Activist’s New Brand Targets Ukraine War and Climate Crisis,


BRUSSELS – President of France, Emmanuel Macron, had just finished his speech at a major conference on Europe.

Little did he know that the two young women at the back of the room were watching him closely as he lingered on stage and took pictures with the fans.

“No metal barriers,” Dominika Lasota whispered. “Now is our chance.”

He and his activist comrade Wiktoria Jedroszkowiak quickly stood up. They clicked on a camera. They walked up to Mr Macron, who greeted them with a charming smile and apparently thought that all they wanted was a selfie.

But then they showered him with questions It’s about a controversial new pipeline in Uganda (helping French oil company Total build it) and the war in Ukraine.

“I mean…” Mr. Macron tried to say.

“I know what you mean,” said 20-year-old Ms. Lasota, interrupting him. “But we are living in a climate crisis and you have to stop it.”

Ms. Jedroszkowiak, also 20, interrupted, saying, “You can stop the war in Ukraine by stopping buying fossil fuels from Russia.”

“Yes,” Mr Macron muttered, before being expanded upon by a whole host of other questions.

Even weeks later – this unearthed in Strasbourg, France in May – two activists are still stunned by this confrontation. Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak have emerged as leaders in a new and dynamic wing of the anti-war movement, and their videos of lecturing Mr. Macron have instantly made them famous in France and their native Poland.

It’s a diverse brand of activists, young, mostly female, and mostly Eastern European, who believe the Ukraine war is a brutal manifestation of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. To take full advantage of this moment when the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine, they participated in two causes: anti-war activism and climate change. And they’re meeting face-to-face with Europe’s leaders to lay out their claims.

They travel across the continent, ride trains, stay in cheap hotels, feed themselves on cereal and almond milk, try to corner Europe’s best politicians and businessmen. While they are not as famous as Greta Thunberg, they are made from the same durable fabric and work closely with her. Fridays for the Future movement.

Highlighted messages by Ms. Thunberg and Ms. Lasota a new videois that humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels triggers misery and bloodshed. They point not only to Russia, but also to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other petrostats with a long history of conflict and repression.

“These are linked,” said Ms. Thunberg. “More and more fossil fuel expansion means more power for autocrats. This allows them to start wars like in Ukraine.”

None of these activists were satisfied with the European Union’s recent actions. Embargo on Russian coal and most Russian oil until the end of the year — They now want a complete embargo on all Russian energy, which they say will deprive Russia of billions of dollars and shut down its war machine in eight weeks.

This is an enormous demand with far-reaching consequences that few European politicians dare to publicly articulate, let alone embrace. Many people around the world believe that it is not possible to simply give up fossil fuels. Eighty percent of global energy still comes from them. And Europe is particularly reliant on Russian fossil fuels, especially natural gas.

But more environmental groups they want the same sweeping embargo. It bothers them that Europe claims to be on the side of Ukraine while it continues to buy billions of dollars of Russian fuel. Russians make record profits at the same time, their armies are slaughtering civilians and committing other atrocities in Ukraine. Energy experts agree that something different needs to be done.

“Activists are right that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be a reminder of the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels,” he said. Jason Bordoff, dean of the Columbia School of Climate. But the sad truth is that if Europe wants to eliminate its dependence on Russia, it will need alternative oil and gas sources for some time in the transition.”

Ms Lasota and Ms Jedroszkowiak say the only solution is to accelerate the transition to renewable sources like wind and solar, and by then more Ukrainians will die needlessly. They staged protests across Europe and confronted not only Macron, but also Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki; Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament; Top business people, including total shareholders; and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who seemed impressed.

“They are very intelligent, very knowledgeable young women,” said Ms. von der Leyen. Met with Ms. Lasota and other young activists in March.

Since then, the European Union has held endless meetings on sanctions against Russia. At the end of May, European leaders planned another summit in Brussels. Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak saw this as the perfect opportunity to “get the attention”.

One month apart and born into middle-class Polish families, Miss Lasota and Miss Jedroszkowiak They met two years ago at an activist summer camp in Poland, where they learned how to peacefully arrest and create a human blockade.

The two recently started using these skills by participating in a blockade outside Total’s headquarters in Paris. Now they were coming to Brussels to organize a series of “actions” that date to the EU summit.

They settled in a transit hotel close to Brussels’ Midi train station. While Ms. Jedroszkowiak was sitting on the floor of her small room with her headphones on, presenting a radio show for a new outlet in Poland, Ms. Lasota sat at a table and wrote an email to Charles Michel, president of the Council of Europe.

