Italian journalist: “ISIS are terrorists, but Donbass is a people”


May 23, 2016 – 

Marina Russkaya, PolitNavigator – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski

Anti-Russian censorship prevails in European media over the coverage of events in Donbass and Ukraine. In the foreseeable future, Ukraine is unlikely to enjoy membership in the EU, and the situation with sanctions against Russia is harshly affecting the economies of European countries. This and more was stated by the Italian journalist Eliseo Bertolasi, a research fellow of the Institute for Advanced Geopolitical Studies and Related Sciences and correspondent for the newspaper “Geopolitika”, in an interview with PolitNavigator. 

Bertolasi repeatedly visited the DPR as a war correspondent. In January, 2016, in collaboration with the Italian director Sarah Reginella, he released the documentary film “Donbass Seasons,” which traces the history of the war in Donbass starting with the coup in Kiev and the tragedy in Odessa. The film has been released with subtitles in 3 languages: Russian, Italian, and English. 

PolitNavigator [PN]: Eliseo, why did you decide to come to Donbass?

This is not my first time in Donbass. A while ago, I’ve long been interested in what’s happening in Ukraine, since the Maidan. I was in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. And when the war started, I came to Donbass to see what was happening with my own eyes in order to figure things out. I worked as a correspondent; I filmed, photographed, and wrote articles. I travelled across Donbass extensively and saw the sufferings of the region’s residents. The war waged by Ukraine has brought a lot of suffering to peaceful civilians.

PN: When you came to Donbass for the first time, was it scary? After all, Ukrainian and Western media have said that an anti-terrorist operation is being conducted here.

No, I came as a journalist who wanted to tell what I saw, so I had nothing to fear. I came, got accreditation, and worked. I didn’t have any problems, and I didn’t see a single terrorist. ISIS are terrorists, but here there is a people which has chosen its own path, expressed self-determination, and is now ready to stand for this to the end.

PN: How has Italian media covered the events in Donbass?

I’m asked this question often. In Italy, the media is completely dependent on the political line of the European Union. For the last two years, we’ve been told that Russia is an aggressor which wants to start a war. We’re told that only NATO can defend Europe. But this is not the truth, and I completely disagree with this point of view. I have repeatedly sent my materials to state television, but not a single time were they ever published.

Sure, we have private channels such as Pandora TV which belongs to the famous Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa, and I have been published there. But this is certainly not state media.

I even created a documentary film in Italian, “Donbass Seasons.” My friend, the director Sarah Reginella, came up with the idea. I had accumulated a lot of material which I couldn’t publishe, so she suggested that I make it into a movie. In fact, you can watch it on the internet with Russian subtitles. 

PN: Why are there so few European journalists in Donbass?

In my opinion, enough European and Italian journalists in particular come here. The problem is not the number of journalists, but that when they return to Europe they can’t publish their materials.

Besides, Ukraine recently published a black list of politicians who came to Donbass, and the “Peacemaker” site posted the details of all journalists that were here. Even videographers! Just think about it: video reporters are people who simply shoot videos – they don’t make decisions, and they don’t express their opinions. But they are included in the list of terrorists. This is just absurd.

PN: Ukrainian politicians constantly state that Ukraine will soon be accepted into the European Union. What do you think? When will this happen?

The process of acceptance into the European Union is not simple at all. Look at Turkey, who has already been waiting for many years and still is…

I understand that politicians are supposed to constantly promise somebody something and make loud statements because they need to attract people to their side. But it’s one thing to make a promise and another thing to fulfill promises. I can’t give you any dates, but I can say that Ukraine is very, very far from [being accepted]. 

PN: What do ordinary Italians think about Donbass?

Almost no one speaks about the events in Donbass today in state media. 90% of Italians can’t even tell you what Donbass is…

PN: What about Ukraine?

They know what Ukraine is because they’ve been showed the Maidan repeatedly. We’re explained that the Maidan was a revolution for democracy, freedom, and so on. But where is this democracy? Ukraine considers Donbass to be its territory, but it bombs it. How is this possible? How can you bomb your own people? Even in my worst nightmare I can’t imagine that, for example, Italy would begin to destroy the population of one of its regions and say “this is our region.” This is inconceivable! 

PN: You’ve said that 90% of the population doesn’t know what Donbass is. What do the other 10% think about what’s happening here? 

They have different views. Some believe the official media, while the others don’t. But compared to two years ago, many have already stopped believing state propaganda.

PN: How have sanctions against Russia and Russia’s counter-sanctions affected the Italian economy?

In the worst way, because Italy was the second country in Europe in terms of exports to Russia. Reduced exports means closing factories, and workers find themselves on the street. Some say that the sanctions will end sometime, and that everything will be as before. This, of course, is impossible. It is impossible to restart production with one touch. If some kind of firm closes, then it stops working for a long time. It can be considered as dead.

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We have harshly suffered because of the sanctions, especially the regions of Northern Italy, because many large businesses there worked with Russia.

