Neither war that destroys us, nor peace that oppresses us”: This historic anti-war slogan of the Spanish feminist movement holds one of the fundamental keys to building a horizon of peace. It claims that peace is not just a ceasefire, nor is it surrender to or silence before those who impose their wars on others. Rather, peace is the building of a foundation for fostering relations based on mutual respect and cooperation.
Such an idea is neither naive nor impossible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Building a new path based on a lasting peace is the only possible alternative for the sustainability of all people and the planet. The opposite of this means a silencing of the people, the loss of human lives, a divided world, permanent war, living in constant fear of nuclear weapons, and misery for the people affected by war.
Those who claim to defend freedom do not want those who are not like them to enjoy it. What we are facing is an “either with me or against me” mentality—or, as Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, recently said, “We will remember those who are not by our side.”
Freedom, therefore, is not solely a choice between two options, but the possibility of creating our own option. That is why it is essential that, in the face of the mainstream perception of the world that tries to rob us of the ability to envision a new alternative, we must articulate one where everyone can fit in—where war is not inevitable.
‘Europe Is Indefensible’
In the current context, with Russia having invaded Ukraine, we are surrounded by a sense of amnesia and the feeling of having returned to the 20th century. Once again, there is war, hatred, and the familiar rhetoric of division of “us” against the “others.” It is shocking that in the face of the war in Ukraine, Fortress Europe—which in its response to the refugees and migrants of war-torn and poor countries in the Global South has turned the Mediterranean Sea into a mass grave; which illegally carries out pushbacks against migrants; and which locks asylum-seekers in detention centers, without any access to lawyers—now finds it is so easy to make changes in policies and to open its doors to white and blue-eyed people. The war in Ukraine has proven the EU to be perfectly capable of receiving refugees, but for those trapped in Libya—the country destroyed by NATO—there are no safe routes, no trains, and no free buses. This shows us again: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
All people have the right to flee war and rebuild their lives, like the Afghan, Kurdish, and Syrian people who made their way to Moria, the crowded refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos that burned down during the pandemic in 2020, with almost 13,000 people living in the camps left without any shelter, and where 10-year-old children have tried to commit suicide due to violence, hunger, and overcrowding. The attitude from colonial Europe’s history has endured, reiterating that there are lives that matter and lives that don’t matter.
But not so many years ago, thousands of Spanish families had to flee fascism, which also persecuted “the others,” a categorization that included the Roma people, members of the LGBTQ community, and supporters of the Spanish Republic. As Aimé Césaire wrote in his Discourse on Colonialism, “Europe is indefensible.”
The level of hypocrisy is already astounding, and yet we continue down this path where we talk about peace while we send weapons to the warring nations, we talk about democracy while we support censorship, we talk about human rights while we dismantle the United Nations, we talk about freedom while we ignore the creep of fascism. And at the center of all this is NATO. As if it were not enough to surrender our sovereignty to the capitalist market, we must also surrender it to wars waged by the United States.
‘You Can’t Eat Dignity, but People Without Dignity Get Down on Their Knees and End Up Without Food’
Julio Anguita González, the late mayor of Córdoba and the influential political leader within Spain’s left wing, famously said, “You can’t eat dignity, but people without dignity get down on their knees and end up without food.” These words echo in my head as I try to figure out what is happening in Europe, or more importantly, what Europe is and how we can make it the opposite of that.
But to understand what Europe is today, we must remember that the debates that built the consensus toward this European Union were laid out in abstract and aspirational terms, associating modernity with neoliberalism. While the people became enchanted by an empty European identity, the foundation for an economy separated from political and democratic power was built.
Like the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s popular fairy tale, we sold our voices for a romantic idea of love—in our case, for a sense of belonging to a vague European identity. While we were voiceless, the EU’s manufacturers filled the gap between economic and social structures with institutions that foster inequalities and a European security project that answers to Washington. The EU’s decisions in the face of the 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the war in Ukraine cannot be any further from the real and daily security needs of its people. The lesson we should have taken from the little mermaid, however, is that without our voices, there can be no real love.
The Fight Against Amnesia
Those of us who have fought against historical amnesia know that we don’t need military alliances, because war is a terrible symptom, but it isn’t the disease plaguing the world. To remove it, Europe urgently needs a heart transplant—an anti-fascist and anti-colonial heart, one that is responsible for the world it builds and the people who live in it and come to it. So how can we make Europe the opposite of what it is now?
First, by assuming that we cannot postpone opening our eyes any longer, seeing Europe for what it is, and tackling the most difficult task: building a path of our own. With memory, we will be able to undertake that task, because it has been tried before. Let’s listen to the past, and let’s make the present better.
That journey goes from anti-war activist Rosa Luxemburg to the Non-Aligned Movement, BRICS, Pan-Africanism, and the struggle of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. All this history reminds us that the struggle to build an alternative path to peace is full of courage, and that those who fought for peace learned on their way that their will also counts.
Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.
More weapons won’t save us—we will.
Nora Garcia Nieves