Okinawa Speaking Tour in the UK, Germany and Poland, 1/30 – 2/15, 2016
at London University SOAS
Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo
Okinawa Speaking Tour in the UK, Germany and Poland, 1/30 – 2/15, 2016
For stopping expansion of US Marine Corps Base on beautiful biodiversity Oura bay at Henoko, Nago-city, Okinawa, Japan, Ms. E. (Voices for Creative Non-Violence.UK) organised our speaking tour about Okinawa in the UK, Germany, Poland. These countries also have US Bases & Facilities. So, this speaking tour aims for sharing information and ideas. As well as promoting mutual solidarity.
More than a million refugees are entering to Europe. However people in Europe don’t always show tolerance for refugees. And terrorist attack increases more fear and doubt towards other cultures and religion. Accordingly, European politic is leaning to the right. So, another aim of this speaking tour is that telling and showing an importance of Non-Violent way for resolving any problems.
This European tour was financially supported by LUSH, a UK based company, and we were also invited to speak at their Conference in Bournemouth. The Conference was attended by about 700 shop managers and other employees of the company from all over the world (including 150 delegates from Japan). In addition to my talk, presentations were also given on the issue of sustainable energy by an activist in Germany and on the current situation of refugee camps in France. We heard that LUSH provides financial support to various peace activist movements.
In the UK, we were invited to talk to various audiences in and around London starting from Ms. E. neighborhood community and the Japanese community, and at music venues, universities, and the London Cathodic Worker House. We also staged standing protests in front of the US Embassy and the Japanese Embassy; for the latter we joined the rally which takes place every Friday led by (Mr. Kobayashi from) a Japanese anti-nuclear group in the UK.
Then, we travelled to Milton Keynes, a large town with a Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple and a Peace Pagoda and stayed there for three days. The first day, we attended an interfaith meeting, where we were given opportunity to talk about Okinawa. I was surprised to meet with a lady from Yomitan Village, Okinawa during in this meeting.
The following day was a rest day. A day after this, we held a special Buddhist service to mark the end of the season (Setsubun-e) and a traditional Japanese ceremony of scattering beans to drive away the evil spirits and pray for a healthy life (Mamemaki). We had nearly a hundred visitors, and with the Mayor of Milton Keynes, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and many children attending, it turned out to be a fun and lively event. We managed to find a chance to speak to the Mayor and the High Sheriff about Okinawa, and handed in various documents to them.
Both in London and Milton Keynes we were hosted respectively by Reverent Nagase and Sister Maruta at Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temples. Thanks to all monks and nuns, who moved to the UK in the 1970s and have been training and continuously involved in peace activism since, various meetings in the UK were realised. We could manage to make contacts with local governmental officials and citizen groups, such as the Mayor of Milton Keynes and the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire as well as a large anti-nuclear group CND, and a Japanese anti-nuclear group.
We left Milton Keynes early in the morning and arrived Kaiserslautern in southeast Germany via Paris. (We only spent about an hour in Paris to change the train, but were begged for money from many refugees.)
Germany is a defeated nation of the Second World War and still hosts the largest UN Forces outside the US. Many bases and facilities in Germany are strategically crucial for the US Military. This time we visited three military bases,Ramstein Air Base, Büchel (German) Air Base, and U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart (home to both the United States European Command and the United States African Command.)
Ramstein Air Base is a gigantic military base like Kadena Air Base in Okinawa with two runways and equipped with all military facilities including an ammunition storage depot. It is a critical military base for bombing campaigns in the Middle East, and drones would not function without this base. Büchel Air Base is a German Military Base, but it is believed that about 200 US nuclear warheads are deployed here and they could be launched with the US permission.
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart hosts two crucial military facilities; the United States African Command (AFRICOM), and the United States European Command (EUCOM). The US Armed Forces divides the globe into six geographical areas and in each area a regional command has been established. US Pacific Command which is responsible for the East Asia and the Pacific region, including Okinawa, is based in Hawaii.
