New York Rally by Humanity for Peace – Plato, Putin, NATO. Oh My!

Rafaela Prifti

    While putting an end to the war in Ukraine might seem like a message we can all support, the steps towards reaching it as put forth by Humanity for Peace in today’s rally in midtown New York require that you put your faith in the aggressor, Russia’s Putin, and lay the blame on the West, mostly the US and UK administrations’ foreign policy. In this scenario, Ukraine is colluding with the West to bring destruction upon itself. No doubt all of this is fine with Putin given that these are views he has long expressed and has asked his supporters to embrace as he justifies a-year-and-a-half-long war that Russia is not winning. In support of the argument to abandon Ukraine’s defending of its borders and people, the activists at the gathering point at a combination of factors including the looming nuclear race, NATO and Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher. Why Plato? Perhaps any movement needs a cover or appearance of a political philosophy that provides the basis for being righteous. Plato witnessed some of the tragic events caused by the Peloponnesian War and he dedicated its philosophical work to the relation between politics and conflict. The organizers believe that Plato’s political philosophy comes handy in support of their argument for “a new order”. Or at the very least, his name might intimidate the non-scholars among us. “Are you familiar with Plato?” – the activist at the Plaza asked me. I said that I am more familiar with dictators like Putin and autocratic regimes. I strongly feel that there is no amount of philosophy that can sway me into considering theories that favor a strongman like Putin, his cohorts and wannabes across Europe from Hungary to Albania and around the world.   

    Who are the organizers of the rally and who are their sponsors? The rally held at Doug Hammarskojd Plaza across the street from the United Nations complex was announced as “an international demonstration” by the organizers on the website of the Schiller Institute – a think tank named after the 18th century German physician, playwright, poet, philosopher and devout protestant. It was founded in 1984 by Lyndon LaRouche Jr., the late American political activist and his spouse Helga Zepp-LaRouche. At a glimpse, the protesters some of whom wore T-shirts and held signs with slogans seemingly pro-Peace came from different groups, backgrounds and organizations. The sponsors of the campaign, listed on a huge banner propped up at the southwest corner of the Plaza, and also on the Institute’s website seem to be in the far right spectrum. With regard to nuclear race and the Russia Ukraine war, they seem unified around the position that what stands in the way of international peace is the military alliance and the Western governments. Blatantly, the representative of Schiller Institute who collected signatures of the attendees told me at the plaza “Putin is not the enemy.” The middle age lady who spoke softly and projected professionalism was the one who quizzed me on Plato just when a participant with a sign that he wore on his front and back showing Plato’s name walked past us. One sign that read “Who is behind Zelensky?”, some printed posters and other hand-held props serve to visually reinforce the speakers’ remarks. They made the case for asking the question: Is Humanity for Peace in Putin’s pocket? I do not know the answer. What is known is that the movement operates under the Schiller Institute flushed with funds from sponsors with anti-government and libertarian agendas of unlimited freedoms. In order to reach its goal, Humanity For Peace needs “to build a unified coalition, above ideologies, to stop this unfolding escalation towards nuclear war,” according to its mission statement. In the context of the current war, they are calling for peace but they are not necessarily anti-war, as one of the speakers said at the rally. Therefore, fighting NATO is not beyond the realm because to them, the alliance stands in the way of peace.   

    “Do not provide weapons to Ukraine ! Disband NATO!”. Signs like these were strewn on the ground by the entrance to the rally. One could grab any of them and move to join the crowd of about three dozen participants listening to a long queue of speakers who went in front of the microphone. In their view, the stopping of the people dying or suffering is unrelated to the price of the Peace talks that outwardly Humanity for Peace supports through activism that was on display on the plaza. The activist was not able to rebuke that such peace would be at the cost of Ukraine. It feels like an admission that at least for now Ukraine would be the sacrifice for stopping a possible nuclear race between the West and Putin’s camp. I cannot help but wonder which country is the Humanity for Peace willing to sacrifice after Ukraine. If Putin eyes Georgia next, would the Schiller activists justify it. After all it potentially would weaken the West which serves both Putin and the anti-government agenda of the think tank.  

    I asked her if Humanity for Peace tries to work with anti-war factions within Russia. They don’t. Why? “Because we are Americans,” she said. So, they are anti-war in the US where it is safe and convenient to criticize Biden while Putin jails Russia’s citizens for holding a blank piece of paper in public, I said. How perverted! I get a sense that these activists have embraced a pre-selected fight for Peace. It is conditioned upon being physically in a Western country where they themselves have the luxury of demonstrating and condemning at will the Biden administration because they enjoy the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly which they would not have in Putin’s Russia. On the other hand, the Humanity for Peace would be able to hold a pro-Putin rally like this one in Moscow because he would allow it. The organizers are silent on the issue of anti war-efforts in Russia and Putin’s elimination of political opponents along with any semblance of democracy in Russia. During 23 years of Putin’s regime he has fashioned himself as the country’s absolute ruler. However Humanity for Peace makes no mention of Russian journalists and the media that at great personal risks expose Putin’s self-serving unrelenting propaganda within Russia’s border and beyond. The pro-Putin rally was held in midtown New York because Humanity for Peace knows and appreciates the difference even the contrast between democracy and a dictatorship. The freedoms of speech and assembly are some of the liberties they would not have under Putin. As long as Russia’s strongman labels the unjust war against Ukraine as a fight against the West and the Western alliance, the Schiller Institute will fund and organize such perverted demonstrations for Peace. The perversion and distortion stem from its “one way’ criticism and condemnation. The guest speakers did not call on Putin to put an end to the war. They called upon the UN, the US and its allies. So the organizers support freedom to blame the West not Putin. Currently it serves Putin very well to divert attention from his war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

    The question is: Does a distorted message of Peace serve humanity or cause further harm to its stability and security? Looking at Southeast Europe and more specifically the Balkan region, there have been escalations of tensions in Kosova, democratic backsliding in Albania’s elections and security issues all around the region. As recently as July 18, a congressional hearing was convened by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Subcommittee on Europe In the year since Putin decided to invade its neighbor and start a war, many indicators point at the erosion of stability and security specifically in Kosova and also the region. It is important to understand what is at stake when a well-funded movement like Humanity for Peace seeks to organize rallies such as the one in midtown to advocate for the end of war by walking away from confronting Putin. The answers are coming into view and may still not be wholly available. Yet it is certain that relenting and backing down to dictators is their playbook and pushing for such a move certainly plays into Putin’s hand.