Interview with prominent progressive journalist Andre Vltchek



Kourosh Ziabari – Andre Vltchek (visit his website here) is a prominent progressive, anti-war novelist, writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in Soviet Union but consequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen. As a novelist and playwright, he wrote books such as ” Western Terror: From Potosi to Baghdad” and “Ghosts of Valparaiso” which were translated into several languages.

His articles have appeared on such news websites and papers as Counterpunch, Z Magazine, Newsweek, Asia Times, China Daily, Irish Times and Japan Focus. He has also been interviewed by Chinese, South African, Turkish, French and Russian newspapers.

Vltchek believes that Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t pose any threat to global peace. He says that it’s the nuclear arsenals of the imperial powers which is threatening and dangerous: “I am truly horrified that the countries that managed to shatter tens of millions of human lives – like the United States, France or UK – have entire arsenal of nukes. There is of course no philosophical logic to all that: only “mafia logic” employed by the Empire.”

What follows is the text of Tehran Times’ interview with Andre Vltchek in which a number of issues including the mainstream media’s portrayal of Iran, the dominance of Western powers over the Middle East, the post 9/11 War on Terror and Israel’s war threats against Iran were discussed.

Q: Dear Andre; I learned that you’ve traveled to so many countries across the world. Can you give me the exact number? Which country has fascinated you the most? How has been the experience of traveling to different nations in four corners of the globe and getting familiar with diverse cultures and civilizations?

A: Dear Kourosh, first of all, I thank you for giving me this opportunity – to address your readers in Iran. For me it is great honor.

About the number of countries that I visited: I already lost track, but at the last count, which was just a couple of years ago, the number was roughly 145. One of the reasons why it is difficult to keep track is simply because I keep traveling and also because the world maps are constantly “evolving”; some old countries like Yugoslavia, Somalia or Sudan are destroyed by the outside forces, and the new ones are created to serve the interests of the Empire: South Sudan, Kosovo and probably soon it will be the speck of land in Southern part of Somalia occupied by Kenya, staunch ally of the West. I would not be surprised if there would be soon some fully independent and oil-rich “Kurdistan”, with pro-Western government.

I am not sure anymore whether what I do could be really described as traveling and visiting different countries. I move around the world constantly: I am an internationalist and I actually live in several parts of the world, increasingly all over the world. It is not a pose – it is simply my reality. And the reality is sometimes fascinating and breathtaking, but it can also be sad. The nature of my work and my struggle simply demands this kind of lifestyle – there is nothing I can do to change it.

About the cultures, it is like this: I simply don’t have my own. And I never had. My family history is very complex; to some extend traumatic. Since I was a little boy, I always wanted to be “somewhere else,” “very far from where I lived.” I created my own imaginary world, and in that world there were many imaginary countries. Well, some were imaginary and some were real, but when you are a child, even the real countries are actually imaginary – you dream them, you build them almost from the scratch. My maternal grandmother, easily the most important woman in my life, ignited my passion for reading, fed my imagination. She used to read for me and she used to tell me her stories. Thanks to her I became a writer. She never told me, but I felt she wanted me to do all those things she never had a chance to do herself. I loved her very much. I still do, years after she passed away. Many things I did in life were done as a tribute to her. Beautiful and fragile woman as she was when young, she fought Germans, defending her city – Leningrad – ravished by 900 days of horrible siege. If she could do it, why not me: a big man that I am. And I do – I fight fascism in any form it comes. My grandmother dared to fall in love and to marry a man, a top Soviet government official, who was of Chinese stock and came from the Middle East. And when he was executed, although later they rehabilitated him and turned him to a “hero” again, posthumously, she never betrayed him or his memory and preferred to go to prison, rather than to publicly repent her decision to marry him. I always believe that people of different races should mix: that this is the only way to bring peace and harmony and understanding to our planet; my grandmother’s influence, of course. But what I want to say is that my mixture of bloods and my family history are so complex that since I was a child, I never belonged to anywhere. So I can blend with any culture or group of people. And I feel no allegiance to any race or nation.

Personally I enjoy living in Japan, I feel very comfortable in Chile and in China, I love Cuba.

