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Word of the day: vrede (peace)

‘Give peace a chance’, thus spake United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, quoting the icon of all protesters, John Lennon in het VREDESPALEIS (Peace Palace). 


Wednesday, August 28th, we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Peace Palace in The Hague. ‘Gefeliciteerd’ (congratulations) Vredespaleis. In these hundred years you’ve managed to become a worldwide icon of Peace and Justice. The city of The Hague is proud of you.

This morning Ban Ki-moon held a speech in honour of the centenary of the Peace Palace. He said:

‘The Peace Palace represents an ideal that extends far beyond The Hague. … Today we do more than celebrate this great building; we celebrate the rule of law itself. We celebrate a principle that provides the bedrock of our entire world order. The rule of law creates the predictability, transparency and mutual obligations that are indispensable for peaceful coexistence among countries.’

Peaceful coexistence, ‘vreedzaam naast elkaar bestaan’ those are the magical words: In the VREDESPALEIS Ban Ki-moon was pleading for a peaceful existence for all people caught in conflict and he especially mentioned Congo, Egypt and Syria. In front of the VREDESPALEIS many people were demonstrating for VREDE (peace) in Syria. Peacefully of course!

Meanwhile Ban Ki-moon stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is an atrocious violation of international law and he said:

‘Syria is the biggest challenge of war and peace in the world today. The body entrusted with maintaining international peace and security cannot be missing in action. The Council must at last find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace. The war has created a lost generation of children and young people. Mothers, fathers, families face worsening prospects by the day. The Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence.’

Earlier in his speech he referred to the famous 1969 single by John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band that became an anthem of the American anti-war movement:

‘Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking.’

‘Start talking!’ The Hague has set an example with its International Court of Justice, Permanent Court of Arbitration and International Criminal Court. Last year on the Day of Peace (21 September) the words ‘Peace and Justice’, VREDE EN RECHT were added to The Hague’s coat of arms.

I find it a real privilege to live and work in this International City of Peace and Justice where so many people are fighting for a world without war and conflict. ‘Vechten voor de VREDE!’ What a strange paradox.

VREDE is one of the oldest words in the Dutch and English language. Yes, before the English borrowed the word ‘peace’ from Latin ‘pax’ they used the word ‘frið, frioðu’. The Dutch have always stuck to Old Dutch ‘fritho’ which means ‘living in harmony’, ‘rest’, ‘joy’, ‘welfare’, ‘love of peace’. VREDE has kept all those meanings to this day.

My favourite philosopher Baruch Spinoza (17th century) – another icon of VREDE – lived, worked and died in The Hague. He wrote: ‘Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice.’

We all know how right he was and still is. So let’s stop fighting. We should be talking. No, singing. Let’s sing together with Ban Ki-moon who like Martin Luther King had a dream today exactly fifty years ago: ‘Give peace a chance’.

And let’s listen to the hundreds of Hague children who are currently involved in the production of the new musical which will have its premiere on 11 September in the Royal Theatre (Koninklijke Schouwburg): Peace of Me. And sing along! For a peaceful future: ‘Een vreedzame toekomst’.