In Germany, too, introduced by Reverend Masunaga in Austria, we became acquaintance with Mr and Mrs Müller (Mrs Müller is Japanese), who helped us organise activities in Germany. Some origins of Green Parties can be found in Germany, and the first day there we could meet with one of the founding members of the Party. The Green Party has grown into a major political party in Germany. However, it approved to send the German troops during the War in Afghanistan in 2003, and grey haired and bearded Mr. Roland stated that it has lost its founding visions.
I also heard about an ongoing court case on the killing of a German citizen in Pakistan by drone strikes which were operated from Germany; a lawsuit has been filed against the state claiming that this is the violation of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 26.
In the office of an anti-war group, War Resistance, many anti-war protest activities have been organised including a Peace Camp which will take place between 10th and 12th June 2016. We discussed how we can link this with the peace movement in Okinawa. Various suggestions were made such as reciprocal visits to each site of protests, sharing information, and exchanging video message films to support each other. After these discussions, a young man and his partner expressed their interest in visiting Okinawa this summer. As an Inter-Island Solidarity Peace Camp will be held in Taiwan this summer, they said they would like to take advantage of this opportunity and visit Okinawa as well.
In Berlin, we gave a talk in an anti-war café. The partner of the café owner is from Japan, and they seem to organise events regularly. In the café too, wide-ranging and constructive discussions took place; everyone expressed his/her own thought such as: the Japanese community in Germany should take an initiative, and every country which hosts the US Military bases should act on 4th July claiming the independence of its country.
Traveling from the UK to Germany, I was amazed by German people’s vitality. They enthusiastically and candidly expressed their opinions and thoughts. Often similarities between Japanese and German people such as both being diligent and organised and also shared national characteristics are pointed out, but I felt their vigour and Japanese inactiveness is a world apart.
As German de-nuclear power and sustainable energy policies are well known in Japan, Germany is often considered as a progressive country. However, as for the debate surrounding the US Military bases, it does not appear to have attracted passionate enthusiasm comparable to that in Okinawa. Yet, it has a long history of anti-war peace movements, so if anti-US Military base movements in both Okinawa and Germany can form an alliance and work together, this will definitely be a huge blow to the US Military. If we can find an avenue for the Okinawan movement to inspire the German counterpart, I felt this would benefit both movements and can have positive outcomes for both Okinawa and Germany.
In Germany, neighbourhoods where the US Military bases locate are more likely to be economically dependent on the US Military. Therefore, tackling this issue should be the primary concern.
After a five-to-six-hour bus journey, I arrived in Poznan, an old city in western Poland. Walking around the city, I found that there was distinctive calmness about the city compared to the UK or Germany. I visited a cathedral which was first built around AD1000. It was dark and still inside with various pictures and statues on the wall and around the hall. Even tourists were quietly walking around. There were people praying with their eyes closed in front of pictures or statues. The grave atmosphere and solemnity of the place overwhelmed me.
I had an opportunity to give a talk at ZEMSTA, a bookstore with a cafe space. I later learned that this cafe was a favourite place for anarchists. Indeed there were many illustrations of skulls and most of people were dressed in black. It seemed like a fashionable place, but the atmosphere was somehow different from ordinary cafes.
As soon as I started talking, a loud bang was heard. Everyone in the cafe went out. Somebody told me that whenever leftists or anarchists have a meeting, right wing extremists would come to attack them. When I went outside afterwards, I found a tissue paper stained with blood.
Poland was prone to foreign invasions for a long time and had disappeared from the map entirely while being occupied by Germany, Austria and Russia. In the light of the history, it might be only natural for Polish people to have a desire to retain military force to protect their own country because they were deprived of their land by force. Considering this, I came to think that the relatively low level of foreign threat coupled with Buddhist philosophies has contributed to Japanese people’s reluctance to use force.
The general election in October 2015 resulted in a landslide victory for the right wing Law and Justice (PiS) party. It marked the first change in government in eight years. After securing the majority in the parliament, PiS appointed new judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, who are all supportive of the party. It means that the Constitutional Tribunal is now unlikely to declare any law introduced by PiS unconstitutional. PiS also passed a law to nationalize public media, while replacing the heads of TV and radio stations and firing journalists who criticised the government.
