Bombs on Yemen and peace journalism
Sulcis-Iglesiente, this is the name of one of Sardinia’s historical regions, is characterized not only by its impressive natural beauty, but also by its history, the history of coal miners, a top-notch human, spiritual, cultural and environmental asset. A unique gem, that is still not able to fully express its potential, also economically.
On 3 March 2017, a conference on disarmament took place in Cagliari, organized by the “Domenico Mangano” School of Political Participation. A few locals from Sulics-Iglesiente participated as well, and felt they were being consulted directly for the very first time: as a matter of fact, in two towns in their district, called Iglesias and Domusnovas, is where RWM Italia is located, a bomb manufacturer that is totally owned by the German Rheinmetall Company: its products are regularly sold to Saudi Arabia, which then uses them in the war in Yemen.
«We felt a little bit like the Germans at the time of the Holocaust… like those decent folks who loved their children and perhaps made sacrifices for them, while other children were dying, also because of their silence», the people from Sulcis-Iglesiente wrote at the time…
Since that sobering experience, a year ago, a lot of progress has been made: people reacted, struggled, did something to change the situation. A committee was even set up, which now gathers more than 23 entities from different cultural backgrounds that are active in the local area and have joined forces to pursue a common goal: converting the plant from military to civilian production. The “RWM CONVERSION COMMITTEE for peace, sustainable work, arms industry conversion, disarmament, civic participation in change processes and the enhancement of the environmental and social heritage of Sulcis Iglesiente”.
One of the Committee spokespersons is Cinzia Guaita, from the Focolare Movement in Italy, one of the entities promoting this activity. We discussed the current state of things with her.
«The work of the committee is not easy because Sulcis-Iglesiente is an area where there are no jobs, and the few jobs that are out there are vigorously protected. It is not easy to initiate a process to change people’s mindsets, asking to halt manufacturing that brings money nonetheless, to choose something different, but perhaps riskier».
What is the situation like right now?
«The most important thing is that we are a very tight-knit and varied network; therefore, the silence that used to shroud the factory until last year is now gone. No one used to speak about it earlier, if not in small circles; nowadays ethical, environmental and legal concerns are shared by most people. We have achieved one first cultural result, although it is a long-term process».
Where have you noticed the greatest change?
«Let’s consider jobs, for instance: it used to be a prominent and isolated topic, that could not be discussed, whereas now, in addition to jobs, people are also talking about peace, justice and this is a major achievement, considering how poor this area is. Politically, several actions were started: from specific agenda items being discussed in the Iglesias town council, to parliamentary motions, and we embarked on rigorous talks with the Regional Presidency of Sardinia, which is a key player in our work».
You mention talks, but you mostly engage in dialogue…
«It is true, we engage in dialogue, and we do so with everyone because this issue involves everybody and can be solved only if we look at things from different viewpoints. I have an example for you: we have started a technical working group with University experts to think about a study on a conversion project, gathering technical experts, faculty members and other entities like Banca Etica and the Protestant Church: it is like a think tank, it does not solve the entire problem but is the first step on an actual path».
How is RWM viewed in the local area today?
«Now we come to environmental and social considerations, because RWM has become part of local social life in a very benevolent way. RWM funds the parish festival, as well as projects to help disabled people and to promote leisure time activities in an area that does not have too many infrastructures, therefore people respect them a lot for that, and we are trying to make people realize for their own sake, and the sake of the environment, that all this can be a double-edged sword».
Because there is also a legal dispute, right?
«Exactly, RWM’s presence is against a national law, n. 185 of 1990, that bans the sale of weapons to countries that are at war or do not respect human rights, but it also provides for the possibility of establishing a fund for the conversion of arms manufacturers. Hence, opportunities are out there, conversion is not a leap in the dark, but it can be a shared process of growth and improvement for the life of all».
What role is the press playing in this process?
«A decisive role, I would say, and we were actually surprised that the international press became so interested in what we are doing. Even German TV has been following us and has reported what has been going on here to German audiences».
A couple of words on what happened in Iglesias on May 5 and 6…
«We wanted to embark on a path that might help us rethink about ourselves as an area of peace. In this context, a workshop for journalists and media workers was organized, so that they could have an insight into the dynamics at work in our district, and to present our grassroots movement, that aims to react in a civil way to an illegal and dangerous situation. During those two days, we spoke about bonds of peace, war economies, without mincing words. T
here is much silence around wars, like the one in Yemen which is a war on poor people: turning a spotlight on that conflict has brought the problems we are experiencing here to everybody’s attention. People are realizing that, to build peace, we cannot close our eyes, but we need to be consistent, starting from where we live. People from all walks of life must be involved and play their part, because even small local actions can have a broader reach. Loving a specific place means all this: it can be a risk, but it is a risk that is worth running to build peace».