There is a small courthouse from the ‘British era’, standing right in the center of Hong Kong. It is neat, well-built, remarkably organized and some would even say – elegant.
Earlier this year I visited there with an Afghan-British lawyer, who had been touring East Asia for several months. Hong Kong was her last destination; afterwards she was planning to return home to London. The Orient clearly confused and overwhelmed her, and no matter how ‘anti-imperialist’ she tried to look, most of her references were clearly going back to the adoptive homeland – the United Kingdom.
“It looks like England,” she exclaimed when standing in the middle of Hong Kong. There was clearly excitement and nostalgia in her voice.
To cheer her up even more, I took her to the courthouse. My good intentions backfired: as we were leaving, she uttered words that I expected but also feared for quite some time:
“You know, there are actually many good things that can be said about the British legal system.”
I thought about that short episode in Hong Kong now, as I drove all around her devastated country of childhood, Afghanistan. As always, I worked without protection, with no bulletproof vests, armored vehicles or military escorts, just with my Afghan driver who doubled as my interpreter and also as my friend. It was Ramadan and to let him rest, I periodically got behind the wheel. We were facing countless detentions, arrests and interrogations by police, military and who knows what security forces, but we were moving forward, always forward, despite all obstacles.
From that great distance, from the heights of the mountains of Afghanistan, the courthouse in Hong Kong kept falling into proportion and meaningful perspective.
Watch blockbuster movies from the “south” and chances are you will start to believe that the world is not really such a desperate place. Perhaps you might even get convinced that under the present imperialist and turbo-capitalist global arrangement things can always get better. If you live in a gutter somewhere in Sub-Continent or Africa, you could simply try hard, you could “believe in yourself and love yourself”, you could “listen to your instincts”, and everything may eventually fall into the right places. You could get acknowledged, rewarded and even catapulted from your misery into some plush pastures that are covering the tall green hills of success.
Think twice! Or… don’t think at all – just bury your head in the sand.
There were always books written and films produced just in order to please the Western funding agencies and propaganda machine. I described the process, colorfully, in my recent political/revolutionary novel “Aurora”.
Just think about Kite Runner written by an Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, or about all those bestsellers by Salman Rushdie or Elif Shafak, books about India or Turkey, but intended almost exclusively for a Western audience, and often despised in their native countries.
The works of Rushdie and Shafak can at least qualify as “literature”. But now both the Western markets and mainstream media are demanding more and more of ‘feel good’ rubbish books and movies from poor countries, more and more of those simple, picturesque and ‘positive’ stories that are actually confusing and give false hopes to the local population of many poor countries.
Do you still remember Slumdog Millionaire? How realistic a scenario was that? First of all, it was not even an Indian film; it was a 2008 British movie, directed by Danny Boyle, who also had directed Trainspotting. It took place in the Juhu slum of Mumbai.
In 2011, I filmed in the same Mumbai slum where the movie was produced. I asked many, how likely was such a ‘success scenario’ in that filthy and hopeless neighborhood? The dwellers of the Juhu slum just dismissed the entire charade with derogatory gestures; why even waste precious words?
It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow.
It feels much chillier than it really is.
Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration.
Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.
Afghans, at home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.
Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth, Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO, 2015).
While officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%, I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.
Statistics are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has been done to this ancient and distinct civilization, once standing proudly at the crossroad of major trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?
How deep, how permanent is the damage?
During my visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse” became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a brave, decent family man in possession of a wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to know, and he didn’t find it important to address the topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but endlessly sad land.
One day you and your driver, who is by then your dear friend, are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops. You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin photographing the clogged river below, with garbage floating and covering its banks. Children are begging, and you soon notice that they are operating in a compact pack, almost resembling some small military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.
After a while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa Bridge, which is located in District 6.
Where you are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked up.
You were told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a warzone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has done to the country’. There are no bullets flying here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is still standing around her, cutting and cutting, working in extremely slow motion.
Again, as so many times before, you are scared. You were scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a few countries. In those places, as well as here in Kabul, you are not frightened because you could easily lose your life any moment, or because your safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what you really cannot stomach, are the images of despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt with.
