NEITHER EXECUTIONERS NOR VICTIMS
"Sergeant, Sir, I suffer from color-blindness: I see each and every target identical to my heart."
Aris Alexandrou, Advice to an insubordinate (Poems 1941-1974)
We began a struggle, in the mid-'80s, so that the possibility to refuse military service for reasons of conscience would be recognized in Greece, too. What in our country sounded like an excessive demand of a tiny minority, in the Western world was a self-evident right, constitutionally guaranteed for every citizen, since the dawn of the 20th century in some cases.
The request was supported, right from the start, by a significant number of citizens, coming mainly from the political space of environmentalism and the renovating left. This is also the political space, where most of the first conscientious objectors on non-religious grounds came from.
In spite of the enthusiasm of the early years, state recognition of conscientious objection has remained an unachieved goal of the movement. The objectors have been, and still are, going through an ordeal, with successive sentences by the military courts and many months of imprisonment, systematic harassment and Intimidation of their families by the police, denial of exiting the country, but also restrictions: in practicing a profession, in acquiring personal property, in exercising their right to vote, etc.
Despite all that, the number of declared objectors to military service for reasons of conscience has expanded, slowly yet steadily, activating to date several dozen opponents of violence and militarism (indeed, should one also count those invoking reasons of religious conscience, the number rises to several thousand).
We are not attempting here to interpret the reasons why a significant percentage of young people turn their back on military service. The answer to this question is given from within each person subject to military service before the critical moment of enlistment, with the result that 1 In 4 never wear a military uniform.
We are merely interested in speaking about our own reasons and our personal motives. We dared to take the decisive step and declared our refusal to enlist through our public declaration, which we addressed to the media and the competent recruitment services. Driven by our moral principles, we declared our opposition to all forms of violence –military or revolutionary, legal or Illegal– and refused our participation in the army, the foremost machinery for the promotion of violence.
Our motive has not been the evasion of the ordeal of the military service or any other petty self-interest. Our motive is our ideological opposition to violence in any of its forms, even when it is used for supposedly "pacifistic" aims. Our motive is the international anxiety caused by the expansionism of the superpowers, our opposition to the escalation of warlike arms acquisitions, our disagreement to the established ideology that acclaims the army to the status of prerequisite for ensuring peace.
Our motive is our solidarity with the downtrodden Greek and Turk breadwinner, who sees the fruits of his/her daily toil being transformed into weapons of mass mutual annihilation. Our motive is our opposition to the machinations of Western imperialism that seeks the division of humanity into Christians and heathens and, behind the scenes, is cultivating new fronts for military confrontations.
We are not merely uttering generalities in support of our just struggle. We are confronting imperialism in practice, struggling for disarmament. We are confronting chauvinism in practice, cooperating with the objectors of the neighboring countries. We are combating war In practice, refusing to serve it. And it is now universally accepted that conscientious objection is a fundamental component –if not the spearhead– of the peace movements.
It is, after all, a fact that modern history has only praise to show:
- for the 22,000 deserters and objectors of the German army during World War II (15,000 of them were executed);
- for the hundreds of French soldiers and the mass of people who supported their refusal to strike on the Algerian liberators In 1961;
- for the 110,000 who burned their draft cards, refusing to fight in the imperialist U.S. war In Vietnam;
- for the 111 professional American soldiers who deserted during the first Gulf War;
- for the 200,000 young men who refused to fight in the recent civil war in Yugoslavia;
- for the hundreds of American soldiers who sought political asylum in other countries, sick from the annihilation of civilians in Iraq, during the last three years;
- for the dozens of Israeli soldiers who chose prison rather than becoming accomplishes in crimes against civilian Palestinians;
- for the 1,300 Israeli conscientious objectors in recent years (300 of those during 2005);
- for the 300,000 insubordinates by the count of the Turkish army (some of those are declared conscientious objectors who suffered a lot In that country's prisons).
The United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Parliament, Amnesty International and a multitude of other distinguished organizations, which for many years never ceased criticizing Greece for violating the human right to conscientious objection, welcomed as a step forward Law 2510/97 that provided for "alternative service". This positive step, however, was destined to prove an "uncovered check" because of the excessively strict provisions regulating the implementation of the "alternative service". Committees to check the conscience of applicant objectors (similar to those humanity has known during the darkest pages of its history), adulteration of the social character of the "alternative service" through military oversight, punitive duration of the service (more than double the military service), denial of the labor rights of serving objectors and, as a capstone, intensification of the persecution against the older objectors with pre-trial detention and renewed military court trials, since the "deep" Greek state viewed the existence of the institution as a defeat and was quick to take revenge.
A newer legislative measure (Law 3421/05) did not remove any of the blatant injustices against the objectors, did not remove the degrading provisions, neither did it suspend prosecutions.
The political world stood hesitant towards the objector movement. The poor results in the legislative field, the embarrassed wording in their political programs and their abandoning conscientious objectors to relentless persecution show the influence of extra-institutional actors and mainly the military establishment, the hierarchy of the church (through its archbishop and his fanaticized worshippers), but also of the jingoist merchants of war.
Grey crusaders of totalitarianism shamelessly demand the cruelest punishment of conscientious objectors (some bigoted writers have even demanded the death penalty) or their "treatment" with lobotomy, as Archbishop Christodoulos has proposed in articles and speeches. They direct their shots selectively to the conscientious objectors, because the latter have the courage to manifest their opposition to militarism and violence, they are not hiding, they are not licking anybody's boots, they are not planning carefully how to get transferred, they are not asking for favorable treatment or a political favor. At the same time, these same crusaders are overlooking the masses of the insubordinate (the ministry of Defense estimates their number at 45,000), they are overlooking the suicides and fatal accidents of soldiers, they are overlooking the "discharges without enlistment" of the patriots of popular music halls and TV shows.
Our voice has joined those of all anti-militarists of the planet. It has become a petition, it has become a protest, and it has become a rally with the demand that the war on conscientious objectors must stop, that the prosecutions and military trials must stop. That a courageous step must be made towards peace by decriminalizing conscientious objection, by granting an amnesty to the older objectors who are being saddled with repeated sentences, by rewarding the social role of the "alternative service", by entrusting Its oversight to a social organization, by allowing even for serving soldiers to join this Institution, by expanding the scope of "alternative service" beyond the borders of the country, with an emphasis in the Balkans.
War is a crime against humanity and militarism, as an executioner, weaves the funereal shroud of its future victims. We do not accept the role of the "executioner", for which the venal heralds of nationalism are seeking stooges, nor are we willing to aid and abet future crimes against our neighbors or humanity. Neither do we accept, however, the role of the "victim" that the military and religious intolerance have in store for us.
Our question is relentless and no power in the world shall stop us from raising it, addressing the insubordinate Greek youth: are you on the side of Archbishop Christodoulos, Bishop Ambrosios and MP Papathemelis, or on the side of Martin Luther King, Harold Pinter, Tolstoi, Einstein, Freud, Gandhi, Russel and the nameless rejecter of militarism?
Conscientious objection is not only a universal human right, it is also the ultimate refuge in order to save our individual dignity.
Lazaros Petromelidis - Dimitris K. Sotiropoulos