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Nagasaki survivor calls for joint resistance to nuclear threat amid Russian invasion

Koichi Kawano protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in front of the Peace Statue in Nagasaki, on March 6, 2022. (Mainichi/ Yuki Imano)

NAGASAKI -- Under a blue sky in early March, about 400 people including atomic bombing survivors, or hibakusha, and high school students gathered in front of the Peace Statue at Nagasaki Peace Park holding signs bearing messages such as "Peace for Ukraine" and "No War."

    In the emergency rally on March 6 to protest Russia's invasion of Ukraine, participants expressed their anger at Moscow for shunning peace and even hinting at the use of nuclear weapons. The rally was called by five organizations of A-bomb survivors in the city of Nagasaki, one of which is the Nagasaki Prefecture peace movement center's hibakusha liaison council.

    Koichi Kawano, 82, chairman of the council, asked with concern, "Can a superpower get away with doing whatever it wants? If the international community is powerless, we the people have no choice but to raise our voices."

    For more than 40 years, Kawano and other A-bomb survivors have been staging sit-ins in front of the Peace Statue in Nagasaki to call for peace and anti-nuclear actions on the ninth of every month -- a tribute to Aug. 9, 1945, the day when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the city. Around 100 people participate in each sit-in, but some 400 gathered for this emergency rally, largely because two anti-nuclear groups, which had taken separate paths due to policy differences, got together.

    One of the groups is the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin) which Kawano heads as co-chair. The other is the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo). The former is affiliated with the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party (JSP) and the latter with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

    In the 1960s, the confrontation between those in the JSP camp and JCP affiliates intensified due to their differences on nuclear testing -- the former opposed nuclear testing by all nations, while the latter allowed nuclear testing by the former Soviet Union from its anti-U.S. perspective. They eventually split into two separate groups. Since then, Gensuikin and Gensuikyo have held separate world conferences against A- and H-bombs every August. There is still a rift between the two organizations.

    In the meantime, A-bomb survivors involved in anti-nuclear and peace movements have aged. Kawano himself is now in his 80s. Many hibakusha organizations nationwide have begun to dissolve and their membership continues to decline, and there is concern that the movement will taper off. Senji Yamaguchi, Sumiteru Taniguchi, Sunao Tsuboi, and other longtime leaders of the movement have all passed away.

    Koichi Kawano protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in front of the Peace Statue in Nagasaki, on March 6, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Imano)

    In the midst of all this, the "nuclear threat" has become a reality with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

    "How is this allowed in this day and age?" Kawano thought. He was disappointed at the international community's inability to stop Russia, while at the same time feeling a sense of urgency as it's becoming increasingly difficult to convey survivors' views to the world and pass them on to the next generation.

    Under such circumstances, the March 6 rally was a big step forward for Kawano. Local bodies of Gensuikin and Gensuikyo served as the secretariat, and A-bomb survivors, regardless of their affiliation, as well as high school students who are engaged in petition drives for nuclear abolition, spoke through the microphone one after another. It was a scene that would have been unthinkable in the days of the deep divisions between the two organizations. "Numbers are strength. If hibakusha band together, our wishes will reach even more people," Kawano commented.

    On March 23, his feelings were reinforced as he listened to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's online speech in Japan's Diet. "The time has come for all of us to join together to oppose war and realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. The solidarity of people is being tested," Kawano said.

    Kawano himself feels that the bitterness he has harbored since the split of the organization has been fading with the years. To avoid leaving behind any antagonism for the next generation, he is looking to the future beyond the budding collaboration between the groups.

    (Japanese original by Yuki Imano, Kyushu News Department)

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