Interview: JOHN PILGER, war correspondent, journalist and filmmaker

As in Greece today, German economic power played a major role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia – in encouraging Croatia to break away.

John Pilger
John Pilger

John Pilger, world-famous war correspondent, journalist and documentarian, started his career as war correspondent back in the time of the Vietnam War. He was born in 1939 in Australia but spent the most of his life in London. He made more than sixty documentaries dealing with imperialism, American overthrowing of unsuitable regimes in other countries, racism of Australian Government towards indigenous Aboriginal population, Indonesian occupation of East Timor, horrors of Pol Pot’s dictatorship and many other subjects. For the film about British expelling the natives from Chagos Archipelago in order to set up American military base he won the most prestigious British award for documentaries. He received a number of prestigious awards in the fields of filmmaking and journalism. According to Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize for literature winner, Pilger unearths, with steely attention to the facts, the filthy truth and tells it as it is.

Tell us something more about your career as war correspondent and how that job affected you?  

I set out to tell the stories of the victims of war and to try and make sense of why the war started.  A war is not the product of some divine will; it is usually the imposition of rapacious power. A war correspondent ought to attempt to understand this and act as the agent of ordinary people, not of those assaulting them. Wars are invariably built on lies; exposing those lies is the duty of serious journalists. Yes, covering wars has influenced me greatly, especially in Asia and the Middle East.

How did your critical attitude towards the media reflect on your journalistic and directorial work?

Liberal media organisations are hyper-sensitive to criticism; they have much invested in a self-bestowed image as bastions of free thought and enemies of censorship. I used to contribute to Il Manifesto in Rome – a paper with a proud radical history. When I wrote about Obama during his election campaign, pointing out that he was undeserving of the liberal media’s devotion, my piece was rejected and I was told, ‘We must give him a chance.’ That’s pure censorship. Something similar happened with other liberal publications — especially on Ukraine. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian worked hard to deny the truth that Ukraine was the victim of an American coup. For them, the cold war never ended, and the problem was solely Russian aggression.  My articles taking a different view were unwelcome. On the positive side, the World Wide Web has opened up an audience I never imagined; I’ve never had so many readers. .

You wrote a lot about NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Does this aggression have common points with recent events in Ukraine or Greece, or with other so-called “humanitarian wars” taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other countries?

There is a common theme of power that connects these episodes. The illegal Nato attack on Yugoslavia was an assault on the very notion of sovereign and economic independence in an American and EU-ordained ‘global’ world. Something similar, in a different form, describes the current attack on Greece – bombs are not falling on Athens, but the aggression has similar goals. The same applies to the sanctions imposed on Iran. Independence in all forms cannot be tolerated. Yugoslavia represented another kind of independence — messy in the post-Tito years, but independent. The ‘secret’ appendix to the Rambouillet accords made this clear.

The Rambouillet Agreement was against the sovereignty too?

Milosevic was ordered to agree to a complete military and economic occupation of his country, or be bombed. It was the ultimatum of the Mafia. As in Greece today, German economic power played a major role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia – in encouraging Croatia to break away. In Ukraine, the takeover by the US/Nato/EU plays by similar rules. What these forces find most intolerable is the independence of Russia. Under Yeltsin, Russia was a vassal. Under Putin, it is independent again. Worse, Russia is asserting its independence in building alliances that challenge the hegemony of the US. You mention Libya. Libya’s ‘crime’ was the independence the Gaddafi regime had bestowed for many years; and even though Gaddafi was becoming increasingly compliant, he retained that independence. . The Nato attack on Libya and the aggression against independent Syria have helped to create the ultimate ‘threat’ – ISIS., a gift of self-fulfilling propaganda. What all this tells us is that the greatest power in the world is deeply insecure; its dominance is being challenged. Mark the accelerating propaganda that says China is a ‘threat’. The dangers for all of us ought to be obvious.

Your film ‘The War You Don’t See’ tells us about active role the media have in promoting wars. Can you tell us something more about media warmongering before and during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia?

The justification for the Nato bombing was that the Serbs were committing “genocide” in the secessionist province of Kosovo against ethnic Albanians. David Scheffer, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, announced that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered. Tony Blair invoked the Holocaust and “the spirit of the Second World War”. All of this was amplified in the media and seldom challenged by journalists. With the Nato bombing over, international teams descended upon Kosovo to exhume the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. A year later, Del Ponte’s tribunal announced the final count of the dead in Kosovo: 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the Kosovo Liberation Army. There was no genocide in Kosovo. The charge of a “holocaust” was a lie; the Nato attack had been fraudulent. These lies were given legitimacy by the media – just as Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction became a media lie that led to the deaths of as many as a million people.

You actively participated in defending Assange and Snowden. What does their current situation tell us about world power structures?

We live in a world where information about us has never been more available, and more abused. Edward Snowden exposed this, as did Julian Assange and WikiLeaks expose the lies and warmongering of “our” governments. They are heroes of our time.

You wrote that Greece became a colony and that euro is a colonial currency. You also wrote, long time ago, that empire expects no less than complete surrender of sovereignty of other countries. How do you see the present situation in Greece and pressure of the European Union?

