PERUGIA, Italy - Situated in the historic and cultural
heart of Italy, the medieval Umbrian city of Perugia may appear to be an
inappropriate venue for demonstration of a grand scale, but for the
thousands of campaigners who gathered here Sunday to protest against
war, it was a fitting location.
An estimated 150,000 demonstrators from all over the world traveled
to the hillside city to share with others their disdain for war, in an
event which is now considered to be as much a part of Italian culture as
the delicacies of this region.
TWO YEARS AGO
Hundreds of thousands of people participate in an annual peace march between the towns of Perugia and Assisi, central Italy, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001. (AP Photo/Leonetto Medici)
The first Perugia-to-Assisi march took place in 1961 and has since
grown to become an annual event, with a contemporary theme reflecting
the challenges facing society. The 24 km route through the rolling
countryside marks a historic trail which was once trekked by pilgrims.
Scouts, members of police associations and local bodies, including
Italian municipalities, provinces and regions, joined the
Perugia-to-Assisi march Sunday which was also fittingly the feast of St.
Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy.
The 'peace pilgrims' carried multi-colored peace (Pace) flags, which
have almost become an Italian national symbol since protestors around
the world tried to avert the war in Iraq last year.
The peace march, or 'Marcia della Pace' as locals call it, provides
not only a symbolic meeting place for civil society, but also sends out
a serious message to international leaders and politicians. This year,
the message of this, the 15th march of its kind, was clear - a Europe of
The march was the culmination of a series of week-long, nationwide
protests and events since European leaders met in Rome on October 4 to
discuss the new European constitution.
It also marked the end of a three-day conference of the Fifth UN
Peoples' Assembly in Perugia, where more than 200 delegates met to
discuss the role and responsibility of the EU and the United Nations in
the world in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
Organized by the Italian Peace Round Table, a coalition of 500
international civil society associations and 350 local authorities, the
march has become one of the most important events in civil society's
Protesters this year are campaigning for Article 11 of the Italian
constitution, which repudiates war as an instrument offending people's
liberty and as a means for settling international disputes, to become
Article 1 of the new European constitution which is currently being
debated within the European Union.
Flavio Lotti, coordinator of the Peace Round Table, said that civil
society must act against the EU constitution in its present form.
”The world is experiencing a deep crisis and Europe cannot save
itself alone. We have to free the construction process of Europe from
vanity, cynicism and every form of eurocentrism,” Lotti told IPS just
before setting off for the march.
”We want to change the draft European constitution. We want it to
contain more aspects for Europeans, for peace and justice, democracy,
human rights and civil society,” he said.
Speaking on the final day of the Peoples' Assembly, Roberto Savio, a
long-time member of the Peace Round Table told IPS why the march was so
important to him.
”It is a long and established tradition and in many ways the march
was a prototype for the formation of other peoples' organizations. It
preceded everything else. The march also represents an occasion where
people come together to express themselves; it an expression of people's
Although the predominant message of the peace marchers was Europe and
Peace, some protestors had their own personal reasons for making the
Colleen Kelly, who lost her brother Bill, 30, in the September 11
terrorist attacks two years ago and founded the 'Peaceful Tomorrows'
organization for others who lost friends and family, told IPS why she
had decided to make the journey to Perugia.
”I want to tell people that war is an outdated way to achieve peace.
There are alternatives to pre-emptive wars. We have got to look for an
effective non-violent response to terrorism,” she said.
Katia Giuntoli, a student from Florence, said that she had joined the
march to stress the role of education.
”I want the European constitution to consider the importance of
education. After all children and students are the future of the world,”
she told IPS.
”We are here to remind people that every day in one or another part
of the world conflicts are taking place,” Massimiliano Coccia and Alex
Cannella, responsible for the Young Green Party Members' campaign for
peace and human rights told IPS.
He added: ”There are 77 forgotten conflicts of which no one speaks,
yet they kill men, women and children.”
© Copyright 2003 Inter Press Service