Some say that the sanctions don’t apply to all kinds of products, which means that they aren’t so bad. But it needs to be understood that sanctions are shaping the investment climate. Imagine that an Italian firm is not touched by the sanctions, and that it continues to sell its products to Russia. But the buyer from Russia doesn’t feel comfortable. He has to transfer the advance payment to Italy, but he realizes that at any moment the sanctions could be intensified, and then he could lose his money. In this regard, Russian investors are now trying to re-adjust to different markets. 

Thus, because of the sanctions, in one way or another all sectors of the Italian economy have suffered.

PN: How independent is the Italian government in making political decisions? 

What kind of independence are you talking about? Look at the sanctions again. How could decisions be taken which are directed not against Russia, but against our own people!? The Italian government has zero sovereignty. All decisions are taken either by Brussels, or by Washington.

PN: What kind of future do you think awaits Ukraine? Is federalization a solution?

The situation in Ukraine is extremely unstable. Any slight provocation can led to everything changing dramatically. Therefore, I wouldn’t start making any long-term forecasts.

But I can say for sure that the future of Ukraine depends on the current leaders of the country. You see, from a geopolitical point of view, the conflict in Donbass is not a local conflict at all. It is international politics. A front line has been formed against Russia in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Transnistria, Turkey, and Syria…These are all links in a single chain. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO gradually approached Russia’s borders. Further events in Ukraine will depend on the results of this confrontation between NATO and Russia. 

PN: Ukraine dreams of a happy future in the European Union. Do you think this is possible or not?

A happy Ukraine in the European Union is an illusion. This is bait for people who have never been to Europe. 

Please, come visit us, come see how we live. Refugees, unemployment, crisis…We are losing our civilization..We have lost sovereignty, and soon enough we will even lose our identity. What kind of success is this? Just think what what will be left of Europe after 10 years. There is no need to conduct a serious analysis – it is enough to just look at demographics. Look at young people. There is a huge number of Arab and black children, and they will grow. And they are the future of Europe.

20 years ago, we had paradise in Italy. I remember this. But that Italy died when it joined the European Union. We are no longer independent. Now everything is decided for us by Brussels or Washington, whose interests do not coincide with ours. 

And now Ukraine wants to join the EU hoping for success? This is impossible in principle.

You see, in order to vacation, to hang out, and cross borders, you don’t have to have a Schengen passport. You just need to have money! A lot of Russians vacation in Italy. But they have ordinary Russian passports, and Russia is not an EU member. 

It’s all about money. When a man is rich, he can afford to spend time where he wants. But if you don’t have money, then you’ll sit at home without food, electricity, and gas, even with a European passport. What kind of happiness do Ukrainians want?

When I was on the Maidan, I asked people why they wanted to be part of Europe – what is good there? They answered me: We really want to come to Europe on vacation. This is not a joke. These people have no idea what it is like to live in Europe.

PN: How can Poroshenko be forced to fulfill the Minsk Agreements?

This is a rhetorical question. Radicals who don’t want friendly relations with the Russians interfere in the president of Ukraine’s fulfilling of the Minsk Agreements. But the main thing that needs to be understood is that Ukraine does not take any independent decision in serious matters. The fact is that Ukraine is indebted to the US and its parters. And the United States is an exclusively commercial country. If you owe them money, you better be good and return it. If you can’t, as often happens, then you give up your sovereignty. Ukraine is paying for these debts with its sovereignty. In international relations, and especially in relations with America, nothing is free.

PN: How do you think the Ukrainian criminals should be punished?

I’m not a jurist, so I can’t tell you what exact punishment they deserve. But it is certain that they should be punished. You want to be part of Europe? Fine, but first put your criminals in prison., because what is happening in Ukraine now is lawlessness.

After the events of May 2nd in Odessa, Ukrainian politicians promised to establish a commission, and promised to investigate promptly and punish the guilty…The result? Nothing.

PN: In Italy, the Veneto region wants to secede from the country. Why? What is so bad for them in Italy?

Veneto indeed wants independence. But we are dealing rather with autonomy, as seceding from Italy would be extremely complicated. The reasons are the same – the serious economic problems which I talked about earlier. The region is suffering for the decisions of Rome and Brussels. They want to determine their own fate themselves and act in their own interests.

In addition, Veneto has a thousand-year history as the Venetian Republic. Italy is a young country, only 150 years old. Make no mistake – Italy is not at all the Roman Empire. 

PN: On May 18th, the Council of Veneto recognized Crimea as part of Russia. Could you comment on this event?

Yesterday I was in touch with friends from Italy who are members of the Veneto regional council. They told me that in their opinion this development is of great value because it is the first region in Western Europe which has officially recognized Crimea as part of Russia. They believe that this is the fist step down the path which will lead to a general recognition of Crimea. I think so too. I can’t say the exact date when this will happen because it all depends on very many factors and, first and foremost, US policy. But the process has begun and this is a fact. 

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