GF Annual Peace Award 2015 – Bike for Peace

Committee Room 2 in the House of Lords was crowded on 4 November 2015 for the presentation of the Peace Award to Bike for Peace, a Norwegian-based movement using cycling to promote the idea of a nuclear-free world. 

The Gandhi Foundation president, Bikkhu Parekh, welcomed everyone and there was a special welcome for Godric Bader, the previous holder of the Award.  Those who had nominated Bike for Peace paid tributes to its founder, Tore (pronounced Toray) Naerland, for his single-minded pursuit of a world without nuclear power or weapons.

Tore spoke briefly about his background and his charisma was expressed with one or two sweeping gestures which caused the statuette of Gandhi to be moved to a safer distance.  He said that as a boy he had dreamt of being a top footballer but lost his sight and switched his admiration from sportsmen to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi and others, all of whom adopted the principle of nonviolence.  Being blind had not prevented him from cycling the world with his message of rejecting nuclear weapons and their associated technology.

The main account of the work of Bike for Peace was given by its Vice-president, Frank Tomlinson. He said Tore had been very active in the struggle for human rights world-wide since 1971 and in 1976 he had extended his concern to equal rights for minority groups and people with disabilities.  His commitment to promoting peace and understanding resulted in the first peace ride he organised in Northern Ireland in 1978.  The following year he had cycled on a tandem round the world for the first time travelling from London to Rome, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hong Kong, Japan, coast to coast in the United States and then back to London.  All the way he was meeting key people, speaking at meetings and visiting schools including schools for the blind.  Meeting victims of the Hiroshima bomb in Japan committed him to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Since then, Bike for Peace had organised activities in 110 countries spreading peace, humanity and care of the environment.  The approach has been to make as much contact as possible with ordinary people and to enthuse them to do all they can to achieve world peace.  In 1988 Tore had led a peace boat trip from Norway to Poland with 360 participants until the boat was arrested outside Gdansk.  In November 1989 he had spoken to an audience of 200,000 in Leipzig, East Germany, and the next year he had gone to Berlin to participate in the demolition of the Berlin Wall.   

In January 1992, Tore and others had been the first West Europeans to visit the secret nuclear cities in Russia, among them Arzamas 16.  As a result of this visit, in May 1992 a conference was held in Stavanger, Norway, devoted to these nuclear cities under the name ”From nuclear weapons production to civil industry”.

More cycle tours took place including another one round the world in 1995 which was notable for the experience of crossing the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.  A tour in 1999 from Beijing to Bergen had Kazakhstan as one of its highlights because from 1949 to 1991, people there had experienced almost 500 nuclear bomb tests in the Semipalatinsk region.  In 2011 Bike for Peace, together with local Kazakh authorities had organised a 30 day peace ride within the country. 

Since 2006, Frank said, Tore has been very active for peace, democracy and human rights in Burma/Myanmar.  The elected member of the parliament 1990 in Myanmar, Kyaw Thwin, encouraged him to work with the NLD party of the country.  Tore had also had many meetings and conferences with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is an avid follower of Gandhi in her work.  In 2014 Tore was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace and democracy in Burma/Myanmar.

Frank told us that from 2000 to 2014 Bike for Peace had organised 15 bicycle rides for peace and friendship in Vietnam, from Hue to Saigon.  During these rides the participants had given their support and donations to orphanages, day-care centres, schools etc.  One of the latest projects, “Around the World in 72 days” during spring 2014 had been run to support the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons within 2020. This project had been in cooperation with Mayors for Peace which was founded in Hiroshima in 1982 and includes more than 6000 mayors worldwide who work to abolish nuclear weapons.

During the project the participants had met with Pope Francis in Rome and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon in New York.  In addition they organised around 200 meetings with mayors, local politicians, mass media, schools, peace organisations, bicycle organisations, members of parliament etc. in Norway, England, France, Italy, China, Japan and the United States.

Frank continued, the goal for Tore and for Bike for Peace continues to be making the world a peaceful place in which to live, a world without nuclear weapons, a world where the rich countries show solidarity with the Third World, a world where human rights are respected and further developed.  The bicycle is a symbol of this goal as it is not harmful to the environment and is the means of transport for millions of poor people.

Bike for Peace believes that more of the 7.4 million people on the planet must tell world leaders that we demand to live in a world free from nuclear weapons and the danger of instant extermination whether by use or accident.  It is now known that nuclear weapons kill and maim through lethal radiation the generations that follow an initial detonation.  Bike for Peace appeals to every man and woman to do what they can, writing letters to newspapers and social media, attending peace marches and cycling with the message that all nuclear weapons must be eliminated.  The organisation continues to ride together with ordinary people in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.

After the talk, a short film about Bike for Peace was shown and the audience was left with great admiration for Tore Naerland, for the way in which he had met challenges of body, mind and spirit and inspired so many others.  Bike for Peace was a worthy recipient of the Award.

Graham Davey

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