IPB Team mit Saša Belik, Olga Karach and Asya Maruket

IPB Team mit Saša Belik, Olga Karach and Asya Maruket

Laudatory speech by Rudi Friedrich - Séan MacBride Prize 2022 and 2023

To Movement of Conscientious Objection Russia, Nash Dom, Asya Maruket and Ukrainian Pacifist Movement

(22.03.2024) Today the Seán MacBride Peace Prize of the International Peace Bureau was awarded to Saša Belik for the Movement of Conscientious Objection Russia, Olga Karach for Nash Dom, Asya Maruket and Yurii Sheliazhenko and his organisation Ukrainian Pacifist Movement. “I am very happy to be here today to honour all these significant and important peace activists”, said Rudi Friedrich from Connection e.V. in his laudatory speech. Another laudatory speech was given by Alexia Tsouni, president of European Bureau of Conscientious Objection.


Dear friends, dear peace activists, dear Asya, dear Olga, dear Saša, dear Yurii,


I am very happy to be here today to honour all these significant and important peace activists. Congratulations to all of you for the Séan MacBride Prize 2022 and 2023.

We are all against war, against destruction, against killing and against militarisation. And it is so important to take a stand against wars and against this war in Ukraine. A war of aggression waged by Russia for over two years now, which is devastating large areas of Ukraine, claiming hundreds of thousands of victims, causing suffering and destruction. At the other side it is a war of defence by Ukraine, for which President Zelensky has declared that he will fight to victory. We demand: Stop the killing now!

We see that warmongers on both sides want to continue the war, new terrible weapon systems are being deployed, arms production is being ramped up and war propaganda - on whichever side - is running at full speed. If we look at Germany: Just a few days ago, the German government once again made it clear that it would support Ukraine "without ifs and buts".

Both warring parties are still relying on a so-called victory. This is mass murder with an uncertain outcome, because wars rarely go as planned. It is called a war of attrition. People are worn out, day after day. Every day of war increases the danger of the war spreading and escalating. Instead of war rhetoric, we need diplomacy. States and international organisations must negotiate to end the war as soon as possible!

Asya Maruket Gagieva, laureate from 2022, said end of 2023 with her words: "Supporting the conflict with weapons for the sake of peace and justice is tantamount to adding fuel on the fire to put it out. Such actions serve neither peace nor justice, but only prolong the suffering of innocent people." Thanks for your words Asya.

Asya also repeatedly points out that there is widespread resistance to the war, especially among women in Russia. They are the ones who repeatedly point out with imaginative actions in Russia that the war must be ended immediately. Thank you, Asya, for working to maintain and develop these activities. It is so important that resistance to the war becomes visible in the country itself.

We as the association Connection have the honour of working closely with many of the award winners. Our aim is to support all those who - on whichever side - refuse to accept the rhetoric of war and oppose the deployment in war. To this end, we have jointly founded the #ObjectWarCampaign, a Europe-wide network of groups and organisations that campaign for conscientious objectors and deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. A lot of activists of the #ObjectWarCampaign are with us today, also Alexia from the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection.

There are people in all these countries who refuse to go to war. They do not want to kill other people and do not want to die in this war. Soldiers on the front line want to lay down their weapons in the face of horror. They all face repression and prison sentences for doing so. But: conscientious objection is an internationally recognised human right! It must apply to everyone, at any time - especially during war!

There is the Movement for Conscientious Objector from Russia. And today I am delighted to welcome Saša Belik, who has been able to build up such an extensive network of support for conscientious objectors inside and outside Russia within a very short period of time in his role as director. Many from the organisation had to leave Russia. But not all of them did.  Therefore, the organisation is still anchored in Russia. Through online counselling services, you reach hundreds if not thousands of conscientious objectors who are threatened with recruitment, prosecution and imprisonment in illegal prisons. Saša, you are doing a great job!

There is Nash Dom, Open House, a Belarusian organisation that can only work from abroad. How wonderful to have Olga Karach with us today. It was great to see how you made it clear right at the beginning of the war: If we want to prevent the active involvement of Belarusian troops in the war in Ukraine, then we must speak out and campaign in favour of saying ’No’. Your call "No means No" was widely disseminated and was certainly a decisive contribution against the war. We thank you for your commitment and your courage!

You all probably already know that Olga’s asylum application in Lithuania was rejected. She was only granted residence status. Her husband’s application was also rejected a few days ago. We are appalled to see that such important actors, who are working so hard to end the war, are being harassed and intimidated, that they are not being granted adequate protection. Activists against the war need protection and asylum!

