‘The EU must play a peaceful role in Ukraine’

Mao Valpiana  MANIFESTO   12 OCTOBER 2023 (machine translation)

THE UNKNOWN LIMIT. Belarusian activist Olga Karatch speaks. “We save those who have not yet been killed. Children, women and the elderly.”

From the stage of the demonstration in Rome “The High Road” she shouted her no to war and brought the greetings of Russian conscientious objectors and Ukrainian pacifists. Olga Karatch, Belarusian nonviolent feminist, leader of the human rights movement, sentenced to death by the Lukashenko regime, now lives in Vilnius in Lithuania, and was the international voice of the great demonstration of the CGIL and the many associations that gathered in St. John’s Square “together for the Constitution”. We met her in the backstage, at the end of her speech, still excited, after embracing Maurizio Landini. “First of all, I would like to thank the CGIL for this invitation and the Italian associations that concretely support our struggle, such as Un ponte Per and the Nonviolent Movement, and the international ObjectWar Campaign that wants to guarantee protection and asylum to conscientious objectors and deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine involved in the war,” he told us.

After the Hamas attack on Israel and the response on Gaza, the war is getting bigger and wider.
Today we are all afraid to even read the news. Because in the news there is nothing but the war: who has been killed, how many are wounded, the amount of weapons that are used. We have started talking in military terms ourselves and we don’t even notice it. We are getting used to war and its laws, where a person’s life is worth nothing and can easily be sacrificed in the name of “future victories”. Everything has been turned upside down. Those who refuse to take up arms and do not want to go to the front are considered criminals.

What do you think needs to be done to put a stop to this crazy drift?
We must escape war, not do it. Helping conscientious objectors and deserters is very challenging. They are not welcome anywhere, even if supporting them costs less than any missile and saves lives.

What is the situation of objectors in your country?
In Belarus, desertion is punished with the death penalty and refusal to join the army carries imprisonment. In 2022, about 400 men in Belarus were convicted of refusing to be draught. Currently, Belarusian police have declared some 5,000 men wanted for attempting to evade military service in Russia or European Union countries.

What do you ask to do to support your action?
No one provides protection to these people; they have no legal status and they do not even have a humanitarian visa. Refugees in Lithuania are considered a threat to national security and are blacklisted with a five-year ban on entry into the EU, with the risk of being deported to Belarus. I call on the European Union to play its role in peace, standing firmly in favour of a ceasefire and working towards a political solution to the conflict. Starting with making all necessary efforts to guarantee protection and asylum to conscientious objectors and deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

From the demonstration in Rome, with what feelings do you return home?
Let us save those who have not yet been killed: children, women and the elderly. We want to preserve human life. Let us stop the war by peaceful and nonviolent means. Let us finally talk about peace, read news about peace and take away children’s military toys, because war is not a game. My task is to ensure that those who do not wish to participate in war are not forced to do so, thereby safeguarding human rights, in particular the rights of conscientious objectors.


READ ALSO: the #protection4olga campaign: Protection and asylum for Olga Karatch, director of the Belarusian organisation “Our House” in Lithuania, whose application for political asylum was rejected by the Lithuanian authorities on August 18th 2023.