With the International Peace Factory Wanfried, its founder Wolfgang Lieberknecht aims to raise awareness for the creation of peace, solidarity and social justice.
Wolfgang Lieberknecht launched the Peace Factory Wanfried initiative in 2020. The associated peace blog features articles on the peace movement, networking and solidarity. In an interview with Transition News, the peace activist faces questions about the Ukraine conflict, the peace movement and the role of the International Peace Factory.
Transition News: How did the idea for the foundation of the International Peace Factory Wanfried and the creation of the peace blog come about?
Wolfgang Lieberknecht: My ancestors produced upholstered furniture in Wanfried and my grandfather built a factory building. My father continued to run the business. He expected me to take over the business later as well. Inspired by teachers who came from the universities and brought the ideas of the 1968 movement to our school, however, I gained interest in completely different subjects: First, the critical examination of the politics that our parents' generation had helped to create, National Socialism, the world war they instigated and the killing of minorities. Hardly anyone of that generation was even prepared to discuss whether that was right or wrong. So I had to rely on forming my own world view.
While the public at that time presented the policy of the USA as the democratic antithesis of National Socialism, the anti-Vietnam movement reached us from the USA. It protested against the fact that the USA was waging a war of aggression on Vietnam, killing millions of Vietnamese and also sending tens of thousands of young Americans to their deaths. Between the ages of 16 and 25, I was searching for the meaning of my life. And I saw it not in the production of upholstered furniture, but in the struggle for peace, social justice and democratisation. My father stopped production because there was no successor at the top of the company. I then inherited the factory building after his death. Since then, I have been looking for ways to make it useful for the peace movement.
Today, after many defeats in the fight against the negative, my commitment is shaped by the humanist revolutionary Antonio Gramsci: "If you want to overcome something bad, it is not enough to criticise the bad, you have to build something better". So I looked for the starting points for better and found them - on paper - in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Social Covenant and UN Civil Covenant. But I also saw that these good lessons from the two world wars do not determine events in the world and the policies of states. The political power, the programmatic and personnel capacities to implement them are still lacking today. And this can only be built up in each of us, in our individual states and in worldwide cooperation. In doing so, there is a conflict with those who profit from the current state of affairs. Kant describes this well in his writing "On Perpetual Peace": Those above love war, they can expand their power through it and do not die in war or pay for it. They use their subjects for this purpose and only if they fight back is there a chance of enforcing peace.
The leading parties in the USA take the view that the USA has the right to decide world events. To this end, they have used and continue to use force and war, and they seek everything to prevent the emergence of forces that could endanger their position of power. But Russia and China and more and more states of the global South are no longer putting up with this. And they are stronger than ever. If the current represented by the US economist Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, for example, does not prevail in the USA, I expect a multi-front war that will probably lead to the end of the earth's habitability.
What role does the International Peace Factory play at local, national and international level?
We are in exchange with the US peace initiative Worldbeyondwar and with active people in Africa, especially in Algeria and Ghana. In the Gorbachev era, we established a partnership with a city near Moscow. This aims to build a foundation in societies for Gorbachev's vision of building a European house. I have been to Russia repeatedly and we have organised visits by Russians here. When the conflict came to a head in 2014, we organised two peace events with a Russian brass band from the partner town of Istra in Wanfried. We rely on dialogue between ordinary people and on finding solutions and compromises from below, in order to then enforce them against the higher-ups who profit from the conflicts or persist in friend-foe thinking.
Have you noticed that more people are concerned with the issue of peace since the start of the Ukraine war?
In the meantime, more people feel that the conflict could also become dangerous for them personally and see their income melting away every day in the face of inflation. The search for alternatives to the prevailing politics is gaining a foundation in society.
Only a few politicians and intellectuals are openly in favour of peace negotiations. The Manifesto for Peace by Alice Schwarzer and Sahra Wagenknecht caused polemics in the media. How do you explain this reaction?
The politically dominant forces and media that advocate victory over Russia present this path as having no alternative. But it contradicts the basic convictions of German society since Willy Brandt, which has focused on détente and international cooperation. They discriminate against any emergence of forces seeking solutions along these lines.
In your eyes, should there be more peace demonstrations?
Yes, but I see the decisive way in building a non-partisan social current in society, which organises itself in non-partisan forums in the constituencies and seeks public dialogue with its MPs about what is the right way in Ukraine policy.
What role do you think the media can play in promoting peaceful solutions and raising people's awareness of the importance of solidarity and decent living conditions?
I think building information networking beyond the mainstream media is fundamentally necessary. The internet offers us opportunities like no generation before us. But it is important to build personal networks of solidarity, where people strengthen each other and work on common competence for public actions.
What is your prognosis: How long will the Ukraine war last? What are the most important steps now to bring about peace?
Russia sees the expansion of NATO to their border as an existential threat and the expansion of nationalist, anti-Russian forces from western Ukraine as an existential threat to the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine. They will not give up until this minority is protected and NATO is kept away from their border. But with the US supporting the nationalists and insisting on Ukraine's NATO membership, I expect a long war that will cost many more lives and make us poor in Europe. In the spirit of Antonio Gramsci, I am a pessimist of analysis, but an optimist of the will that we will manage to build the political will for peaceful conflict resolution and survival in our countries and worldwide. That is what we are committed to.
The International Peace Factory Wanfried is organising a peace walk on the former East-West border in Grossburschla on Easter Sunday, 9 April 2023, from 2 to 4 pm.
Wolfgang Lieberknecht on this event:
"In 1990, we decided in the Charter of Paris to build a common European house with Russia. Now the Ukrainian room is on fire. People are burning. The fire threatens to spread. To other European countries, perhaps to the world: as humanity, we are threatened with escalation to world and nuclear war. The war in Ukraine costs the lives or health of many people every day, their fathers, children and brothers and sisters. It is driving more and more people in Ukraine, in Russia, in Germany, Europe and worldwide into existential insecurity and poverty. Not only Putin is responsible for this war, but also the West and especially the USA and the Ukrainian government. They have all failed to resolve the conflicts between NATO and Russia and in Ukraine by peaceful means.
That would have been their obligation under the UN Charter. We want to remind them of this obligation with a peace walk on Easter Sunday. We want to demand that politicians take measures for a quick end to the war in Ukraine and an immediate ceasefire to stop the dying. We will meet for this purpose on the Hessian-Thuringian border in the middle of Germany in Grossburschla. The place was divided into two states until 1989: GDR and FRG and military alliances: NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This border was overcome peacefully in 1989, mainly and almost exclusively thanks to a reorientation of politics in the Soviet Union by Gorbachev.
With our walk we want to remind people that conflicts can be solved by peaceful means. We invite people from East and West to join us, if possible also from other countries. In the Peace Factory we also have some sleeping places for people who want to participate from other regions. We are not giving up on continuing to build a common European house. With the peace walk we also want to remember the courageous policy of Mikhail Gorbachev and Egon Bahr, Willy Brandt's partner in shaping the policy of détente. He was born in Treffurt, to which Grossburschla now belongs."
The organisers plan to allow online participation. Registrations at: email@example.com, Further information: Tel: Wolfgang Lieberknecht: +49-176-437 733 28 and on Facebook. The association is looking forward to further personnel and financial support.
Wolfgang Lieberknecht is 70 years old and retired. He has worked as a typesetter, assembly line worker, graduate economist and journalist, and in parallel has always been an ardent peace worker. The peace activist lives in Wanfried on the Hesse-Thuringia border.