Peoples' movements and protests




Vienna: A step forward from passivity to addressing world majority solutions







The peace movement has had hard times to find peaceful solutions to the war in Ukraine. Already from the start of the Ukraine conflict in early 2014 the main tendency was to avoid taking a clear position in the hope of avoiding losing support for traditional demands against nuclear weapons or opposition against military alliances as NATO. The shift of power in February 2014 took the peace movement by surprise. A combination of mass popular protests, an alliance between neoliberal right wing och fascist parties and right wing extremist violence refusing to accept the peaceful transition agreed upon by the democratically elected president, the opposition parties and EU ministers called Euromaidan brought about a dramatic shift. It was met by similar means by what was called Antimaidan. A development started soon to be of crucial importance for global power relations.

Popular movements were marginalized. The only force to our knowledge able to have contact on both civil society sides of the conflict was the European social forum network Prague's Spring 2 against right wing extremism and populism. Peace organizations had not yet developed. Building on the values shared by participants at the European Social Forum in Malmö 2008 from Central and Eastern Europe a dialogue was aimed at from December 2013 and onwards. At the WSF in Tunis 2015 finally a direct dialogue could take place between participants from Kiev and Donetsk.

When OSCE early in spring 2014 called for sensitivity for minority issues and the kind of solutions that solved political and language issues after WWI in places as Åland and Slesvig it was ignored by almost everyone, including the peace movement. A European petition campaign was initiated by the publishers of this website supported by people as Jan Kavan, former UN General Assembly chairman and Thomas Wallgren, social democratic politician in Helsinki. Only 70 people signed it. The decision to arrange a referendum in Crimea March 2014 was taken under protection of Russian soldiers and thus a breach of international law while the Antimaidan i Eastern Ukraine did not receive the same support as Crimea from Russia who refused to accept the self-proclaimed republics as Russian. The Ukrainian government met with war in April 2014, labeled Antiterrorist operation. The Minsk I and Minsk II agreements in 2014 and 2015 confirmed the importance of the minority rights issue supported by the UN security council.

Both the peace and other popular movements have continued to be rather confused concerning how to address the Ukraine conflict. It soon became clear that it was highly controversial. Attempts to address the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ukraine or the mass killing of 42 people supporting a referendum for a more federal Ukraine was met with extreme hostility by Ukrainian organizations and their supporters. That 81 percent of the civilians killed in the Ukraine conflict was on the Donetsk and Lugansk side according to OSCE was not reported in the Western press, while fuelling sentiments of being under existential threat among some Russians. The combination of the war started by the Ukrainian government called “operation” and the refusal to do anything to implement the Minsk agreements together with the Russian military intervention in late August 2014 in support of Donetsk and Lugansk militia created a low intensity conflict killing some 15000 people.

When Russia finally started its war of aggression calling it “military operation” in February 2022 the peace movement had started to build some contacts in Ukraine and Russia but had still hard time to find ways to act. There seemed to be no position that could unite a critical mass to take action. Anything but total victory for Ukraine was seen as ways of supporting Russia. The Minsk agreement approved by the UN was declared by those that once signed it as a way to allow Ukraine to build up its military forces. The voice of the local population which was given credit by the agreement was to be ignored. It was replaced by full militarization from all sides.

The Peace in Ukraine conference in Vienna thus was most welcome. The hardships organizing the conference can be seen as predictable. The way it was made became an important beacon for humanity that another world is possible.

Both the format and the content contributed to success. Keynote speeches followed by a dialogue between Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian voices gave qualified intellectual background and a focus on those closest to the conflict. Seven working groups gave the participants good time for common reflections. But maybe surprisingly the session, with short 3 minutes statements from all over the world and different movements, was maybe what made the Peace conference in Vienna different from the webinars we have been used to. The variation in presenting a subject and the variety of opinion made the presence tangible of a movement strengthening hearts and souls into a moment of liberty.

What maybe became clear was that the world majority is the basis for enabling humanity to address the Ukraine war. It was not the least the voices from the Global South that gave strength to the meeting. We can be overwhelmed by the many obstacles ahead. Politically it was not possible to address all of them. Actually, the single issue focuses on ceasefire and peace talks was at the present stage the necessary step forward. That the movement cannot put any conditions on those that needs to come to terms with each other is self-evident. What the movement can do is to maintain focus on defending human rights while the process hopefully starts and hopefully comes to a result. And continue to demand the preence of women in the negotiations.

Such a position is under very heavy attack. Any call for a ceasefire is interpreted by many as support of Russia. The atmosphere in the public debate is more and more hostile towards pacifism. The demand put on the peace movement is to have in detail a position on every step of the process. To only ask for a first step to stop the killing is seen as illegitimate

The problems arose already when trying to have speakers from both sides of the conflict. Any voice that does not confirm the official rhetoric will have problems coming to the conferences, or to coming back home again.

