Ter García
"We paid a price of a thousand years in jail, but we got almost nobody wanted to do the mili"
Article published on 25 April 2017
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The three years and two months that Pepe Beunza spent in prison were the starting point of one of the most successful campaigns of civil disobedience in Spain: conscientious objection and insumption to compulsory military service. It was 1971. Thirty years later, the Spanish Government finally gave its arm to twist eliminating the milli. We talked to Pepe Beunza.

How did you become interested in nonviolence and conscientious objection?

I lived in Valencia and studied agricultural engineering. I had always liked nature, had been a Boy Scout and had gone a long way up the mountain. She was also a person who was worried about social problems. I had a Christian background, my family was Catholic and I went to a religious college. And even though I had been taught things that were very negative, I had learned that life, if you did not give yourself a little to help others, made no sense. At the age of 18 I volunteered at a leprosarium, I also participated in literacy campaigns in the suburbs of Valencia.

I had a tendency to worry about the problems of others and when I entered the university in 1965-1966-when a strong movement began against the fascist union, against Franco and in favor of democracy and freedom-I began to be interested For these issues and to go to the assemblies. Little by little I became politicized, I went to demonstrations, the police beat me, I participated in some meetings and, more or less, I joined what would be the struggle for democracy.

Then one summer a friend of mine tells me that he had gone to France to a pacifist community called El Arca, which had founded Lanza del Vasto, and I told myself that I had to see that too.

We were against the current, but also presented a form of struggle that opened another way

The next summer I took the backpack and went to this hitchhiking community, which was how we traveled because we did not have much money. Lanza del Vasto was a very well-educated character who had been in India and had lived with Gandhi, who had commissioned him to preach and spread nonviolence in Europe.

I came to this community, where they practiced organic farming - which I had never heard of before -, they did yoga, they were vegetarians ... They were sessions that lasted a week. We slept in a haystack and ate vegetarian food. They were very austere conditions, but with a very pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. For me at that time these were ideas that were totally new to me, here nobody knew what they were and for me it was a revelation. They practiced nonviolence and objected to conscience. (image 1970. Utrecht. Travel to Holland preparing the campaign of international support. Pepe Beunza Archive. )

He was 19 or 20 years old and had lived with the unique thought of the Franco dictatorship, with much concern but without the possibility of learning more things, and to arrive at France was an explosion. And of all those ideas, the one that involved me most was the conscientious objection because, of course, I had to do the mili. I was told to go and see some objectors who were in the French Pyrenees. I went to see them and I met some young people who, instead of doing the mili, are dedicated to helping people: in the harvests, to make instances, they accompanied the doctor ... They did what we would call rural animation. I thought it was fantastic.

When I returned to Valencia I began to explain these ideas and a group of friends began to work, but we found an environment in which the left was militaristic: those of the PCE were exalted by the Moscow Red Army, they said that we had to go to the Mili to prevent a coup d’etat, the other left said that we had to go to the military to learn the armed struggle because this was the solution against Franco, and we were starting to talk about nonviolence.
It was the 1970s, and at that time non-violence in other countries began to take hold. Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, the hippies, the movie Hair ... Did this environment outside the borders help to promote the concept of nonviolence?

Yes, it was the era in which Luther King’s struggle was in the United States and also the time of the Vietnam War, and the whole movement that was born against it. They combined a series of processes and situations that were very rich. But in Spain this was lived much less, because the politicized groups were not on this subject. They were against the Vietnam War, against imperialism, but in favor of the armies that were called revolutionaries. And that was the difficulty. We had points in common and so we could work together on some things, but the mythology of the Soviet Red Army was absolute in the Communist Party, which was predominant in the anti-fascist struggle.

We always went with the denunciation of the military expenses, the military abuses and that we had to refuse to do the milli. We were against the current, but also presented a form of struggle that opened another way. It was not easy, but we had a good relationship. Ours was a very lonely fight. We also encountered political objectors in France who said "I will not do the mili in France because this is a capitalist imperialist army, but in Cuba I would do it", and we were clear that all armies are a threat to the survival of Humanity and that no army defends justice or peace.

It was not easy at that time to explain all this. It was a very dogmatic time, and we tried to open another way. We had it very clear. I traveled abroad a lot at the time. Apart from the Ark, it was the French objectors who had played their lives so as not to fight in the Algerian war those who opened the way the most. They refused in France to go to that war and denounced the torture. They all went to jail. They were very radical and very brave people, and they were the ones that most encouraged me to make the decision.
And then you decided to be the first conscientious objector for political reasons.

