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