Let’s Stand with Peace and Shame on Peace Deniers

June 11th, 2023 - by Dr. Yurii Sheliazhenko at the International Summit for Peace in Ukraine

Civil Society Movement and Peace Voices
Against the War from Russia and Ukraine
Plenary Speech by Dr. Yurii Sheliazhenko at The International Summit for Peace in Ukraine

VIENNA (June 10, 2023) — Dear friends, greetings from Kyiv. And what a honor and pleasure to share the stage in the capital of neutrality, Vienna, with genuinely pro-peace feminists like Karyna Radchenko, brave nonviolent resisters to Putin’s war machine like Oleg Bodrov, true peacebuilders, peace scholars and peace activists we heard and will hear today, — not those so-called protesters against the war who in fact support the war, as Oleg noted. He said truth; here is a place where Ukrainian and Russian peace-loving people could come together and say truth, and truth unites us.

It is a relief to participate in this International Summit for Peace in Ukraine and join my voice to many voices of sanity, for ceasefire and peace talks, for peace by peaceful means, after many sleepless nights in shelters during Russian bombings and after painful reading of news feeds turned into ammunition belts by propagandists of war.

Important that it is people’s summit, not a summit of governments. I assure you if only tomorrow by some miracle all people in the world will gather in Vienna and everywhere else to denounce all wars, to demand disarmament, disbandment of armies and abolition of militarized state borders, all governments in the world, both authoritarian and “democratic” by self-description, will unite to ban such assembly threatening their so-called “national security”, or in plain words illusion of absolute power through violence.

Free people, decent civilians, never want war; only war profiteers and their pocket governments want war and poison popular opinion with all sorts of lies, tricking people to believe that peace, which people want and have a right for, is possible only after obscene mass killing — because this is what the war is by its nature: nothing more than mass killing.

Peace denial by wealthy and powerful warmongers and their clients in politics, media, academia and civil society shows that war is a choice, not inevitability. Only the choice can explain inventiveness in expression of animosity and lack of imagination for building bridges. And they literally, intentionally blow the bridges!

Even destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and flood of biblical scale didn’t convinced presidents Putin and Zelensky to stop the war and cooperate in saving the victims. Apparently, military struggle for power and blame game matter for them more than human lives. When their armies continue to attack each other inevitably killing and terrorizing civilians, both commanders-in-chief remain supreme peace deniers, seek for victory on battlefield, and refuse to consider any possibilities for reconciliation. Shame on peace deniers!

Because of this madness, we see horrible photos of blown and sank housing, burned buses, corpses and blood in cities on both sides of the frontline. Hundred of thousands killed, millions displaced. War of attrition for many years, they say. How stubborn and how cruel are the war planners to contemplate this endless sacrifice of lives and hopes for the sake of their unlimited power and profits?!

Some people say it is “immoral” to stop arming Ukraine for self-defense, as if nonviolent self-protection and diplomacy for someone’s whim is ruled out, like Putin shamefully ruled them out and preferred military aggression. But I believe it is immoral to fuel the war by weapons supply. The only hope to quit vicious circle of self-perpetuating violence and pain, to transform this hell on Earth into something resembling heaven or, at least, kingdom of reason, — is to learn how to resist aggressors and tyrants without violence, without copying their methods and their militarist madness.

True morality is not about killing the enemy, it is about refusing to kill, making futile violence of tyrants and militarists through civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance to militarism and war, solidarity and mutual support of civilians on all sides in resistance to war, advocacy of human rights and peacebuilding. When all people will refuse to kill, there will be no war.

This is final transformation our world needs, though as a first step it is good that we demand from Putin and Zelensky to cease fire, cooperate in remedying humanitarian catastrophe, and negotiate sustainable peace based on genuine reconciliation, not stratagems and geopolitical temptations of this sadly polarized world.