Greece is a model of outside forces imposing their will contrary to the will of the people. Greece is now effectively a colony of the centres of money power in Europe. Above all, Greece represents a betrayal by a supposedly left-wing government that did the opposite of what the Greek people demanded of it. This is the most important lesson of Greece. Syriza was promoted as a “radical” party. It was nothing of the kind; it is typical of political parties rooted in an affluent middle class, built around a prominent leader. They are, to working class people, a political enemy within. The British Labour Party, the Australian Labor Party, almost all the social democratic parties in Europe more or less fit this description. They are not “left”; they represent establishment interests while claiming otherwise and promoting token “identity” causes.

Milenko Srećković

Interview is originally published in Serbian Daily Politika, 22. August 2015

Interview: SEVIM DAGDELEN, MP for the German Left Party (Die Linke)

Photo by Niels Holger Schmidt

Photo by Niels Holger Schmidt

Greater Albanian nationalism is flourishing on this soil, which is being exploited by NATO to discipline Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and even Greece. I recently criticised the KLA, and subsequently received not only sexist, racist and fascist letters from Greater Albanian nationalists, but even death threats. Furthermore, because I criticised the KLA I was defamed as a Serbian nationalist. It’s ridiculous, but it’s part of the culture of intimidation that Europe simply chooses to ignore. Neither NATO intervention nor Greater Serbian or Greater Albanian nationalism are going to solve a single problem in the region.

Sevim Dağdelen, member of the Parliament from the German leftist party Die Linke (The Left) attracted significant attention of our public and media by her recent report in German Parliament. From the speaker’s platform in the Bundestag, during the session in which was being decided about a demand that German contingent of KFOR be granted 45 million euros for the next year, she presented harsh criticisms on account of German military presence in Kosovo and its support to the Government of Kosovo. This member of the Parliament, of Turkish origin, who considers the recognition of Kosovo’s independence open violation of the International Law, declared that the Government of Kosovo consists of members of terrorist KLA (UÇK), because of whose terror a hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma people and other minorities were forced to leave Kosovo, and which wants to expand its terrorist acts to the neighboring countries, highlighting the recent terrorist attack in Macedonia.

You belong to the single political party in German Parliament that opposed NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. What is your stand regarding similar military interventions in other parts of the world?

NATO and the Bundeswehr have been in Kosovo for 16 years now. What do we have to show for it? Kosovo is the poorhouse of Europe; thousands of Kosovars are fleeing corruption and lack of opportunity. Minority groups such as the Roma are being persecuted. A culture of impunity exists with regard to the crimes of the KLA. Kosovo has the highest proportion of Islamic terrorists in Europe relative to its population size. I wouldn’t exactly call that a success story. Greater Albanian nationalism is flourishing on this soil, which is being exploited by NATO to discipline Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and even Greece. I recently criticised the KLA, and subsequently received not only sexist, racist and fascist letters from Greater Albanian nationalists, but even death threats. Furthermore, because I criticised the KLA I was defamed as a Serbian nationalist. It’s ridiculous, but it’s part of the culture of intimidation that Europe simply chooses to ignore. Neither NATO intervention nor Greater Serbian or Greater Albanian nationalism are going to solve a single problem in the region.

Whether admission of Balkan countries to European Union will result in more permanent peace in this region? You publicly opposed the European Union getting the Nobel Peace Prize, isn’t that right?

The EU is hardly a role model, especially when its fatal policy of sealing off borders costs thousands of people trying to cross the Mediterranean their lives. We need to rebuild the EU around social, democratic and peaceful values. Currently, the EU is largely about making the rich richer and increasing the number of people living in poverty. Furthermore, in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU violates international law and fosters unrest by pursuing a regime change policy, as it did most recently in Ukraine, for example.

What is your view on the current EU policy towards immigrants and Hungarian plan to raise a 4 meters fence on its border with Serbia?

Hungary’s conduct is shameful. But it isn’t all that different to the fatal policy of sealing off borders pursued by the EU. We need a culture of acceptance towards EU refugees. No one leaves their home country voluntarily. The borders must be opened to these people.

What do you think about Serbia’s decision not to declare sanctions on Russia? How that reflects on Serbian Government’s intention for Serbia to become a member of the European Union?

The EU, and also the German Federal Government, will not only demand that Serbia recognises Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, but also that it cuts its good ties with Russia. I fear this will be the price Serbia will have to pay to join the EU, even though it is not explicitly stated in the Copenhagen criteria. However, as a result of Greece’s “No”vote in the referendum, I am optimistic that other European nations will also now be unwilling to give up their democratic sovereignty. In Serbia’s case – if joining the EU means contractually acknowledging the infringements of international law and the EU’s sanctions and escalation policies against Russia – this would mean the people would need to consider whether the price is too high. In any case, wars of aggression and sanctions policies against Russia are toxic for peace in Europe.

What is your opinion on the EU policy towards Ukraine, especially regarding the Euromaidan movement and conflict between pro-EU and pro-Russian forces?

