The morning dawns with buckets of rain pouring down outside as we weigh up what to do. We don’t back down ever so head off and find the location. Davor parks the Bus in front of a statue of a bare chested guy wearing a cape with a submachine gun and two nasty looking nuns behind him. No idea what this statue is about but its fitting for the day. The rain has gone from steady to a down pour as we cower in the Bus wondering what to do next. No one wants to brave the elements and I am still not over the flu. There is a knock on the window and a soaked girl says she is press and here for an interview. This is the spark we needed so unpacked the van and photographs were set out along the street. More media turned up and interviews were given to the papers and radio. Stalking up and down the soaking street we handed out flyers and got some signatures. After a few hours of this, the Irish Ambassador arrived and dragged us off for coffee. We were soaked and the diversion to a warm café was very welcome. She briefed us on what was planned for Monday and we headed back out to work the streets.
By 2 pm we had had enough and packed up our sodden display and headed to the hotel. Unpacking in the underground car park we dried and wiped everything then repacked the van. Sunday was to be a day of consolidation so after the inability to sleep in we got to work early again. Logistics on the run are hard so a day in a hotel is so needed to try and lock down future plans. We emailed and called various contacts for the coming week. Hotels are booked and ferries found to get the Ban Bus between Estonia and Finland and Finland and Sweden. The next mornings meetings were to be important ones and we wanted to have all our logistics out of the way to be able to really focus on the job at hand.
Our morning meeting was to be with the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department of Slovakian Foreign Affairs. Milan Ciganik was an affable bureaucrat who seemed well briefed on the problems at hand. Like all meetings with senior ministry people we needed to edge our way up to the main topic. I thought I’d break the ice and open the conversation in an Australian way.
“So, lets cut to the chase, why not just sign the treaty and we can then go to the pub.” He laughs and I feel the ice has been now broken.
We start talking about the need for a ban and the challenges faced by Slovakia in getting to the treaty. He doesn’t have any strong objections to the treaty or the obligations of it. His remarks are more about the slowness of Slovakian bureaucracy and the cost of stockpile destruction. These are semantics and not reasons to stay outside of the treaty. We also pushed the point that they could turn this into a positive move and they could set up commercial stockpile destruction for other countries too. The final point we made that seemed to really hit home was that the world would divide on Dec 3. There will be those that are into the treaty and those that are outside of it from that date. It will become the good guys and the bad guys and all the focus on those outside of the treaty will be about them being bad guys. Slovakia is desperate to be seen as a good EU partner and is more conscious of their international reputation than most other countries. As, according to him, Slovakia has no major problem with the treaty then it would be wise to be a good guy and not a bad guy.
We left the meeting with a reasonably positive feel that they were not entrenched in a negative position and movement soon was possible. Whether they could move before Dec 3 is another matter but now they know what is coming if they don’t sign.
The afternoon was to be a reception at the Irish Embassy and they had invited a broad range of people from Slovakian government, the media and local NGO’s. This had to be a good strong gloves off approach to bend them all from their safe diplomatic worlds into the land of cluster bombs.
We arrived early and roadied all of the exhibition photographs up to the embassy that was atop of the Carlton building in the centre of Bratislava. The room was transformed and the caterers set up a buffet lunch for all. I set up my computer and data projector and all was set for a solid whacking of the audience.
As the invitees arrived, we met politely and chatted in that small talk kind of way, exchanging cards and pleasantries. The quality of the crowd was excellent and all began tucking into the food. We had a few key ambassadors arrive too, particularly the ambassadors from Finland and Sweden. Both countries have been against the process and are key targets for us as we will hit both places in the next few weeks.
The Irish ambassador welcomed all and the Norwegian ambassador backed her up then the floor was mine. The montage of photographs rolled on behind me as I built the crisis in countries affected by cluster bombs. The information was rolling out fast and hard and all were looking a little squeamish.
“I can see many of you find looking at these photographs hard, I found it hard to take them but it’s no where near as hard as it is to be in them.”
This one statement really hits them between the eyes and breaks through any defences that they may have been erecting in response to the presentation. There are two very bloody shots in the pictures but I turned them into black and white photos so as not to turn them off what I have to say. It’s easier to look at a black and white photo of something very bloody than a colour one.
The end of the talk focuses on the use of cluster bombs for defence and the example of Georgia. I draw that comparison to Sweden and Finland. Both ambassadors are having trouble making eye contact with me now.
“If you use cluster bombs for defence, it’s like having a suicide strategy. Put a gun to your countries head and pull the trigger while saying ‘you can’t hurt me as I’ll kill myself first’.”
I finish off and the conversation is lively and the Finish ambassador comes to me in an apologetic way. “I know what you are saying is true. You need to convince the army, they are the problem.” I have always known this and am itching to get to Helsinki and take the buggers on.
I was in Helsinki many years ago arguing this same issue in regards to landmines. They didn’t move then but with a second shot at them now we may be able to get some movement this time.