The attack on the conference was well organized. The Ukrainian ambassador in Austria had a central role. He questioned that the actors at the conference “worked for a just and lasting peace for Ukraine”. That some of the speakers as Jeffrey Sachs, Noam Chomsky and Anuradha Chenoy had been present in the Russian TV Channel RT was seen as supporting the aggressor. The conference stated that Russia's war against Ukraine was denounced. But this was not enough. It was necessary to also denounce Russian war crimes, and demand withdrawal of all Russian troops and ending of air bombardment.

Two leftwing intellectuals and a ski champion also made a well visited press conference denonucing the peace conference. The influential liberal daily Standard criticized the conference in advance, during and after the gathering. Codepink which is similar to Women for peace in European countries who was one of the main organizers is regularly under criticism for its support of the Palestinians. International Peace Bueau was by Vox Ukraine criticised for the position of its former general secretary that NATO.s expansion has a role in the way Russia acts. A position that was reflected also in some of the first drafts of a statement from the conference oranizers but was later excluded. The Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko was especially criticised by Vox Ukraine for his statement that the US supply of weapons to Ukraine contributes not to the end of the war but to its escalation. Also for saying that Ukraine did not want to fulfill the Minsk agreements which made it hard to stop the war.
Under the duress, the Austrian Trade Union Central ÖGB abandoned the conference, followed by Attac Austria. Two days before the meeting, ÖGB also threw out the meeting from its conference premises which had been made available. ÖGB threw the blame on a security threat which turned out to be false. The organizers was in contact with the police unit responsible for all security threats, but according to them no such threats had been made. Also, a retired Federal President of Austria dropped out as a speaker.

The organizers succeeded to book new premises for 6000 euros which quickly rose to 12000 euros as the owner saw the opportunity. But the atmosphere at the meeting was good. Particularly the women’s peace movement played a major role in this go-ahead spirit. An upcoming anti-NATO meeting in Brussels is the next gathering point for the female peace forces.

The sharp disagreements around the meeting are also present within the peace movement. It was hard to manage the wording of a statement. The disagreement showed themselves sharply during the Sunday plenary meeting. A Hungarian participant took a clear pro-Russian position, while a Russian took a directly opposite one. In the current situation, the organizers saw it as the only possibility that the statement from the meeting was made only in the name of the organizers. This led to the deletion of NATO's role from the final text. It was necessary to keep the organizers together.

Criticism of this became clear from several organizations in Austria. In the organizers' defense, it can be said that the time had hardly given room for a unifying discussion. The peace movement is hardly so strong in this situation that it is possible to arrange a physical meeting with hundreds of participants for longer than a day and a half. The discussion on a joint statement had crowded out the other important parts of the meeting at a time when the peace movement is having difficulty coming together.

A completely different objection can be raised against the final declaration. There is a lack of future perspectives to unite all popular movements with demands such as disarmament for the environment and welfare. The weakness becomes particularly clear when Jeffrey Sachs' contribution s taken into consideration. His framing of the Ukraine conflict in a wider global economic power struggle is a great help to the movement. As a negotiator from the US for both Poland and Russia in connection with the transition from planned economy to capitalism he could show that it was necessary to give some help to overcome the worst effects of the chock therapy. This was given to Poland on his advice with good results. It was not given to Soviet and then Russia under Gorbachov and then Jeltsin when he gave the same advice. The Russians were treated distinctively different which made them a lot weaker economically and under stronger foreign influence on their economy.

The conference shows the limitation when the peace movement keeps the discussion within a security politics framework when what is actually going on is a full spectrum economic/financial, technological, military, media and natural resources conflict. It is this that makes that makes the Ukraine conflict having a global impact far beyond security concerns. The majority of the countries in the world do not support the Russian invasion of Ukraine but they do nether support the sanctions against Russia. In the global context it becomes more clear that there is a need to look at the combined multi-issue conflict. A conflict were the West cannot claim that all problems comes from outside. The systematic exploitation of resources to the benefit of rich Western countries cannot any longer be erased out the picture when the whole picture is taken into account. Soon enough rising military expenditure in the West will also undermine the possibilities o solve social and environmental needs at home. Thus we need to follow also the economic and other parts of the growing global conflict and from there start the struggle for disarmament for social and climate justice.

Yet the peace conference in Vienna was very successful. At the present stage it was right t focus on a more narrow perspective of the Ukraine war. The mix of different forms of meeting and variety of voices that spoke strengthened a much-needed forward thinking. Upcoming women's anti-NATO meeting in Brussels bodes well, organized by activists satisfied with the Vienna meeting and with a clear plan for the future, with joint follow-up in the form of a Zoom meeting and an action week between 30.9 to 8.10. The peace movement has had a new start.

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