Russia: “Saving those who refuse to fight brings the end of the war closer”

by Artem Klyga, Movement of Conscientious Objectors Russia

(09.12.2023) Hello! My name is Artem Klyga. I am a military lawyer and currently work with the Movement of Conscientious Objectors. We assist conscripts and mobilized individuals in Russia to stay free and avoid being sent to war. Since 2022, our activities have become particularly relevant.

Thank you very much for your participation. It’s great to see so many like-minded people at our meeting today. I appreciate the opportunity to speak today in such a historic place.

Firstly, I want to start by stating a fact, namely that Germany provides tremendous support to politicians, political activists, and non-profit organizations from Russia. If it weren’t for Germany, we probably wouldn’t have met today. Most conscientious objectors with a political background have been able to obtain asylum or humanitarian visas in Germany, allowing them to continue their activities in safety. Thank you very much.

Secondly, I want to express gratitude to the citizens of Germany and German organizations helping conscientious objectors to military service. Your support helps us convey information about the current situation in Russia to European parliamentarians and officials. This is particularly crucial amid the ongoing mobilization for war in Russia. With your assistance, we can engage in dialogue with decision-makers. Thank you for that.

Thirdly, you know, I feel very strange because, it seems to me, I am stating things that are clear and simple. I am angry that in 2023 we still have to resist supporters of total militarization who, for some reason, believe they can dictate the lives and freedoms of other people, including in the context of compulsory conscription for military service. I am angry that in 2023, in many European countries, compulsory military service still exists, along with administrative or criminal liability for evasion from such conscription. I am angry that, due to war, the initiatives of militarization advocates, who frighten their voters with fear alone, are heard particularly loudly, while supporters of peace and pacifism are perceived as background noise.

The war continues. The war involves numerous European countries whose governments increasingly resort to intimidation and militarization policies. We hear more and more about the urgent conscription for military service in European countries, the need to extend the military service period, and the necessity for countries to join military blocs and coalitions. In these conditions, talking about conscientious objectors to military service, peace, and the ideology of pacifism becomes incredibly challenging.

But I urge you to resist this. I urge you to make our voice as loud as possible whenever there is an attempt to impose militarization on us. Any modern state can create a professional contract army whose members voluntarily choose to sign a contract. We see that in most developed countries, including Germany, compulsory conscription has been abolished, and young men nowadays are not obliged to tie their lives to the army by the decision of some people in the Ministry of Defense.

Unfortunately, not all countries have resolved issues with conscription. In Greece, you can be fined up to 6,000 euros; in Finland, a conscientious objector can be placed under house arrest for up to six months; in Turkey, conscripts have no option to refuse military service. In Russia, the situation is getting worse every year. The possibilities of alternative civilian service are complicated. Moreover, legislation is changing so rapidly that human rights defenders expect a new mobilization as early as 2024.

In such a situation, there is no other solution but to help with leaving the country for a safe place. This is why, in collaboration with NGOs in Germany and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are working on creating a mechanism for providing asylum for Russian conscientious objectors to military service. I believe that we must support those who do not want to participate in the war. For these people, there is no choice: returning to Russia means only going to prison for up to seven years.

I ask you to support our activities and, separately, to support our activities in Germany. Saving those soldiers who refuse to fight brings the end of the war closer. The end of the war will allow us to stop militarization. And stopping militarization is an important step towards abolishing compulsory conscription armies in European countries and strengthening the voice of pacifists and conscientious objectors to military service. This is the way we can achieve our goals.

Thank you very much.

Speech by Artem Klyga, Movement of Conscientious Objectors Russia, on December 9, 2023 in Berlin. An action as part of the Action Week for Protection and Asylum for Conscientious Objectors and Deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.