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13th IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1953

Sigtuna, Sweden

from the Vegetarian News (London) Winter 1953/4::

2nd to 8th August, 1953
Sigtuna, Sweden

THE party from Britain - nineteen of us - set out from Tilbury on the evening of July 30th on board the beautifully appointed M.S. Saga, owned by the Swedish-Lloyd line and plying between Tilbury and Gothenburg.

Unfortunately the voyage was not entirely pleasant owing to a persistent swell, during the crossing of the North Sea, which continued all day on the 31st and caused the Saga to roll continuously with the usual unpleasant results for many passengers! The accommodation was excellent and the way in which our requirements, as vegetarians, were met was very good indeed. We also gained a very favourable impression of the Swedish people from the staff on board, who were the essence of courtesy without showing the somewhat effusive servility which sometimes accompanies such service.

We arrived at Gothenburg punctually to the minute -6 am- on Saturday, August 1st, in the midst of a heavy rainstorm which made us feel at home immediately - especially the contingent from Manchester!

Arrival in Sweden
After breakfasting on board we passed easily through the Customs, which department is very efficiently organised, and down an escalator to the train awaiting us at the platform below, to begin our seven-and-a-half hour journey to Stockholm.

Practically all trains in Sweden are electric and we were immediately aware of the lack of grime usually associated with railway journeys at home in Britain. The trains were also really clean, and throughout the journey "train maids" were passing to and fro, cleaning and attending to any needs which arose. Also newspapers, periodicals, fruit and confectionery were on sale in the train throughout the journey.

Every compartment, of whatever class, was supplied with a large water-bottle, clean and full of water, beside which was a metal cylinder containing paper drinking cups. Each compartment was also supplied with litter-bins, which were used by everyone; not a single piece of litter appeared on the floor at any time, and even when passing through the Gothenburg dock area we saw no litter of any description in the streets anywhere. Even piles of wood, barrels, drain-pipes, etc., around the docks were piled in an orderly fashion. It appears that the Swedes have even learned how to make muddles tidily!

The country through which we passed en route for Stockholm was reminiscent of Scotland, as indeed the whole country would appear to be - lakes, streams, many boulders, pine trees in great numbers and even the Scottish bluebells in profusion and quantities of heather.

Stockholm was reached in due course and the party divided up, some going to the various hotels where they were staying overnight before proceeding to Sigtuna (between 30 and 40 miles distant) by steamer the next morning. The rest of us, having an hour or two to spare before continuing by train to Sigtuna, made a brief exploration of the area of Stockholm immediately around the main station.

It should have been mentioned above that a very excellent lunch was served to us on the train en route for Stockholm.

Stockholm itself is a city of about 700,000 people and is built on a series of thirteen islands linked together by bridges; it is very fascinating and contains many fine buildings.

We eventually arrived at Sigtuna at about 7 p.m., and were again met by the warmth and courtesy we had already come to associate with the Swedish people. Every few minutes travellers arrived and their needs, in the way of food, were met with a smile - no trouble seemed too great for those who welcomed us to the fine modern school high up on a hillside amid the pines above a large lake.

The Congress Opens
The next day the Congress proper began and there was a great influx of people from all parts of the world-a truly international gathering - and all trying, and ultimately succeeding, to make themselves understood to each other.

The opening meetings were held early in the afternoon of Sunday, August 2nd, in a large combined hall and gymnasium. Miniature flags of all the nations represented lined the front of the stage. The first to welcome us was Major Ernst Killander, President of the Swedish Vegetarian Society, followed by a song in Swedish sung by Swedish vegetarians. This song had been written as a kind of theme song for the movement by Mr. J. L. Saxon, founder and first President of the Swedish Society in 1903, who died in 1935 but is still remembered as a great pioneer. The next to speak was Mr. W. A. Sibly, President of the I.V.U., who needs no introduction to British vegetarians.

Representatives of the visiting Societies gave brief messages of greeting and, as this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Swedish Society, a silver cup, suitably inscribed, was presented jointly by the Secretaries of the Vegetarian Society and the L.V.S. to commemorate this and the 1953 Congress.

The final address at this session was given by Mr. Olof Thorborg of Sweden who, in excellent English, stressed the need for the vegetarian movement to remember continually its true spiritual significance and ethical and moral ideals and principles.

On the Monday morning we had our first business meeting following the hoisting of the I.V.U. flag. At this meeting the Secretary of the I.V.U., Mr. Hanworth Walker, presented his report, the text of which appears in full on page 119 [see link below].

Brief reports from affiliated Societies followed and were so numerous and interesting that they had to be spread over three sessions. Many written reports were also handed out.

