Tulle Elster, Norway, was a globetrotter for 20 years, making her living as a writer, photographer and tourist guide. Since 1973 she has been an unsalaried activist, first on environment, then peace issues from 1980. Board member of “Women for Peace” and editor/publisher of a bi-monthly peace magazine, “Link”, which she started in 1982.
THE PEACE MARCH TO MOSCOW
Not one of us knows what effect we may be having or what we may be giving to other persons. It is hidden from us and shall remain so. Often we are permitted to see a very little portion of this, so that we may not become discouraged. Power works in mysterious ways.”
Four years after the Scandinavian “Peace March Stockholm-Moscow-Minsk 1982”, I met Grigory Lokshin from the former Soviet Peace Committee again. Times had already changed in the Soviet Union. Breshnev had passed away. Andropov and Chernenko, both old men, had followed him, first as presidents, then to the grave. And finally after 40 years of life terrorised by possible nuclear extinction something new had happened. A man with new ideas got the chance, grabbed it and started a completely new process, soon known as perestroika and glasnost.
The then 42 year old Mikhail Gorbachev quickly won the hearts of ordinary citizens in the West with his new politics, which included proposals for real nuclear disarmament, an issue the peace movement had pressed for ever since Hiroshima. After our peace march in the Soviet Union, people had been discussing whether it had any impact on the democratic process that followed. Meeting Grigory again, I therefore used the opportunity to ask:
“How did this ’glasnost’ and ’perestroika’ actually start?”
I have never seen such sincere incredulity in a face as when he answered: “And YOU ask that question!? YOU who started it all!” I was flabbergasted: “ME? What do you mean?” “Don’t you remember”, he said, almost insulted,” was you who organized the first democratic meeting in the Soviet Union since before the Revolution!?”
I thought he was joking. Thinking back, however, I have since realized the truth in the old Chinese proverb: “Even the longest journey starts with a first step”. Although our initiative was neither the first nor the last, our peace march was one of many similar “first steps”, with a snowball effect which has lasted to this very day.
Our march inspired other actions, just as it was itself inspired by what others had done before us. In our efforts today we are indebted to small peace groups in Europe and the US at the beginning of the 18th century, mostly inspired by the Quakers. To a Bertha von Suttner, who in 1889, with her novel “Down with Arms”, translated into over 40 languages, shook the whole world (her book is still good reading) and who, two years later, at a peace congress in Rome helped establish the International Peace Bureau, the organization in Geneva which today consists of 186 peace organizations world wide.
The first nuclear bombs were used against civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Strong protests followed this crime against humanity, but it was not until 1957 that the first truly worldwide peace movement of the grassroots came about, i.e. systematic international cooperation for peace and disarmament. That year radioactive fallout from an American nuclear test in the Pacific had contaminated the crew on board a Japanese fishing boat, and this caused global outrage. During the next 5-6 years the peace movement raised public awareness of the terrible consequences of atmospheric nuclear tests. The yearly Aldermaston anti-nuclear marches in Britain were among the most famous demonstrations. Finally, in 1963, the US and the USSR signed a ban against atmospheric tests. With great relief the protesters went home, thinking they had “done it”. How wrong they were. China and France, who had not signed, continued their atmospheric tests, while the signatories took their tests underground and continued the arms race at full pace.