Clear. I thought that our ruling was that until then we had not been able to defend any nonviolent objector because the only ones in Spain were Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were 150 Jehovah’s Witnesses in jail at that time. We went to speak with them but they said no, that they waited for Jehovah to come with the end of the world, which they called Armageddon, and that they would get freedom. We said, "We have it badly, but they have it much worse." We had to look for a different and totally separate strategy so that we would not be confused.

I thought the problem was that it lacked a conscientious objector who could respond to our ideas of anti-militarism, and after much thought, I decided to raise an objection of conscience.

There were 150 Jehovah’s Witnesses in jail at that time. We went to speak with them but they said no, that they waited for Jehovah to come with the end of the world

For two years I was preparing a campaign of support, first raising the conscientious objection, because it was a very unknown subject, and then encouraging people so that when I entered jail, I could disseminate and support campaign so that this Will not stay in the most absolute silence since it does not make sense that they put you in jail and that no one finds out. I traveled abroad and made contact with Swiss, French and Belgian objectors.

In each European country we find a coordinator and organize support actions. At that time there was a lot of sensitivity against Franco in Europe because they had a bad conscience to have a dictator as neighbor for so long. The fact that there was a nonviolent conscientious objector in Spain was very encouraging. I received a lot of solidarity and, in each European country, we prepared a campaign of support. When January 1971 came, I thought it was time and I refused to do military service.

You went to the barracks and declared yourself there objector.

Yes, I went to the barracks and said I would not wear the uniform, which was conscientious objector. They asked me if I was a Jehovah’s Witness and I said no, I was Catholic, but I was conscientious objecting because it was ’nonviolent’, because to say that I was Catholic was like saying that you agreed with the bishops who blessed the military parades , Which allowed Franco to enter under pallium in the church ...

The official Catholic church of that time was a fascist church, with few exceptions. Although there were many Catholics and priests who were in liberation theology, and cures facilitating the anti-Franco struggle, the official structure was fascist. That’s why I said I was an objector because I’m ’non-violent’. It’s funny, because when you enter the mill you are kicked to get scared. First they read the Military Code, they formed us all and told us: "For abandonment of the service in time of war: death penalty. For insubordination: death penalty ".

People kept thinking that if they got out of there they could already give thanks. Those films that we see of how they form the American marines ... because it was not so exaggerated but yes similar. It was about people being very afraid and losing all ability to react and become accustomed to obey without thinking. But to me, when I said that I refused to do the milli, they said: "You come here, do not say anything and when the captain comes, you tell him, I do not want problems."

Supporting action in Notre Dame. Release Pepe. Liberez Pepe.
Pepe Beunza Archive.

Meanwhile, he called them "bastard" or "son of a bitch." I thought this meant that he had a certain power, that he was powerful. When the captain came, he told me to think it through, that if he was still there I would end up in the dungeon, and I told him I had it clear and thoughtful. They took me to the dungeon, they prosecuted me for disobedience, because the conscientious objection did not exist as a crime at that time, since it was unthinkable for the army that someone would not want to do the milli.
How did you live this process?

First I was in the prison cell and then they took me to jail because I was a very uncomfortable prisoner. The barracks was near Valencia, it was where the first three months of mili were made. I was in the dungeon and the soldiers on duty, who were bored, came to see me play the flute and asked me why I was there. When I told them that because I did not want to do the mili they told me that they would have to do all of them ... The captain instructor of the process accused me of proselytizing in the barracks. I explained that I only told them what I thought, and that if I convinced them in a minute and they in 15 months did not, the problem was theirs. Total as I was an uncomfortable prisoner took me to the Model, which was another world.

And now, the sentence.

I was sentenced to 15 months for disobeying a court-martial. I knew that at the end of the court-martial they would ask me if I wanted to say anything. I had prepared a speech in which I explained all my motives, and when I began to read it, they made me shut up. The speech could spread because it had already come out through the campaign groups. They took me to Jaén, which was a prison for political prisoners. On a personal level they treated me very well, but ideologically I was there with people from ETA, FRAP, the Communist Party ... and the discussion was continuous. I learned a lot there, imagine the discussions. I taught them to do yoga and they taught me techniques of armed struggle. For me, going through Jaen prison was very important because I could expand my ideas and understand other positions, but when I left I was even more convinced in nonviolence.

You completed the 15 months of conviction and again ... start again.