The EU supported the regime change in Ukraine in 2014. Alarmingly, it downplayed the significance of the fascists who then formed part of the new government in Kiev. Now, the EU is supporting President Poroshenko’s wartime government by providing generous financial aid, even though it is unclear whether or not it wants to comply with the Minsk Protocol. In addition, fascist militias such as the Azov Battalion are fighting on the side of the Ukrainian government without being criticised by EU representatives. That is a historical and political breach of taboo with serious consequences in terms of encouraging fascist forces in the EU. Apparently, our hatred of Russia has grown so much that we do not even shy away from collaborating with fascists. The positive aspect of Maidan – its anti-oligarchic stance – has disappeared entirely. In Ukraine, oligarchs like Poroshenko are now letting people die in order to enrich themselves.

What is your stand on Greek referendum? And what is your party’s proposal for getting out of the crisis?

Greece’s “No” vote was a victory for democracy in Europe.The Left Party stands in solidarity with the Greek people and their rejection of the blackmailing techniques employed by the Troika of the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB.What we need to see now is a debt haircut and an end to the austerity policy. Further packages of spending cuts will only lead to increased poverty.

What is your opinion on the future of left-wing political parties in Europe and their abilities to radically change the European Union?

If the EU does not change radically, in a social, peaceful and democratic way, it won’t survive much longer. The political left has a core mission: to give an answer to the new social question. This means a struggle against the privatisation of public services, the socialisation of key industries and a radical redistribution from the top down. In order to prevent the rich from becoming more and more privileged, we need a social project of “de-oligarchisation”. That is particularly important for Germany: a country where 60% of all DAX-listed corporations are run by oligarchs and which, with 123 billionaires, now ranks third worldwide on the world’s billionaire list. It would also be an effective antidote for the growing trends of racism and nationalism. Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the brutal war crimes committed in Srebrenica. I hope that Serbian society will find the strength to bring to justice, without exception, the perpetrators involved in the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims. The widespread impunity for those who committed atrocities on the Serbs in the civil war must not serve as an example: there must be no future for nationalism and misanthropy.

What is your stand on Turkish policy towards the Syrian crisis and the Kurds?

The AKP regime must be condemned for supplying weapons to Islamic holy warriors in Syria, thereby supporting, together with Saudi Arabia, militia that are massacring Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Alawites, Armenians, Druze and Kurds. Turkey’s plans for incursion into Syria are solely aimed at the Kurds in the northern part of the country who are defending themselves against the IS. The Left Party calls for an end to Chancellor Merkel’s chumminess with Turkish autocrat Erdoğan, for the Bundeswehr to pull out of Turkey and for arms exports to cease. We also do not want any further chapters to open in EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

You are the first member of the Parliament who visited Julian Assange after he found asylum in the Ecuadoran Embassy. What do you think about the position he is currently in?

Julian Assange has now been living under asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy for three years. Without him, the WikiLeaks revelations would never have come to light, including the war crimes committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. He opened our eyes to the dirty, bloody nature of these wars, and to just how much our governments have let us down in the past and how much they continue to do so. Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning have written history; they are peace- and freedom-loving people, and we are all indebted to them for what they have done. And even Edward Snowden’s act of courage – blowing the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices – is difficult to imagine in a world without Julian Assange. That’s why Assange is facing political persecution by the US. Anyone who is genuinely interested in protecting fundamental rights should also be campaigning to ensure that Julian Assange can leave the embassy in London without having to be extradited to the US. Rather than imprisonment and asylum in an embassy, he should be given the Nobel Peace Prize. He deserves it more than others.

Did the NSA spying on European and German politicians change anything in the relations between the USA, Germany and the EU?

Sadly it didn’t. Even though the NSA has infringed on the fundamental rights of German citizens a million times over, and continues to do so, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) still keep faith with the US administration. This shows that the grand coalition in Berlin is not prepared to defend Germany’s Basic Law. It is as if Germany were a vassal state to the US.

 Milenko Srećković

Interview is originally published in Serbian Daily Politika, 12. July 2015.

Interview with Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier de Schutter

Since it is estimated that world population will grow to 9.7 billions of people by the middle of this century and at this moment already three millions of children die of hunger every year, one of the most important global political questions today is how to provide food for all those people. Belgian professor Oliver de Schutter, Special Rapporteur of UN on the Right to Food, in the interview for Serbian Daily Politika reveals that South American countries have for now taken the most adequate political and legal steps in order to solve this problem, going far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to realizing the right to food. Those steps, believes Schutter, are of great importance since, according to him, hunger and malnutrition are primarily the question of political will and accountability of ruling structures and politico-legal system. Economical growth by itself is not a solution if it is not connected with more equitable distribution of goods.

Mr. Schutter, how many people in the world is facing hunger and what are according to your analysis the root causes of hunger in different parts of the world?  

According to the latest figures from the FAO, in 2011-13 a total of 842 million people, or around one in eight people in the world, were estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and not getting enough food to lead an active life. This however seriously underestimates the challenge, for two reasons. First, the figure is based on the needs of adults leading sedentary lifestyles, when most of the poor in the developing world perform physically demanding labour ; and the figure is based on estimates of household-level needs, and therefore problems of allocation within households — for instance, discrimination against women and girls in many countries in South Asia — are not captured by this global estimate. Second, though undernutrition (lack of calorie intake) is one problem, it is by no means the only problem. Micronutrient deficiency (malnutrition) is at least as significant and worrisome. More than 100 million children in the world lack vitamin A, and about two billion people are anemic, suffering from a severe lack of iron: when this afflicts pregnant women, it means the child will be severely hampered in his or her physical and mental development. Let us not fool ourselves: despite the progress made in reducing the proportion of hungry people — from 20 per cent of the world’s population to about 13 per cent today –, the twin problems of hunger and malnutrition remain huge, and demand strong political action.