Saving lives and living with dignity is much more important matter than who rules the Earth, Washington or Beijing or anyone else. I certainly not wish to turn Kyiv into a capital of world empire, both Eurasianism and Atlanticism make me sick, and all I wish is that multilateral world order should be centered in all multitude of civil hearts and minds of all billions of humans.

Along with timely demands of Russian army’s withdrawal from Ukraine, withdrawal of United States’ military bases from Europe and cessation of NATO expansion, we need to demand abolition of whole system of militarized economy which kills us and robs us of our best hopes for peaceful and happy future whole last century after the first and second world wars, if not longer.

And we need to start this big changes towards nonviolent governance and management from abandoning old lie popularized once by Adolf Hitler and for the profit of the merchants of death made widespread in current public discourse, the big lie that pacifists are working for the enemy side. No, we are not! Because we are turning enemies into friends; because we are voices of conscience and common sense on all sides, we are the only reason why people are still reasonable beings and not bloodlust monsters: it is result of our humble but vital peace work, the work undermined by absurd and irrational peace denial.

If you don’t like multitude of peace plans proposed by Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Minsk and Istanbul, by Vatican, China and many countries of Global South, you are free to propose your own peace plan. You could replace peacekeepers with peacebuilders, peace journalists, educators and facilitators of reconciliatory public dialogues in Russia and Ukraine; please replace military neutrality with antimilitarist solidarity; if you like, replace referendums with other peaceful solutions to territorial disputes like arbitration or shared sovereignty or borderless world after all.

But if you are not out of mind, you could not pretend that plans to wage war forever are peace plans; and you could not turn public discourse into a minefield blowing with anger with any hint on peace by peaceful means or any hint that all sides must be treated fairly and honestly, even aggressor government must not be fabulously demonized, and even the victim government must not be unfairly apologized for making its own people victims of human rights violations and war crimes inevitable when you wage any war, defensive or not, since the war is killing, war is criminal by its nature.

You cannot deny that talking is better than killing. Peace denial is dumb and shameful by its nature. My message to all peace deniers: please don’t be peace deniers, don’t humiliate yourself, use your knowledge and imagination to assert peace.

You cannot fairly deny that peaceful conflict resolution, not bloodshed, is a basic norm of international law.

You cannot deny that effective resistance to violence without violence is possible and necessary, as was proved by Mahatma Gandhi and Doctor King.

You cannot deny that dialogue, not weapons, lead to reconciliation.

You cannot deny that wars, not peace talks, are dangerous historical precedents.

You cannot deny that people dragged into meat grinder by deception and compulsion are not and could not be independent and will have blood on their hands, not independence, after the mass killing.

And you couldn’t deny that people manipulated to believe that killing is good are wrong people to be considered authority in matters of fair conflict resolution.

You cannot deny that for genuine peace you should wish not death to others, but living together with others in harmony and love, as suits decent members of the big family of humankind equal in their dignity.

In short, you cannot deny sacred value of human life. You must affirm, not deny peace. In the end, peace denial leads to insanity, shame and self-destruction, while affirmation of peace is the only hope for better future.

Let’s affirm peace.

Let’s imagine, discuss and implement peace plans.

Let’s not waste any opportunity for peaceful action and expression of borderless, unlimited solidarity between peace-loving people.

Let’s advocate ceasefire and peace talks in Ukraine now, when ceasefire and peace talks are the most needed.

Let’s stand with peace.

Living with War, Struggling for Peace:
The Right of Conscientious Objection
to Military Service in the Russia-Ukraine War
Plenary Speech by Dr. Yurii Sheliazhenko / World BEYOND War

VIENNA (June 10, 2023) — Dear friends, greetings from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Thank you for joining our working group on conscientious objection to military service. It is also my honor to share the stage with brave resisters to war machines of Putin and Lukashenko, their noble cause deserves much support.

Right to refuse to kill is a cornerstone of hope for and vision of a better world ruled not by cruel great powers of geopolitics, but by the great power of truth in every mind and love in every heart. In a world where everyone refuses to kill there will be no wars. And this is our goal, to abolish all wars, starting with refusal to kill and advocacy of reconciliation.