At that time there existed what was called chain sentences. When you came out of prison you were taken back to the barracks to force you to do the mili again, because the mili did not forgive you. That second time I went to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Valencia, Orriols, and there I went to work in a night school with the neighborhood association and the parish community.

When I had been for a few days, I sent a letter to the captain-general, telling him that I had to do a service to the country, but that my service to the country was in that neighborhood, that whenever I wanted it, it would come to fetch me. In the fifteen days they came to fetch me and took me to the dungeon. This time they condemned me as a deserter to a year in prison.

I have the extraordinary honor of being a deserter because deserters are the only ones who do not lose wars

I have the extraordinary honor of being a deserter because deserters are the only ones who do not lose their wars. They do not win, because nobody wins, but at least they are the only ones that do not lose them. I was sentenced to one year in prison and to finish the mili in a battalion of punishment in the Sahara. When I finished the jail sentence, they took me there, and since I had not done a single day of mili, I was fifteen months there and I received the freedom. In total I was three years and two months.

Here the next phase of the campaign began.

When I returned from the Sahara my friends were waiting for me to see how we continued the campaign and we thought that what had to be done was to move from individual objection to collective objection. It was the year 1974. We began to work on collective conscientious objection by giving talks. We looked for a group of people who wanted to object and when we met six or seven people we went to Can Serra, in Barcelona, ​​and mounted a collective conscientious objection.

When the neighborhood already knew us, without knowing why we were there - because several comrades were already fugitives, the campaign of conscientious objection was made public. It was already 1975, Franco had just died and there was a much stronger impulse towards freedom. The objection of conscience spread like an oil stain.

From the campaign in Can Serra civil services emerged in Malaga, Vic, Madrid, Bilbao ... and that was the source of all that was later the insufferment and the whole struggle against military service. Not even in the most optimistic moments could think that in 30 years we would end military service with such a positive balance: almost a million objectors and between 20,000 and 30,000 insumisos willing to go to jail.

Not even in the most optimistic moments could I think that we would end the mili with such a positive balance: almost a million objectors and between 20,000 and 30,000 prisoners ready to go to jail

We paid a price of almost a thousand years in prison, but we got almost nobody wanted to do the mili and had no choice but to professionalize the military service.
In 1984 they passed the conscientious objection law, but it was not enough.

It was a turning point because at that time the regulation is recognized so that the objectors can make a substitute social provision, but they made a law more thought in the military than in the objectors, and it was a failure. He regarded the objection as a punishment, since it was twice as long, and by that time the young men had already lost their fear of Franco.

Les rambles

Demonstration organized by the Movement of Objection of Consciousness (MOC) in Las Ramblas, Barcelona. Pepe Beunza Archive.

Many no longer wanted to do military service and thought, rightly, that working for the state for free was like being a slave. They refused to accept this law and this was how the insumption came about. It was a fantastic move that would have to study in depth because it was of great originality and great courage. The conscientious objection was a concept that came from the English and had to explain what it meant. But in the country where we lived we understood immediately what was an insult. No one should submit, we should all be insumisos.

The government caught him a little by surprise. It was the socialist government, which was with extraordinary mental blindness and faced the problem with legal and penal solutions, and, of course, failed completely. They screwed up all the way. The time came when the judges saw that they had passed the hot potato, they were stacked the processes and they began to absolve to insumisos.

The socialist government had an extraordinary mental blindness and faced the problem with legal and penal solutions, and, of course, they totally failed

And the insumisos, who were very original and very brave people, at the end of the 90 changed tactics and began the insumisión in the barracks. They went to the barracks, they were there for a week, and then they were leaving. In this way they were deserting, and this forced the Army to advise them of war. In this way the civil judges did not intervene, only the military, and the insumisos could continue denouncing militarism. It was a fantastic campaign.

I went as a witness to some war councils in which they made self-incriminations. It was people I had encouraged to be insumed. At the end of the court-martial, the insumisos made incredible speeches that left the military stunned. They were not accustomed to having someone, and someone else who was willing to go to jail, explain to them what militarism was. Now, they paid a high price because they were sentenced to two years four months and one day, and they served their sentence. It was a very tough but very beautiful campaign and one would have to study in schools of social transformation.

And in 2001 is eliminated the milli.

Yes, professional military service is created and this first process is finished, but we not only fought for the objection or because there was no compulsory military service, we fought for a much broader concept that is that of social justice and disarmament , Because there can be no social justice with a person pointing you with a tank.