What do I feel when traveling to different corners of the world? Mainly sadness. Sadness because I know that the world is very different place from those perceptions and stereotypes implanted to our brains. Perceptions are formed by propaganda, by mass media, by traditionally bigoted stereotypes. The reality is different and it is only what you touch, feel, see, hear, taste; it is your true interaction with the place and its people that matters. But you have to be very brave, very daring and very strong to really explore the world on your own. Not because of some physical danger, but because if you observe and analyze the world from your own perspective, not through the eyes and lenses of your culture, religion, or non-religion, social class or profession, you may end up developing your own opinion, and that makes you an outcast in today’s world, a buffoon, a danger to the ruling cultures. You have to be ready to be ridiculed, silenced and sidelined. Your world will be described by some, even by those who may be dearest to you, as gagaland. You see, to have your own opinion is not really in vogue, anymore. It is expected that one ‘belongs’; sees the world as others do.

Q: You haven’t been to Iran so far, but I know that you’re quite to visit Iran and report its obscured realities to the global audience. What do you know Iran, aside from the propagandistic claims of the Western mainstream media that it’s trying to build atomic bombs and destroy other nations? Have you heard anything about Iran’s ancient culture and civilization?

A: I am a filmmaker. Naturally I am fascinated by Iranian cinema. It is very well known and appreciated in South America, particularly in two extremely educated countries – Chile and Argentina – where I used to live. Just thinking about some films by Abbas Kiarostami or Jafar Panahi gives me instant goose bumps. Iranian New Wave has so much in common with the classical Japanese cinema – the one I admire with no limits. It goes to the essence of human existence; it shows impatience and spite with everything that is non-essential. Kiarostami is a great humanist, a thinker, and enormous artist. Like Bergman, Tarkovski, Fellini and Kurosawa, he managed to create an entire universe; addressing the most essential conditions and dilemmas of human existence.

Of course I admire two great Persian poets, two, so to speak, extremes in the way the poetry could describe the world: Omar Khayyam and Rumi. Visual arts of Persia are also stunning.

Like China, Iran is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Both countries are historically peaceful. They are also determined to stick to their own path of development. More peaceful and determined they are, more demonized they become in the West.

Now about the bomb; actually, I would have no problem if Iran would develop and possess one, given its peaceful history. I don’t feel threatened by Iran.

But I am truly horrified that the countries that managed to shatter tens of millions of human lives – like the United States, France or UK – have entire arsenal of nukes. There is of course no philosophical logic to all that: only “mafia logic” employed by the Empire: “We are big and strong and you are not, and if you don’t do what we say and don’t repeat what we designate as truth, we will come and break your leg… or something worst.”

Q: In one of your articles, you had alluded to the fact that it’s sometimes very difficult to convince the editors and publishers to run materials which are not in compliance with their policies. They withhold from public realities and truths which could be otherwise revealed to the people, and this is how the mainstream media work. Doesn’t such an approach violate the principles of freedom of speech? What’s your take on that?

A: First of all, terms like “freedom of speech” or “liberty” became nothing more than propaganda slogans. There is not one country on earth which has absolute freedom of speech. There are always limitations.

The propaganda in the West is the most developed and the most “perfect” in the world. Otherwise European empires could not have controlled and plundered entire continents for all those long centuries. You see, Europeans and North Americans do not only want to loot; they also want to feel superior when they are robbing others. They want to be applauded and admired for killing, for raping and plundering. In a way, they are very sentimental. And to do all these terrible things to the people around the world and still feel like that superior’ well, it takes some discipline and some continuous massaging of one’s conscience, as well as trivializing and twisting the logic. That’s why philosophy and serious arts are discouraged; what is propagated is light entertainment. If people are light, it is easier to manipulate them. If they watch films by Abbas Kiarostami or Yasujiro Ozu, they will be training their brains and they will learn how to feel and how to think. It would be hard for them to swallow something like War on Terror. But feed them with the movies about giant spiders or insect invading the earth and you can be sure that eventually their ability to analyze and resist propaganda will significantly decrease.

It takes continuous battering of what the great Uruguayan writer, my friend, Eduardo Galeano, calls “Lady Reality.” You see, she is very beautiful, very mysterious, that lad Reality. Galeano and I are in love with her. Both of us are, madly! She is so brave; she makes so many people, mostly those with gangster streak, terribly uncomfortable, even scared. So they are hunting her, muzzling her, they torture her, and do some absolutely appalling things to her, but she always manages to get away, she always survives. She is very strong, very proud, and very beautiful. She is worth fighting for and living for and dying for. She has entire armies of the enemies, but she has some very determined admirers, too. Like Galeano, like Chomsky, like myself. Listen what Galeano had to say about his beloved Lady named reality, when we met in his face in Montevideo, Uruguay some years ago: “My position is always that in order not to be mute, one shouldn’t be deaf. One has to be able to listen in order to speak. I am a passionate listener. I listen to reality. Reality is a magic lady, sometimes very mysterious. To me she is very passionate. She is real not only when she is awake, walking down the streets, but also at night when she is dreaming or when she is having nightmares. When I am writing, I am always paying tribute to her – to that lady called Reality. I am trying not to fail her.”