We gathered at this International Summit for Peace in Ukraine to call for immediate ceasefire and peace talks in Ukraine, — not to surrender to shameful Russian aggression, not to rearm and fight again, but to stop mass deaths and destruction of cities, to start fair and inclusive process of reconciliation directed towards living together, not killing each other, to design and build in our countries and in the world reformed system of nonviolent governance and management, to achieve universal liberation of economics and politics from yoke of militarism.

Make no mistake: militarism is never good, and no war could be just. As we are saying in War Resisters’ International: war is a crime against humanity, therefore we are determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.

When in the same dark day in spring you learn that Russian rocket ruined a condo and killed six children, and Ukrainian rocket burned a minibus and killed a kid, you feel deeply in your heart the moral obligation to stand with peace, to stand with peace-loving civilians on all sides of the frontline, do not take side of any army, either aggressive or defensive, that inevitably kills civilians, because any war is mass murder, a threat to civilians, not the defense or protection.

Like many Ukrainians, I am a victim of aggression of the Russian army which bombs my city and a victim of human rights violations of Ukrainian army which tries to drag me to the meat grinder denying my right to refuse to kill, to leave the country for my studies in University of Münster, et cetera.

Think about it: all men in age from 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country, they are hunted on the streets and forcibly abducted to the army’s serfdom. You can’t study, work or even marry without military registration which means great risk of conscription. Evasion of draft is punishable from 3 to 5 years of prison. The Armed Forces of Ukraine stubbornly deny human right to conscientious objection, only under international pressure our parliamentary human rights commissioner recognized obligations of Ukraine under Article 18 of ICCPR and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Vitaly Alekseenko was imprisoned for his Christian faith in the commandment “you shall not kill,” recently the Supreme Court released him, but he was not acquitted and further retrial could bring bad surprises.

Former prisoner of conscience Ruslan Kotsaba is still under trial for his 2015 YouTube blog denouncing war and calling to boycott military mobilization; he managed to escape to the United States but prosecution seeks to arrest him and imprison again, despite he already spent in prison more than year and half.

Conscientious objector Mykhailo Yavorsky was sentenced to prison despite his deep religious beliefs incompatible with military service were recognized in the court sentence, but only as so-called mitigating circumstances, contrary to Article 35 of Constitution of Ukraine which demands alternative non-military service for people with anti-militarist beliefs.

Another objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky, dragged into trenches against his conscience and religion, from the frontline under Russian shelling, filed a lawsuit to President Zelensky through an online court system asking to establish the procedure of discharge from army on the grounds of conscience, non-existent today.

We need international attention to problems of conscientious objectors. We need more calls to Ukrainian legislators to reform unconstitutional discriminatory law on alternative service in line with the Constitution and international human rights treaties of Ukraine.

We need international civil society and media attention to coming court hearings in Yavorsky’s case on 12th June, Alekseenko’s case on 22nd June, and Vyshnevetsky’s case on 26th June, and we need more amicus curiae briefs for Ukrainian judges calling to abandon Soviet-time doctrine of presumption of guilt in case of refusal to serve in army, making no difference between evasion of draft and conscientious objection to military service.

And of course, we need to admit that no civil people on Earth, only governments want war; people could be tricked to vote for war but they refuse to support all armies’ neglect for the sacred value of human life.

That’s why peace-loving people in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine mostly quietly but sometimes openly and bravely resist the anti-human conscription system imposed on all our people in times of the Russian Empire, enforced by Stalin’s law on death penalty for refusal to fight in wartime, that was abolished after democratic transformations but still lurks in some informal practices on both sides of the war in Ukraine.

We must resist nonviolently to militarism and war, commit to unarmed protection of civilians, to call for peace and build peace, stand with civilians and refugees. And we must stand with peace in a fair, genuine, nonviolent way: by refusing to kill.