Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A day to remember in St. Petersburg

Our guide in Crimea arranged for her friend Elena (who lives in St Petersburg) to escort our group in the May 9 'Immortal Regiment' march that drew well over one million people on the more than three-mile walk through the city. Elena carried a photo of her grandfather who fought against the Nazis during the war. (Click on photos for a better view).

I carried a photo from 1941 of my mother, her sister and her two brothers who both served in the US Navy during WW II.  Both were on ships sunk by the Nazis and miraculously survived.

VFP member John Schuchardt (left) carried a photo of his uncle in a Navy uniform during WW II

Fellow Mainer Bill Bliss (center with hat) and his two tall sons just behind him.  Bill carried a photo of his father who served during WW II. Needless to say many Russians were more than surprised to see a large delegation of Americans in the march.

GN board chair Dave Webb (UK) and Mary Beth Sullivan (Maine)






How can we ever forget the May 9 (Victory Day) experience of being with with over one million people in the 'Immortal Regiment' march in St. Petersburg, Russia?

Our guide for the day was Elena Ivanova who is a friend of Tanya (our guide in Crimea).  They have traveled together to the US in the past on citizen diplomacy trips.  Elena is a remarkable person and her eyes revealed a deep and kind soul.  I walked by her side for the several hours it took to reach the parade destination at the enormous plaza by the world famous Hermitage Museum.

In an email from Elena, when she sent me the photo at the very top of this post, she wrote, "Exactly 1 million, 180 thousands of people participated in the Immortal Regiment this year in St. Petersburg. Please tell your colleagues that we all in one boat on the Earth."

It should be recalled that in cities all across Russia people held similar parades.

It was a fitting conclusion of our remarkable Russia Study Tour and I am grateful first to the Global Network leadership for agreeing that we should organize such an experience for our members and friends.  Secondly, I must thank the excellent group of 24 people who came on the trip. (One GN leader, Agneta Norberg from Sweden, had to drop out at the last minute due to illness.  She was terribly missed but she kept up with us via Facebook on a daily basis.)

Our group was diverse in age and in other ways as well.  Some were experienced travelers, others new to the role of international bridge building.  We were fortunate to have wonderful guides and translators along the way but special thanks must go to Leonid Ilderkin in Moscow (who came along with us to Crimea) and Tanya Bukharina in Crimea.

I still plan to write more - particularly about the outstanding presentation by the Russian Veterans For Peace president who came and spoke to us in Moscow.

I can only sum up the experience by saying that the constant western demonization of Russia is trash.  The people we met were kind (more than you can imagine), thoughtful, loving, generous (more than you can imagine) and much more.  They have great pride in their history and their nation.

In all of our stops in Moscow, Crimea and St. Petersburg the hotel staffs we met were excellent.  The streets of the cities we visited were cleaner than I've ever seen.  As we were walking back to our hotel in St. Petersburg after the march was over I saw less than one-handful of pieces of litter on the streets.  That's after more than one million people just paraded through the heart of the city.  I've been on many marches and parades in my lifetime but that is an achievement that says many important things about the Russian people.

I once asked Tanya if it was accurate to say that the Russian people are conservative?  She replied that 'traditional' was a better way to describe them.  The 'Immortal Regiment' march is a tradition of remembering the deep cost of defeating the German Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during WW II that cost them more than 28 million lives.  It is a tradition of honoring their relatives who gave their lives to stop the fascist invasion and occupation.  It is a tradition of seeing their collective future wrapped up in their collective determination to protect their nation.

We were all lucky to make this trip to Russia.  We will explore doing it again.  More people from the west need to make this eye and heart opening journey.  Thanks to all who helped make this a very special experience.

Bruce

Photos and video by Will Griffin - see more of them here

Thursday, May 09, 2019

What is Irish neutrality?



Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers are two US military veterans and members of  Veterans for Peace who felt called to come to Ireland to help expose the Irish Government's complicity in US led war crimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

They were imprisoned for 13 days without bail and their passports were taken off them effectively holding them hostage in Ireland pending a trial.

This legal action is in stark contrast to the treatment Clare Daly and Mick Wallace TD's got for essentially the same crime (both spending only 2 hours in a cell).

Please show solidarity and help to spread the word about this hypocrisy. Go to www.afri.ie or www.shannonwatch.org for more information about upcoming fund raising events, trial dates or vigils.

Can we prevent a nuclear war?