People you see all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily into the distance. Some are urinating publicly. Syringes are everywhere.
There are holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human bodies.
First you drive around, photographing through the cracked glass, then you roll down the window, and at the end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed. You have no idea what may happen in the next few seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are throwing stones, but they are too weak and the stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly, without causing any harm.
Then a bomb goes off, not far from where you are. There is an explosion in the 6th District, right in front of a police station. You cannot see it, but you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet powerful bang. You look at your phone.
It is March 1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that several people died just a few hundred meters from where you were working, while several others perished in the 12th District, another few kilometers away.
The smoke begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling and several ambulances are rushing towards the site. Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one after another in the same direction, followed by heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene, and then snapping from some distance a monumental but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.
Interview by Italian magazine Antidiplomatico with the author, Andre Vltchek
Q: Please tell us about your recently published book, “Aurora”.
A: Aurora is my latest novel. It is short, but emotionally charged and ‘outrageous’. It breaks many taboos, especially those regarding Western, particularly European culture. You know, so many people have this fetish about European culture being refined and superior to other cultures of the world. I actually don’t think it is, after living in Asia and Latin America for many years… But anyway, in my “Aurora” I also show how this – Western – culture can indoctrinate, brainwash, and destroy.
Q: Only the culture itself, or also the European cultural institutions?
A: Precisely, both! The two main protagonists of “Aurora” are: the German-speaking head of a huge European cultural institution, which is based in an unidentified Southeast Asian country (although many would guess that it is Indonesia), and his antagonist: a lady, a great local artist who literally escaped from her country to Venezuela and there married a revolutionary painter and a muralist. Her name is Aurora.
Hans G is not only the head of a cultural institute; he is also an intelligence officer, as well as a propagandist who uses ‘art’ and the funding of local artists for clear political motives: to depoliticize the country where he is based, to keep it obedient, ignorant, and passive.
Q: Aurora confronts him. How?
A: She does. She sees clearly what Hans G. (and his ‘culture’) is doing to her country. She challenges him. She humiliates him publicly… I don’t want to reveal the entire plot of my novel here… But for Aurora, the main reason for returning to her country is to find out the truth about her sister, who used to be another prominent progressive artist, but who was kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered, mainly by those who were there to ‘promote’ that great European culture!
Q: There are Mozart, Brecht and others appearing throughout your book…
A: In the past, but also during these days, some of the greatest European musicians, writers and painters were actually thoroughly destroyed and prostituted by the elites and by the Church. They were forced to produce technically brilliant but content-wise pathetic and toothless kitsch. Mozart and Brecht, sitting in a bar in an ancient Chilean city of Valparaiso, are discussing the past, the art, although they are mainly remembering that important encounter of Hans G with Aurora, which Mozart actually witnessed, as a ghost. In a way, both Mozart and Brecht are co-narrating “Aurora”.
Frankly, “Aurora” is easy to read, but structurally it is a multi-layered novel, short but conceptually complex.
Q: It is also full of dark humor. How difficult is it to address such serious topics while still making your readers laugh?
A: For me, humor is always essential. I use it in all my writing, in fiction, non-fiction and in the theatre plays. People don’t only want to be ‘educated’ and reminded about the pitiful state of the world: when they read a book, especially a novel, they want to feel, to laugh, to cry, to be alive.
I think that any good fiction can really revolutionize the world; it can also show the reality, much more so than fact-based non-fiction works. That’s why the Western regime makes sure to neutralize, to depoliticize literature, poetry and cinema – because that’s where the inspiration, rebellion, and courage really have their homes. The regime doesn’t bother to censure most of the non-fiction work: because most of the dry and fact-based work would never truly manage to move a critical mass of people, it wouldn’t send millions to the barricades. Only true art can: novels, poetry, and great music. Western art is now hibernating. We have to wake it up, and do it very quickly!
Q: Do you have any plans to publish Aurora in Italy or in other languages besides English?
A: No concrete plans as yet, Aurora was only very recently published in English. But of course I’d love to have it in various languages. If publishers out there would really dare to touch such dynamite, then really why not?!
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.
