The Words of the Kittel Family
Since I am a foreign photo-journalist based in Nepal for the past three years and have lived in South Asia for the best part of the past 35 years, many people have asked me my opinion about the Global Peace Festival held in Kathmandu last month. Therefore, I felt it best to make a public statement to offer another perspective to the coverage of these events as described on the GPF website.
Global Peace Festival South Asia 2010 was in one sense good and at the same time very controversial; it drew lots of media attention, some supportive with most of it critical. The contentious elements directly involved the offices of the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry -- and a lot of irate parents.
The three-day festival began on September 30 with the Rivers of Peace service project which mobilized thousands and thousands of school children (the GPF website claims "10,000 volunteers" participated).
For the students involved, it was surely a very substantial project. They invested themselves wholeheartedly, pulled debris from the Bagmati River, got muddy, and even waded the murky gray water which is more like an open sewer than the clear stream I remember in 1975 when I first visited Nepal.
Ironically, nearly 30 years ago the Professors World Peace Academy also tried to raise awareness of this same issue. At that time the river was clear and people equated its clarity with cleanliness. To raise public awareness from both a public health concern as well as an environmental issue a wide selections of fruits and vegetables being sold in the market that had been washed in the river were taken to a lab and tested. Every piece of produce inspected had human excrement on it.
These findings were published in the academic journals, newspapers and brought to the attention of the government. But political instability, lack of proper city planning, and corruption prohibited the issue from being dealt with back then. And so the problem grew bigger and uglier.
Nevertheless, the government is acutely aware of the problem. Several months ago talks were held between Nepalese and Korean government officials on this issue. They came to the conclusion that even if the government invested the necessary funds to properly process its refuse, the more difficult part would be changing attitudes and lifestyles of the people. A news article indicated that getting people to segregate domestic waste in their homes was deemed almost insurmountable. The project was shelved.
Other aspects of the festival were not so festive.
The name of Father Moon and the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) are widely known in Nepal. They are, in essence, a branded image. Our Ambassadors for Peace were very confused as to the relationship between UPF and GPF. Many of them felt they had been purposely mislead into thinking that they were supporting Father Moon and UPF by lending their name or support to GPF. When they found out this was not the case, they felt deceived and rather upset.
Coming from repeated requests from our AFP -- and with their active involvement -- a press notice was drafted and published in the leading papers of Nepal. There was no other way to educate the nearly 5,000 AFP and YAP except through the media.
When this statement was being drafted one of the most important issues raised in the discussions was that the spirit of the disclaimer not be malicious or false. They even decided not to mention the name of the organization, the Global Peace Festival Foundation. The notice was four paragraphs long and read:
"We are so grateful to all the people who have given direct and indirect cooperation and support for this organization, the Universal Peace Federation, founded by the world famous religious/peace leader, His Holiness Dr. Sun Myung Moon.
"We heard that an organization founded with a similar name to UPF established a few months ago is organizing Global Peace Festival programs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2nd at the National Stadium and other venues in Katmandu.
"We have serious concern about these programs. Our VIPs are questioning us about these programs and have asked us to give clarification regarding these programs and our involvement.
"We want to clarify that we have no cooperation with the Global Peace Festival and would like to clarify to all Ambassadors for Peace, National Peace Council and District Peace Council members and all affiliated organizations about this point. This is our humble request to all of you."
(signed) Ek Nath Dhakal
The disclaimer ran in various national and local newspapers. But because Father Moon's image is so well-known and admired, and because the UPF is such a high-profile NGO, the impact seemed to mushroom.
In the end, there were two controversies that erupted. The first dispute involved "forceful" mobilization of minor children from elite private schools "without permission from their parents." (Kantipur, Oct. 2, 2010, "Don't Use Children in Rally and Parade")
The Kantipur newspaper, the largest circulation newspaper in Nepal, first ran a story concerned about the misuse of students entitled, "Parade Instead of Study" on Oct. 1, 2010.
Media reports claimed that Global Peace Festival organizers used the name of the President of Nepal to compel school children to practice marching in the hot sun in order to prepare for the main GPF festival.
According to news reports in Nepal, parents were not informed that their children would be participating in the daily march practice for the Global Peace Festival rally. And they were angry.
"Instead of studying, students had been training [for the Global Peace Festival rally] for three weeks in their own schools," reports said. Children from seventh and eighth grades were said to be "going to school without textbooks or notebooks."
