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History of the Peace Prize

REFLECTIONS ON THE HISTORY OF THE UCLG PEACE PRIZE By Peter Knip, Director of VNG International

The editors of the this publication invited me to describe the history of UCLG’s Peace Prize for local governments. Taking into account that I have been involved in municipal attention for issues of conflict and peace since 1977 and that I have actively promoted the establishment of the UCLG Peace Prize, I was pleased to be able to give a positive answer to their request. However, this is not a balanced study of the origin and the complex development of the Peace Prize and its context. It is rather a personal note in which I would like to share some reflections on the history of the UCLG Peace Prize with the interested reader. If you don’t mind I will follow my personal story from the past 40 years.

Arising Awareness It was in the ‘70s of the last century that the idealism of building a better world seized my heart. As a youngster I felt attracted to the movement against apartheid in South Africa, the work for human rights in the world, the resistance against nuclear energy and the aid for developing countries. Amongst all the issues, however, the initiative of the Interchurch Peace Council (IKV – nowadays merged with Pax Christi into PAX for Peace) in the Netherlands in 1977 to resist nuclear weapons and to align with democratic opposition in Eastern Europe had the strongest appeal to me. The view that foreign policy should not be formulated by a small elite but by all citizens and that my own local politicians should feel responsible for international issues like peace and development inspired me. At the age of 21, as chair of a collective of peace organisations in my hometown Delft, I visited our mayor to discuss the question whether Delft should decide to become a nuclear free local authority as token of resistance against the conflict between the East and the West.

Nuclear Free Zone Local Authorities Since the rise of the national states in the 18th century the role of towns in foreign policy, in questions of war and peace, vanished. However, even before the First World War, individual cities called on central governments to protect human civilisation against the atrocities of war. Probably the first example which convincingly underlined that local governments can and should play a role in peace building and conflict resolution in a world dominated by national states was the massive twinning movement, the ‘jumelages’, after the Second World War. Initiated by citizens in France and Germany municipalities in both countries, soon followed by municipalities all over Europe, linked with each other in order to seek reconciliation and overcome the deep wounds of the war. The second wave of international attention in the ‘60s and ‘70s of the last century was clearly focussed on poverty reduction in developing countries; active local solidarity groups knocked on the door of the municipalities and initiated actions to support the development of people in other countries. This was immediately followed by a third wave of concern amongst civilians in many countries about the East-West conflict and the nuclear arms race by the end of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Local governments together with citizens initiatives tried to break down the images of the enemy and to reach out to opposition groups by establishing linkages with local governments behind the so-called Iron Curtain. Grassroots activism in the Southern Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada, the United States and Western Europe resulted in decisions by thousands of municipal councils to declare themselves a nuclear free zone. One of the first was the city of Manchester in the UK in 1980; the city took the initiative to start the Nuclear Free Zone Local Authorities movement as well. In The Netherlands, the first municipality that decided to call itself ‘nuclear free’ was Hellevoetsluis in 1981, soon followed by 200 other Dutch cities, including my hometown Delft. In 1982 “Mayors for Peace” was established by the mayor of Hiroshima which strengthened the attention for nuclear disarmament even further.

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The UCLG Peace Prize: local governments initiatives for peace