PBI-Canada remembers Ueli Wildberger and the “menschenteppich” at the arms show in Winterthur, Switzerland

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Ueli Wildberger (1945–2023). Photo by Andrea Zahler.

The Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger (Daily Gazette) reports on the passing of Peace Brigades International activist Ueli Wildberger.

Ueli passed away on January 23 at 77 years of age.

Tages-Anzeiger notes: “After [studying for a few semesters in Berlin in 1968], Ueli Wildberger no longer plays the obedient role in the military, but refuses to serve [in Switzerland where military service was mandatory for all Swiss men]. This led to major tensions with his parents. They became even greater when he was sent to prison for refusing to serve [he was in prison in Winterthur, about 20 kilometres northeast of Zurich, in 1974].”

The article continues “He demonstrates against the nuclear power plants in Kaiseraugst and Gösgen, organizes a human carpet [“menschenteppich”] against the arms show in Winterthur [in June 1981], a military cemetery in Frauenfeld and human chains for peace.”

Photo: Human carpet in front of the Eulachhalle: Protest against the “W81” weapons show in 1981. Image: winbib and bildarchiv.winterthur.ch.

On the arms show, Landbote.ch has explained: “According to research by historian Miguel Garcia, a demonstration [took place] against the weapons exhibition ‘W81’ in 1981… At that time, around 2500 people protested in front of the Eulachhalle [an arena in Winterthur]  and blocked the entrance to the weapons show with a human carpet. It was not only the police who took action against the Protestants. A bourgeois militia was also formed, which drove up with a slurry wagon and splashed the crowd [with manure].”

In this eight-page article about the protest, Ueli wrote: “The week-long crowd of people against the 81 weapons show in Winterthur was a unique experience for me! Not only because we managed to gain the sympathy of a broader public – and drastically reduce the number of visitors to the exhibition, but also because we experienced the strength of non-violent behavior, especially in tense and critical moments.”

Ueli adds in his reflection of that protest: “By the arms dealers and visitors stepping over our bodies we want them to know the criminality of the arms trade and remember: ‘Whoever passes over us also passes over us corpses!’”

The formation of PBI-Guatemala in 1983

The Tages-Anzeiger article continues: “He later worked for Peace Brigades International and Solinetz. The income is enough for a modest life. And for trips to India, to the Peace Brigades in Nicaragua and to Honduras.”

Katia Aeby of PBI-Switzerland highlights: “As an IFOR [International Fellowship of Reconciliation] delegate, Ueli attended a PBI meeting with 15 peace activists in the Netherlands for the first time in 1982. Together with two other participants, he launched the proposal to start a pilot project in Central America. The idea was approved and in 1983 the first volunteers went to Guatemala in the middle of the civil war.”

“Ueli was actively looking for volunteers in Europe. With a colleague from Spain, they organized a tour to various European countries to meet with peace groups. This is how the international network gradually emerged. In 1985, Ueli and [his wife] France travelled to Central America themselves to get an idea of the situation and then report on it in Switzerland.”

“In 1986, Ueli co-organized the first PBI training with 20 participants in northern Spain and worked as a trainer for the new volunteers in the following years.”

Katia adds: “In 1988, PBI International elected Ueli to the international management of the organization for a four-year term. He was also on the board of PBI Switzerland and coordinated the cooperation with PBI Guatemala. Until his death, Ueli remained associated with PBI as a member.”

In 2021, on the 40th anniversary of the founding of PBI, Ueli commented: “I hope that PBI will continue to flourish and grow even larger in order to be able to implement a wide range of nonviolent methods.”

Photo: Stop CANSEC protest, 2023.

PBI-Canada is grateful for the contributions of Ueli and as we prepare to mobilize around the CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa on May 29-30, 2024, we will remember his participation in the “menschenteppich” at the arms show in Winterthur in 1981.

Photo by PBI-Switzerland.

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