This year, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden in Trier (Peace Committee) celebrated its fortieth birthday at its home in the Frieden- und Umwelt Zentrum (Peace and Environment Centre, known as FUZ). Pfützenstraße 1 also lodges Amnesty International, NABU, Greenpeace, BUND and several other environmental and human rights groups. Since the founding of the AGF, these organisations and their common goals have been working in the region towards the global picture of peace and justice for all. It starts here.
The first mention of a peace centre and/or committee in Trier was inspired by “peace week” in the Netherlands. From 1978, groups were meeting regularly to organise demonstrations, vigils and rallies. What began as a weeklong peace programme was lengthened by two months. The goal was, and still is, to awake within the population an inner responsibility towards combating and questioning personal and structural violence.
In the FUZ a Third World Shop takes its place on the ground floor. On one of my first ever runs in Trier, I jogged past the Weltladen, immediately turned around, went in and inquired what this wonderful place was that questions the ethical source of its products, who made them and whether or not that person sees any of the money that goes into the till. A few weeks later I was on the volunteer rota and met Fanny, the NABU volunteer at the time and over a year later I’m sat where she used to sit, upstairs in the NABU office.
As well as being a celebration of 40 years of peace activism, the gathering served as an opportunity to think about how the committee wants to address the years to come. For Markus Pflüger, the AGF’s current peace consultant, we need to ask ourselves “where we’re coming from, where we want to go and how we’ll get there”. It takes members and activists, old and new, to show that the AGF, its development and its imperative engagement for peace, justice and human rights are still relevant”.
A predominant focus of the AGF is the committee for asylum which campaigns for refugees’ rights in the Trier region. Thomas Kupczik, a member of the AGF, recalls the 1990s as a time shaped by fairy lights, war in the former Yugoslavia, the marginalization of refugees and political apathy amongst the youth. Instead of the students who were moving at the end of 60s, the committees within the AGF were made up of workers, perhaps those of the ‘68 generation itself, and retirees. Despite demonstrations and speeches from the AGF, people weren’t reacting to the Yugoslavian war, so the AGF took the next step in critiquing Germany’s closed-door policy and invited 100 Bosnian refugees to Trier, where they were taken in by host families before finding flats of their own. After the suicide of two refugees in deportation prisons in Trier and in nearby Wittlich, members of the AGF went to Bonn to demonstrate against the exclusion policy against refugees and every year the AGF demonstrates outside the relatively new deportation prison in Zweibrücken. The topic of asylum, nearly thirty years later, is still omnipresent.
Stattführer is one project run by the AGF committee “Trier during National Socialism”. A handful of city guides (Stadtführer) give tours around the city and show where Jewish families were run out of their homes on the 10th of November 1939. Note: Statt (instead of), Führer (leader, referring to Hitler), similar to the homophone Stadtführer (city guide). Through their tours, the members of the AGF stress the importance of remembering Germany’s national socialist past which is all the more crucial today as right wing parties continue to ostracise social groups.
Another concern for the AGF is the future of a free, peaceful and democratic Europe. “We live in a hopeful time in which Fridays see children and adults all around the world demonstrating for climate justice”, wrote Thomas Zuche for the Friedenspost, the AGF’s peace magazine. As well as this, members of the Seebrücke movement take to the streets to demonstrate against the “mass graveyard” that the Mediterranean is becoming. The EU is not without fault. The next 7 year EU plan from 2021-2027 plans to put almost € 24 Billion into the arms industry in both Europe and in African countries along the exodus route. In addition, finance for projects promoting peace and preventing conflict will be almost halved from € 2.3 Billion to € 1 Billion. The militarisation of the EU is an obstacle that the peace movement needs to haul its way up and over, but how can the AGF reach people? “It’s not enough to be part of a peace movement against something”, wrote Thomas Kupczik in the Friedenspost. “People want to know what a violence-free alternative looks like”.
The answer is not to give up on Europe but to support people and movements that give peace a chance and fight that which turns people into asylum seekers rather than those seeking asylum. Choose to build up humans’ rights over the creation and expansion of fear and fences. This is something that the AGF has been doing for years. After 9/11, the AGF hosted a vigil for the victims of the terror attack as well as a demonstration against retaliation strikes and against Germany’s entry into the war in Afghanistan. Manfred Becker wrote for the AGF newsletter in 2004, “Peace is more than the lack of war and peace education is more than an anti-war education. It involves dialogue and the ability to confront and understand. It’s about educating ourselves together and learning cooperation rather than competition.”
Climate education couldn’t be more pressing. Heatwaves in the southern hemisphere and flooding in the biggest river deltas in Asia will force millions to flee their soon to be, and for some their already, uninhabitable homes. Our political system relies on industry and growth at the environment’s expense. Since I’ve lived in Trier, I’ve witnessed a rocketing increase in climate activism with the emergence of groups and movements including Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, the Trier Climate Network and Ende Gelände (activists fighting against lignite mining in the Rheinland). So that we can even talk about a future, these groups need to be our present.