Day of action of the #ObjectWarCampaign on the International Day of Conscientious Objection to War
Interview with Rudi Friedrich, Connection e.V.
(14.06.2023) On this year’s International Day of Conscientious Objection, 30 organizations from Europe have called for protection for all conscientious objectors from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Together with the organizers of the #ObjectWarCampaign, Connection e.V. traveled to Berlin to participate in a central action in front of the European Commission Bureau at the Brandenburg Gate on 15 May 2023. The action was coordinated with events in other cities. During an interview, Rudi Friedrich, executive director of Connection e.V., reports on this year’s day of action and general news about the #ObjectWarCampaign (ed.).
First of all, can you tell us something about the background of the International Day of Conscientious Objection on 15 May?
With pleasure. About 40 years ago, in 1985, actions and events took place around the world on the International Day of Conscientious Objection. It was the decision of an international meeting on conscientious objection to choose this day for it. And over the decades it has become an important day for the international movement for conscientious objection.
Every year there are international weeks of action around 15 May, which is one of the highlights of conscientious objectors’ work. What actions were planned for this year?
We had planned to hold an action to hand over the signatures of the #ObjectWarCampaign in Brussels or Berlin on 15 May. The Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft - Vereinigte KriegsdienstgegnerInnen (DFG-VK) - suggested that we should organize actions in other cities simultaneously. This idea was gladly taken up by us and many others so 30 organizations jointly called for events during the action weeks. In the end, there were indeed activities in support of the campaign in 25 cities, Berlin, Brussels, London, Tampere, Rome, Stuttgart, Salzburg, and Frankfurt, to name only a few. We had prepared banners, an action newspaper, flyers, and posters for this day in the preparation group and also suggested a few forms of action. Overall, it was a gratifying sign of the broad support for conscientious objectors from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
How did the day of action in Berlin, which Connection e.V. organized together with international activists, go?
In the morning we held an action in front of the European Commission in Berlin. Its headquarters are right next to the Brandenburg Gate in the center of the city. About 80 people came. We were able to get Olga Karatch from Nash Dom (Belarus) and Maria Alexandrova (Movement for Conscientious Objection Russia) to speak. Yurii Sheliazhenko from the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, who cannot leave Ukraine, sent us a greeting message too. German organisations such as DFG-VK, Pax Christi, NaturFreunde, Internationale der Kriegsdienstgegner*innen, Ev. Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kriegsdienstverweigerung und Frieden (EAK), antimilitaristische aktion berlin (amab) and IPPNW were involved in the campaign. We packed the 50,000 signatures, which we had collected mainly via the platform WeMove, into 10 boxes and went – as an international delegation – to the European Commission to hand over the petition.
In the evening, DFG-VK Berlin and amab organized an event with the three spokespersons from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and me, a kind of round table discussion. The content was really good. The situation of conscientious objectors and deserters in various countries as well as the work of several groups was presented briefly. I focused on the question of what protection under asylum law looks like for conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, the event could only take place in English, which was not originally intended.
That sounds like an international and multifaceted day of action.
Yes. The great interest, also from the media, was remarkable. Several television stations came to the action and reported on it. Many newspaper reports and interviews appeared during the days after the event.
Another special feature of the action day: It was one of the rare occasions when people from these three countries held an event together. This alone is an important sign against enmity, hatred, and war.
With the #ObjectWarCampaign, almost 50,000 signatures were collected and handed over to representatives of the European Commission in Berlin. Is that a success?
Many organizations took part in this campaign, there were about 100 across Europe. The collection of signatures was initiated by Connection e.V., the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters’ International, and the European Office for Conscientious Objection. Some groups were eager to collect signature lists and kept referring to them in social media posts, especially in Germany, Spain, and Italy. But it is also important that the platform WeMove, where we had published the petition in eight languages, promoted the signing in their circle. That was really good cooperation.
By the way, shortly before 15 May, we asked all signatories to send e-mails directly to the three responsible persons in the EU – or tweets via Twitter. Almost 2,000 did that. In this way, our demands reached the EU also in other ways.
I find the support very remarkable, even if there is the thought to collect more signatures. But that is not all. The collection of signatures was also about shedding some light on the situation of conscientious objectors and deserters and presenting to the organizations a possibility for anti-war work. This was successful.
Have there already been any political reactions to the delivery of the petition?
Unfortunately no. We are – and were on the fringes of the actions in Berlin – in talks with members of the Bundestag and the European Parliament. We have to stay on top of it – and that includes continuing the #ObjectWarCampaign, even if the focus shifted away from collecting signatures.
What is the next step for the #ObjectWarCampaign?
At the War Resisters’ International conference in London in mid-June, we will have the opportunity to evaluate the campaign and to reflect on further steps together with other groups.
It is no question, however, that the campaign will continue. What is also clear is that we must continue to strengthen the networks and structures that have been built up in the meantime to advise and support conscientious objectors and deserters, the Nash Dom contact points, the Movement for Conscientious Objection Russia, the Russian organization Vesna, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, the Caucasian Conscientious Objector Network. And all this in association with the international network supporting the campaign. We are many. We have clear goals. We can still achieve a lot. But we also need further support, with actions, events, and also with donations.
Interview with Rudi Friedrich on the #ObjectWarCampaign. The questions were asked by Marah Frech. The article was published in: Connection e.V. (ed.): Newsletter "KDV im Krieg", June 2023, issue 3/2023.