It started with an idea put forward in 1997 under the name “reconciliation seeds” by Juan Gutiérrez, at that time director of Gernika Gogoratuz, (a peace research and conflict transformation centre). Since 2011, Juan Gutiérrez has coordinated the working group “Memoria y Procomún” in Medialab-Prado, Madrid, which has formed on December 2014 the Strands of Peace Association continuing to develop the project and trying at this stage to form a network of groups for its international difussion and a loose coordinnation.
The first efforts made to recognise individuals who wove peace strands in times of horror, sacrifice and guilt, began in Israel; the state marked by the memory of the Shoa. In 1963, in the Museum of the Holocaust (Yad Vashem) in Jerusalem, a commission was created, supported by the Israeli law and presided over by a judge of the High Court, which named these individuals as “righteous”. By the initiative of Moshe Bejski, a “Garden of the Righteous” was created, with the idea of planting one tree for each “righteous” person. There was room for 3000 trees, but in fact, 30 000 people have been acknowledged as righteous, saving the lives of more than 140 000 Jews. Therefore, instead of planting a tree, a nameplate is now mounted to commemorate these acts.
The word “righteous” was initially used for a non-Jew who had risked her/his life to save a Jew who was at risk during the holocaust. However, thanks to the Gariwo network (Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide) in particular its president Gabriele Nissim, researcher and journalist, this term has been extended since 1999 to designate any person who has challenged the prevailing rules to assist a person at risk in any conflict, who is considered an enemy or an outsider. Therefore, the “Garden of the Righteous” created by GARIWO in Milan remembers, together with those who saved the lives of Jews, other “righteous” people or groups, such as the Italian consul, who, during the genocide in Rwanda, saved the lives of 2000 people. Even in Yerevan (Armenia) there is a garden of the righteous dedicated to Turkish people who saved the lives of Armenians during the genocide in 1915.
The project to foster remembrance of peace strands was given an important boost in 2002 when Svetlana Broz (Tito’s grandchild and president of GARIWO in Sarajevo since 2001), published a book entitled “Good People in Evil Times”. Here, she selected 90 of her many interviews, in which Serbians narrate vividly how during the armed confrontations of the 90s, Croats and Muslims saved their lives, Croats were saved by Serbians or Muslims, or Muslims by Croats or Serbians.
Meanwhile, the number of material or virtual “Gardens of the Righteous” is increasing in Europe. There are at least 9 in existence today.
The steps taken by Gariwo, under the leadership of Gabriele Nissim from Milan, have meant that on 10th May 2012, 388 members of the European Parliament decided with their votes to declare 6th of March as the “European Day of the Memory of the Righteous”.