Meetings and actions against the arms trade: Czech Republic

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This year, the annual ENAAT (European Network Against Arms Trade) meeting took place from 15th to 17th May in Brno, Czech Republic. Organized by NESEHNUTÍ, a local NGO, the aim of the meeting was to strengthen the cooperation among the ENAAT members, and to come up with some new ideas regarding ENAAT’s future and discuss the trends of the arms trade of European countries, many of which keep preferring business to human rights by selling arms and weapons to authoritarian and oppressive regimes.

The program started with a public debate whose topic was: “The change from public support for austerity on defence to a growing consensus on the need to arm - and to arm big. But is the increasing armament the right response to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and Ukraine?”. The panel, moderated by Peter Tkáč from NESEHNUTÍ, was composed of three speakers: Wendela De Vries from Dutch organization Stop Wapenhandel, Milan Štefanec from NESEHNUTÍ and Linda Åkerström from Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS). During the introduction the speakers detailed the main issues of the arms export in their home countries. Interesting point to note is that with very different historical background of the represented countries, the difficulties each NGO has to deal with are also very different. The following debate, attended by many people from the general public, covered various topics including nuclear arms reduction, current sanctions on Russia, and supplies of arms to regimes fighting islamic insurgencies.

ENAAT

'How many people does it kill?' Photo: Majda Slamova
'How many people does it kill?' Photo: Majda Slamova
The next-day, the closed meeting began with a presentation by Arthur Sakunts, Head of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Armenia, who spoke about the militarisation of Caucasus. According to Mr. Sakunts, the arms race pressures the budgets of the poor south-Caucasian countries and makes them economically vulnerable. He also warned about the role of Russia not only in the region, but also in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Another special guest, Seungho Park, focused on conscientious objection in South Korea and the anti-arms trade movement in Korea. The attention of all the guests was at its peak when Mr. Park examined how South Korean government uses North Korea as an argument for excessive, unreasonable arms spending, and to justify the imprisonment of young men who reject military service because they refuse to bear arms.

An introduction of all the individual NGO members of ENAAT followed, along with a discussion. The representatives of the organizations gave one another useful pieces of advice and shared their experience with various campaigns.

The next day started with a presentation by Peter Tkáč from the local NGO, who spoke regarding PEACECAMP, an event he organized in January this year in order to promote activism against the arms trade. Peter, having a lot of experience with volunteers, then moved to talking about activities for volunteers of the ENAAT organisations.

The last speaker was Sarah Waldron from British Campaign Against Arms Trade who focused on activism against arms fairs and international solidarity. Thanks to her proposals ENAAT members agreed to take some mutual steps during their future campaigns.

Grim reapers outside IDET. Photo: Majda Slamova
Grim reapers outside IDET. Photo: Majda Slamova
Action against IDET

The International Defence and Security Technologies – IDET – fair, which claims to be the biggest arms fair in central Europe, started in Brno on 18th of May. A lot of the presenting arms companies, both Czech and international, have not only been involved in huge corruption scandals (BAE, and the infamous Czech Omnipol) but have profitted from weapons used by authoritarian regimes (BAE’s trucks by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain) or sold to such regimes despite EU sanctions (like handguns made by the Czech company Ceska Zbrojovka and sold to Egypt in 2014).

Because IDET 2015 started the day after the ENAAT meeting, NESEHNUTÍ alongside other participants of the meeting took advantage of the opportunity and decided to take action. Dressed as grim reapers, the activists walked around the exhibition area with banners reading: “The Death is walking around Brno”, trying to make the public aware that the arms industry is certainly not like any other business and that the companies participating in the exhibition are profiting from arming dictatorships.

Our action continued with a flashmob in one of the squares in Brno with a grim reaper using his scythe to “kill” the people surrounding him, to show the arms industry is connected to death. A minutes silence was held to honour the victims of the bloody trade - the arms trade.

On the last day of the arms fair activists, inspired by similar action frommade in South Korea, attended the arms fair dressed in T-shirts with signs “How many people can this kill”. Aim of the action was to connect weapons presented on fair with the human suffering they cause.

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