We had not only fought for the objection, we fought for a much broader concept of social justice and disarmament

Now we are on the subject of madness that is the accumulation of atomic weapons. At present, any child who comes to the world, instead of receiving love, life, bed, health, culture, receives fifteen death sentences, which is the amount of atomic bombs that exist and that would serve to destroy the earth fifteen times . It’s a crazy thing.

In the talks I usually carry a Ginkgo leaf, which is considered the tree of life because it is the tree that was born in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, and is that there are trees that will survive a nuclear catastrophe, but people do not .

Pepe Beunza in 2002, with photos of his militant trajectory. Photos Quique García / Pepe Beunza Archive.

For me it is very important the figure of Colonel Stanislav Petrov because thanks to him we are alive. He was the person in charge of the American missile controls in the Soviet Union, and in September of 1983 they received the alarm that they had launched missiles. Instead of following the orders, Petrov made everyone wait and then saw that it was a false alarm. If this person had not been a sensible person willing to disobey, we would have flown all.

Armies, especially Spanish, now pose as if all they did was humanitarian campaigns. We must demystify and denounce humanitarian campaigns because they are like the after-sales service of the business of selling arms, it does not make sense that arms are sold first and then put to bandages. What you have to do is fight for disarmament.

On several occasions you have commented that you have not wanted to be involved in any political party, are you still betting on disobedience and non-violence as a weapon of social transformation?

I believe that civil society is a very powerful weapon, there is no tyrant who can stand for long without the support, by action or by omission, of the people. The moment people realize that they have extraordinary power and stop sustaining the tyrant, the tyrant falls. We have not come into the world to obey tyrants, but to our conscience.

I believe that civil disobedience can change society much more than violence. There is a mythification of violence, but if you defend justice in a violent way, you put the force in the one with the biggest tank. We must return to the idea of ​​defending justice with the weapons of justice. In addition, there is always a relationship between ends and means. When there is a conflict we are educated that the important thing is to win and eliminate the adversary.

But violence is absolutely ineffective in resolving social conflicts. This we should have learned from the twentieth century, because you do a review and you are amazed at the waste of heroism and solidarity so that, when they come to power, they forget. Power is very dangerous, and in that sense I consider myself an anarchist. The power must be destroyed or, like wealth, it must be distributed, and nonviolence gives power to the people, does not concentrate it in the hands of a few, an avant-garde party or a privileged minority. In the Russian or Chinese revolution there were extraordinary people fighting, and you now see Putin in Russia and China and you feel hurt at how they have deceived us.
Currently you are still an activist, what issues are you working on?

I am in many, and one of the first is worthy death , because I have a few years and must prepare to die worthily. We have made a taboo of a natural thing because the church and the government have a terrible fear that this issue will develop, because if you control your death, you control your life, and if you have the power over death and over life, that power You do not give it to others. The church has a terrible fear of losing power over the death of people. Fundamentally I also work on the theme of Catalonia. If we make it an independent state, it is very important for us that it does not have an army, because a 21st century state does not make sense that it has an army since there are no threats that it can solve. In the twenty-first century, we either achieve disarmament or there will be no XXII century. There are plenty of soldiers in the world, there are plenty of armies, atomic weapons are left, and what is lacking is justice and dignity. I also participate in campaigns against cuts, we have occupied the health center, in ecological groups ... In many campaigns, there is too much work. I am retired and I do not understand how there are people who retire and are bored. And we continue to defend nonviolence. In Navarra there was a very strong fight against the swamp of Itoiz , a spectacular and heroic struggle that apparently was a failure, but the government was planning to do four more dams and did not dare to do them. The next four dams were won but Itoiz was lost. In that sense it is very important that we know how society works, how slow it is to change, how unprepared we are to lead social changes. Iñaki García Koch died recently, and I want to pay homage to him. His struggle was not barren at all.

I believe that the struggle for justice with the weapons of non-violence is the most exciting adventure in which someone can be involved. To the people that put in this fight I assure you emotions, dangers, risks and a fantastic sensation of friendship, of solidarity and of knowing that it is in a way to improve the humanity. Only the struggles that are not done are lost, in all those that participate in the nonviolence you advance, you learn of you and you learn of the others

La lutte fut notre célébration Entretien avec Pepe Beunza

Barcelona: Non-Violent protest at Las Ramblas in solidarity with spanish conscienceous objecters by Wolfgang Kroner, Augsburg. He had to stay three months in prison for this action.

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