16 August 2009

Taling 'bout a (peaceful) revolution

How to make a revolution. Take a bunch of candles, some prayers and some Taizé chants. Encourage people to come together in small groups to pray for peace to write about peace to talk about how to build peace in a violent world. A warning: it may take years, decades even but every little humanising effort can make a contribution.
Twenty years ago in East Germany that is how it started. Yet actually it began long before. People kept civil society as alive as they could by refusing to bear arms during their military service, or by organising telephone trees if someone got arrested, by meeting in peace, ecology or women's groups, by writing undergound papers and journals, by keeping contacts outside their own context alive, by refusing to take the state "Jugendweihe", by going to church, by organising crazy activities like trying to keep a real tally of how many people really voted in the undemocratic elections or measuring the polution from a chemical factory, by refusing to keep their minds closed even if the borders of their country were.
Today many of those who were the key actors at the forefront and also behind the scenes of East Germany's peaceful revolution are still doing ordinary jobs, raising families, looking after churches, organisations, people ... Some have gone into politics but many are still working at the local level. Even though the system has changed they are still trying to keep the flames of civil society alive, just because walls and barbed wire iron curtains come down does not mean that a country's social tissue doesn't need to be worked on. Just because you have the privilege to live in a democracy doesn't mean your only contribution to civil society is when you vote.
20 years ago this weekend Dr B and I set off for Berlin from Brussels. I was about to live through an extraordinary year. Without those previous decades in the GDR of many people bearing witness to other truths, sometimes in quiet and humble ways, sometimes in creative and confrontational ways, then the extraordinary developments of 1989 could never have been.
Listening to the depressing and sad news from Burma in recent days and weeks, Aung San Suu Kyi's trial and further imprisonment, I have been hoping and praying that the efforts of all those working for the good of civil society there may also one day be celebrated. Maybe some of them will also live to see real fruits of their courageous attempts to continue building civil society. Resistance has been deeply costly for many of them.
It doesn't take much to change things for the better - every little humanising effort does play its role. Yet it also takes so much ... courage, commitment, resistance, belief, motivation ... and of course time.

Posted by Jane


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