20 May 2023
The Faroe Islands’ contribution to the Europa 2023 theme of 'Peace' shows a soldier playing a bassoon, and is entitled ‘A Hymn for Peace’.
Almost instinctively all the anti-war poetry of my youth passed before the inner eye when I saw Edward Fuglø’s new postage stamp with the title: ”Hymn for peace”, writes Anker Eli Petersen.
The soldier with the bassoon, the flowers, and the Dove of Peace could just as well have stepped out of Ed McCurdy’s ”The Strangest Dream” (1950), Boris Vian’s ”Le déserteur” (1954), Pete Seeger’s ”Where Have All The Flowers Gone” (1955) or Bob Dylan’s ”Blowing In The Wind” (1962).
Those of us growing up during the Cold War remember with horror the macabre nuclear ”standoff” between East and West in the aftermath of World War II, not to mention the bizarre nuclear armament, where both sides were constantly developing more powerful, longer-range, and more effective weapons of mass destruction that could wipe out all life on earth countless times over.
It was only with the inevitable collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late eighties - that both sides could breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the warm breeze of spring. The walls fell and the nations of Europe could once again meet as equals and brothers. It may have been an expression of boundless naivety, but to most of us, it seemed as if the imminent threat had been removed once and for all.
However, there were soon signs in the heavens that old habits are hard to break. The transition to liberal democracy had its ups and downs – and for us in the Western world, it was perhaps not quite obvious that it can be difficult to adjust to untraditional settings. The nineties and the first two decades of the 21st century were turbulent times, especially for Eastern Europe. However, for most countries, a democratic form of government was, after all, a logical consequence of social development. But where mistrust and tradition blocked development, democratic reforms floundered.
As a consequence of this development, the tensions between East and West have flared up again – with massive military armament as a result. Shocked by the development and with saddened hearts, we must confirm that the war is once again raging in the eastern parts of Europe.
It is good and right to dream of a world where soldiers are equipped with bassoons and other musical instruments instead of weapons. For, as the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg says in his Hymn to Youth (1936): Imagine all the deeds that bold minds can accomplish if they are spared the anguish of war’s cruel
Silent the weapons go
Rows upon rows,
call halt to their deadly drift,
our spirit grows!
War is contempt for life
Peace is creation
Throw all your power in,
to death’s true damnation
Love and enrich by dream
our mighty past!
Unveil new answers to
all questions asked
Water wheels still not built
Unrevealed planets –
The brave and ingenious
will make a difference!
Nordahl Grieg, 1936
English translation: Solveig Tofte
However, even Nordahl Grieg had to admit that pacifism only works if all parties agree that conflicts can be resolved without resorting to arms. Only four years after he had written his poem entitled “Hymn to Youth”, his homeland, Norway, was invaded by Nazi Germany. He decided to join the Norwegian forces fighting bravely against a superior power. After the fall of Norway, he ended up, along with so many others, in Great Britain, where he was trained as an officer.
And, in one of history’s many grim ironies, the poet of one of the world’s most beautiful pacifist hymns died while on board a British bomber shot down over Berlin in 1943.