In the afternoon an excursion was arranged to Skokloster Castle a few miles distant, around which we were conducted; afterwards we had refreshments near the lake-side.

A second excursion took place on Tuesday to Uppsala and Old Uppsala. In Uppsala itself we visited the University and heard lectures there by Dr. Rolf Nordenstreng and Dr. Gunnar Bohlin, both of whom told us many Interesting things about Swedish history and that of the two Uppsalas.

A visit to the Castle and the Cathedral followed, after which we went on to Old Uppsala and were able to see the steep mounds which are said to be the tombs of the ancient Swedish kings, also the old church nearby.

Lectures, Reports and Discussions
Unfortunately the text of the various lectures given during the Congress was not available as we had hoped so that it is not possible to give a full resumé of any one of them. The scope of them is to some extent revealed by the titles.

A lecture on "Healthy Soil, Healthy Products, Dangerous Supplements" was given by Mr. O. E. Rasmussen, a Danish horticultural adviser. The emphasis of this talk was on the Bio-Dynamic school of soil culture initiated by Dr. Rudolf Steiner and based on composting methods augmented by the use of certain herbs which, it is claimed, stimulate the life forces in the plants being cultivated. At the end of the lecture there was an interesting discussion and a sharp division of opinion between the strictly "scientific" attitude and the more " intuitive" approach to practical problems. A speaker who reminded us that the vegetarian movement had sprung up as the result of the spiritual insight of the early pioneers and not on "scientific" grounds was overwhelmingly supported. "Science" is now coming to accept the truth of that which the pioneers perceived over a hundred years ago.

A most interesting lecture was that given by Dr. Scott Nearing of Maine, U.S.A., entitled "Food Production without Animal Residues." Professor Nearing had much interesting and valuable first-hand information to give arising from over 25 years' practical experience in farming, during which he has experimented with methods aimed at ruling out all exploitation of animals, plants and soil. The substance of the lecture was drawn from material shortly to be published in book form, which will bring the full result of this prolonged and vital experiment before the public. When this book becomes available we will give it the widest possible publicity.

A report from the Central Institute of the Dutch Vegetarian Society was presented by Mr. G. van Nederveen. This dealt with experiments and findings relating to soil, horticulture and agriculture of considerable value and interest. The establishment of research groups in various aspects of vegetarianism by the Dutch Society is one which we in Britain might well emulate.

Dr. Frank Wokes's lecture How much animal food do we need?" was, notwithstanding its somewhat technical nature, much appreciated. It was presented in two parts, the second being an amplification of the actual text of the lecture by means of lantern slides giving graphs, charts, etc., to illustrate the various experiments and arguments. Again this material will appear in a short time in book form and is the result of several years' research by Dr. Wokes and his colleagues relating to the needs of human beings for animal foods.

We were entertained one evening by being shown coloured lantern slides illustrating Sweden.-" Sweden in Pictures " the lecture was called --- given by Mr. H. Sehlin, Manager of the Swedish Tourist Society. The undoubted beauty of the country led many of us from abroad to hope that we might one day be able to spend a holiday in Sweden and Visit in the flesh many of the delightful places portrayed in pictures, including the awe-inspiring spectacle of the midnight sun far north in the Arctic Circle.

An outstanding lecture was that given by Dastur F. Bode, a Zoroastrian High Priest from Bombay, entitled "Vegetarianism in Ancient Cultures." Among other things we were assured that there are families in India who can claim unbroken traditions of non-flesh eating for between two and three thousand years.
The lecture by Mr. Peter Freeman, M.P., on "Food Shortage in the World " was enthusiastically received, and many copies of the reprint of his recent article in Vegetarian News were distributed. Mr. Freeman ended his talk by asking the Vegetarian Societies of the world to take positive action, and aptly quote the jingle

"Everything comes to him who waits,
but I know something slicker:
He who goes for what he wants
Gets it all the quicker!"

a sentiment with which we are all no doubt in entire agreement so long as we go about our getting it in truly moral ways.

Dr. Kirstine Noifi of Denmark gave an interesting and convincing lecture on "My Experiences with 100 per cent Living Food" resulting from her raw food treatment of diseases, including cancer, which have caused much interest among medical practitioners in her own country.

Festival Evening
A very enjoyable feature of the Congress was a festival evening held on the Thursday in the large gymnasium. During this time, when we enjoyed many excellent musical items from skilled artistes, Mr. Sibly was presented with a document case in appreciation of his services as President to the Union. Mrs. Gasque was also on the platform and was presented with a bouquet of carnations.