What are your basic recommendations to the governments – what should governments do in order to eradicate hunger and what kind of system should be implemented in order to protect people from hunger? Is fostering GDP growth proper and sufficient way to eradicate hunger?

It is important not to look at hunger simply as just a problem of food availability. There is no simple solution: increasing net calorie availability per capita by increased production does not guarantee less hunger; nor does economic growth per se constitute the solution, if its benefits are not much more equitably distributed. The countries that have made major inroads against hunger are not necessarily richer than others. But they made reducing hunger and malnutrition a priority across all sectoral policies, and they implemented strong, multi-year strategies to eradicate them. Political will was key. And this, in turn, can be strengthened by democratic empowerment, social justice, and accountability. This requires an enabling legal framework as provided by human rights law.

The types of measures that arise within this approach include the adoption of multi-sectoral approaches to combating hunger and malnutrition, combining an attention to agriculture with the mainstreaming of nutrition in health policies, and coordinated policies in the areas of education, gender, water, sanitation, housing, pro-poor economic development, and trade. In many cases, short-term interventions and long-term approaches to nutrition are combined. Governments defined food security and nutrition as core priorities, sending a clear signal that the strategies were to be more than window dressing.

Meanwhile, civil society participation helped to represent the views of those suffering from food insecurity and to ensure that policies and programs reflected the challenges they faced as well as their needs. Establishing institutions to monitor progress can also help significantly, as this can ensure that political pressure – and the resources committed – will remain present throughout the implementation phase of the strategies.

Are there specific countries that treat access to food as a legal entitlement and can they be used as an example that could be implemented around the globe to avoid starvation and malnutrition?

The right to food is a human right recognized under international law which protects the right of all human beings to feed themselves in dignity, either by producing their food or by purchasing it. There is no simple best practice case for other countries to follow. Indeed, the strength of right to food approaches has been their rooting in domestic processes and their ability to address specific food security challenges in the country in question. However, several countries have led the way in taking the legal and political steps that pave the way for realizing the right to food, particularly in Latin America. For example, right to food framework laws have been adopted in Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Honduras over the past decade. The implementation was at times deficient, and adopting such a legal and policy framework grounded in the right to food is not a magic bullet. But, since hunger and malnutrition are primarily a problem of lack of political accountability, this can help significantly.

What usually causes reduction of food stocks and mounting tensions between supply and demand in the International marketplace? Are food companies responsible for an increase in food prices?

Many factors contribute to food price spikes, and to the unbalancing of supply and demand. Some of these are ‘fundamental’ factors, such as population growth and shifting diets, as well as the merger between the food and the energy markets due to the industrialization of the processes of food production and processing. However, new factors unrelated to the fundamentals of supply and demand have recently exerted pressures on international commodity markets – and must be reined in.

Food commodity speculation is a major threat to food price stability, and thus to food security and the realization of the right to food across the developing world.  Speculation occurs in various forms and with diverging impacts on food prices and food security. On the physical markets a form of speculation occurs when traders hoard food by delaying sales or accelerating buying, thus creating an artificial scarcity. This can lead to significant price increases under certain conditions – particularly where the food distribution channels are dominated by a small number of actors, or where a particular commodity is produced by only a handful of countries. The interests of this type of speculation are to cloud the market and benefit from the ensuing uncertainty. But the actors are primarily commercial operators from the agri-food sector.

Another type of speculation occurs on the markets for derivatives, where financial products are traded: futures, swaps, options. The nature of these markets has changed significantly over the past ten years, as a result of the deregulation of 2000, when the Commodities Futures Modernization Act was adopted. But also, because institutional investors such as pension funds or hedge funds have decided to invest in commodity markets as a hedge against inflation at a time where stock markets are not offering good returns, and in order to spread the risks in a portfolio strategy. Speculation on physical and financial markets has combined and interplayed to create havoc for those depending on fair and stable prices in order to make a living or to put enough food on the table. The European Parliament is now examining proposals from Commissioner Barnier to reduce the negative impacts of financial speculation, for instance by imposing position limits on financial actors or by improving transparency in the trading of over-the-counter derivatives. It is essential that we regulate this sector better.

You promote ’agro-ecological’ agriculture as a way to oppose climate changes. What would be the impact of the agro-ecological measures realized on local, national and international level?

Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today. A large  segment of the scientific community now acknowledges the positive impacts of agroecology on  food production, poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation — and this this is what is  needed in a world of limited resources.

Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods can actually equal the performance of synthetic fertilizers in boosting food production in the regions most affected by food insecurity. Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems; it enhances soil productivity and protects the crops against pests by relying on natural cycles.

Big sums of money will most likely be transferred towards the developing world in the remit of food security and climate change initiatives over the coming years and decades. It should not be used to support models of land use and food production which continue to push nature’s self-sustaining capacities too far. Rather, it should be channeled to the agro-ecological alternatives at our fingertips.

Tell us more about your cooperation with social movements and civil sector. In what way pressure from below should be exercised in order to increase food security and right to food?

