Let us be voices of peace in the face of oppression

Speech of Maria Alexandrova, Russia, to the International Day of Conscientious Objection 2023

(15.05.2023) Maria Alexandrova, Movement of Conscientious Objectors

Speech to International Day of Conscientious Objection, May 15, 2023

Thank you for gathering here today as part of the #ObjectWarCampaign, standing in solidarity with conscientious objectors worldwide, particularly those in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine who are facing daunting circumstances in their quest for peace, non-violence, and human rights.

Your presence today represents our collective commitment to a world where military conscription is not the norm, where war is not the default solution to conflict, and where the right to choose peace over violence is respected and protected. I am here to speak on behalf of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors, an NGO that offers legal and psychological aid to conscientious objectors in Russia since 2014. Our work, although always challenging, has become critical since the onset of the unjust war in Ukraine.

A year into the invasion, 20,000 arrests related to anti-war stance have been documented. OVD-Info reports over 18,000 cases for participation in anti-war rallies and nearly 6,000 cases under the new article on "discrediting the Russian military." At least 447 criminal cases were opened in connection with anti-war protests. These depict only the people who openly displayed their protest, with thousands more denouncing the war in private, which is in fact also unsafe. We observed 26 people arrested for public statements or private conversations, even including positions held by relatives. This is to say that an enormous number of Russians are in fact against this war.

We say clearly: We do not associate ourselves with this war.

Objection to military service has also become incredibly difficult. The Ministry of Work, Rostrud, reports approximately 1000 applications for Alternative Civilian Service each year, although the numbers of applicants are in fact much higher. Even within the applications recognised by Rostrud, 47% are rejected. This means that from the 300 000 drafted annually, only around 500 manage to successfully substitute going to the army with alternative service. 500 out of 300 000. Within the circumstances, the only way people could ensure their safety from conscription is by leaving the country, and around 200,000 Russians left the country within a week following the announcement of mobilisation.

Those on the front line face severe repercussions for avoiding participation. Concentration camps on occupied territories hold objectors and deserters, subjecting them to intimidation and violence. We know of at least 13 such camps.

People want to refuse participation in this war. But they are given no choice.

Meanwhile, anti-militaristic NGOs face increased pressure. Essential information access is being restricted, with over 300 websites blocked in 2022. The Russian government labels NGO’s as "foreign agents," "undesirable organizations," and even accusing them of "terrorist or extremist" activities. Hundreds of individuals lost their jobs, businesses, and social contacts, for the simple reason that they choose peace over war.

Yet, even amidst such adversity, organizations like the MCO continue to fight. They fight legal battles, support conscientious objectors, and persist in spreading their message of peace and non-violence. In the face of such significant obstacles, every small victory is a testament to their resilience and commitment.

We cannot fight alone. International communication and cooperation are vital. Together, we can ensure these courageous individuals’ voices are heard, their rights protected, and their efforts recognized.

Let us be voices of peace in the face of oppression, amplifiers of truth against censorship, and advocates of non-violence amidst war. In doing so, we support conscientious objectors today and pave the way for a future where the right to reject violence is universally respected.

Thank you.

Maria Alexandrova, Movement for Conscientious Objectors (Russia): Speech to May 15, 2023 in Berlin