Imperialist demagogues, as well as religious fanatics, are known to live in their grotesque realities. They erect huge sand castles, invent mascots, and bombard the public relentlessly with self-promoting messages.
Those who refuse to listen and believe, those who dare to doubt and resist, are sidelined, starved to death, humiliated or simply liquidated.
Western religions and European/North American brutal colonialist practices are intertwined culturally. Hand in hand, for centuries, they have been destroying our Planet, from corner to corner, on all continents and even on the high seas.
All conquests, all genocides, all plunders have been eternally rationalized, painstakingly justified. Grand bogus concepts of charity, of ‘altruism’ have been erected. Subjugated nations have always been ruined in the name of some higher principles, in order to save them from themselves. For centuries, the West has portrayed itself as a sacrificial lamb, as a hand chosen by some divine power, as the greatest civilization that is continuously and altruistically liberating the world.
In the West, scribblers and ‘scholars’ have been paid to soften every barbarity committed by the rulers, soldiers and even common citizens.
The cults of formal learning, of facts and information have been erected. Holed in innumerable officially recognized institutions, the scholars, certified demagogues, researchers and media people have been ‘studying’ each other, recycling and quoting each other, filling millions of books with essentially the same narrative.
‘New’ and ‘revolutionary’ academic discoveries mostly lead to the same old conclusions, to stale intellectual and moral passivity, cowardice and spinelessness.
Endless libraries have been filled with useless volumes, first arriving in print, then later in electronic form. Tens of millions of young and not too young men and women are busy wasting their lives, chasing diplomas, those colorful pieces of paper with the seal of approval, certifying people as fit to serve the Empire and the victorious civilization.
At some point, all major philosophical and existential topics ceased to be discussed, in official academia, in mainstream media, in the film houses, libraries and best selling books.
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ascended to power in 1999, almost no one in the West, in Asia and even in most of the Latin American countries knew much about his new militant revolutionary anti-imperialism. From the mass media outlets like CNN and the BBC, to local televisions and newspapers (influenced or directly sponsored by Western sources), the ‘information’ that was flowing was clearly biased, extremely critical, and even derogatory.
A few months into his rule, I came to Caracas and was told repeatedly by several local journalists: “Almost all of us are supporting President Chavez, but we’d be fired if we’d dare to write one single article in his support.”
In New York City and Paris, in Buenos Aires and Hong Kong, the then consensus was almost unanimous: “Chavez was a vulgar populist, a demagogue, a military strongman, and potentially a ‘dangerous dictator’”.
In South Korea and the UK, in Qatar and Turkey, people who could hardly place Venezuela on the world map, were expressing their ‘strong opinions’, mocking and smearing the man who would later be revered as a Latin American hero. Even many of those who would usually ‘distrust’ mainstream media were then clearly convinced about the sinister nature of the Process and the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’.
History repeats itself.
Now President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is demonized and ‘mistrusted’, ridiculed and dismissed as a demagogue, condemned as a rough element, mocked as a buffoon.
In his own country he is enjoying the highest popularity rating of any president in its history: at least well over 70 percent, but often even over 80 percent.
“Show me one woman or man who hates Duterte in this city”, smiles a city hall employee of Davao (located on the restive Mindanao Island) where Duterte served as a Mayor for 22 years. “I will buy that person an exquisite dinner, from my own pocket … that is how confident I am”.
“People of the Philippines are totally free now to express their opinions, to criticize the government”, explains Eduardo Tadem, a leading academic, Professorial Lecturer of Asian Studies (UP). “He says: ‘they want to protest? Good!’ People can rally or riot without any permit from the authorities.”
Like in the days of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, in the Philippines, the press, which is mainly owned by right-wing business interests and by pro-Western collaborators, is now reaching a crescendo, barking and insulting the President, inventing stories and spreading unconfirmed rumors, something unimaginable even in a place like the U.K. with its draconian ‘defamation’ laws.
So it is not fear that is securing the great support of the people for Duterte in his own country. It is definitely not fear!