Civil society has an essential role to play in supporting the adoption and implementation of right to food frameworks at every level. In many countries civil society has been instrumental in driving forward right to food movements, participating in the design of policies, taking part in monitoring, and developing new forms of accountability. For example, the 2011 reform to insert the right to food into the Mexican constitution followed 20 years of advocacy from civil society groups, under the “Frente por el Derecho a la Alimentación.” Meanwhile, Brazilian civil society established its own National Rapporteur for Human Rights in Land, Territory and Food, whose legitimacy allows him/her to become an interlocutor to the authorities. The emergence of a global right to food movement is an opportunity to be seized. Together with the adoption of framework laws on the right to food and of rights-based national food strategies, it represents a chance to move towards policies that are designed in a more participatory fashion and are therefore better informed and reach all intended beneficiaries.

Milenko Srećković

Interview is originally published in Serbian Daily Politika, 16.12.2013.

Interview: DAVID GRAEBER, anthropologist and anarchist

David Graeber (Photo by Adam Peers)
David Graeber (Photo by Adam Peers)

According to the testimony of his older colleagues, David Graeber is ”one of the best anthropologists of his generation”. By political conviction, he is an anarchist that advocates real, direct democracy, and is widely regarded for his contribution to the Occupy Wall Street movement especially in the early days of its creation when the organizational structure was decided; Graeber worked in the favor of more horizontal movement that would break with the tradition of hierarchical way of organizing. His book Debt: The First 5000 Years, published in 2011, is a work of the great importance for social movements that oppose harsh austerity measures which international financial institutions impose on countries stuck in debt crisis. Graeber in his book recalls forgotten institution of ”debt forgiveness”, for centuries present in social relations, even since the time of Ancient Greece statesman and poet Solon, who delivered Greek peasants from debt slavery simply by abolishing their debts and by carrying out an agrarian reform, distributing the land among them.

Most of the reports about beginning of Occupy Wall Street movement are pointing out that without anarchist intervention into this mostly spontaneous grassroots rebellion it would be one more old-style hierarchical leftist protest that definitely wouldn’t be inspirational enough to spread to other cities and wouldn’t become so influential. In your opinion, what suggestions to the unsatisfied and protesters would be helpful to inspire people to fight for transforming the society and how to make these horizontal transformations more permanent and stable?

For me what’s critical is the gradual creation of a culture of direct democracy, and direct action. One thing those who take part in movements like the Alter-Globalization movement or OWS quickly realized is that citizens of supposedly “democratic” societies actually have no idea how to actually engage in even the most basic sorts of democratic decision-making. Sure enough, once we started doing so on a large scale, in public, the authorities started cracking down very quickly and very violently. There’s nothing that scares the American authorities in particular more than the threat of actual democracy breaking out.

But these are a series of experiments in freedom. The assemblies were just one moment, one such experiment. Any time you self-consciously organize something on a non-hierarchical basis, from cooperative farm to a bicycle repair shop to a musical group for that matter, acting in a ways that wouldn’t require threats of violence to enforce, you’re really practicing anarchism – or democracy, or whatever you prefer to call it.

It’s funny, Americans don’t know much about democracy, they have to learn it all from scratch and it’s difficult and painful. They do know a lot about communism. They do it all the time. Because of course it’s equally true that any time you carry out a project in terms of the principles “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” you’re practicing communism – real communism, that is, rather than the kind of authoritarian state socialism normally associated with the term. That kind of communism is the real basis of all human societies, though it’s never the only principle operative in a society and presumably never will be. We all have experience of that. It’s experience of democracy most of us need to create, since we don’t have it, in every aspect of our lives.

Who should be involved in the struggle for erasing or ”forgiving the debt”? Only social movements or would you also allow that state apparatus could play important role in demanding debts to be erased?

The activists involved in Strike Debt, which is part of OWS, spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to create an effective form of civil disobedience against finance capital. But ultimately we realized that huge numbers of people are already practicing civil disobedience against finance capital. After all, what would be a more direct and effective way to do so than simply not to pay one’s debts. But probably a third or more of Americans, for example, are already doing that. One in seven are being pursued by a debt collector. You count in mortgages, student loan default… the numbers are genuinely high. The question is how to bring them together to a common force. This is one reason we created the DROM, the “Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual”, simply to help those who were already defaulting, or thinking of doing so.

How does all this translate into a demand? Well, one reason i think it’s appropriate for an anarchist like myself to talk about debt cancellation is that it’s a negative demand. We’re not really asking the state to do anything. We’re asking it to stop doing something. Because much though governments like to make it sound like it would take all sorts of mumbo-jumbo, taxes and money-printing or whatnot, to cancel debts, really all they’d have to do is agree to no longer enforce the obligations. Say “all right, if you want to pay back any of these loan, if you feel it’s a matter of personal honor or you think it’s important to maintain a certain reputation, go right ahead and repay, but no court will force you to.” It’s a withdrawal of state interference rather than asking for more of it. So the way we see it, a movement of those already refusing to pay their debts, or better, choosing for themselves which debts they wish to honor, are demanding that the government cease interfering in the process, and stop using it’s coercive mechanisms to back up the creditors.

Do you think that military interventionism is sometimes conducted against those countries that are refusing to take loans and put themselves in debts seeing it as a means of repression imposed by globalized financial system?  Are there some links between the debt and military interventionism?

