The initiative to select a Peace Minister from among feminist women advocating for peace arose within the WILPF activists during the International Peace Summit “For Peace in Ukraine,” held in Vienna on June 10-11, 2023.
It is envisaged that one woman will be selected for one month by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to promote the values of peace, freedom, and feminism.
And here is Olga Karach’s speech outlining what she will promote in her role as the Peace Minister of WILPF in September 2023:
Today, there is one way to end the war and prevent Belarus, my homeland, from engaging in it. This is the path that any Belarusian woman and man can choose – the path of non-joining the war. Today, like never before, we find ourselves fighting for what should be a basic right for women and men – the right not to bear arms and to live according to one’s conscience, in peace and harmony.
However, in Belarus, in 2022 alone, approximately 400 criminal cases were filed against courageous men who refused to join the military and take up arms. It is disheartening to observe that in Belarus, young men’s refusal to join the army leads to their imprisonment. Conscientious objectors in Belarus face challenges even beyond the confines of military service – they cannot find employment because, according to Belarusian law, when applying for a job, they must present their military ticket, an item they naturally do not possess. Desertion in Belarus is punishable by death under the guise of “state treason”. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense announces tenders for body bags and metal identification tags. Belarusian conscientious objectors flee to Russia, but they are found and sent back – to prison. Belarusian conscientious objectors flee to Russia, but they are found and sent back – to prison.
From what moment did a man who refused taking up arms and fighting become a criminal to be hunted? Since when did he become a threat to the security of other countries? Notice, not Wagner Group members, but Belarusian men who refuse to take up arms, are considered a threat by Lithuania.
Belarusian conscientious objectors are invisible and persecuted everywhere. In Lithuania, they are deemed a threat to national security if they have any prior military service or education in military institutions. However, very often, a child does not choose the educational institution – one’s parents make that decision. Yet, any attempt by a former military person to pursue the path of peace and nonviolence encounters resistance not only from Lukashenko and his regime (that could be understandable), but also from the European Union. Within the European Union, no official status is provided, and even the example of Lithuania, from where Belarusian conscientious objectors are sent back into the hands of the militaristic regime, gives rise to sad thoughts: do they truly desire peace as they claim?
And giving asylum to conscientious objectors is cheaper than any weapon, and it is the peaceful path that, for reasons unclear to me, is blocked by all governments.
If the Belarusian army, following the Russian one, attacks Ukraine, it will lead to a new escalation of the conflict, new casualties among the civilian population of Ukraine, and new casualties among Belarusian soldiers.
The easiest way to block the Belarusian army is to support Belarusian conscientious objectors in their struggle for nonviolence and their right not to fight or take up arms.
We need a humanitarian corridor for all Belarusian conscientious objectors.
We need political asylum for Belarusian deserters.
We need to stop considering Belarusian conscientious objectors as a threat to the national security of Lithuania or any other country.
We need a clear signal from Europe that Belarusian men who refuse to take up arms are needed by Europe, and that Europe is ready to defend their fundamental human right – the right to live according to one’s conscience.
If we genuinely desire peace and aim to achieve it without sacrifices, bloodshed, and violence, granting men the opportunity not to engage in warfare is the wisest decision we can make in the struggle for peace.