I realized it wasn’t the Soviet Union that was the great danger, it was the potential of nuclear war, and it’s still the case today - says Stephen Cohen on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

More reflections from Russia

In Moscow three of our friends from Nepal pose with Russian and American Veterans for Peace members.

Russian VFP chairman Alexander Pasechnik (left) spoke to our group in Moscow while Leonid Ilderkin translated.

In Moscow we visited a park full of monuments to each republic during the Soviet Union.  One of them featured various space rockets.

Another of the exhibits in the park of Soviet achievements in Moscow.

A statue of Vladimir Lenin at the Moscow park of Soviet achievements.

Outside the Moscow cosmos museum was this art work honoring the workers who built the Soviet space program - note the first dog in space under the rocket.

We met Irina in a park in Moscow. She is the tandem cycling champion in Russia. She sits in front and steers and brakes and a blind person peddles behind her. They also took 5th place in world championships.  Lovely young woman. Russians have been open and friendly and welcoming all along our journey.

This enormous symbol of space exploration was outside of the cosmos museum in Moscow.  I visited the museum last October when I went to Moscow to do advance work for this current study tour.

An aerial view of the Livadia Palace in Yalta, Crimea where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in 1945. Livadia Palace was a summer retreat of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his family.

Outside the Livadia Palace some of our folks posed in front of statues of the three leaders with VFP flag.

The guide at the 35th Battalion museum in Sevastopol, Crimea explained the Nazi invasion and occupation during WW II.  She told how 30,000 Soviet sailors and soldiers were killed by the fascists at this place as they tried to defend Crimea.  They are still discovering bodies in the area.  She told us not all of the Soviet military personnel were heroes, they were just simply human beings.  This was not a museum to glorify war but to remember the spirits of the dead

I'm just now having some time to catch up with a few photos from along the way during our Global Network Russia study tour.  There are many more yet to post but might have to wait til I get home on May 11.

Yesterday we took a professional St Petersburg city tour on a bus with a guide because there is so much to see.  Russian architecture is grand.  During the long reign of the tsars they out did each other building massive palaces and churches.  Following the revolution in 1917 the Communists turned many of the incredibly ornate churches into warehouses for food all across the nation.  Since the fall of the former Soviet Union many of these churches have been restored.

 The Soviet Union appeared to continue building grand spectacles but rather than honoring the tsars of course they built them to honor the workers who had constructed the nation but had suffered terribly under the long reign of monarchy.

I remarked to our guide yesterday that if the tsars had spent the wealth of the nation taking care of the people rather than building the palaces and churches then the 1917 revolution might have never happened.  He responded that the tsars were so isolated that they knew very little about how poor their 'subjects' actually were.  It's rather hard to imagine that is true but I guess we could say the same thing today in the US as the 1% live high-on-the-hog while poverty grows across our nation and the rich don't seem to notice or care.

The people in our study tour group are loving this experience.  They like the hotels we've been staying in, they love the food, and they all repeatedly remark how thoughtful and kind the people here are.

For example, yesterday VFP member John Schuchardt had a piece of a tooth fall out of his mouth.  One of the young people at the hotel desk escorted him to the dentist office (appointment made just the day before) and his total cost for the repair job was $35.  John told us that he, the dentist, and the dental assistant had a great conversation and when he left he was given hugs.  It's been like that all along.

Tomorrow a friend of our guide in Crimea will come to the hotel and take us to the 'Immortal Regiment peace parade' which every May 9 honors the memory of the more than 28 million Soviet citizens who died during the WW II invasion and occupation of the German Nazi Army.

We visited the Political History museum yesterday and learned that prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union a referendum was held asking the public their opinion on the future of the nation.  The vote was 60% wanted to keep the Soviet Union while 40% wanted to dissolve it.  The leaders at the time, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, ignored the voters and broke the nation up.  Today those two former presidents are despised by a vast majority of the Russian people.

We've repeatedly heard that Putin's favorable ratings are dropping from in the mid-80% to just over 50% because last year the government announced they were going to raise the retirement age.  Many protests were held across the nation and a compromise was reached - the retirement age, formerly 55 for women and 60 for men, was changed to age 60 and 65, respectively. People tell us they generally like Putin's foreign policy (which has emphasized Russia's sovereignty and independence from the west) but the public is not so happy about domestic politics which is still largely controlled by the wealthy oligarchs.

(By the way, for those neocons in Washington who want to force regime change in Moscow and take over Russia for western corporate interests it looks like they've already achieved some of that goal.  Everywhere one can find KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Subway, Wrangler and Lee Jeans, New Balance shoes and more.)