One parent from the Little Angels' School in Lalitpur, Kathmandu said, "Children were placed in the hot sun for hours. During the marching practice at school grounds, three to five students fainted." Other children got sunburned. Because of this some parents had not been sending their children to school for several days.
According to local papers, students were told that if they participated in the Global Peace Festival, they would get extra credit in their mid-term exams. If, however, students chose not to participate in the "peace festival" they would not get these extra mid-term credits. This was seen as coercion and the office of the President of Nepal raised a powerful objection to this, directly calling the GPF organizers several times.
One media report said that the Global Peace Festival organizers were collecting Rs. 25 from each child (at the current rate of exchange this is approximately US $0.55). Assuming that all 20,000 children paid up (the stated goal for student mobilization) this totals about US $11,000. A national congressman's monthly salary is about US $500 per month.
The head of the national Parent's Association was quoted as saying, "The school should not do business by selling the heads of our children."
There were apparently large sums of money involved in the mobilization of school children. One news clip printed in a well-read column, "Telescope," said that the total cost of the GPF South Asia event was an estimated US $7.7 million. No sources were mentioned.
The second contentious issue involved disgrace of the national flag of Nepal.
Organizers were "misusing the national flag," according to Lalit Basnet, personal secretary to the President. The English language Republica newspaper continued with Basnet's comments and described it as an "act of disgrace." The Nepali newspaper Nagarik, said the President did not go to the Global Peace Festival because organizers "dishonored the national flag."
Normally when the President travels to an official function the national flag is placed along the roads and at designated intersections. When there is an official state visit by a foreign head of government, then the flag of that nation can be flown alongside the Nepali flag. In this case, however, the national flag of Nepal was placed side by side with the GPF flag throughout the capital. This was considered a national disgrace because the Global Peace Festival Foundation is an NGO; it is not a sovereignty state. In the morning of Oct. 2, news reports said the police and army were called out to remove the GPF flags.
"Misuse of National Flag in the Name of Peace" was the headline in the Kantipur newspaper on Oct. 3 the day after the GPF's Main celebration. It referred to this incident as "cheap publicity."
As a result of these controversies, a number of results precipitated:
At the last hour, the President canceled his participation in the Main Celebration on Oct. 2. The Prime Minister followed suit and withdrew from the event (although he inaugurated the leadership conference at the Hyatt Hotel the day before).
A replacement was found and the Minister of Peace and Reconstruction, Hon. Rakam Chemjong, inaugurated the function and delivered the keynote address too. Maybe as a result of the confusion, Dr. Moon arrived on stage at the stadium after the singing of the national anthem in an event that was telecast live nationwide.
The audience at the Global Peace Leadership Conference held at the Hyatt Hotel was embarrassingly thin. For example, according to an eye-witness account, the Closing Session on Oct. 1 started with just 45 people seated in the hall, mainly foreigners. By the end of the session the size of the audience nearly doubled and media reports confirmed that there were less than one hundred guests total, although 400-500 guests had been invited.
The Chief Guest at the Opening Banquet on Sept. 30 and the Chief Guest at the Closing Session on Oct. 1 -- both very senior VIPs -- decided not to participate.
A number of VIPs listed on the GPF website as part of the "Organizing Committee" had not given permission for their names to be published there and asked that their names be removed. Four weeks after the Nepal GPF ended, this webpage has not been updated.
The stated goal for the "Main Celebration" of the GPF was 70,000 people. The capacity of the national stadium is 40,000. An eye-witness account at the stadium that day, originally reported that only a few thousand people were seated in the stadium. This number did not include the thousands of students and performers that were backstage. At the end of the celebration everyone was invited back into the stadium grounds. This same source estimated the total number of people then to be much less than 10,000 people. (The GPF website claimed nearly 30,000 people attended.) In any event, it is not a good day when the performers far outnumber the audience.
The Kantipur newspaper concluded its Oct. 1 report by saying, "The third son of the peace-spiritual leader, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, revolted in the United States and established this new organization [the Global Peace Festival Foundation, (GPFF)]."
On Oct. 2, Dr. Hyun Jin Moon's speech was about 7-8 minutes long. He came down from the VIP seating to the stage and even walked among the students on the stadium grounds. Frequently he referred to the theme, "One Family Under God." He referred to Buddha (twice) and Gandhi (once) -- but never once mentioned his own Father. Similarly, in a prepared speech at the leadership conference the day before at the hotel, Dr. Moon did not acknowledge even once the foundation upon which he stood.
This act of filial rebellion, in and of itself, cuts against the core of the Nepali culture. Nepalese children are taught that they should respect and honor their parents as if they were God.