Nobel Peace Prize winner coming to Westhoek


Daniel Högsta of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Geneva will speak at the next edition of the Peace Vigil in Langemark-Poelkapelle

War in contemporary context

The 2017 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is coming to West Flanders next month for the Vredeswakes, or Peace Vigil. Or rather, one of the members is coming, as the winner of the Nobel last year was an entire organisation: the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican).

Daniel Högsta (pictured) is the network co-ordinator of Ican and will be travelling from its headquarters in Geneva to deliver the keynote at the annual event that remembers the First World War by placing it in a contemporary context.

It is the first time a Nobel Prize winner will be a guest at the Vredeswakes, which is taking place 12 times during the 2014-18 centennial of the First World War. The event is hosted by Wakker voor vrede (Wake-Up Call for Peace), an umbrella organisation made up several institutions, including the University of Leuven’s Centre of Peace Ethics, the Justice and Peace Network and the Sint-Paulus Langemark-Poelkapelle Federation.

Langemark-Poelkapelle was on the western front for part of the First World War and was completely destroyed. It is known for being the site of the first use of poison gas in warfare in history.

Several speakers are scheduled for the 11th edition, on 4 March, which is titled Ja aan Politiek die investeert in Vrede (Yes to Politics that Invests in Peace). Högsta will of course talk (in English) about his organisation’s work to end the use of nuclear weapons in the world.

Nuclear ban in spotlight

Ican was the driving force behind the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was approved by the United Nations last summer. At this Vredeswakes, “particular attention will be paid to nuclear weapons, a topic that has recently come back into the public sphere,” said Wakker voor vrede in a statement.

Ican’s win of the Nobel prize was “an encouraging sign that should help keep our country and other Nato countries under constant pressure to sign the ban,” said Wakker voor vrede.

Though 122 member states have approved the nuclear weapons treaty, so far only 56 states have signed it. Nato countries, including Belgium, have not signed the ban because of the stipulation that no nuclear weapons can be stationed in their territories. This would mean a complicated process of ending contracts with the US on nuclear sharing.

Also speaking at the Vredeswakes are professor and author Tom Sauer of Antwerp University, whose latest book is called De strijd voor vrede en hoe we kunnen winnen (The Struggle for Peace and How We Can Win It), and Eriah Byaruhanga, who assists small farmers in Uganda and will address how global politics and food scarcity go hand in hand.

The Vredeswakes is free as is a morning talk with Sauer and Högsta called Moeten we bang zijn van de bom? (Do We Need to Worry About Bombs?) Attendees at the talk are asked to register ahead of time.

Högsta and Byaruhanga will both speak English, which will be simultaneously translated into Dutch. The rest of both events will be conducted in Dutch.