“He’s the great one and I’m the serious one,” Miss Lasota laughed as I wrote.

“No,” corrected Miss Jedroszkowiak. “We’re both cool and serious.”

The next morning, more than a dozen activists showed up at Greenpeace’s office in Brussels, many in their early 20s, some young. They gathered around a table filled with cereal bowls, coffee cups, and glowing laptops.

Their task: To organize a noisy anti-war event in Schuman Square in front of the European Commission headquarters on the eve of the grand meeting.

“What do we need for tomorrow’s strike?” Ms. Jedroszkowiak asked.

“Sunflowers,” someone said. (Sunflowers became a symbol of the Ukrainian war.)

“Cardboard,” said another.

“Paint,” said another.

Most of the activists came from Moldova, the Czech Republic, Poland and even Ukraine. Ms. Lasota said that Eastern Europeans tend to have a deeper and more intuitive connection with Ukraine’s suffering than Western Europeans.

“Honey, we come from very different contexts,” she explained. “I come from a country that has not existed for 200 years. Countries near us have divided our nation, taken our resources and land. For us, the war in Ukraine is easily understood and easily felt.”

Miss Jedroszkowiak agrees. For example, she said some German environmental activists are more concerned about the economic impact of the embargo than she expected.

“Wait, are you serious?” I said. said. “You’re talking about the economy? And money? That’s the language of lobbyists, not activists.”

Authorities in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, they could lose half a million jobs if they had suddenly banned the Russian gas that powers many German industries.

Ms. Jedroszkowiak’s response: “We can create green jobs. That’s the whole point. We have to change the whole system.”

Most of the young people gathered around the table were women, and Ms. Jedroszkowiak said it was no coincidence.

“’What is this beautiful young girl doing in the Polish Parliament?’ I’ve heard this all my life. I heard I was 14 and I still hear it when I’m almost 21,” she said. “And when he encounters injustice, anger grows inside him. And you start to see that all these injustices come from the same place: rich men who don’t want to admit they’re wrong.”

“So what more collapse do we need?” she asked. “As a Polish survivor of Auschwitz once said,” he added, referring to the famous historian Marian Turski, “Auschwitz did not fall from the sky. Well, wars don’t rain from the sky either.”

“People like to say wars are going to ‘explode’,” he continued. “Wars don’t just ‘explode’. Wars are the result of a political system designed for war.”

The next morning, the day of the big event in Schuman Square, Greenpeace’s front door opened incessantly. Young activists passed each other, pulling sunflowers, signs and megaphones.

“I’m really excited about all the chaos at the table,” said Pavel Rysula, 17, from Prague. He was one of several young male activists at the meetings.

They formed their own fluid community with their iPhones and train tickets. While many have dropped out of formal education, they read articles on social justice, research the latest in climate science, and write letters and articles constantly (for world leaders, not teachers). They also have fun.

“We scream. We sing. We dance,” said Ms. Lasota. “There’s nothing more energizing than this job. It’s the closest thing to love I’ve ever had in life.”

But like everything else, it has a price.

Both Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak recently dropped out of their university programs in Warsaw, stressing their families.

“My mom said she was scared for me,” Ms. Jedroszkowiak said. “I said mom, I’m not a drug addict or going to war. Don’t be dismayed.”

Ms. Lasota said many childhood friendships were simply “disappeared”. One of her friends was so hurt by a kidnapped birthday party that they haven’t spoken since.

“It’ll be fine in the end,” said Miss Lasota with a sigh.

The weather cleared a few hours before the action before the European Commission. People gathered under the eaves of rainy gazebos in parks in Brussels. Protesters marching in the streets were drenched.

When they reached Schuman Square, they found it almost empty. Still, they lined up shoulder to shoulder, removing the sunflowers and their signs, and continued.

“We would come here if it rained, if it snowed today, if there was a storm today,” Lasota cried, in the rhythm of a seasoned orator. “Because we will do everything we can to end this bloody embargo and stop the horror in Ukraine and around the world,” he said.

“Embargo! Embargo!” They chanted slogans.

The next day, EU leaders did not touch the Russian gas issue, but agreed to embargo about 80 percent of Russian oil. Activists saw it as a mixed success.

“Disaster averted,” said Ms. Lasota. “But it’s ridiculous to celebrate it as a huge success.”


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