Faced with an influx of refugees and migrants from outside of the EU, Poland is strengthening its border control, curtailing the number of those who enter the country. I wonder if Poland is deemed to be politically unstable. Does it have something to do with its experiences under the Communist regime, or do geopolitical, cultural, historical elements all contribute to the current situation? Is it because of Poland’s sometimes shaky relationship with EU on one hand and geographical closeness to the huge presence of Russia on the other hand?
Relationship with US
A US operated “black site” detention facility is located in Poland, where CIA interrogates terrorist suspects. It is the same kind of facility as Guantanamo in Cuba or Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where grave human rights violations were committed. Poland has agreed in principle to host US missile defence system. It has also been agreed to build five new US military bases in Poland by 2018.
In Warsaw I was invited to stay with squatters. The population of Warsaw shrank during World War II, and the government took control of buildings after the end of the war. Housing remained affordable and equally distributed under the communist regime. After 1989, however, a wave of liberalisation and capitalism led to privatisation of various properties including buildings, prompting surge in rent.
Owners of such buildings hope to make money on their properties by getting rid of squatters and dismantling old buildings which is sometimes not easily permitted due to protection of cultural heritage. Squatters I met had some financial supports and so far they were lucky enough to have avoided eviction. According to them, a refugee from Chechnya used to live in the room where I stayed. During our conversation squatters were eager to know why protest movements in Japan don’t result in violence, or why Japan remains silent about brutal actions inflicted by US.
On the last day in Poland I visited Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp, to give a prayer. To my surprise visitors had to go through a very strict security check, which made me wonder if any incident had happened recently. In the exhibition it was explained that a million Jews living in Poland had been killed by Nazis. There were many visitor groups waving Israeli national flags. Obviously the place means a lot to Israelis. As soon as I started to pray with a prayer drum, a security guard rushed over screaming “No!No!No!” and stopped me.
My perception was that the place was not promoting peace as Hiroshima and Nagasaki do. The atmosphere was sombre. Visitors came in big buses and learned about atrocious facts of Holocaust. I couldn’t, however, help wondering how they would be able to digest the facts and take a step forward to realise peace. The reaction of the security guard and the lack of prayer space in Auschwitz shaped my concern. My stay in Poland lasted only three days, but I cannot help worrying about its future.
What I thought through this speaking tour is that Okinawa Non-Violent Action is a unique movement in the world of today. Setting a permanent camp site in front of US military Base for two years, Hundreds of people come every single day to join Sit-in. I couldn’t see a big movement against US military bases in Europe this time. I think that positive energy of Anti-US Base movement of Okinawa can do something to other movements in Europe. Therefore, our new connection and solidarity is very important now for a meaning of demilitarize the world.
When civil movement turns into violent movement, the movement loses a mass support and fall into a chain of violence. There were many examples in a past of human history. Even a violent movement once succeeded, hatred and fear which is created by violent revolution brought more violence again. And civil war starts again. I also saw a one example in German Green Party that once men get a power, they change a policy and having a cosy relationship with a certain group of cooperation and power. I regarded that history of many wars in Europe still effects people’s consciousness, and also effect a way of thinking.
Okinawa’s Non-Violent movement is a hope for an entire world. It’s been said that Okinawa’s US Base issue is not only issue of Okinawa, but issue of whole Japan. And now, I say that people’s power of Okinawa should be spread to the world and encourage people who fight for their rights. Human history has been struggling between violence and Non-violence. Majority people think that Mother Earth is a just material object and exploit for human needs and comforts. This state of mind creates not only environmental problems, but also creates war, discrimination, hunger, animal testing, endangered species, deforestation, pollution of the sea.
It has been said that all problems are created by human mind. There-fore, idea & thought of Non-violence are useful not only for political struggles, but in actual practices of our daily life. The Non-violence have to be filtered in human behaviour include actions, words, thoughts. Without achieving the true non-violence, in our mind and in our society, True Peace won’t be realised.
I pray that wind of Okinawa prevail every corner of the world and benefit the people.
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart
Sam Baggette Genoveva Arteaga-Rynn