BRUSSELS – Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has just finished his speech at a major conference on Europe.
As he lingered on stage, admiring and taking pictures with fans, he did not know that two young women in the back of the room were watching him closely.
“There are no metal barriers,” Dominica Lasotta whispered. “Now’s our chance.”
She and her fellow activist Victoria Yedroshkovyak got up quickly. They clicked on the camera. They marched right next to Mr. Macron, who greeted them with a charming smile, apparently thinking that all they wanted was a selfie.
But then they bombarded him with questions for the controversial new pipeline in Uganda (which the French oil company Total is helping to build) and the war in Ukraine.
“My thought is…” Mr. Macron tried to say.
“I know your point,” she said. The 20-year-old Lasotta interrupted him. “But we are living in a climate crisis and you need to stop it.”
Miss. Yedroshkovyak, also 20, then jumped up, saying, “You can stop the war in Ukraine by stopping buying fossil fuels from Russia.”
“Yes,” Mr. Macron murmured before facing a host of other questions.
Even weeks later – in May in Strasbourg, France – the two activists are still dizzy from the confrontation. Miss. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak emerged as leaders in a dynamic new wing of the anti-war movement, and their video lectured on Mr. Macron went viral, which made them famous for a moment in France and Poland, where they are from.
This is a different brand of activists – young, mostly women and mostly from Eastern Europe – who believe that the war in Ukraine is a brutal manifestation of global fossil fuel dependence. They have joined two causes – anti-war activity and climate change – to take full advantage of the moment when the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine. And to prove themselves, they are facing European leaders.
They roam the continent, ride trains, stay in cheap hotels, eat cornflakes and almond milk, trying to squeeze leading European politicians and businessmen into a corner. Although they may not be as famous as Greta Thunberg, they are cut from the same sturdy fabric and work closely with her. Friday for the future movement.
Their message to Ms. Thunberg and Ms. Lasota stressed in recent video, is that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels leads to misery and bloodshed. They cite not only Russia, but also Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other five-nation states with a long history of conflict and repression.
“These things are connected,” she said. said Thunberg. “More and more expansion of fossil fuels means more power for autocrats. This allows them to start wars like the one in Ukraine.
None of these activists were pleased with the European Union’s recent steps embargo on Russian coal and most Russian oil by the end of the year – They want a full embargo on all Russian energy at the moment, which they believe would tire Russia by billions of dollars and shut down its military machine in eight weeks.
Europe’s withdrawal from fossil fuels
The European Union has begun the transition to greener forms of energy. But financial and geopolitical considerations could complicate efforts.
This is a huge demand with far-reaching consequences, which few European politicians dare to publicly raise, let alone embrace. Many people around the world believe that it is simply not possible to simply rule out the use of fossil fuels. Eighty percent of the world’s energy still comes from them. And Europe is closely linked to Russian fossil fuels, especially natural gas.
ass more ecological groups call for the same broad embargo. They are concerned that Europe claims to be with Ukraine as it continues to buy billions of dollars in Russian fuel, helping the Russians are reaping record profits at the same time that their military is killing 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 remind us of the urgency of eliminating fossil fuels,” he said. Jason Bordeff, dean of the Columbia Climate School. “But the difficult reality is that if Europe wants to end its dependence on Russia, it will need some alternative sources of oil and gas for a period of time as it transitions.”
Miss. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak say the only solution is to speed up the transition to renewables, such as wind and solar, and that by then more Ukrainians will be dying unnecessarily. They organized protests across Europe and opposed not only Mr. Macron, but also Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister; Roberta Mezzola, President of the European Parliament; leading businessmen, including Total shareholders; and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who seemed impressed.
“They are very smart young women, very knowledgeable,” she said. von der Layen, who with Ms. Lasota and other young activists in March.
Since then, the European Union has held endless meetings on sanctions against Russia. In late May, European leaders scheduled a new summit in Brussels. Miss. Lasotta and Ms. Jedroszkowiak saw this as the perfect opportunity to “attract attention.”
The two recently applied these skills by joining a blockade in front of Total’s headquarters in Paris. They are now arriving in Brussels to organize a series of “actions” aimed at the EU summit.
They stayed at a transit hotel near Brussels’ Midi station. While Mrs. Jedroszkowiak sat on the floor in their small room with headphones and hosted a radio show for a new Polish channel, Mrs. Lasotta sat at a desk and wrote an email to Charles Michel, President of the European Council.