Well, I do believe that the international financial system is ultimately held in place by US military power. That’s obvious. It’s not that somehow, weaker countries are so naive and foolish that they get tricked by the equivalent of three-card monte games to send enormous amounts of wealth in the direction of the US, and its close allies, without getting anything back for it. No one is that dumb. So in the very largest sense one could say that’s true. One might even say there’s an outright tribute system in some cases. But the exact way that military power translates into maintaining that system is often quite complicated and subtle. Occasionally it’s direct and explicit. But usually it’s a thousand types of more subtle card game played where all players are playing with the constant knowledge that the guy who insists on being the dealer is also holding a very, very big gun.

How do you see the future of our society? Do you have hope, and do you believe people are capable to overcome the problems of capitalism, climate changes, imperialism and wars?

Absolutely. Our leaders don’t. In fact it’s quite remarkable how utterly helpless world leadership seems to be, faced with such obvious immediate demands for coordinated action. It seems they have boxed themselves into a hole, trying to destroy any sense that anything other than existing institutions, existing arrangements, are possible, to destroy any sense that imagination has a role in political life, they’ve even done it to themselves. It’s impossible to imagine any of these people operating with the kind of vision one saw even in the mid-20th century, the creation of the UN, the space program, the welfare state. They’ve rendered themselves pathetic and helpless. But ordinary human beings are for the most part much more capable than their current leaders. For me, the most pressing problem of our age is how to unleash that popular imagination that has been squashed and silenced over the past 30 years. How many billion people are there on earth? Is there even one of them that couldn’t come up with one idea about how to solve a practical problem that you or I wouldn’t have thought of? This is what I always say when people ask how I would solve this or that outstanding economic or social problem. The world doesn’t lack in people who have all sorts of ideas. The problem is that 99.9% of them spend their entire lives being told to shut up all the time, even threatened with all sorts of dire consequences if they suggest anything. That’s an incredibly dysfunctional way to run a planet. It’s like we are applying constant violence to suppress our own collective intelligence. The moment we figure out a way to stop doing that, I don’t think these problems will seem imposing in the least.

Milenko Srećković

Interview is originally published in Serbian language in the Serbian Daily ”Politika”.

Interview: RAJ PATEL, writer, activist and academic

Raj Patel is the author of the bestseller “Stuffed and Starved – The Hidden Battle for the World Food System” and the most recent book “The Value of Nothing” – named after famous Oscar Wilde’s aphorism ‘Nowadays, people know price of everything and the value of nothing’. In his book he criticizes a dominant attitude towards food as ordinary market commodity and speaks about alternative food models, neglected or suppressed in modern society.

Patel is citizen of USA, born in Great Britain, of Kenyan and Fijian origin. He cooperates with South African Landless People Movement. During his academic training he worked in the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, but very soon became a harsh critic of these institutions and participated in organization of numerous protests against them. The most famous of those protests was the one in Seattle 1999, when about 40 thousand people raised their voice against adverse effects of globalization.

According to Patel, we do not live in democracy, because we do not decide on anything essential, but in a “complainocracy” – because only if we complain enough, we can hope at least for some minor change to occur. We spoke with him for Freedom Fight Info about problems manufactured by contemporary food system, and in what way food can be protected from the dictates of the market.

You say that cheap food is a cheat food, that we value it because it’s cheap but that actually comes with a very high cost and that it doesn’t have a value. What is the cost and consequences of cheap food that we neglect and ignore? Do you think that reevaluating of the food value should be connected with some general human values that are undermined in current societies? How did the production and distribution of the food lose its connection with the general well-being of the society? 

In ‘The Value of Nothing’, one of the examples that people seem the most surprised by is a finding from an Indian research group that a hamburger selling for $1 in the US ought to probably cost $200 if its environmental footprint were taken into account. If the beef in that burger was raised on land that used to be rainforest, then what’s lost is not only the wood from the trees in the forest, but the ecosystem services they provide. They sequester carbon, produce oxygen, provide a haven for the biodiversity that our pharmaceutical industry needs, cycle nutrients and water for the planet, etc. All of these can be imputed a dollar value which, as I say, was far higher than people had suspected. The $200 doesn’t even include the healthcare costs that come with consuming a diet of fast-food, or the cultural losses of rich cuisines being supplanted by McDonald’s.

Yet the $1 burger is hard to ignore, especially when – as here in the United States – cheap food and cheap fuel have been the unofficial bargains struck with the working class in exchange for low wages. With poverty a serious issue, it’s necessary for many people to focus on cheap food now, even if they’re cheated out of money through healthcare costs later on.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, though. In the 19th century, the move to encourage the drinking of sugary milky tea in England – high in calories, low in nutrients, needing colonialism to bring the sugar and tea to Britain – was a way to provide cheap calories for a working class that favoured more local, nutritious beverages, like beer. The production and distribution of food has, historically, had a complicated relationship with health. It’s important not to get too romantic about the past, when food production had an intrinsic connection of feudal structures of servitude. But if we’re able to see this connection in the past, then we must see it today – the modern diet has only a little to do with keeping workers alive, and much more with the conditions of production that are part of capitalist profit-making.

