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World March Blog
31 December 2009

Resisting violence in Resistencia

Argentina is the last country on the route of the World March. For me, it’s the 12th country in a route that took me through 4 continents; for some, who started in New Zealand, it’s approximately the 35th country, within 3 months.

From Asunción, we travelled (again with a bus) to Resistencia, in the province of Chaco, Argentina. Our Humanist friends Roberto Kohanoff and Deborah Tormen received us there with great warmth and care – Roberto already at the border between Paraguay and Argentina.

The first event of the day took place immediately when our bus arrived to Resistencia. A hot, sunny day, everyone was sweating by the memorial statue to those fallen in the Falklands war. Tony Robinson, our British member, prepared in his mind a speech during the bus ride, finding inspiration in what Silo had talked about reconciliation in his last speech in Punta de Vacas. Finally in his actual speech, Tony renounced the use of war and the false opposition between countries and factions.

The event at the war memorial was ceremonial, with the presence of Aída Ayala, the Mayor of Resistencia; the municipal parade band; gauchos (cowboys) on horse saddle; and advertisers of the local soda Cabalgata, which sponsored the event. We heard two beautiful songs: the national anthem of Argentina and the hymn of Chaco. The relations between the organisers, who came with flags of The Community for Human Development and Convergence of Cultures, and the municipality are excellent, which was also underlined in the appreciation that was expressed by the gift that the municipality gave to each of us; a wooden and stone sculpture by Bustos Navarro and an official declaration that we are distinguished visitors of the City of Resistencia. OK, at this point a sculpture is a welcome gift; in an earlier moment, with thousands of kilometres of travel ahead, a sculpture with an imbedded fist-sized stone would have been a burden…

From the memorial started a caravan through the town, finishing in a special place known as the Kohanoff Park. In this caravan participated not only cars with flags of the World March waving in the air, but also the gauchos with their horses – and two motorbike clubs. Several motorbikes, with some of the World Marchers (Tony, Bhairavi and Magaly) riding on their backs, from the clubs “Retobados” (“rebels”) and “D’Ngue” supported the cause of peace and nonviolence by joining the caravan. Bhairavi took the place of Mili, the spokesperson of the Retobados club, in the back of one of the bikes. Since Mili rode with us in the bus and I got the opportunity to discuss with her, I found out that the bikers did not know beforehand our common destination, the Kohanoff Park. When there, they were impressed to discover such a place exists in their town.

I had not visited the Kohanoff Park either, but I knew about it and had seen photos. During our journey through the world, we have visited some of the Parks for Study and Reflection, which have been built for study and reflection based on the teachings of the Argentinean thinker Silo, whose thoughts also inspired the World March itself. All of these Parks have some similar buildings, most notable of them being the meditation hall, which has white walls and nothing inside of it – no distractions. Well, the first hall, the prototype for all the others, was built in Kohanoff Park by Roberto Kohanoff alone, already in 1970s. For me, it was a fantastic inspiration to visit the small, humble hall and the simple grounds of the Park.

What’s more, there was a cultural programme held in the hall, besides another much longed for event: an agape of sandwiches and fruit for lunch. We ate lunch in the shadow of a big tree, but before that there was a choir performance and a short sharing of thoughts. An indigenous choir, of people from Qom-lik (known better as “Toba” but when I asked them, they said “Qom”) ethnic group, sang for the Pachamama and for us. It worked on us, even though earlier Roberto had told that the Qom-lik had said that the hall is in an occidental tone of Mi, whereas the Qom music is based on Fa?! Like often before, we ended up on the dancefloor, this time within the meditation hall. Then there was supposed to be an interreligious meeting, but there had been a confusion of timetables and only one of the religious authorities was present: a Lutheran priest, who reminded me of my uncle, who is also a Lutheran priest.

In the evening, we were received at the provincial government of Chaco. At the government house a detail struck me: a wall full of portraits of former provincial governors, with several bearing a big sign “Military dictatorship”. As my native country Finland has, since it gained its independence, always been a democracy, the fact of countries being under brutal military dictatorships is for me shocking, in some way almost unbelievable. How can an institution continue after becoming so dehumanized? Keeping those photos on the wall shows an interesting level of reconciliation – instead of demonizing those people entirely, their possible positive contribution is recognized, while distance is taken from the politics they represented and fulfilled.

The minister of the provincial government Juan Manuel Pedrini, who received the marchers, was very well informed. He spoke without any notes and went through the proposals and some of the achievements of the World March with ease. He had clearly been following the march virtually and was completely in agreement with its goals. The governor Jorge Capitanich was not present, but Pedrini gave to the marchers a version of the Charter for a World Without Violence, that was signed by governor Capitanich. There were also present in the meeting some youth from the local Rotaract club, and they will probably go to Kohanoff Park for training as Monitors for Nonviolence in the close future.

The evening march with youth had to be canceled due to rain, and instead we went to the “Campfire of the Cowboys” (“El Fogon de los Arrieros”). It was a cultural center, a meeting place that had for decades been a bohemian and philosophical lighthouse, its walls filled with strange objects and works of art, literature and quotes like the following: “Many people who dream of immortality don’t know what to do on a rainy evening.”

It was from the “Fogon” that the status of Resistencia as a city of sculptures started. The cultural circles of the Fogon started to sponsor sculptors and created the now internationally famous Biennale of sculpture in Resistencia. The proposal of the Humanists, also mentioned by Micky Hirsch in the meeting with the provincial government, is to start keeping an international Spiritual Biennale in Kohanoff Park during those years when the Biennale of Sculpture is not realized.

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