Do you understand? This is all that really matters; listening and telling the story, truthfully; the story that matters, the story that can change the course of the world history or the story that can change or save one single human life.

How long are we going to blame corporate media, big newspapers, and television stations for the state of our stories? It is they, sure it is they who are censoring and twisting the truth; but it is also us, the storytellers, philosophers, thinkers, writers, filmmakers, and poets, who are to blame. How many of us are intellectually whoring instead of fighting for better world? May I quote and paraphrase just a little bit one of the greatest Czech poets, Jaroslav Seifert, a laureate of Nobel Prize in Literature and a writer of both great lyricism and integrity, who once barged in despair at his colleagues at the plenary session of the Union of Czech writers: “writers are the conscience of their nation. If anyone else omits the truth, it can be considered as a strategic maneuver. If a writer omits the truth, he is a liar.” If thousands would be writing the truth, even our regime would not be able to muzzle them!

Q: In our correspondence, you talked of your latest 150-minute film called “Rwandan Gambit” and mentioned that it is about the suffering of Congolese people. Would you please explain more about this documentary? You’ve visited several African countries. Do you still find traces of British, French and Portuguese imperialism and occupation in these countries?

A: Imperialism never vanished; it is deeply engraved in European psyche, in its culture. In fact, Western culture and imperialism are two synonyms. Of course imperialism often changes its form; it mutates, it calls itself “defender of freedom” or “warrior against terrorism.” That’s not new, of course. Do you know how German Nazis called the members of French resistance? They called them bunch of terrorists. If you read Gustav Jung carefully, and he was one of the greatest psychologists of all times, you will find some pointed remarks on the topic. After WWII, Jung spoke and wrote about the European culture as being pathological. And it is not just because what they did to their own people and to Jews and Gypsies and disabled people and Slavs. It is also because what they did to the people all over the world for many long centuries. WWII was terrible and relatively recent. But in the past, there were many horrid events like the 30 Year War, the 100 Year War – events that left entire European continent in ruins. But simultaneously and more significantly, there were colonial wars and “expeditions”, invasions. Entire nations disappeared, together with their languages, cultures, and religions. In the 20th Century, for instance, Germans did not only exterminate Jews, they came much closer to the total holocaust; a genocide in an African country of Namibia, where they brutally exterminated most of the people from Herero Tribe.

Of course Arabs were renowned for their colonialism as well, and Turkish Ottoman Empire was hardly a benevolent and benign realm, but there is nothing in the history of the mankind that could match the cruelty of Western imperialism.

Belgians killed around 10 million people during the reign of their King Leopold II. Can you just imagine? 10 million people vanishing approximately one century ago, when the world population was just a fraction of what it is now? Those cultured and civilized Belgians were mainly killing people by chopping their hands off when they did not produce enough rubber to fill royal coffers. They were also burning people alive in their huts, one of the cheapest and quickest ways to exterminate large quantities of human beings.

And European nations – majority of their citizens – feel zero remorse. It is scandalous. You come to Brussels and instead of stumbling over monuments to the victims of Belgian holocaust in Africa, you see King Leopold’s statues everywhere. He is revered! He is sitting on his horse, proud and erect. It is sickening but it is how Europe is. In the Belgian capital you encounter thousands of anti-immigrant graffiti, but no insults against one of the worst mass murderers in the human history. Spain is no different, or the UK, France, Germany and Holland.

Back to my film; what do people know about the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda? They know close to nothing; they know what they are told by the Western media. And what they are told is that on one sunny day bad Hutus went simply bananas, and began murdering good poor Tutsi minority. Westerners were told that there were also some good dudes like that guy running the “Hotel Rwanda” who helped to save hundreds of human lives. Oh, and the punch line was; blame everything on the United Nations as they stood by and did nothing to stop this mass murder of around 800.000 people. Sounds simple and comforting, right? But think twice. There is hardly any truth in that official narrative!