In what way does current food distribution, dominated by trade and market, influence countries that are in development or underdeveloped countries? How do you see the role of the WTO? 

A century ago, there were four major grain companies that ran international trade – Cargill, Continental, Bunge and Louis Dreyfus. Today, four countries have the lion’s share of international trade. Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus. These corporations wield a tremendous amount of power on the international markets. But they’re not the only ones. Increasingly, as you suggest, there are major players in the Global South. Thailand’s CP Chicken, for instance, is a $50bn dollar company, and one of the world’s largest poultry firms. China has just bought Smithfield, a US livestock titan. There is much more agricultural capitalism based in the Global South. And it also takes many forms. Traders like Glencore or the Noble Group, of whom few have heard, control large chunks of the global grain trade too. The rules for which these corporations lobbied at the WTO – and continue to demand in treaties like the TransPacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – undermine something far more than a country’s ability to produce food domestically. These agreements shape intellectual property, health, investment, government purchasing and standards-setting. I think that, especially in a time of climate change, we need to be thinking harder about public buffers against crop failure and climate-related disaster. But when – in every major food market – around six corporations control more than 50% of the market, it’s hard for public interests to stand up against private ones.

You are not a supporter of ”green revolution”. What is wrong with that concept?

It sounds great, doesn’t it? The Green Revolution – a plan to feed the world by making it green, using hybrid seeds, fertilizer and irrigation to produce more than people ever imagined. But remember this: the Green Revolution got its name from a US official in 1968, who applauded it because it wasn’t like the ‘red’ revolution of the soviets, or the ‘white revolution of the shah of Iran’. The goal of the Green Revolution was to provide cheap food for people who live in cities, so that they wouldn’t become communist. It was social engineering, intended to stop people from organizing for social change. The Green Revolution came at a high price – it prevented the kind of land reform that would have benefitted millions of poor people around the world, and for which those people were clamouring. Instead, it has locked us into a system of agriculture dependent on cheap fossil fuels, and abundant water, which is increasingly irrelevant in the 21st century. Yet today there are calls for a new Green Revolution from, among others, the Gates Foundation. If you’re curious about how the old Green Revolution is very much alive, and causing trouble, you might be interested in “The Long Green Revolution”

What are the consequences of current food production on the nature and on the natural resources such as land? Why are foreign companies interested to buy agricultural land in countries such as Serbia?

The current food system is far more ‘financialized’ than it used to be. Specifically, things that weren’t considered commodities – intellectual property in seeds – or things that couldn’t be easily bought and sold on international markets – land in Serbia, for instance – have found themselves increasingly for sale. With the creation of new opportunities for accumulation, investors have seen easy opportunities. Fertile land close to water and transport is comparatively cheap compared to similar land in population hotspots, or in oil states. Investment funds from Gulf States, China and, of course, the Global North, have taken a keen interest in buying land and natural resources to feed other parts of the world.

None of this, however, has happened without a fight. Throughout the world – from grassroots peasant struggles in the 1990s to United Nations agencies earlier this year, terms like ‘food sovereignty’ have started to matter. The idea of food sovereignty (more here ) is that people ought to have democratic control of their food system. What that entails is different in each context, but the ultimate idea is that our food systems need to be premised not on profit, but fundamental human equality.

Milenko Srećković

Interview is originally published in Freedom Fight Info, 15.08.2014.

Interview with Henry Machina and Ibrahima Coulibaly

All across the world small farmers point to the negative consequences of increasingly widespread global phenomenon of ’land grabbing’, which leads to concentration of agricultural land and natural resources ownership in the hands of big investors and international corporations. This process, in addition to seizure of farmland, is very often accompanied by eviction or forced dislocation of entire rural communities, violation of human rights, increasing poverty and social stratification, and pollution of environment. Millions of hectares of arable land, mostly in Africa, Asia and South America, fall under control of large corporations – ’investors’ – usually through direct agreements with Governments or local authorities, and very often with the support of private banks and pension and other investment funds. International peasant movement La Via Campesina accuses both the World Bank and regional development banks of facilitating grabbing of land and natural resources by promoting laws and measures that are in the interest of corporations and by providing them with capital and financial guarantees, thus supporting a destructive economic model. Many Governments, however, justify ’land grabbing’ by claiming that the big agribusiness will bring about modernization of agricultural practices and ensure food security for all – which La Via Campesina denies by claiming that small farms – with majority of world food produced on them – are more productive than big agricultural corporations.

Henry Machina, Zambia Land Alliance

Now we talk with two of the African leaders of anti-land grabbing struggle, Ibrahima Coulibaly from Republic of Mali and Henry Machina from Zambia.

Henry Machina has been working for Zambia Land Alliance since 2000. Zambia Land Alliance was formed in 1997 as a response to the Zambian government’s decision to enact the Lands Act of 1995 which the organizational members then saw that it would disadvantage local communities by facilitating land acquisition by corporations and in the processing displacing local people from their land.

Ibrahima Coulibaly is a founder and president of CNOP (the national coordination of farmers’ organizations in Mali that is part of Via Campesina) and vice-president of ROPPA (the network of farmers’ organizations in West Africa). CNOP’s long term objective is “to build a significant national agriculturalist movement, bringing sustainable socio-economic advancement to family farms and agricultural producers through small farming agriculture well integrated into the context of national, sub-regional and international development”.

