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Christmas interview with Hendrik Weber: Robert McNamara said the mistake in Vietnam was supporting one part in a conflict, we still do it #Ukraine - Herland Report
On The Herland Report we simply love activists. We love those individuals who wish to protect the animals, the environment and God's green earth, those who fight for the children, who stand up for the voiceless.
We admire those who try attempt to do something unusual to shed light on injustice. They go out of their way as individuals, trying to mend the world. And they pay the price for it - and don't mind that either.
We love courageous people who step out of the sheltered conformity and act on what they believe in, out of compassion for human kind. It is the Christmas season and we celebrate people who go out of their way to help others against injustice.
This is the kind of people history will remember. The president and founder of People Diplomacy, Hendrik Weber, is such a person. Read the interview below.
Weber states that when the politicians close their eyes to justice, the people can do something about it. They can do "the people's diplomacy" and try to better understand others in order to mend conflicts and create peace. And we want peace. We want peace, not wars that create so much suffering for the civilians.
Hanne Nabintu Herland, founder of The Herland Report: - For several years, the organization that you have founded in Norway, People Diplomacy have traveled to different conflict areas in the east. We have featured your journeys repeatedly, because we find it intriguing to get a glimpse into the world that the civilians live in, as they experience years with brutal war.
Recently, you were in the Donetsk Republic of Ukraine, where the President of the self-declared republic, Alexander Zacharchenko was murdered 31. August this year. We all remember the photos you had with him. This time you have again visited the Crimean peninsula, with a delegation of Norwegians. Why are you going on these journeys?
Founder of People Diplomacy, Hendrik Weber: - The goal of these journeys is to connect with those we consider to be on the other side of the fence, the "others". It is very easy to sit, for example, in Norway and write about people you have never met and regions you have never been to.
So many have arrogant opinions of places they have never been. When you don't know people, and have no compassion for them, it is very easy to make an enemy out of certain groups. But we think it is important to see their situation with their own eyes.
Therefore, we have travelled to Crimean peninsula and other regions to further examine that which our media writes about the situation. In Europe, we have adopted wide sanctions against Russia and against the population of the Crimea. If none of our politicians go there to open a dialogue, we will travel ordinary citizens to examine the facts for ourselves. This is the "People's Diplomacy."
Especially in these warring times where everyone seems to desire steadily new wars, dialogue and cooperation are more important than ever. War disrupts civil life and creates massive chaos for the civilians. This is our agenda. We wish to prevent these wars.
This applies to the Crimea, but also in the Donbass area where the inhabitants have the impression that that they are forgotten by the rest of the world. We want to put a clear sign and start dialogue to hear their opinions and see their situation, and yes, we also meet politicians and hear how they assess the situation.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - We live at a time when economic sanctions are used as weapons to break governments in the countries we do not respect. You often mention that we are insufficiently informed about the effect that financial sanctions have on the civilian population in these countries.
Hendrik Weber: - The economic sanctions are based on the idea that Russia has "annexed" the Crimea Peninsula and started the war in eastern Ukraine. As I have said several times before, these statements are not correct. That they are repeated and repeated in almost all our newspapers, does not make them more correct.
The Crimean Peninsula is not annexed and this has been widely discussed by several statesmen both from Norway and from Europe, showing that the word "annexation" is a completely wrong description of what happened. The people of Crimea voted to rather be part of Russia than Ukraine.
The same happened in Kosovo, and back then we all supported that and called it "true democracy" that the people were to choose where they wanted to belong. I guess, because the Kosovo annexation from Serbia fitted Western plans at the time to weaken Jugoslavia.
We also often forget that the Ukraine problem started because of a coup in Kiev where the legally-seated President V. Yanukovych was allocated in violation of Ukrainian constitution.
The sanctions that are now introduced are first and foremost touching individuals and civilians who have nothing to do with these political decisions. They just live their lives, and are not into the politics. Yet, they are the ones who end up suffering.
For example, when we travel to the Crimea, we always visit a university or a school to talk to the students. The students we meet are stuck in Crimea and do not have the opportunity to travel to, for example Europe to study there. The same applies to teachers.
In the context of Crimea, we often talk about human rights violations - which I can not confirm as I do not have the full overview - but I ask whether these sanctions against civilians are a violation of human rights. Are not economical sanctions a violation against human rights?
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - Many feel that Crimea is very far from our European reality and we simply know very little about that part of the world. Please enlighten us on your version on what actually happened when the Crimean Peninsula was separated from Ukraine.
Hendrik Weber: - Crimea has long been a part of Russia until Nikita Chruschtschow gave it away from the Russian to the Ukrainian Soviet republic in 1954. Remember that back then Ukraine was a part of Russia, so it was a domestic matter. This basically made no difference because all the republics belonged to the Soviet Union.
In 1991, Crimea became an autonomous republic in Ukraine. On 18 May 2014, Crimea became an autonomous republic of Russia as the result of a referendum in which the Crimean people voted for reunification with Russia.
Following the coup of the Maidan in Kiev, the government in Crimea decided to hold this referendum to vote for or against independence from Ukraine.
The referendum will was conducted on 16 March 2014 and a large majority voted for independence. Sevastopol got its own status as a capital.
Mind that Ukraine is a split country between the more Russian speaking in the east and other ethnic groups in the west. The longstanding conflicts between these groups have marked the Ukrainian history for a long time. With the new government in Kiev, these ethnic conflicts broke open again. I think that some of the reason for the Crimea returning to Russia lay in precisely this, the fear of the Crimeans that they would suffer under the new government in Kiev.
