Spanish state: A ‘pacifism’ that helps Putin


On Friday 9 June, an “open debate” was held at the Workers Commissions (CCOO) trade union headquarters in Barcelona, entitled “Prospects for peace in Ukraine”. It was organised by the platform Catalonia for Peace and was attended by about 100 people, but with very few young people and almost no trade unionists.

The event was moderated by a member of the platform, Pepo Gordillo, who introduced the two speakers, Tica Font, former director of the Catalan International Peace Institute (Institut Català Internacional per la Pau) and founder of the Pau Delàs Study Centre, and Julio Rodríguez, former Chief of Defence Staff and member of the Podemos executive. The banner behind them read: “Stop the war in Ukraine”.

Euromaidan 2014: coup d'état?

The frame of reference with which Gordillo introduced the open debate was that of a war that has been waged since 2014 “with shared responsibilities between Russia and NATO”. For Gordillo, it was the product of a US-sponsored “coup d'état”. This is the pro-Russian version of the mass protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square that provoked the flight to Russia of the corrupt President Yanokovych after his refusal to sign, as promised, the partnership agreement with the European Union.

With this one-sided version of what has happened in Ukraine in recent years, what began, rather than an open debate, was a clearly biased conference.

Ms. Tica Font set out the prospects for peace: the US and the UK would be the ones to decide how long the war would continue. “They do not want Ukraine to win over Putin but only to weaken him in a war of attrition. Putin's fall is not wanted by the US because this would open instability in the region and the chaos could be worse than Putin”.

With Tica Font's geopolitical outlook, Ukraine and its people count for nothing. President Zelensky “is not a democrat” (“neither is Putin”), he has “banned trade unions” (when?) and “Ukraine has committed acts against humanity just as Russia has, but these are not investigated”.

According to Ms Font, both contenders would therefore be morally equal and there is no just war, not even in self-defence. The only alternative would be external intervention to put pressure on Western governments to pressure Ukraine and Russia into an immediate ceasefire and to establish a protectorate in the occupied territories of the Donbas, a protectorate like Kosovo. And to leave Crimea as a territory of the Russian Federation. Her conclusion: “A bad peace is better than a good war” ...

The party that does not want Ukraine to defend itself

Mr. Rodríguez recalled that Podemos has been “the only party that has opposed sending arms to Ukraine” as the most positive and outstanding feature of its political contribution to peace. Mr. Rodríguez certainly denounced the arms race that the Spanish government, like all the others in NATO, has started. He also had the merit of saying that what is being sent to Ukraine is “scrap metal”, and in tiny quantities.

I agree with Rodríguez in his stance against the arms race, but ... why don't we separate the issue of sending arms to Ukraine from the supposed “need” to increase military budgets and expand NATO to cover the whole world?

But what are the prospects for peace and security in Ukraine and Europe?

The speakers constantly lamented society’s “weak mobilisation” for peace. According to Julio Rodríguez, it is necessary to “nourish public debate”. He acknowledged that peace rallies in Madrid do not bring together more than fifty people. But in Barcelona, too, the very poor gathering of a few hundred in St James Square on February 25 still weighs heavily, while on February 24, the day before, the demonstration that brought together Ukrainians, Catalans, Russians and Belarussians drew at least 8000 (municipal police figure). Yet twenty years ago, there were a million of us against the war in Iraq, so why not just draw the conclusion that we cannot go against the feelings of the majority of Ukrainians?

The two speakers acknowledged that the prospect of a “ceasefire” - for the sake of the Ukrainians! – is “a utopia”. Why? Because “neither Ukraine nor Russia wants to give up territory it regards as its own”. True. But Ukraine, the nation under attack, wants to put an end once and for all to the possibility of more attacks and destruction, more jobs, more genocide, more kidnappings of children, more rapes... all carried out by the empire next to it. This  has always been the one attacking Ukraine. Never the other way around.

Ukraine’s need to recover its invaded territories has become dramatically topical with the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on the Dnieper which, whether by intentional attack or by the occupier's negligence, has caused the greatest human and environmental disaster in the country. How would this lack of security be now solved without a defeat of the invasion? Without it becoming clear to Putin that he has no alternative but to retreat or without him being toppled outright, the Russian empire will not relent.

What role do such events play in favour of an ‘immediate ceasefire’?

The event was attended by members of the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine. One of them, a Ukrainian, could hardly contain herself as she listened to the speakers. “Why are they telling these lies, wouldn't they defend themselves if a thief broke into their house?” 

She was given one minute to answer two hours of “open debate”.

One thing she said struck me as particularly pertinent: “Now I understand why people are tired and not very supportive of Ukraine.”

Indeed, what is worrying is the paralysis, the insensitivity that seems to have taken hold of society. An insensitivity that comes after thousands of speeches like those of these speakers, especially on social networks. Narratives like: “There are dozens of other wars; Ukrainians are privileged; in Ukraine workers are attacked by their government; they are Nazis; they are anti-Russian; they staged a coup in 2014; they ban all left-wing parties and trade unions; they are all the same” ... all this blurs the difference between aggressor and victim.

Putin has already found out that he cannot conquer all of Ukraine. It is not only because of the weapons the West provides; it is because the moral imperative of expelling the invader has taken hold of Ukrainian society. The Russian president is losing the war in Ukraine and getting weaker in Russia. That is why it is already helpful for Putin that—albeit in the minority and against the tide of social sentiment—there are campaigns “for peace” that consist of calling for a “ceasefire” to maintain the occupation of Donbas.

Curiously, now that the Ukrainian military offensive is due to begin, “peace” initiatives have been multiplied in some countries by groups linked to parties like Podemos or from the Stalinist milieu, or by those simply nostalgic for the former Soviet Union. They are unable to see the “historical” role Putin has given himself: that of being the anti-Lenin destined to reconquer Russian imperial space.

And it is also curious to see how these “friends of peace” take cover in the premises of trade unions to try to appear in “working class” guise. But in Vienna, the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (ÖGB), which had provided them with space for an “International Summit for Peace” dedicated to calling for an immediate ceasefire and silent on the withdrawal of Russian troops, saw the light and withdrew all support, including of their conference premises.

Why not invite and listen to Ukrainian trade unionists?

Discussions on peace in Ukraine are all very well, they are necessary. We must continue them. But we should know... what the Ukrainians are saying! What the majority of the population, the majority of its civic organisations are saying. I finish with this question: wouldn't it help us to understand this war if we invited the two most important Ukrainian trade union organisations--the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU)--to tour representatives, while we listened to them and had them clarify our doubts?

Alfons Bech is a trade unionist affiliated to CCOO and a member of the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine Network.