Ibrahima Coulibaly

Tell us more about land grabbing in Africa, and in Zambia and Mali. In what way is this process conducted and what are the consequences for common people?

HENRY MACHINA: I see land grabbing as a major problem in Africa and particularly in Zambia. We have multinational corporations searching for and acquiring large pieces of land for various investments. They acquire the land mainly for agricultural production as well as mining and tourism (establishing game ranches). Some of these investors buy the land while others get it literary for free, except for administrative fees.

Depending on the laws of the country, these investors, usually, in practice start with government investment promotion agencies and then approach local traditional leaders (chiefs) for the land. They then ‘negotiate’ for the land and sign agreements with the traditional leaders and then getting title from the government. Usually traditional leaders do not have adequate capacity and finances to meet the costs of having a meaningful negotiation. Sometimes the local communities are also not fully involved in the consultations for acquiring the land, especially women and youth. These are the ones who tend to be most negatively affected if the community members have to be displaced from their land as a result of the investment.

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: Agricultural lands are subject of great greed of huge investors both domestic and international. According to a study conducted by CNOP, altogether, from 1965 to 2012, 347.253,83 ha have been the subject of lease only in the area ’’office du Niger”.

Statistics show that the productivity of large investors is low compared to family farms. These large investors are therefore not the solution for achieving sustainable food security. Also, they are located on the most productive lands. In addition, these investments are often irreversible source of social and cultural imbalances. In this context, agriculture will have to be developed, and it can by other means, including investing in family farming, which today is on the margin of the rural poor and cannot afford more marginalization.

Grabbers have ousted producers from their lands (even villages) who must, for most of them, learn other skills: Accordingly, with migration to the cities, crime has increased, as the youth unemployment.

Why the main slogan of Zambia Land Alliance’s campaign is: ”Land is life”? What land means for people living in your country and in Africa, in general?

HENRY MACHINA: Land is important for most rural people in Africa and Zambia in particular. The majority of them live on customary land and depend on it for shelter, production of food including gathering wild mushrooms, medicines, and conducting their small businesses including selling merchandise, bee keeping, etc. They also raise funds from the land in order to take their children to school. As such Zambia Land Alliance uses the slogan ’Land is Life’ because these people depend on it for almost all their livelihoods. When the land is taken away from them then its like they lose their lives.

Please tell us more what you see as major obstacles for small farmers living in Mali?


1) Land security: after the failure of most of the land policies initiated by the State, peasant organizations (PO) are mobilized to make proposals for land reform. Under the leadership of the CNOP, the PO have initiated a process of consultation and conducted a very thorough reflection which led to the formulation of a coherent set of proposals. They are intended to secure the rights for land of peasant farming families through recognition of rural producers of real rights on the lands they work on. The PO then gave mandate to CNOP for submitting proposals to the Government and conduct advocacy for taking them into account in the context of the development of the new land policy and his law.

2) Short level of investment in food production by small-scale family farmers: suitable investment will improve food supply as well as the social and environmental sustainability; it will save livelihoods for most people.

3) Deficiency of rights of access to productive resources that are, in addition to land, water and agricultural biodiversity elements, and the rights to control these resources. The guarantee of these rights is essential to support family farming, small-scale food production and resilient food systems.

4) Sustainable sources of credit, social protection measures and the establishment of reserves of grains and food for livestock, as well as livestock resources are needed to strengthen the resilience of family farming and local food systems.

5) The establishment of a research system based on real needs of agricultural producers

6) The public sector has an essential role to play in adapting policies and programs governing national investment, in order to meet the needs of family farmers. With a decisive and effective commitment in the political processes and the practical implementation, family farmers and small scale food producers will become architects of their own future and that of their societies.

7) Unfair competition and dumping on the part of the northern countries that subsidize their agriculture (production and export)

8) The remuneration of the peasant effort at the right price.

What kind of land investments would you support?

HENRY MACHINA: We would support investments which would be   participatory and which would not displace local people. These must be investments which uphold the dignity of the local people and also helps to lift them from poverty to sustainable prosperity and not to plunge them into further poverty.

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: It is very important that agriculture attracts new investors, but investing should not continue to develop the transfer of land which from the viewpoint of rural development and fight against rural poverty is the worst of solutions.

Are colonialism and its practices still present in Africa?

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: Most developing countries has inherited from the colonial and postcolonial periods modes of consumption that don’t allow the development of their own food production (example: most of the African countries in South-Sahara do not produce a grain of wheat. But bread and other food products derived from wheat are progressing more in consumption habits than any other national production). This situation is absurd and creates food addiction which should be taken out before national agriculture can continue to feed peasants and urban people. Wheat was introduced during the colonial period and its consumption has been fueled by food aid programs.

Is it possible to build pan-African alliances of social movements and are there organization and social movements whose work you find progressive?

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: The Pan African Farmers Organization (PAFO) is exiting. It has been created in October 2010 in Lilongwe, Malawi. PAFO aim is to make peasant voice to be heard; the voice of the small producer on all issues related to agriculture. Therefore, PAFO focus on topics ranging from investment in agriculture to climate change through agricultural research without obscuring economic policies, networking capacity building for farmers’ and producers’ organizations, advocacy, etc…

Milenko Srećković