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Ukraine

"War begins with domestic violence" . Conversation with Věra Legký, coordinator of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance in the Czech Republic

15.05.2023

In February 2022, Russian feminists united into the Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAR) to coordinate protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In its first month, FAR became one of the fastest-growing anti-war campaigns in Russia and attracted thousands of subscribers on Telegram. In a manifesto published on its Telegram channel, FAR called on feminists around the world to protest against the war unleashed by Vladimir Putin's government. There are chapters - or as activists call them, "cells" of the FAR - not only in Russia, but also in Europe.

Media Loft correspondent Katya Kobenok spoke with Věra Legký, coordinator of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance in the Czech Republic, about why war is the ultimate level of patriarchy; how the anti-war movement has a female face in the public sphere; and what would happen if feminism were equated with extremism in Russia.


Věra Legký

war starts with domestic violence

In the Czech Republic, the FAR began its work in April 2022. The cell itself was formed as an initiative group of feminists and pro-feminists, Věra says.

There are now about 70 activists in FAR in the Czech Republic. They describe themselves as "an initiative group of people who share the ideas of feminism and the FAR manifesto, located in the Czech Republic, with an anti-war anti-imperialist position.

In addition to helping Ukrainians who have come to the Czech Republic, the cell is engaged in supporting political prisoners in Russia from the Czech Republic and developing the feminist community in the Czech Republic.

"Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, we at FAR wanted to talk more about the origins of everything that's going on. And, of course, to focus on helping Ukraine," explains the activist.

FAR takes a feminist view of the causes of this war:

"War is patriarchy at its most extreme. Therefore, the processes of the anti-imperialist agenda and the processes of decolonization are very important for feminist anti-war resistance."

Any violence against the state or by people against each other is always born at home, Věra argues.

"And this is the same violence that is now crossing the territorial boundaries [of Ukraine]."

FAR in the Czech Republic is not only attended by natives of Russia in Europe. Among the activists are representatives from Ukraine, Belarus, and the Czech Republic. There are also representatives of indigenous peoples of Russia who do not identify themselves as Russians and who are more comfortable being in FAR than simply in Russian anti-war communities.

"The key word is the word 'anti-war'. Once we formed a movement in support of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation. And there, in addition to our participants, there were other people. Some came to the movement for the first time. They simply had nowhere to go before that, because it was impossible for them to go to the "Russians Against the War" rally, given that many people were from indigenous peoples," says Věra.

Feminism is part of our lives

In early April, Oleg Matveichev, a State Duma deputy from the United Russia party, announced that he had drafted a bill that would recognise feminism as an extremist ideology. The deputy stated that feminists in Russia are "agents of the West" and oppose the demographic policy of the Russian Federation, advocating "divorce, childlessness and abortions". In addition, Matveichev noted that most Russian feminists oppose the war in Ukraine.

Such statements from representatives of the Russian ruling party mean only one thing: Feminists have attracted the attention of the authorities.

"If such a law is passed, feminism will simply have a different name in Russia. Feminism cannot be removed from our lives anywhere," says Věra.

The activist also emphasises that in any case, with or without the law, women's rights in Russia will suffer. The potential law would also exacerbate the problem of domestic violence in Russia.

"The degree of aggression, of course, will increase. Because there is a war going on now. And violence always happens after a war. You just have to open a history book and see what happened to women's rights after the war. Of course there will be a big backlash."

Now there are headlines in the media that anti-war protests in Russia have a woman's face. Women are organising actions, women are coming out with placards. Under the threat of imprisonment, Russian women are organising anti-war movements and voicing their disagreement with government policies.

"It's not that it's easier for a woman to go out, it's just that she has been driven by society to a state where she can no longer be tolerated. And if a man is taken into the army, it affects the whole family. And usually, traditionally in Russia, it is the woman who looks after the family," Věra explains.

Therefore, by going out to protest, a woman protects not only her rights, but also the rights of her family, says the activist.

"This is required by the patriarchal system: the man is traditionally not responsible for the life of his family, he is not interested in how she will then live without him. It turns out that this responsibility lies entirely on the woman."

books as support

Věra herself has been in the Czech Republic for nine years. Before moving, she worked in a book publishing house, and now she has opened a library in the Czech Republic, which is a non-profit project. A separate part of the library is devoted to Ukrainian literature.

"In this library, Ukrainians can borrow books for free. We already have 350 readers," Věra says.

In the Czech Republic itself, there aren't many Russians who come for political asylum and political reasons, because the country does not issue visas to Russian citizens. By contrast, there are many refugees from Ukraine. About half a million Ukrainians now live in the Czech Republic, and most are women with children.

"The most popular books in the library are for children, because people come with children. Therefore, it is very important to give them the opportunity to read in their native language. It's more of a psychological comfort than an education."

The other part of the library, which Věra organises, has books in all three languages - Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian. George Orwell's novel "1984" is one of the popular ones here.

"I only have one copy, but it's always on request," Věra smiles sadly.

What saves Věra from emotional burnout, which is now very topical among anti-war activists, is her project:

"I never lose touch with Ukraine, I never lose focus on our purpose. It also helps to integrate into the Czech community, because they don't have the same problems as a Russian emigrant. True, on the one hand it helps, but on the other hand it distracts from work. But it is possible to deal with it.

Solidarity with the protesters in Russia

Anti-war movements won't end the war, but the FAR sees the point of working to create a structure which is helpful for people affected by the war.

"We are privileged here in Europe. We can carry out practical assistance to Ukraine and Ukrainians. We also have the goal of increasing the visibility of protests in Russia. We express our solidarity with those people who cannot take to the streets in Russia," Věra says.

This winter, FAR, like many anti-war movements across Europe, contributed to fundraising for Ukraine. The movement also organises events aimed at humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.

The Czech Republic has a great tradition of protests, the Velvet Revolution took place there in 1989. It is celebrated every year so that people do not forget that protests and coups can be peaceful.

The Czech authorities themselves never interfere with events held by the FAR. The activist notes the Czech government's principled approach to supporting Ukraine:

"The country has lost a lot economically by cutting off all relations with Russia. This is a fact. And yet, the population chose this government and this president."

In January of this year, the Czech Republic elected a new president. Milos Zeman, who before the war in Ukraine tried to develop ties with Moscow, was replaced by retired General Petr Pavel. Pavel has regularly stated that Ukraine needs large-scale military support. He believes that if the West "reduced military support for Ukraine, Russia would win the war, and that would mean our defeat.

The president in the Czech Republic is a nominal figure, representing more of the country's image. The Czech government, led by Petr Pavel, will continue to pursue a pro-European foreign policy that includes receiving large numbers of Ukrainian refugees and actively supporting Ukraine militarily. And FAR, for its part, will make every effort to ensure that the voice of Russian-speaking protesters against Kremlin aggression is heard both in Russia and in Europe.

In early May, FAR was awarded the Aachen Peace Prize, one of the awards given in Germany since 1988 to projects that promote "peace and understanding. Award organisers noted that FAR activists fight against conservative views of gender and family in Russia, as well as against discrimination and repression against the LGBTQ community.

In Russia, FAR has already held actions in 130 cities, published a newspaper called "Women's Truth," and raised $8,000 for a generator for an Ukrainian hospital.

In January 2023, FAR was declared a foreign agent in the Russian Federation.

By: Katya Kobenok

Photos: from the personal archive of Věra Legký

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