I asked the expert Gorbachev in our joint book: “Listen to reason – War no more!: An Appeal from Mikhail Gorbachev to the world”. His answer: “A nuclear war would probably be the last war in human history, because after that there would be no more people who could wage war.” Gorbachev in our book: “The West also made big mistakes after 1990 with the eastward expansion of NATO.” In 1990, NATO had 16 members, today it has 32, and more want to join. After 1990, we not only experienced NATO’s eastward expansion, but also NATO’s southward expansion and its northward expansion. Of course, this was and is not a problem for us in the West, but we must also ask ourselves: What effect does the constant expansion of NATO have on the Russian side? There is no question that every nation has the right to join a military alliance. But in the nuclear age at the latest, smart politics must understand that security for us must always be the security of others. Because we would all be the victims of a nuclear war.

Real security is common security

President Biden said a few weeks ago that the world has never been as close to the nuclear abyss or a third world war as it is today since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. As a pacifist and Christian, it goes without saying that the West must defend Ukraine’s security interests, including militarily. Anything else would be a failure to help. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

The peace movement must also learn to differentiate when it comes to the war in Ukraine. The basic ethos of all religions and wisdom teachings is: “Thou shalt not kill.” But it also means: “Thou shalt not kill if it means you can help your neighbour.” It is neither Christian nor pacifist to cover your ears when your neighbour calls for help. On the contrary: it is a failure to help. And Ukraine is calling us for help.

But as a pacifist and a Christian, I would like to point out that 144 million Russians also have security interests. Mikhail Gorbachev has repeatedly emphasised this in many conversations with me, but German politicians such as Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl have also pointed out Russia’s legitimate security interests. Even Henry Kissinger said on his 100th birthday: “NATO also made big mistakes after 1990”.

Recognising this seems to me to be the only way to achieve a ceasefire and ultimately peace negotiations as quickly as possible and thus put an end to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. And that is the most important thing now: Ending the suffering of the Ukrainians as quickly as possible. This possibility, I know, does not look very hopeful at the moment. Nevertheless, I do see a small glimmer of hope. President Selensky has described the Chinese peace plan as a “first step in the right direction”. I am sceptical about China because I know what the Chinese communists have been doing in Tibet for 60 years and what they have been doing to the Uyghurs in recent years. China is committing cultural genocide against people of other faiths and against those who think differently, just as Putin is committing cultural genocide in Ukraine. In his imperialist megalomania, Putin wants to wipe out everything Ukrainian and Russify the whole of Ukraine. Ukraine is rightly resisting this.

But the Ukrainian president’s cautiously positive reaction to the Chinese proposal also gives some hope this Easter. There is finally some movement in the hardened fronts. African states are also endeavouring to achieve a ceasefire in Ukraine. Germany, too, should not only supply weapons, but also endeavour to achieve a ceasefire. In this hardened situation, good diplomacy endeavours to negotiate.

We will probably only get the aggressor Putin to the negotiating table if the West and NATO are also prepared to talk about our past mistakes. We, too, must learn to break down enemy stereotypes – just as Jesus suggested in his Sermon on the Mount. Former communist Gorbachev: “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the survival programme of humanity in the nuclear age.” When will we finally begin to understand the power of the Sermon on the Mount? It means that we too cannot overcome our own fears by making the other side even more afraid. This policy will one day lead to total catastrophe.

Only if we understand our own shadow can we learn to win peace instead of wars. Anyone who dismisses “love of enemies” as naive should please consider the consequences of hatred of enemies.

History teaches us that peace is always possible. We wish the Ukrainian people that Pope Francis will also initiate peace negotiations in Moscow and Kiev – perhaps together with the Dalai Lama and the UN Secretary-General.

In my home town of Baden-Baden, 123 nations live together peacefully, including many Russians and Ukrainians. It was in this city that De Gaulle and Adenauer decided to end the mutual slaughter between the Germans and the French after 1945 and laid the foundations for Franco-German friendship and the peaceful European Union. This city proved that peace is always possible. No EU country has ever waged war against another EU country. The EU rightly received the Nobel Peace Prize for this in 2012. War is not a judgement of God, war is not a natural phenomenon, war is always waged by us humans. So people can always end wars. Just as Germany and France have made peace, Russia and Ukraine can also make peace. Mr Putin, put an end to this mass murder in Ukraine as quickly as possible. The international city of peace Baden-Baden is a good place for negotiations. Vienna would also be a good place for negotiations, as many important UN and European institutions are based there.

Our demand today: Mr Putin, negotiate with Ukraine, withdraw your troops and put an end to the mass murder of the Ukrainian people. In both the Ukraine war and the Gaza war, our demand is: ceasefire now! Peace is still possible. When, if not now? Just as the UN Security Council has just called for.

Pope Francis puts it this way in his new book: “Never again war, never again the noise of weapons. Never again such suffering. Peace for all. A lasting peace without weapons.”

And we can end the third world war against nature above all by rapidly switching to renewable energies. For this we need a solar world revolution. Our motto must be: The solar world revolution begins – the sun wins. We trust in the inexhaustible power of the sun. Wars over resources must be a thing of the past.


Franz Alt | Baden-Baden, 28 March 2024 | Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator 

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