I visited some of the toughest slums of the nation; I worked in the middle of deadly cemeteries, just recently battered by crime and drugs, where people had been literally rotting alive, crying for help and mercy in absolute desperation. I also spoke to the top academics and historians of the country, to former colleagues of Duterte and to overseas workers in the U.A.E. and elsewhere.
The louder was the hate speech from abroad and from local mass media outlets, the stronger Duterte’s nation stood by its leader.
Men and women who were just one year ago living in total desperation and anger were now looking forward with hope, straight towards the future. Suddenly, everything seemed to be possible!
In my first report this month I wrote: “There is a sense of change in those narrow and desperate alleys of the Baseco slum in the Philippines’ capital Manila. For the first time in many years a beautiful, noble lady visited; against all odds she decided to stay. Her name is Hope.”
Some fifteen years ago, when I lived in Hanoi, I used to come very often to the rooftop bar at the Meritus Hotel for an evening drink, just to feel the gentle breeze and to spot ancient cargo boats majestically sailing on the surface of the Red River. Sometimes the river could be clearly visible, but often it was covered by fog, like in an old Vietnamese painting.
There were villages on the horizon, consisting mainly of simple ‘tunnel’ houses, and I could also see a few skyscrapers in the center of the city. Far below, the buildings on the shores of the ‘Little Lake’ were colorful, nostalgic and picturesque.
Hanoi was melancholic and poor, but it was what it was, and one could love it or hate it, but never be indifferent to it.
It was also the capital of a socialist country, a proud country, which defeated both French and US imperialists. It was a symbol of resistance, a beacon of hope for many poor and struggling countries, and like Cuba, a living proof that a determined and proud nation could dare to stand up and even win against the mightiest and the most venomous enemies.
At some point, Meritus changed its name and its owner. It became Sofitel and just recently was converted again, this time to Pan Pacific. The rooftop bar survived. The skyscrapers grew all around the city. They now cover almost the entire horizon; suddenly Hanoi has a real skyline. You look into the distance, and what you see could be anywhere else: in Shanghai or Dallas, Bangkok or Johannesburg… but only with half-closed eyes.
Enthusiastic Communist posters have survived, or at least some of them. Others mutated and migrated to new huge modern digital billboards. They are shining into the night, and the images are constantly changing: Uncle ‘Ho’, pioneer children, workers and soldiers ready to defend their country.
“Is Vietnam still a Communist country?” I keep asking wherever I go, for years. I ask the same question in deep villages and major cities. It is because the answer seems to be essential to me. It is because so many millions of Vietnamese people died, fighting for their country and then trying to fulfill their dream of a social homeland.
The answers I receive are often evasive. For some reason, the eyes of many are downcast.
“What happened, Vietnam?” I want to ask, but Vietnam is one great and long stretch of land following the seashore; it does not speak, it does not reply to rhetorical questions. Most of its people are free to speak, they are able to reply, but for some reason they don’t. Are they confused as much as I am?
Imagine Moscow being taken over by some international corporate cartel. By a monster which has its own factories and office buildings, security services, private prisons, re-education (‘training’) centers, and its obedient mass media outlets. Imagine that it also has detailed databases on almost everyone who really matters in the capital.
Imagine that human lives suddenly don’t matter. People are only expected to produce and consume; they become fully disposable.
Imagine that the once greatly educated Russia with its legendary artists and philosophers is gradually getting reduced to an unimaginably primitive level. Suddenly, there is US pop trash flying about everywhere, and the greatest entertainment for the masses comes from watching countless television ‘reality shows’, including those that graphically depict, candidly, how both men and women are shitting and pissing in the capital’s public toilets.
That’s what you get when reading a witty, provocative and thoroughly outrageous novel by Sergei Minaev, called “R.A.B.”; 521 pages of it!
In all his novels, including “Soulless”, “The Telki”, “Media Sapiens” and “R.A.B.”, Minaev masterfully depicts the perpetual crimes committed by corporate culture and its mainstream media. Brutally and candidly he describes an apocalyptic society constructed on the soulless, merciless and murderous principles of the modern Western-style capitalist system.
