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May 2015

A timely reminder

A day barely goes by now when the media is not drawing our attention to the commemoration of some war related event or another. It is now 33 years since the Falklands/Malvinas War took place but it is not because this is any way a particularly significant date that we have been reminded of the actions that took place in April 1982. Rather it is because here at the Peace Pledge Union the PPU has commissioned a mural by an Argentinean artist, commemorating Keir Hardie's anti-war stance in 1914.

Patricio Forrester, Founder and Creative Director of ArtMongers, was born in Buenos Aires in 1967 but has been living in Deptford since 1995. Patricio spent just over 2 weeks with us working on his impressive artwork that originated in a PPU idea that Keir Hardie should be portrayed addressing an anti-war demonstration at Trafalgar Square in 1914; a message that the mural shows to be enduring today. This work now proudly adorns what was previously a rather tired external wall on Peace Passage. Patricio is a committed and reflective artist albeit one who could best be described as vivacious and ebullient. What, he asked me, was the PPU doing about the continuing problem of the Islas Malvinas and why do British school children know next to nothing about the history of the Southern Atlantic. Not to mention the British military interventions in Argentina during the Nineteenth Century and the fact that this issue will continue to impact upon relations between the British and Argentinean people.

Just a quick reminder; in1982 after years of Argentinean claims of sovereignty and an unhurried British approach to reaching a negotiated settlement with Argentina, General Galtieri invaded the islands. The immediate domestic reason was his seeking of a foreign policy success to bolster an increasing unpopular military government. Perhaps the Falklands would have been transferred to Argentina in some form at some stage, even if this occurred against the wishes of the islanders. As it was the decision to invade proved an opportunity for Thatcher to demonstrate her obduracy by fighting back, and as well as a political advantage for, at that point, a deeply unpopular right wing government.

Machiavellian political motives you might then think from both sides but at what cost! Nearly 1000 people including 3 women civilians died in 1982 and many soldiers and sailors from both Argentina and Britain have subsequently committed suicide as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of their experiences. Patricio as he painted his peace mural was right to be asking the questions.

Are we any further forward? Well all the seeds for future conflict are still there. The British maintain a strong military presence on the islands and every now and then when the political situation gets tricky for the incumbent Argentinean government a lurch to bellicose attitudes can be seen. The British Government refuses to abide by UN resolutions to seek a negotiated solution claiming its hands are tied by the views of the less than 3000 islanders who still live on the Falklands. It's salutary to note that, according to Shelter, between May 2013 and December 2013 22,340 people were forced to move by this government's bedroom tax. The question arises why is it they are not worthy of such intractable principled support as that enjoyed by the Flatlanders? Oil exploration initiatives continue in the waters around the Falklands but, "of course", these have nothing to do with the British government's continuing implacable position toward negotiations.

A useful reminder then that fundamentally the situation has not moved on and it wasn't exactly an issue worth mentioning in the last election was it? We can be reminded that the problems associated with the residue of the British Empire are still there as potential flashpoints for war and it is perhaps time our schools and colleges started to facilitate our young people developing a more nuanced attitude to international relations so that these situations can be explored.

A PPU press release in 7 April 1982 concluded with the following statement:

We reaffirm that, whatever military confrontation there might be between the British and Argentinean governments, we will maintain our ties of friendship with those in Argentina who also struggle for nonviolent solutions to the problems of militarism and injustice, wherever they may be.

Patricio it may be of some small comfort to you that there are people in this country who are still struggling for non violent solutions to the problems of militarism and injustice and incidentally, thanks for the mural and the timely reminder of an unresolved problem for peace!