18 November 2009

Swords into ploughshares and 30 years of the Friedensdekade

Today is the peculiarly German Protestant festival called the day of repentance and prayer, at the same time it marks the end and culmination of the Friedensdekade, the churches' Ten days for Peace campaign, and the 30th year in which the campaign has taken place. The Friedensdekade deserves a place on the Holy Disorder blog in that it played a significant role in generating an indepedent peace movement in the GDR not least through the slogan "Swords into Ploughshares", which became one of the elements that fed into the "peaceful revolution".

The history of the Friedensdekade goes back to October 1979 when the Swedish Christian youth council proposed at a meeting of the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe in Hirschluch in the GDR, that a day for peace should be organized by European churches. Picked up Berlin-Brandenburg and particularly by the Saxony youth pastor Harald Bretschneider this idea led to the first Friedensdekade being marked in the GDR from 9 to 19 November 1980, under the theme "Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen" (Make peace without weapons). The symbol of the event was a picture of the sculpture outside the United Nations in New York of a sword being hammered into a ploughshare that had been donated by the Soviet Union. The 10 days was also intended to coincide with similiar actions in the Federal Republic. In 1981, fabric bookmarks and a fabric patch with the "swords into ploughshares" motif were produced by the church (fabric production did not require special permission from the state), which led to the symbol being quickly adopted as a sign for independent peace activities, much to to displeasure of the state, which harrassed young people wearing the patch. Despite official church advice after such confrontations that young people should forego wearing the patch, the sculpture remained a smbol of the movement, as when in 1983 at the Wittenberg Kirchentag, Friedrich Schorlemmer organised a blacksmith to turn a swords into a ploughshare (as shown here in a panel from the exhibition in berlin about the peaceful revolution). The Friedensdekade remained one of the most important catalysts for the peace movement in the GDR, which itself contributed to the prayers for peace that became a focus during the peaceful revolution.

(Acknowledgements to Anke Silomon for her book Schwerter zu Pflugscharen und die DDR In English see the book by John Sandford, The Sword and the Ploughshare.)


janetlees said...

When we took part in the WYPAC exchange (Women from Yorkhsire, Palatinate and Anhalt) in August we were given one of these Swrods into Ploughsares badges during the conference and several of the women from Anhalt spoke about their involvement. We learnt a lot.

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