Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, had just finished speaking at a major conference on Europe.
While standing on stage, absorbing adulation and taking pictures with fans, he didn’t know that two young women in the back of the room were looking at him closely.
“No metal barriers,” Dominica Lasota whispered. “Now is our chance.”
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She and fellow activist Viktoria Jedroskoviak stood up quickly. They click on the camera. They walked straight to Macron, who greeted them with a charming smile, apparently thinking all they wanted was a selfie.
But then they criticized him with questions about a controversial new pipeline in Uganda (the French oil company Total is helping build) and the war in Ukraine.
“My point is…” Macron tried to say.
“I know what your point is,” said Lasota, 20, who interrupted him. “But we are living in a climate crisis, and you must stop it.”
Then Jedroszkowiak, also 20, jumped in, saying, “You can stop the war in Ukraine by stopping buying fossil fuels from Russia.”
“Yes,” Macron murmured, before being broadened by a host of other questions.
Even weeks later – it happened in May in Strasbourg, France – the activists are still apprehensive about that confrontation. Lasota and Jedroskowiak have emerged as leaders in a dynamic new wing of the anti-war movement, and the video clip of them showing Macron’s lecture went viral, making them momentarily famous in France and Poland, where they came from.
This is a different 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. They are joined by two causes – anti-war activism and climate change – to take full advantage of this moment when the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine. To make their case, they come face to face with Europe’s leaders.
They move across the continent, board trains, stay in cheap hotels, and fill themselves with cornflakes and almond milk, in an attempt to corner Europe’s top politicians and businessmen. While she may not be as famous as Greta Thunberg, she’s cut from the same sturdy fabric and works closely with the Fridays For Future movement.
None of these activists have been satisfied with the EU’s recent moves to ban Russian coal and most Russian oil by the end of the year – they want a blanket ban on all Russian energy for now, which they say will deprive Russia of billions of dollars and shut down its war mechanism in eight weeks. .
It is an enormous demand with far-reaching consequences that few European politicians dare to raise publicly, let alone embrace. Many people around the world believe that it is simply not possible to stay away from fossil fuels. Eighty percent of the world’s energy still comes from it. Europe is closely related to Russian fossil fuels in particular, especially natural gas.
But more environmental groups are calling for the same blanket ban. They are alarmed by Europe’s claim that it stands by Ukraine as it continues to buy billions of dollars in Russian fuel, helping the Russians reap record profits at the same time as their military massacres civilians and commits other atrocities in Ukraine. Energy experts agree that something needs to be done differently.
“Activists are right that the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be a reminder of the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels,” said Jason Bordoff, dean of Columbia Climate College. “But the hard truth is that if Europe wants to eliminate dependence on Russia, it will need some alternative sources of oil and gas for a while while it transitions.”
The only solution is to speed up the transition to renewables, such as wind and solar, says Lasota and Gdroskoviak, and until then, more Ukrainians will die needlessly. They staged protests across Europe and confronted not only Macron, but Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister; Roberta Mezzola, President of the European Parliament. business leaders, including total shareholders; and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who seemed amazed.
“They are very smart, very informed young women,” said von der Leyen, who met Lasota and other youth activists in March.
Since then, the European Union has held endless meetings on sanctions against Russia. At the end of May, European leaders decided to hold another summit in Brussels. Both Lasota and Jedroszkowiak saw it as the perfect opportunity to “steal attention”.
Wars do not “break out”
They checked in at a transit hotel near the Midi train station in Brussels. While Jedroszkowiak was sitting on the floor of their small room, headphones on, hosting a radio program for a new Polish platform, Lasota sat at a desk writing an email to Charles Michel, president of the European Council.
“She’s great and I’m serious,” Lasota laughed as she wrote away.
Corrected by Jedroszkowiak “No”. “We are cool and serious.”
The next morning, at Greenpeace’s office in Brussels, a dozen other activists appeared, mostly in their early twenties, some in their teens. Gather around a table piled high with cereal bowls, coffee mugs, and glowing laptops.
Their mission: to hold a noisy anti-war event in Schumann Square, in front of the headquarters of the European Commission, on the eve of the Great Meeting.
Most of the young men gathered around the table were women, which Jedroszkowiak said was no accident either.
“What is this beautiful girl doing in the Polish parliament?” I’ve been hearing that all my life. I heard I was 14, and I still hear it when I was about 21.” And when you face that injustice, anger grows within you. And you begin to see that all these injustices come from the same place: rich men who don’t want to admit they are wrong.”
“And what more breakdown do we need?” She asked. She added, “As a Polish survivor of Auschwitz said,” referring to well-known historian Marian Tursky, “Auschwitz did not fall from the sky. Well, wars do not fall from the sky either.”
She continued, “People like to say wars ‘break out.'” Wars don’t just ‘break out’. Wars are the result of a political system designed for war.”
Mess on the table
The next morning, the day of the big event at Schumann Square, the front door to Greenpeace remained open. Young activists bypassed each other, carrying sunflowers, banners and loudspeakers.
“I’m really excited about all the chaos on the table,” said Pavel Resola, 17, from Prague. He was one of the few young activists at the meetings.
But, as with everything, there is a cost.
Lasota and Jedroszkowiak both recently withdrew from university programs in Warsaw, stressing their families.
“My mom said she was terrified of me,” Jedroszkowiak said. “I was like my mom, I’m not hooked or going to war. Don’t be afraid.
Lasota said many childhood friendships simply “disappeared”. One of her friends got hurt by missing a birthday party they haven’t spoken to since.
It’ll be fine, in the end,” Lasota said with a sigh.
A few hours before the event in front of the European Commission, the atmosphere opened. People gather in the gardens of Brussels under the eaves of the verandas covered with rain. Walking through the streets, protesters drowned.
When they arrived at Schumann Square, they found it almost empty. Nevertheless, they continued, lining up shoulder to shoulder, raising sunflowers and their signs.
“Even if it rains, even if it snows today, even if there is a storm today, we will come here,” Lasota said, to the rhythms of a veteran orator. “Because we will do everything in our power to accomplish this bloody embargo and stop the horror that is happening in Ukraine and all over the world.”