In brief; before the 1994, the West, particularly the U.S. but also others, were arming Paul Kagame and his murderous RPF army – a group of exiles who had been living in Uganda after several pogroms in Uganda really forced many Tutsi to leave the country. They were dreaming about returning and about taking power. Paul Kagame was trained in the U.S. and for some long period of time was acting as the military intelligence chief of Uganda. The West felt it needed some strong, militaristic, Prussian-style country to act as its client state, in order to plunder those plentiful natural riches found all over the region, mainly in DR Congo. By then the IMF already did “great job” in destabilizing Rwanda; the currency was devalued, “restructuring programs” implemented, people brought close to starvation. The RPF was shelling Rwanda and conducting raids; it was killing civilians. And then the Presidential plane carrying two Hutu heads of state – one of Rwanda and one of Burundi – was shot down from the sky killing everybody on board when it crashed right at the backyard of the Rwandan President’s home. Many credible investigators arrived to conclusion that the murder was carried by RPF. But all investigations soon stopped; the U.S. and UK did not want their men to be indicted. After the plane crash, the country literally exploded, the genocide took place and hundreds of thousands of people really died. It was terrible, but it did not happen “from the blue.” And it was not the end of the story. Victorious RPF began persecuting Hutu majority, chasing them and after them to DR Congo. There was gruesome Kibeho massacre but it was not the only one. DR Congo was invaded by both Rwanda and Uganda; it was brutalized, occupied, plundered. 6 to 10 million people died. Mass rapes were ravishing East Kivu region. Absolute lunatics and religious maniacs like General Laurent Nkunda went on the rampage, and Kigali was behind their actions! At home and abroad, Kagame began murdering people, often even his former allies and cohorts. And what about that hero of the official narrative, the manager of “Hotel Rwanda” (Hotel des Milles Collines” in real life)? His name is Paul Rusesabagina, and he lives in South Africa, in exile!

In the West, almost everybody prefers to know nothing about what is happening in Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. In Brussels, New York, London and Paris, people are enjoying their Congolese diamonds; they use coltan in their mobile phones, they take advantage of the uranium mined in Congo. I spent 3 years making this film. I made it with Professor Scott Erlinder. We amassed ocean of testimonies, conducted interviews in Africa, U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan. I was filming all over Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. It was dangerous, very challenging, but it had to be done. Others tried and failed. I believe we did great job making this film. In 2-3 weeks it will be finished. We ruined ourselves financially, of course, but again, it had to be done. There are worse ways how to get broke! Millions are dying. Now we have to make sure that the film has deep impact on the Great Lakes and on the world opinion.

Q: What do you think about the mainstream media’s portrayal of Iran and other non-aligned, independent countries? It seems to me that their lopsided, biased coverage of events in Iran and other independent nations leaves millions of people around the world misinformed about and unaware of the reality on the ground. What’s your view?

A: In the eyes of the Western global regime, strife for independence is the greatest crime any nation could commit. All countries that tried to be independent, from Nicaragua and Cuba to Indonesia (before 1965), Yugoslavia and Chile, were attacked and destroyed either by hired internal forces or by direct invasions from abroad. Cuba survived, but at a tremendous cost and only because of its exceptionally strong and heroic people.

Iran is next; you know it, and everyone knows it. As Aleppo is falling to that mostly Western-trained “opposition” scum, it is obvious why Syria is being ravished; in Washington and London they simply can’t tolerate its independent course. Also, if Damascus falls, Iran will be more vulnerable, more exposed. That is why it is essential to write about what is happening in Syria and who is behind that “rebellion.” It is equally essential to write about Iran, to show the country realistically, in positive light; to propagate its culture, to open dialogue with its people. Right now Iran is the target of Western propaganda, as in the past it had been a victim of direct and indirect Western invasions and attacks. What was done to Iran is not unlike the terror unleashed against several Latin American nations throughout the 20th century. That is why those of us who lived for many years in Latin America, covering its suffering, resistance and finally its victories, understand importance of supporting Iran.

Of course the most essential is to prevent any potential attack on Iran. Western propaganda is aiming at dehumanizing the country, at reducing its image to some abstract lunatic bigoted nightmare. Entire might of the misinformation techniques is employed.

The best way to help Iran is to visit it, to write about it, to show lives of its men, women and children, and its people; to tell the stories, to describe its culture. To give it back “its face” that was erased by vicious campaign. Exactly what I am planning to do, soon!

Q: What do you think about the consequences of the 9/11 attacks for the international community? Do you share the viewpoint of some political commentators that it was a false flag operation? Was the War on Terror launched by George W. Bush a project aimed at undermining and demoralizing the Muslim world and dominating the Middle East?

A: Dominating the Middle East – definitely. What is happening now is. It all went beyond just oil. It is about the control, about ruling the world. The West, and by this I mean both Europe and also the United States which is the younger but presently more aggressive and potent partner in the neo-colonist business, seems to be increasingly obsessed with controlling every square mile of the world while demanding that its dogmas become the only legitimate narrative.

