“Something’s not quite right with that advertising poster…” That’s certainly what passersby strolling through the center of Berlin today were thinking. The communication guerrilla group “Asylum for conscientious objectors now!” (AfCOn!) altered almost 20 advertising posters of ice cream, magazines, an amusement park, Berlin’s public transport company, shower gel, or clothing using scissors, paper, or paint in the Treptower Park, Alexanderplatz, and Tiergarten areas. The new and improved posters now promote better asylum opportunities for conscientious objectors from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. “Most of the advertising motifs can be easily appropriated with another demand such as the right to asylum for conscientious objectors!” says Roderich Supersonnenwetter, spokesperson for the action group “Asylum for conscientious objectors now!” (AfCOn!). Also, on all posters, a link and a QR code have appeared that lead to the homepage of the conscientious objection organization Connection e.V.

Follow the link to see pictures from the Action.

Catching Dictators Off Guard: Right in front of the Belarusian embassy, a reconstructed advertising poster for a fast-fashion company’s winter collection depicts two people standing in the snow boldly stating, “Give dictators the chills.” Large letters underneath the image explain how this can be achieved: “Support Russian and Belarusian war resisters.”

Sabotaging Putin’s War: Instead of promoting a magazine, a celebrity on a poster at the Brandenburg Gate asks, “How can we sabotage Putin’s war?” Her response: “With asylum for conscientious objectors!”

Trauma Instead of Shower Gel: AfCOn! also altered an advertisement for shower gel. The poster’s text now reads, “You can’t wash off trauma. Asylum for conscientious objectors!”

Tractors Stealing Tanks: In front of the Russian embassy, an advertisement for a strawberry-themed amusement park depicts a woman with children on a tractor. The communication guerrilla group used paint to add Ukrainian flags to the tractor. Alongside the political demand for asylum for conscientious objectors, the people on the tractor declare, “We stole Putin’s tanks; you should take the soldiers!”

Stop the Second Front!: A poster featuring a partially eaten ice cream now advertises asylum for Belarusian conscientious objectors: “Taking a bite out of the Belarusian army. Asylum for conscientious objectors stops the Second Front!”

Asylum for Conscientious Objectors in Germany: There are many more motifs, but listing them all here would make this text too lengthy. You can explore the rest yourself. Each poster also includes a link and a QR code leading to the website of the conscientious objection organization Connection e. V.

Connection e.V. has been advocating for the rights of conscientious objectors and deserters worldwide since 1993. A key demand of the organization has always been that conscientious objectors must be granted asylum in Germany. They also offer invaluable support to individuals navigating the complexities of asylum applications. In collaboration with the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and War Resisters’ International, Connection e.V. has called upon the European Union to grant asylum within the EU to conscientious objectors from Belarus and Russia through their #ObjectWarCampaign. A petition with this request has garnered nearly 50,000 signatures.

Conscientious Objection in Russia: The Movement of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service in Russia (MCO) is an organization that has been assisting Russians in refusing military service since 2014. Among various initiatives, they offer guidance on platforms like YouTube and Telegram regarding the options to avoid military service, thereby equipping potential objectors with a wealth of valuable experience.

Conscientious Objection in Belarus. The Belarusian government has supported Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine from the verybeginning. Therefore, there are valid concerns that Belarusian military forces could join the war on Putin’s side in Ukraine at any moment, thereby causing an escalation of the situation and contributing to the opening of a Second Front within Ukraine. In March 2022, the Belarusian human rights organization “Our House” launched the campaign “No Means No” to block any possibility for the Belarusian army to engage in the war in Ukraine.

Within the campaign, the organization highlights the fact that Belarusians have a legal right to conscientious objection, which means the right to refuse joining the army and taking up arms, including avoiding deployment to the war in Ukraine in the event of Belarus entering the warfare on Putin’s side. However, the implementation of conscientious objectors’ rights in Belarus is associated with a number of risks. Anyone who refuses to become a soldier is subjected to imprisonment and may become a target of torture and harassment. “Our House” supports Belarusian conscientious objectors and calls for the creation of humanitarian corridors to Poland and Lithuania for them, aiming to help them escape persecution in Belarus for their anti-militarist stance.

Conscientious objection is an inherent human right that should be protected. However, the right to conscientious objection has faced challenges in Ukraine, particularly since the onset of Russian aggression in 2014. Even if the situation for Ukraine is very difficult right now, it remains imperative for the government to stand firm in safeguarding human rights. This becomes particularly crucial during times of war, as Western support for Ukraine’s struggle is partly rooted in its status as a democracy forged through two uprisings. While this democracy may not be flawless, it unquestionably surpasses the obvious dictatorship it stands against.

“The choice of the Ukrainian people to reject living under the Russian dictatorship and to resist the invasion is completely legitimate. We have the privilege of being able to choose whether we support this fight with or without violence,” says Roderich Supersonnscheinwetter. “Our suggestions will only be credible if we manage to develop serious alternatives to military  approaches. We must demonstrate how we can exert pressure on the Russian government through nonviolent means in order to finally end the war. Regrettably, the German peace movement is still far from achieving this goal.”

Nonviolent alternatives to war? Within the peace movement, many are vocally urging a halt to arms deliveries to Ukraine, which is under attack and struggling against occupation. However, they do not address how we can instead exert nonviolent pressure on the Russian government to cease its criminal war of aggression and ultimately withdraw its forces from Ukraine. “The war has been ongoing for over a year and a half now, and there hasn’t been a single campaign from the peace movement that would somehow demonstrate credible alternatives to military force,” states Roderich Supersonnenwetter. “We haven’t taken over oligarch villas, the Putin propagandists face minimal opposition from the peace movement, and we enthusiastically boycott Israel despite our German history, but we leave the blockade breakers, who are still unscrupulously profiting from the Russian war, largely unaddressed, with very few exceptions!”

Examples? Here are a few instances of noteworthy projects from the peace movement that provide at least a glimpse of what could be possible:

The NGO Urgewald is pressuring the fossil fuel polluter Wintershall to cease the production of fuel for Russian bombers and missiles.

The organization “Connection e.V.” has collected over 50,000 signatures in support of asylum for conscientious objectors.

The Bund für Soziale Verteidigung (Federation for Social Defense) is actively working to establish model regions committed to nonviolent self-defense.