In such a world, nothing is sacred anymore. The ‘elites’ are having great fun hunting on the outskirts of the city, not for some animals, but for homeless people living in abandoned pipelines (“R.A.B.”). A US mainstream television news channel, together with its local counterpart, manage to trigger a military conflict between Georgia and Russia, after hiring several combat helicopters and retired soldiers, killing real people, just in order to increase their ratings. And several terrorist attacks in Moscow are being paid for and staged by other big media conglomerates (“Media Sapiens”).
Oh that poor old United Kingdom! Armies of political commentators based on all continents are now feverishly trying to define to what extent the Brits got fooled, or how severely they will soon get punished for their ‘bold move’.
All over Europe, the neo-Nazis and other right-wingers are celebrating, while most of ‘liberals’ are panic-stricken, running around like a herd of headless chickens, or howling at the moon at night in despair. The Euro-left (as pathetic and bogus as “Euro business class” on domestic European flights) is trying to put the recent referendum into some sort of philosophical perspective, blabbering something about a working class rebellion against the ruling elites.
Some Europeans are even blaming Mr. Putin for the outcome of the referendum, while others see behind the outcome of the vote the specter of an “American conspiracy” or even a “Zionist lobby”.
Things are much more simple. A few million bigoted British voters, many of them old retirees and traditionally conservative, even racist bunch, got scared that their country was soon about to be invaded by unkempt hordes of refugees, or more precisely – by ‘un-people’ (to borrow from George Orwell’s lexicon). While for others, the referendum became a way to express their frustration with the fact that the British working class has lately been getting an increasingly awful deal (read: an increasingly smaller cut from that enormous global loot plundered by both Europe and North America).
Don’t search for any flickers of internationalism or traditional Left-wing ideals in the hearts of those who voted for “Exit”. A great majority of the anti-EU warriors was simply demanding better benefits for itself (the “British people”), as well as “Britain for the Brits” (whatever that really means in this increasingly multi-racial nation).
Of course, the same can be said about the opposite camp! Those who were voting for remaining in the Union were doing so for strictly practical reasons.
Almost no commentator bothered to notice what was truly shocking about the entire referendum process: an absolute lack of progressive ideology, of internationalism and concern for the world as a whole. Both sides (and were there really two sides there) presented a fireworks of shallow selfishness and of pettiness. The profound moral corruption of the West was clearly exposed.
“Thus now I have come to recognize the recently implemented sanctions against North Korea as an ‘injustice’.”
Above is a short excerpt from the letter that I received in May 2016, a letter from one of my readers, Mr. Kim Dol, a young South Korean professional based in Seoul.
Mr. Kim Dol, it seems, has been lately suffering from a gradual but irreversible loss of faith in the official dogmas that have been shaping his worldviews for most of his life – dogmas manufactured by his own country, South Korea (ROK), as well as those that have been imported from the West. He discovered countless contradictions between simple logic and what he was told, and expected to believe. He began questioning things, and searching for alternative sources.
That is how he found me. Online, he began reading my essays, as well as the essays of other comrades.
His letter arrived when I had been living for a month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, working on my new political novel while literally confronting the neo-liberal and neo-fascist government of the Argentinean President, Mauricio Macri.
Argentinian people had been fooled and they were now quickly waking up to a social, economic and political nightmare. The US was going to build military bases in at least two territories of this proud and essentially socialist nation. Prices were going up, privatization was in full-swing, and social benefits melting away. Protests erupted all over the capital. The fight for Argentina was on!
Simultaneously, in neighboring Brazil, a clique of cynical, corrupt, white and mostly evangelical members of the pro-Western ‘elites’ managed to overthrow the socialist government of Dilma Rousseff.
Mr. Kim Dol’s letter was timely. The Empire was on the offensive, destroying Latin America, while provoking Russia, China and the DPRK (North Korea).
An enormous military conflict, even a Third World War did not appear as some improbable and phantasmagoric scenario, anymore.
Mr. Kim Dol solicited several questions. His letter and queries were simple, honest and essential. Obviously, they were addressing some of the philosophical and political concerns of South Korean people. I decided to reply, but on one condition: that this exchange would be in the form of an interview, and made public. He agreed. I asked whether he’d mind using his real name? He responded, bravely, that he’d have no problem with that whatsoever.