In depth

Central Articles

The tradition of Nonviolence in Catalonia

Jaume Botey
Lecturer in Education Sciences at the UAB
Jaume Botey

Jaume Botey

Since the end of the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia has seen the continuous growth of groups for peace and against militarism. The desire for peace in Catalonia is deep-rooted, probably more than anywhere else in Spain. First came initiatives from within the Church, such as Pax Christi, which began in 1954. Later, after the Pacem in Terris encyclical and the Second Vatican Council, came the Justice and Peace delegations in each diocese. However, several civil initiatives also began to appear, like those linked to the United Nations system, Friends of UNESCO and the United Nations Association, and in 1967, the Víctor Seix Institute for War Studies began to provide a scientific basis for the subject of peace, a forerunner of the International University of Peace which has been based in Sant Cugat since 1984.

It was hard work, and involved the efforts of Víctor Seix himself, Frederic Roda, Joan Misser, Joan Botam, Joan and Llorenç Gomis, as well as many others, who were prophets of peace in Catalonia. We were in the middle of a military dictatorship, but debates and conferences, the Pax Christi routes, and publications like El Ciervo, etc., were fertile ground at that time. The strategy of had yet to be explicitly formulated as a method of struggle, but the ideas of Gandhi, Luther King, Helder Câmara and Lorenzo Milani were already very influential in Catalonia.

Accepting and promoting nonviolence as a model for existence and a spiritual attitude requires considerable personal conviction and inner strength. The first nonviolence collective here was the Friends of Arca Group. Lanza del Vasto had created the Arca community in France based on the principles of nonviolence, life in community, self-sufficiency, contact with nature and openness to all religions. The Friends of Arca disseminated those principles at camps (Castellterçol, Malla), the Arc de Santa Maria bookshop and through contacts with sympathetic individuals and groups, such as Pérez Esquivel, Jean Goss and Gonzalo Arias, the author of the book Los encartelados [The Summoned]. Among others, the group consisted of Jordi Maluquer, Lluís Fenollosa, Fèlix Saltor, Maria Casas, Marta Casas and Àngels Recasens. From 1981 onwards, under the name of Artisans for Peace, they organised a demonstration every Thursday in front of the Palace of the Government of Catalonia.

Towards the end of Francoism, an unprecedented clandestine movement emerged within the army, the Democratic Military Union, whose members, while loyal to what they considered to be the work of the army, conscientiously objected to the Francoist army. All its members were court-martialed. The officers Josep Delàs and Juli Busquets were among its members.

However, it was Lluís M. Xirinacs who formulated and almost personified nonviolent political action in Catalonia in the early 1970s, starting with his first hunger strike in 1973, until his death. Love for one's adversary and analysis of reality were for him two of the basic principles of nonviolent action. He had a highly utopian perspective, and permanently lived on the boundaries between "the system" and the "anti-system," between the politics and freedom of the nonviolence movement and traditional politics. Today, the Randa Foundation is responsible for the study and dissemination of his legacy.

Conscientious objection to military service was prepared almost as a collective action in support of Pepe Beunza by the Friends of Arca, with declarations and marches even before he initially entered prison. In 1974, when he was released, the first group of objectors moved into Can Serra, in l'Hospitalet, to undertake an alternative community service, doing work around the neighbourhood, which was organised by the parish church. A year later, a month after Franco's death, Martí Olivella, Jesús Vinyes and five other comrades from elsewhere in Spain were arrested and taken to various prisons. The year after that, the number increased to thirteen, and to thirty the year after that. The feeling was one of victory, it was an unstoppable avalanche. They were immediately joined by groups of young people aligned to various extents with the libertarian philosophy that advocated refusal to do military service, including Mili KK, the Ganva-Gamba (the Nonviolent Antimilitarist Action Group and Barcelona Antimilitarist Group), which during the period between 1981 and 1984 used the Casal de la Pau centre to foster the Catalan nonviolent movement by means of publications including La puça i el General and what was known as nonviolent direct action, which has subsequently continued in alternative social movements, once again highlighting the movement's political autonomy. New NGOs emerged, such as Fundació per la Pau, created by Alfons Banda, Toni Soler and subsequently by Jordi Armadans.

The "NO" campaign in the referendum on entering NATO in March 1986, which was led by Gabriela Serra and Rafael Grasa, facilitated the convergence, albeit with some difficulties, of all the sectors of the peace movement - political, social, religious and nonviolent. It was a united mass campaign, but the referendum highlighted the values and the importance of the extra-Parliamentary left. It also coincided with major European mobilisations against the deployment in Europe of missiles by the United States, and led to part of the political left (Manolo Sacristán and the magazine Mientras Tanto) considering the possibility of nonviolence as a political strategy for struggle for the first time.

The subject of peace has finally entered public consciousness and the world of academia and has received institutional recognition. In the academic sphere, the institutions include the School for a Culture of Peace at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, directed by Vicenç Fisas between its creation and 1999. Leading organisations (the Red Cross, trade unions, women's organisations, scouts, leisure) allocate resources to it; it is part of civic education, and the Federation of NGOs was created. But the feeling of impotence in the face of today's major conflicts (Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and the conflicts in African) is overwhelming. Obviously, the peace movement has many facets, and has matured, despite the fact that is considered a token presence by the world of realpolitik. For example, it is infuriating to see the contradiction between the arguments of pacifism and the decision made by states to focus on war (military expenditure, research, the arms trade, mines) which is continually condemned by the Josep Delàs Centre for Justice and Peace, and especially by Arcadi Oliveres and Tica Font. At the Centre, Pere Ortega, Tomàs Gisbert, Alejandro Pozo and Pepo Gordillo continue to promote the strategy of nonviolence based on investigation or initiatives such as fiscal objection. Other groups (Peace Brigades International, NOVA, the Nonviolent Peaceforce) undertake nonviolent activism in places of conflict.

Finally, all the factors in the story make up a whole. Meanwhile, the new peace movements, as exemplified by the Stop the War platform (Francesc Tubau, M. Pilar Massana, David Karvala, Roser Palol...) have been able to integrate groups with different ideologies, political origins and strategies, in the knowledge that faced with the serious possibility of a world war, it is necessary to set disagreements to one side. Meanwhile, in the institutional arena, in 2003 the Parliament of Catalonia unanimously passed a Law to promote peace, which anticipated the creation of two instruments: the Council for the Promotion of Peace, a representative body, which was created in 2005, and the International Catalan Institute for Peace, which was created in 2007.