But undermining and demoralizing the Muslim world; I am not sure. Or at least I have to say that the reality is much more complex. Muslim world is not homogeneous. Many Muslims are victims, but Western imperialism also finds the best allies in the ranks of political Islam and Sunni fundamentalism. Just look at Saudi Arabia, undoubtedly the most perfect fascist state on earth, which is also closely allied to Western interests. Look the way it is oppressing Shiite minority in its own country, as well as Shiite majority in neighboring Bahrain, and how it manages to avoid almost all scrutiny of the Western mass media outlets. Or look at Indonesia where Islamic organizations like NU had participated in the U.S.-sponsored mass murder that took lives of millions of members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and other progressive forces in and after 1965. Islamist cadres were also used during the genocide in East Timor, now called Timor Leste, all with the explicit green light flashing merrily from Washington, London, and Canberra. And look at the role many Muslim individuals and groups played in the Bush Senior and Reagan design to drag Soviet Union into Afghanistan and to exhaust and bankrupt it there. And looking even further back, to the rise of Wahhabism that had been closely linked to the British colonialism in the Middle East.

So I would say that the War on Terror has actually been extremely cynical but effective, from the point of view of the interests of the Empire, way of exploiting prejudices, complexes of superiority and racism that is very deeply rooted in Western societies. It also justifies the tightening of screws on the press, on basic liberties and basic decency in many countries all over the world.

The “philosophy” of the “War on Terror” is based on primitive bunch of lies, of course, but it works. If it is not challenged in the mass media, the rulers of the Empire get easily away with countless cheap deceits. And suddenly there is nothing that can be done to stop the process. People are scared: in the client states, in the countries on the hit list of the Empire, even in the Empire itself. Almost nobody protests, nobody rebels. Rebellion can be easily labeled as terrorism! The regime had been winning, at least for now. It cancelled decades and centuries of progress, of strife for social justice. War on terror has many victims and the Muslim world, or at least substantial part of it, is one of the major ones, but not the only one.

Q: what do you think about Noam Chomsky’s role in promoting progressive and anti-imperialist thinking? I realized that he has commended your works and appreciated your books such as “Western Terror from Potosi to Baghdad.” What do you think about him? What have been the impacts of Chomsky’s theorizations in the formation of leftist ideology?

A: In June this year I debated with Noam Chomsky the present state of the world. Our debate took place at his MIT. It took us two days to go through the list of crimes the West committed after the WWII all over the world, from Hiroshima to the present days. A brilliant Japanese crew accompanied me, 3 filmmakers who traveled all the way from Tokyo to Boston in order to film the discussion. In October we will be editing in Tokyo, producing powerful film that will be illustrated and accompanied by my footage from the conflict zones collected all over the world. Debate will be also published as a book by London-based publishing house, Pluto.

Chomsky is easily one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century, a man of great intellect, integrity and compassion. He had enormous influence on many men and women worldwide and he had great influence on me. He and his wife, Carol, were very supportive of my work, endorsing it, reviewing it, encouraging me to labor, to go ahead even when I felt hopeless, exhausted and fully discouraged by the state of the world.

His impact on the Left has been great. Above all, he summarized the way the Empire functions, controls, and destroys. He also depicted in detail how it lies. The sharpness of his mind is amazing; there is still no one else now capable to grasp and analyze all aspects of our global tragedy to the extent and depth to which he does.

Q: Finally, what’s your idea about Israel’s war threats against Iran? Israel is the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and at the same time, it has warned that it would launch a military strike against Iran, should Iran fails to abandon its civilian nuclear program. What’s your take on that?

A: Israel is a Rottweiler of the West in the Middle East. As such it can bite, even tear some unfortunate creature of country to pieces. It goes periodically gaga on its own, but mostly it only does what it is told to do. I do not think it is some independent entity. You see, the ties between Israel and the U.S. and Europe are great. Israel cannot survive without the United States and Europe, as it cannot take independent course politically and militarily.

There is one important issue worth remembering: above mentioned Noam Chomsky and many other intellectual Jews went to Israel after the WWII hoping to build multi-cultural and multi-religious nation united by strife for social justice, not by race. In those days it was not certain in which direction Israel would go. Several East and Central European Communist countries, including Czechoslovakia, were deeply involved in the “project.” At the end, Israel joined forces with the Empire, becoming client state of the United States.

What we see now is not unlike what we witnessed in South Africa; social state with one of the highest HDI (Human Development Index) for the “whites” and the misery and humiliation for the others.

This interview was originally published on Tehran Times.