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Pushing peace to the public
News feature

By David John
Athens Star Staff

This week, during international commemorations of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and in anticipation of the Geneva talks later this year, thousands of people gathered in Athens to witness and support the encirclement of the Acropolis in a "human chain for peace" and hear speeches given by "ambassadors of peace" from the United Nations and nine different countries.

The recent image facelift of Russia and other Eastern bloc countries, now posing as champions of universal peace, has only served to increase Western distrust of arguments condemning the stockpiling of strategic weapons. These arguments, based on both moral and political grounds, have led to charges by NATO governments that peace groups are funded and encouraged by the Soviet Union in an attempt to undermine the notion of a realistic deterrent to possible communist aggression.

In turn, anti-nuclear advocates refute what they see as the false logic of these allegations. "We do not distinguish between good and bad missiles" said Michalis Stathopoulos, rector of Athens University and president of the Acropolis Appeal for Peace, Life and Civilization, the organizers of this week's events. "For us the first question morally and intellectually is how can we save our lives?"

"Once peace is guaranteed, we can tackle the question of how do we form societies in terms of socio-political systems, standards of living, human rights and social justice... The ideal of peace should be beyond all economic and political systems."

This non-partisan approach to the disarmament debate is in marked contrast to basic principles held dear by both religious and politically motivated peace groups. They contend that groups like Strathopoulos' put the cart before the horse, and that peace can only be achieved after radical changes to the structure of civilization; that it is too late to appeal rationally to the superpowers, and that the only hope lies in making a stand or taking sides.

Such divisive tendencies only weaken the efforts of such bodies as the United Nations to unite the peace movements, mobilize public opinion and persuade governments to rethink their national security strategies.

In Greece the peace movement has traditionally had a political coloring. The identification of global disarmament causes with national political interests by the left has won much support for the anti-nuclear cause here, but has inevitably led to schisms.

The original EEDYE (Greek Committee For Détente and Peace), founded in 1955, had by the late 1970s spawned three main offshoots supported respectively by the two communist parties and PASOK. Each group has been used by the controlling parties to support left-wing policies to oust U.S. military bases and withdraw Greece from NATO, in the name of world peace.

In June 1983, Evangelos Maheras, former president of the Athens Bar Association and retiring rector of Athens University, suggested to his successor, Stathopoulos, the formation of an independent committee to represent the Greek peace movement at a commemoration of the Hiroshima A-bombing. Intended initially as a temporary group of artists, intellectuals and academics, the Acropolis Appeal for Peace, Life and Civilization, as it became known, has since sent delegations to many international peace gatherings and committed itself to the goal of declaring Athens, and many other cities and areas worldwide, nuclear free zones.

The most significant manifestations of the ideals of the Acropolis Appeal and its counterparts in other countries had been the formation of enormous human chains around monuments and sites of cultural and military importance. This week's third annual encirclement of the Acropolis was considered a success by its organizers.

Therefore, the main thrust of even the Acropolis Appeal's "Fight for peace" (a perennially debated contradiction in terms) has become an attack on the Western military-industrial complex. "The Russians need peaceful coexistence," said Stathopoulos, "though I could say the opposite for the Western powers. Their policies for arms and against the peace movement are partly aimed at weakening the Soviet economy, since the Russians are forced to follow the arms race."

© David John 1985
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