In the political history museum we noticed a bit of re-writing of the history of the Soviet period that largely ignores the enormous social strides that came as a result of the 1917 revolution and mostly took note of the many mistakes of that period.  Many in our group wondered if this was due to the current growing power and influence of the oligarchs.

We came to Russia to listen and learn in order to stand against the constant demonization of this nation by the western corporate dominated countries - especially the US.  It's really quite sad that most Americans (and westerners) actually know very little about Russian history or the current situation inside this remarkable nation.

Already there have been many requests that the Global Network organize another similar study tour.  We've been brainstorming another such visit but no decision can yet be made until we do more research and bring the question to the board of the organization.

It's been a real gift to be here for all of us.

Bruce

Photos by Will Griffin & Mary Beth Sullivan (except the aerial shot of the Livadia Palace).  Click on the photos for a better view.

Strong words from retired Army officer



Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Army and former Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff.

Worth a listen.

Spoke in Portland, Maine at Peace Action event.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

TV from Sevastopol, Crimea



In Sevastopol, Crimea at the museum honoring those who fought and died during the German fascist invasion & occupation during WW II.

Also news about US deployment of THAAD 'missile defense' system in Romania.  More encroachment on Russia's borders - imagine if Russia was deploying missiles in Canada and Mexico. What would Washington do?

See that article here

Monday, May 06, 2019

Nazi flag with Ukrainian Army



It has long been evident that the Ukrainian Army is loaded with Nazi death squads.

This video clearly reveals how US-NATO backed Army units now deployed in eastern Ukraine (near the Russian border) indeed include Nazis.

These Ukrainian Army units shell civilian homes, schools, day care centers, airports, rail stations, water treatment plants and more in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

The US arms, trains and directs these Ukrainian Army units.

While in Russia on this trip we've repeatedly heard their deep concern about the growing Nazi-fication of the Ukrainian government and Army.

The US denies that all this is happening.

It's no wonder that Russian-ethnic citizens in eastern Ukraine want nothing to do with the corrupt Kiev government.

Bruce 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

More from Crimea

Being interviewed on Russian national TV while at the 35th Battery Museum in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 4.  As the Nazis advanced on Sevastopol during WW II Russian sailors and soldiers retreated to the 35th Battery and up to 30,000 were killed by the Nazi troops.  This is one of the most incredible museums I've ever visited.

Our group having just emerged from the final hall of the museum where a moving video showed the faces of many of the 30,000 who were killed by the Nazis during the German occupation of Crimea.

GN board member Will Griffin (Iraq & Afghanistan war veteran) standing with a 93-year old WW2 Soviet Union veteran who helped defeat Nazi fascism. We  learned much from his stories and perspectives. He’s worried about climate change and says the future of our kids depends on what we do now. This meeting took place in Yalta.


Two days ago, in Yalta, Crimea we split our 20-person study tour group into smaller units and went to various places.  Several of us met with the Council of Veterans which included a 93-year old WW II veteran (pictured above with Will Griffin).

He was quite an impressive man who joined the Army of the former Soviet Union at 16 years old (he lied about his age) and today still does push-ups for exercise.  He joined the Army as the Soviets were pushing the German fascist army away from the Soviet Union and he was stationed in Romania, Hungary and Austria.

Here are some of the things he told us:


We have a negative attitude today about US-NATO military encirclement of Russia.

During the war I met American soldiers near the end of the war – it was a joint victory against the Nazis.  In Austria we were amazing friends with each other.

The military budget of the USA is today more than 10 times grater than the Russian military budget.  Russia can’t be an aggressor.

Ninety-eight percent voted in our 2014 referendum to re-join Russia.  There was not one casualty during that time. During the Soviet Union we had education for free, medical care for free, housing for free, vacation for free. 98% of our kids went to summer camps for free. 

There were shortcoming too.  We could not travel outside of the Soviet Union and our economy began to slide near the end.

Now many things have changed.  Russia has more social programs to benefit the people.
We are faithful to these memories.  We do not want war.  If we have to we will cut the head of the snake that seeks to surround us.  We hope mankind will be smart enough not to start a war.

If someone wants to compete with each other let them compete in sports stadiums, places of art, etc.

In Russia we are more oriented towards using capitalist profits to help people. Eighteen percent of the population in Russia live in poverty.  We now have the task to bring them up so we don’t need any war and neither do you in the USA.

Photos by Will Griffin

Sunday song