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Do we know where our weapons are aimed?

Do we know where your weapons are aimed?

Do you know where our weapons are aimed?

This is the translation of the message in the final scene of this video (see still above). It was made by activists from NESEHNUTÍ and is part of their campaign to raise awareness of the Czech arms trade. I met with NESEHNUTÍ activists in May when I was invited to participate in Different Fest, their anti-arms trade festival, to represent Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

I discovered that Brno is a vibrant city with many wonderful people and lots of activist groups. For example, Brno’s Food not Bombs organisation is thriving and feeds around 70 people once a week in a central park.

About NESEHNUTÍ

NESEHNUTÍ is an NGO based in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. They are involved with a range of human rights issues, including refugee rights, the environment and women’s rights. From their foundation in 1997, they have questioned the arms trade and highlighted the Czech Republic’s involvement in arming human rights abusers.

This area of their work has no funding but they do have a team of enthusiastic volunteers and this year they put on their first festival. Different Fest aimed to create space for people to think about the arms trade from a new angle and to challenge its place in the life of Brno, a major arms manufacturing centre. The bi-annual IDET arms fair, one of the biggest in central Europe, is held in Brno. Different Fest coincided with IDET 2013 from 22-24 May.

Action against IDET

The bloody fountain symbolises opposition to the arms fair.

The bloody fountain symbolises opposition to the arms fair.

Activists in NESEHNUTÍ and other local people organised direct action against the IDET arms fair in an engaging and imaginative way. For example, they dressed as members of the “clown army” and attended a drinks reception for delegates, managing to hand a high ranking military officer a mock atomic weapon before being dragged out by police.

Activists made the waters of a fountain in the centre of Brno run red to highlight the blood flowing through the city as arms dealers profited from death and destruction. A press release drew attention to the bloody fountain and other activities, resulting in a story in the national press, together with a photo of women displaying and selling weapons at IDET.

Different Fest events took place in the faculty of social sciences at the university and the independent cinema. NESEHNUTÍ organised a range of talks, discussions and film screenings to make people aware of the effects of the arms trade and to encourage debate about how to control it or whether we should be aiming to stop it all together.

Amnesty international showed films about the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and spoke about celebrating its eventual success at the United Nations. That week they started a new campaign in the Czech Republic to fight against a weakening of current Czech legislation which could mean that if only one of the three ministers who currently all have to sign arms exports licences didn’t agree, the licence could still be awarded.

CAAT at Different Fest

I spoke on behalf of Campiagn Against Arms Trade (CAAT), explaining how CAAT was working for a world free of the arms trade. I explained how the UK government simultaneously supported the ATT while also putting money and resources into promoting arms exports, and its declared belief in democratic movements while selling arms to deeply repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia.

I tried to emphasise that when fighting something as huge as the arms trade, it is important to remember that change is possible and that just over two hundred years ago the UK supported, participated in and profited from the trans-atlantic slave trade – a massive multinational, hugely profitable, and wholly immoral business, which is now seen as completely wrong and banned in international law.

The main part of my talk was about the creative actions against the arms trade that have been taking place in the UK in the last year, such as disrupting arms dealers’ dinners, banner dropping at arms conferences, and creating havoc via singing and coughing at BAE’s AGM. I tried to show that even a fairly small group of people could make a very strong opposition to this deadly trade.

Responding to the arms lobby

IDET arms fair

IDET arms fair

During the week Jiri Hynek, the president of Czech armament lobbying organization, DSIA, stated in the Czech Senate that he wanted to see Czech companies exporting weapons to Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia – all countries in conflict or involved in human rights abuses.

NESEHNUTÍ responded with a press release damning the statement, which resulted in many articles and a radio interview. I helped by getting quotes and examples from Professor Soloman Nkesiga of Bishop Stuart University in Uganda who is studying ethnic conflicts in East Africa.

Professor Nkesiga spoke at a question and answer session after a showing of a film about how Congo is being destroyed by conflict and violence. He told of cargo planes which were supposedly carrying in clean water but were actually taking in arms and taking out precious minerals. He made clear that the arms trade was part of the reason for the continuing conflicts in Congo.

At the end of the week Different Fest brought opposition to the arms trade to the  centre of Brno, organising a free concert in a public park. Bands played and organisations displayed their resources and talked with the public. Milan Stefanec, an activist and founding member of NESEHNUTÍ, spoke about organising opposition to the arms fair in Brno.

It was great to leave knowing that CAAT and NESEHNUTÍ will go on to support each other in opposing the arms trade, through European Network Against Arms Trade, Different Fest and maybe other projects. And it was especially encouraging to see a movement against the arms trade being built in the Czech Republic.

 

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