And there is the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and with it Yurii Sheliazhenko, the movement’s director and tireless campaigner for the cause of conscientious objection. We greet you from afar, as you are unable to leave the country due to Ukraine’s travel restrictions. I see again and again that you are committed to helping conscientious objectors in Ukraine who are threatened with several years in prison. You write detailed statements on their behalf and take them all the way to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. This is an extremely courageous commitment, especially in view of the fact that you are working in Kiev and Ukrainian politics are completely focussed on the continuation of the war. No wonder that the Séan MacBride Prize 2022 and 2023 went to you twice, to you personally and to your organisation as well.

And here too: Yurii Sheliazhenko is under investigation with the accusation for favouring the Russian invasion, his documents are still confiscated and his freedom of movement is restricted. The Ukrainian authorities want to silence this important voice. In light of this, Yurii, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement needs our support and solidarity!

Hundreds of thousands are evading the war in Ukraine, refusing to serve, deserting. According to our estimates, over 250,000 have fled Russia to avoid being called up for the war. Over 300,000 have left Ukraine to avoid having to fight. And there were also tens of thousands in Belarus who fled from the threat of conscription. They say no to war, to killing. They want to live. It is a resistance from below, a vote with their feet against the war.

They are all often denounced in their countries, even by their families. They are labelled as traitors to the common national cause. They are told that everyone should stand up for the state and go to war. Yet they have made a decision for the future: The killing must be stopped immediately. The war must end. Their goal is not to kill or be killed. Their goal is life, their own and that of all others.

Desertion, refusal and refusal to obey orders is an important part of resistance to war. It is an act of self-determination and humanity. Deserters and refuseniks are sand in the gears of the war machine. Many of them are committed to dialogue, conflict prevention, disarmament and peace-building. The objectors are sending a signal that there are alternatives to fighting, destruction and killing.

Saša, Olga and Yurii will certainly tell us more about the situation in the countries. I want to talk about how the European Union is reacting to this.

Refuseniks from Russia? In September 2022, the Russian government declared a partial mobilisation. In the days that followed, the phones at our office and at Pro Asyl never stopped ringing. Tens of thousands fled the country. It was a clear vote with the feet against a criminal war.

Many asked us how they could leave the country in the face of this wave of recruitment. Others managed to flee to neighbouring countries such as Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey or Armenia and looked for ways to obtain a visa for Western Europe. A few also called from Germany or neighbouring countries. They had managed to obtain a visa or reach Germany by other means. How can we get asylum? - they asked. And we had to tell them that the clear words from politicians that Russian refuseniks should be given protection were hardly followed by action. If anything, it has become more difficult for the refuseniks to reach Western Europe and obtain asylum. Their actions, their refusal, are being called into question. That is a scandal.

We demand from the European Union and the EU member states: Open the borders! Give war resisters the opportunity to enter the European Union! Protect conscientious objectors and deserters and give them asylum!

Conscientious objectors from Belarus? They also need protection and asylum, that’s not really a question. But instead, they too are generally rejected in asylum procedures, in Lithuania, for example, on the grounds that they pose a threat to state security. It’s the same motive here too: anyone who opposes the military is seen as a danger by those in power. Disobedience is perceived as a threat. Deserters are denounced. Yet their decision and their actions are extremely courageous in the face of the threat of repression and cannot be valued highly enough. They need our solidarity!

Conscientious objectors and refuseniks from Ukraine? They are persecuted in the country. In the European Union, they are currently granted temporary humanitarian residence like all other Ukrainian citizens. In view of the prosecution in Ukraine, it is clear to us that the human right to conscientious objection is an inalienable right. It must also apply in times of war, for everyone, for men and women, for recruits, soldiers and reservists. It is imperative that the European Union also upholds this vis-à-vis Ukraine. And as long as Ukrainian conscientious objectors are sentenced to prison or sent to the front, they must be protected.

We thank you all for being active for this. We are glad that we were able to initiate the #ObjectWarCampaign together in order to advance these goals together in the network and to demand the end of the war and the protection of the objectors from the governments. We would like to thank you for all the work you do to achieve this, with counselling, legal assistance, basic information in various languages, concrete support, lobby work, campaigns and much more. Our association Connection  will very soon extend its work to the United Nations. We want to build a strong lobby for the objectors. And to achieve this, we will continue to rely on the good and fruitful cooperation that we are already experiencing in the #ObjectWarCampaign.

A big thank to all of you!

Rudi Friedrich, laudatory speech, March 22, 2024 in Berlin