“She’s cool and I’m serious,” she said. Lasotta laughed as he wrote.
“No,” Mrs. Yedroshkovyak corrected her. “We’re both cool and serious.”
The next morning, more than a dozen other activists showed up at Greenpeace’s Brussels office, most in their early 20s, some in their teens. They gathered around a table full of cereal bowls, coffee cups, and glowing laptops.
Their mission: to hold a stormy anti-war event in Schuman Square, in front of the European Commission’s headquarters, on the eve of the big meeting.
What do we need for tomorrow’s strike? Yedroshkovyak asked.
“Sunflowers,” someone said. (Sunflowers have become a symbol of the war in Ukraine.)
“Cardboard,” said another.
“Paint,” someone else said.
Many of the activists are from Moldova, the Czech Republic, Poland and even Ukraine. Eastern Europeans tend to have a deeper, more intuitive connection to Ukraine’s suffering than Western Europeans, ma’am. Said Lasotta.
“Honey, we come from so many different contexts,” she explained. “I come from a country that has not existed for 200 years. The countries near us simply divided our nation and took our resources and land. For us, the war in Ukraine is easy to understand and easy to feel.
Miss. Jedroshkovyak agrees. She said some German environmental activists, for example, were more concerned about the economic consequences of the embargo than she would have expected.
“I was thinking, wait, are you serious?” she said. “Are you talking about the economy?” And money? This is the language of lobbyists, not activists. “
This was said by officials in Germany, the largest economy in Europe could lose half a million jobs if they suddenly ban Russian gas, which feeds many German industries.
Miss. Yedroshkovyak’s response: “We can create green jobs. That’s the whole point. We need to change the whole system. “
Most of the young people gathered around the table were women who Mrs. Jedroshkovyak said there was no coincidence either.
“What is this beautiful young girl doing in the Polish parliament?” I’ve been listening to this my whole life. “I heard I was 14 and I still hear it when I’m almost 21,” she said. “And when you face this injustice, anger grows in you. And you begin to see that all these injustices come from the same place: rich men who don’t want to admit they’re wrong. “
“And what other collapse do we need?” she asked. “As one Auschwitz surviving Pole once said,” she added, referring to renowned historian Marianne Turkish, “Auschwitz did not fall from the sky. Well, wars don’t fall from the sky either.
“People like to say wars are breaking out,” she said. “Wars don’t just break out.” Wars are the result of a political system designed for war.
“Chaos on the table”
The next morning, the day of the big event in Schuman Square, the front door of Greenpeace continued to open. Young activists passed each other, pulling sunflowers, signs and megaphones.
“I’m really excited about all the chaos at the table,” said 17-year-old Pavel Risula of Prague. He was one of the few young male activists at the meetings.
With their iPhones and train tickets, they built their own liquid community. Although many have stopped their formal education, they read essays on social justice, research the latest climate sciences, and constantly write letters and articles (about world leaders, not teachers). They are also having fun.
“We are screaming. We sing. We dance, ”said Lasotta. “There is nothing more energizing than this work. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever received in my life. “
But, as with everything, it comes at a price.
Both Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroszkowiak recently dropped out of university programs in Warsaw, stressing their families.
“My mother said she was terrified of me,” she said. said Jedroshkovyak. “I thought, Mom, I’m not a drug addict, nor am I going to war. Do not be afraid.”
Miss. Lasotta said many childhood friendships have simply “disappeared”. One of her friends was so hurt by a missed birthday party that they haven’t spoken since.
“It will be fine in the end,” she said. Lasotta said with a sigh.
A few hours before the action in front of the European Commission, the sky opened. People gathered in the parks of Brussels under the eaves of rain-drenched gazebos. As they walked the streets, protesters got wet.
When they reached Schuman Square, they found it almost empty. Still, they continued, lined up side by side, picking up their sunflowers and signs.
“Even if it rains, even if it snows today, even if there is a storm today, we will come here,” she said. Lasso with a belt, in the rhythm of a veteran speaker. “Because we will do everything possible to end this bloody embargo and stop the horror that is happening in Ukraine and around the world.”
“Em-bar-go! Em-bar-go! ” they chanted.
The next day, EU leaders did not address the issue of Russian gas, but agreed to impose an embargo on about 80 percent of Russian oil. Activists saw it as a mixed success.
“The accident was avoided,” she said. Said Lasotta. “But to celebrate this as a great achievement is ridiculous.”