Several local people from Sigtuna shared the evening with us as did a group of campers from a vegetarian camp nearby. Several of the German campers sang folk songs which were greatly enjoyed and at the end of the programme a party of folk dancers - sixteen of them in their beautiful coloured traditional costumes - demonstrated in a very able manner several folk dances. They were all members of the Frisks port movement, which has many adherents in Sweden.

On another evening Mr. W. A. Sibly gave a lecture illustrated by very many coloured slides of some of his more recent travels. This was much enjoyed by all present.

I.V.U. Officers, Constitution and Resolutions
The final day of the Congress was spent very largely in business sessions at which the officers for the next term were appointed. Pull particulars of these were given in the autumn issue of Vegetarian News.
The other main items on the agenda were the formulation of a more concise Constitution to govern the work of the I.V.U. and the passing of various Resolutions. As was indicated in the brief report contained in our last issue the main change affecting the Constitution was the appointment of Vice-Presidents in each country in which the I.V.U. operates. In every instance the individuals nominated, and ultimately elected, have rendered outstanding service to the vegetarian cause, and they should thus form a valuable consultative and advisory body which will be of considerable assistance to the Executive Committee.

Such Congresses are undoubtedly of great value. They give opportunity for meeting the moving spirits in other countries and for fellowship with one another, which is perhaps the most valuable element of all. We learn of triumphs and failures, of hopes and plans for the extension of the work, and become united in our common aim and inspired by the achievements of our fellows in other lands. Here we meet all colours, creeds and races, united in our desire to sweep from the face of the earth the pernicious and totally unnecessary habit of flesh-eating.

Perhaps no other single movement contains within its borders so many varied elements as the vegetarian movement. This is its great problem: to find an agreed working basis acceptable to all, sufficiently specific while still allowing that freedom for expression and methods of working which is essential if the needs of individuals and communities are to be met in the way needed at any given time and place.

One thing impressed itself strongly upon the writer and that was the need for a very broad and tolerant basis upon which to work if the vegetarian movement is ever to be unified and effective in action.
But we must go beyond this. We must first achieve tolerance, it is true - and we still have a long way to go. Those with the purely scientific outlook must honour the viewpoint of those who work in a different way; they must allow that there may be other ways of "knowing" than those of normal processes of ratiocination. On the other hand those who "see" things intuitively must be prepared to recognise that others require to work through the more lengthy logical processes before they can be satisfied as to the soundness of their case. We are all in different stages of development and we must allow for these differences in functioning and not lose patience with those who differ from us. When we have achieved a spirit of tolerance we must move on to the next stage, in which we respect each other and, putting all pride and arrogance on one side, are sufficiently humble to admit that we, every one of us, may have something yet to learn from others; an attitude which is the only foundation of true peace among the peoples of the earth.

Stockholm again and Farewell
A surprise item, totally unexpected, was a special luncheon arranged for us in the Golden Hall of the City Hall in Stockholm. The City Hall is a modern building and unique in many ways. The Golden Hall is literally golden; the walls and ceilings are of rich gold mosaic, the effect of which is heightened by clusters of electric lamps suspended close to the walls and so causing the burnished gold to scintillate. The general effect, as the sliding doors silently open, is one of amazement, for the rich beauty of the scene might well be something out of the Arabian Nights. It was here that, as guests of the Swedish Vegetarian Society, we were regaled with refreshments in great variety and said our formal "Goodbyes."

In fact, however, this was not yet the end of our sight-seeing or our edification, for we were conducted to the impressive Parliament Building near to the Royal Palace, and there, in one of the very modern Party Committee Rooms, heard two further lectures. The first told us much of the history of Stockholm and its development into the present-day fine and delightful city, a capital of which any nation might be justly proud. This was given by Mr. P. Gyllensvard, President of the Stockholm Society. The second and final lecture was given by Dr. H. C. Ragnar Berg, a well-known Swedish vegetarian and research chemist. This was entitled "Why fruits and vegetables?" and was given in German, very ably translated into English by Carl O. Aly, a medical student who had attended the Congress and served us all in many ways. The facts presented in this lecture were based on Dr. Berg's own researches and were quite startling in many ways in their substantiation of vegetarian, and even vegan, arguments. We greatly hope to be able to include the complete text of this lecture at a later date.

And so we parted to go our several ways, all the richer for having shared in this coming together of representative members of the great vegetarian family from the ends of the earth. Many happy friendships were begun which will undoubtedly continue, thus welding us more surely into a great power for peace and kindliness upon the earth both to all mankind arid to the younger brothers of the great universal family.

The Congress was an unforgettable experience for which those of us who were privileged to share in it must be unspeakably grateful.

[this was followed by the report of the International Executive Committee, which also appeared in the Manchester magazine.]