Oes Heddwch? Is There Peace?

I have a friend in Wales, who works at How the Light Gets In philosophy festival. As a volunteer for the event, I’ve spent a bit of time with him in the late spring while volunteering at the festival. He is a fluent Welsh speaker in his late 50s. He grew up in Wales, and during his youth, he remembers being one of only two black Welsh speakers he knew of in the entire nation.

He tells a story about his experience in the Welsh National Eisteddfod when he was younger. The Eisteddfod is the pinnacle of Welsh language cultural events. Poets, musicians, dancers, and artists of all sorts meet each summer for the largest language-based cultural festival in Europe to crown and enthrone the Bards of Wales. During the chairing of the Bard, which is the highlight of the festival, the Archdruid leads the gathering in a formal recitation, and asks the question, “Oes Heddwch?” And all the people respond “Heddwch!” 

“Is there Peace?” is the question, and the people respond in unison, “Peace!”

During one Eisteddfod, the Archdruid cried out, “Oes Heddwch?” My friend and a fellow instigator were prepared to respond, and they interrupted the Eisteddfod’s holy formal moment. “Nag Oes!” they shouted. “No, there is not!” Of course, this commotion could not be allowed to continue as they kept on, “Dim heddwch!” “No Peace!” And they were ushered out.

I don’t remember the specifics of the political statement they were making, or what instigated their interruption, except that it was a social justice issue, and the two young men decided to make a point. Perhaps they were motivated by Welsh punk band Anhrefn, whose March 1st, 1984 debut single release included the song Dim Heddwch on the A side. Not knowing the date of the my friend’s Eisteddfod social justice protest act, I can’t say.

Welcome to our world. Dim Heddwch. Russia marches upon Ukraine reliving old Soviet Union violent authoritarian enforcement upon their neighbors. Today it remains nothing but a formality to respond to the question, “Heddwch!” There is no peace in our world. Immigrants are fleeing, and those offering a home for the half a million Ukrainian immigrants, are offering what peace they can to the endangered homeless fleeing their own country.

I wonder how many will cry “Peace and safety [w]hen sudden destruction comes upon them.” But even more critically, I wonder who will become peace for those who do not know it. Oes Heddwch? Is there peace in your heart for the beleaguered people in our world?

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