On the occasion of the campaign against nuclear weapons #SaveTheCity we talk to Nikos Stergios, President and founding member of the Greek office of the organization World Without Wars and Violence.

We know that World Without Wars and Violence has launched an initiative to raise awareness about nuclear weapons in municipalities across Greece. Do you want to tell us when the initiative was launched and what it proposes to the city councils?

World Without Wars and Violence is an international organization of the Humanist Movement. It is an international partner of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. In this context, we have set a goal for Greece to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Thus, we have launched the #SaveTheCity campaign in 2019 aimed at the country’s municipalities. We call on them to issue a petition calling on the Greek Government to sign and ratify the TPNW, while joining the international initiative of the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Mayors for Peace”. We call on them to become part of a global effort by democracies to protect their citizens around the world from a possible nuclear holocaust. We ask them to stand on the side of history that has learned from past mistakes, promote the values of Peace and Nonviolence and express the deepest aspirations of citizens for a world free from the danger of a nuclear catastrophe.

What results did you have so far?

There are already 7 municipalities that have issued resolutions calling on the Greek Government to sign and ratify the TPNW. An important milestone in our campaign is also the issuance of a similar resolution by the Board of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece, calling on all municipalities in the country to follow the campaign. At the same time, about half of the country’s municipalities have been informed about the campaign by us, and we expect that soon the invitation will reach all of them. On the occasion of the campaign and after the first positive result, we have started to inform a large part of the population and make new contacts with institutions and other organizations.

Did the Russian invasion in Ukraine and the heightened risk of a possible nuclear attack play a role on the recent achievements?

In our contacts with the country’s municipalities, no one denies the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. The war in Ukraine is a circumstance that I wish had never occurred. Since Russia’s invasion, several municipalities have reconsidered their view of the urgency of the issue and have pushed their internal processes of supporting the TPNW and calling for its ratification by the Greek government more quickly than in the past. As representatives of municipalities have said in discussions, although nuclear weapons existed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and threats to use them have been heard from other countries before, but for the first time since the Cold War in Europe, the risk of a nuclear strike seems more likely than ever. In Europe I believe that we have entered a period of a revival of the anti-nuclear movement that could lead more quickly to nuclear disarmament, without losing its momentum even when the war in Ukraine will be over.

What are the future moves?

First of all, we will continue to call municipalities to join our campaign, to increase political pressure on the Greek government to sign and ratify the TPNW. We will also deepen our cooperation with those municipalities that have already issued the relevant resolutions and will try to jointly organize actions at the local level to better inform the residents about the TPNW and the urgent need for nuclear disarmament. At the same time, we are starting a new circle of cooperation with other organizations in our effort to broaden the anti-nuclear front in Greece, touching all aspects of the devastating consequences of a possible nuclear conflict. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of their use, even due to a human or a technical error, motivates us to intensify our efforts to eliminate them.

Do you believe that municipalities have the power to mobilize political leadership at the national level to sign and ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty?

Local government has a very important role, among others: that of expressing at the political level, the expectations and decisions of the citizens for a future of security, prosperity and peace. Cooperation between municipalities and civil society has proven that it can create conditions in this direction, which are socially broad and have a long time horizon, protecting not only the local population but also the common future. It is the expression of the “common” that goes beyond the level of our home or neighbourhood, and encompasses large areas and populations, potentially affecting even more distant places and times. Although in most cases, and not only in Greece, municipalities express the policies of specific parties, we can already see that the absurdity of nuclear weapons is becoming clear. Nuclear weapons will never ask “what party did you vote for in the last elections” before they explode over a city and obliterate everything in a 2-4 km diameter. And the understanding of this truth comes from the citizens, those whose existence is threatened. So, municipalities are not just electoral statistics and all governments know this very well. It is precisely because of their immediacy in their relationship with citizens that they have the power to push for a change in our country’s attitude towards the TPNW, putting the safety of all of us as a priority.

What is the expected benefit of the #SaveTheCity campaign?

First, it puts the issue of nuclear weapons in its proper dimension, that of the urgent need to eliminate them. It brings this debate to a local and political level, clearing the landscape of illusions of deterrence, as there is no other answer to the prospect of nuclear weapons other than their elimination. And this is important, as in recent years, especially in Europe, the debate on the urgent need for denuclearization has been quite limited, as the anti-nuclear movement was trapped in the nebulous security provided by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We thus also have the opportunity to revitalize the anti-nuclear movement in Greece, escaping the inertia of the last decades.

Secondly, it is an opportunity for municipalities and civil society to work together to cultivate and politically support the values of Peace and Nonviolence, laying the foundations for future actions and regional cooperation that will respond to the deep needs of citizens.

And finally of course, the signing and ratification of the TPNW by Greece is always a target. It is an act that will transcend our borders and bring closer for all humanity a future free of the nuclear threat.