FoR Member and Peacelinks Editor Dave Pybus writes about this years event – which you can watch via www.co-day.org
Every year, 15th May is International Conscientious Objectors’ Day and FOR is one of the 13 peace organisations that supports celebrations in the UK. In 2023, there were commemorative events in Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Woking, Sheffield, Manchester, Brighton, Edinburgh and London. The latter saw the main national ceremony in the park at Tavistock Square, where it has been held since 1994, when a stone – a large, engraved piece of volcanic slate – was unveiled. You can read about how this came about in Edna Mathieson’s article : https://www.for.org.uk/2018/08/31/co-stone-full/
I was able to watch the London celebration at home because it was streamed on-line on the co-day.org website and on youtube, thanks to the Peace Pledge Union. It lasted an hour. The compère was writer and actor Michael Mears. who introduced Ali Ronan, a Manchester-based feminist historian, who spoke about how women that supported COs during and after the First World War, had been overlooked. For example, she mentioned the stance by Sylvia Pankurst, and women who vigiled outside prisons where CO’s were being held. There was an anti-war women’s crusade in 1917, and women were involved in the No Conscription Fellowship.
Semih Sapmaz from War Resisters’ International talked about conscientious objection around the world, stating that being a CO makes a positive contribution to peacemaking. He highlighted the fact that in Ukraine the right to be a CO has been suspended by its government, and that both there and in Russia thousands of anti-war people have been detained. He said that later in the day a peace groups would deliver to the EU office in London a copy of an international petition signed by over 47,000 people demanding protection & asylum in Europe for objectors & deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.As the Belarusian peace activist Olga Karach of Our House, an international centre for civil liberties,
had been unable to send her planned message, Michael Mears read out a statement from off their website <https://news.house/> about the situation in that country. Its president, Alexander Lukashenko is supportive of Russia in the war against Ukraine, but so far has not provided armed forces. However conscription is rising and the country’s article 435 criminalises the evading of military service. Actual numbers of people being arrested is a state secret.
Next, we heard the names of 8p conscientious objectors from around the world, some historic, some current. As the names were read out, people from the audience came forward and places a white carnation on the stone. After a minute’s silence, Michael read out the inscription on the stone.
The speeches were interspersed with songs from the Raised Voices choir.