All of these events and circumstances can, of course, be discussed and several views presented. I attempt to address the views we seldom hear anything about in our media, the view of the Crimeans themselves. My agenda is that we should be presented to various perspectives of reality, not just one. This used to be the Western approach, but no longer, it seems.
What I can recommend to anyone who will speak to those who live in these other regions that we hear so little about in the media - that we are denied access to - is to travel to Crimea. Call me, like so many do and join us when we travel! See for yourself! Meet the people! We have repeatedly told the stories of eyewitnesses about what happened at the place in front of parliament or other places in the streets of Simferopol. These are strong stories and highlight the situation in 2014 from another view. In addition, I can recommend articles from statesmen and books to get more background information and not just relying on the media coverage.
The media distortions is serious, for example, in the vast majority of articles or in politicized Wikipedia, the history of the Crimea is explained only from the 1991 resolution of the Soviet Union - directly to 2014, where it is written "After the annexation of Russia ..." It is of course very simple, but it does not explain the complexity of history.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - Do you think that the situation in the Crimea is normalized, is it better there now? What can we expect in the future given that the Crimea is now part of Russia?
Hendrik Weber: - The situation in the Crimea is safe. Crimean residents are pleased to be part of Russia and have failed to live in a war like the people of Donbass. There has been an economic boom since 2014 and Russia invests heavily in infrastructure to make the Crimea competitive again. In the last 25 years, Ukraine has not invested much. As we all know, Ukraine has been a very poor country. Crimea is also a popular resort for Russian, Ukrainian and foreign tourists. Since the bridge to the Crimea was completed, more than 6 million tourists have been coming this year. The target is 10 million in 2022.
Crimea is a legitimate part of Russia now. It will not change and there is no way back, says the people there. People in Crimea have not accepted any decision or a return to be part of Ukraine.We in the West need to accept that it is a decision taken by the people of the Crimea.
Of course, the government in the Crimea wants more investments on the peninsula. There are great opportunities in Crimea for foreign companies, the government in the Crimea is open to discuss all ideas.
We will travel with a Norwegian delegation to the Yalta International Economic Forum in April, 2019. This is a meeting place for politicians but especially for business people from all over the world. By 2017, there were more than 3000 participants from 73 countries in the Yalta International Economic Forum. Those who are interested - even if it's just a spectator - can contact me and we will arrange an invitation.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - Many journalists are concerned about your work with People Diplomacy, Norway. We understand that People Diplomacy is a growing international activist entity, with offices in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands and other nations. We understand that journalists are regularly in touch with you about money issues for the trips.
Why do you think people are so keen on superficial questions about the trips rather than to acquire knowledge about the serious conflicts and humanitarian disasters that you encounter in these regions? I mean, thousands are dying and civilians suffering, and all we care about is money?
Founder of People Diplomacy, Hendrik Weber:- The question they ask if whether we get money from Kremlin, or whoever pays our travels. This is a ridiculous, and as you say a superficial question.
But for journalists who have no facts to come up with, it would be a nice story, and could "prove" that we are paid to be "Russia trolls".
Our medias are not allowed to travel to these areas to talk to ordinary people on the street or with politicians, they are prohibited by our own governments. I have proof of that.
Unfortunately, we get very little information in Norway about what we actually inflict on the population with our sanction policy.
Even though negative articles are published about what we do, there are always people who contact us and want more information about the situation. Our organization is steadily growing and many Norwegians are very angry about the biased information being the only they are "allowed to read".
I do not expect the press to write anything positive about us, hardly anything positive is written about anything nowadays. It is all about creating the need for another great war, it seems. Somebody wants war, that is for sure.
I ask why the press does not at least ask critical questions to our politicians when they hand out money or even military aid to the regime in Kiev. But they don't. As I say, before the Western press used to be critical towards their own government and examine facts, but no more when it comes to foreign policy.
I do not want to go into the case of Frode Berg. I do not want anyone to be in prison and I want him to come home to the family as soon as possible.
But this case proves once again that our press lacks the basics that gravity journalism really should do.
From day one it was clear to the press that Russia had imprisoned an innocent Norwegian citizen. "Typically Russia ..." one could almost hear, and then it turns out that the statements from the Russian side are not completely groundless. This is unfortunately typical.
As a federation of international People Diplomacy groups, can again only urge all journalists to travel to the Crimean Peninsula themselves to form a separate picture of what is happening there. The doors in Crimea are open to anyone who wants information.
In all places we are always welcome, whether it is a university, a hospital, a museum or on the seafront in Yalta. Politicians in the Crimea are open to meeting journalists or other politicians for discussion and exchange. The question arises as to how free our media are when they do not grab this opportunity for peaceful dialogue.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - Also regarding the Herland Report, we see journalists and editors would rather discuss "the number of read articles" rather than the content of the articles. We find it very puzzling as what we cover are the major humanitarian crisis and civilian suffering. At Herland Report we had the past year, 13.5 million read articles and watched programs, and are very pleased with it. Why do we not care about other people's suffering?
Founder of People Diplomacy, Hendrik Weber: - We see throughout Europe that alternative media is growing. People are looking for the right information and feel that the "regular" press does not inform us in a neutral way, but try to influence us in one specific direction.
One can soon say that the "mainstream media" tells us the "alternative" story. Sales figures for the established newspapers across Europe are plunging and the reason is not just the internet.
I do not quite know what is the reason for the biased covering I think it does not fit into the desired warmongering picture to show that people are suffering in these regions. We don't want to show the elderly, the animals, the population, - the children who sleep in basements because there are constant bomb attacks. We don't want this to be seen as this could create sympathy for these people. We do not want to humanize them, as this does not fit into our worldview and geopolitical agenda.
Another reason may be that human beings try to normalize our lives as well as possible, despite crises. This was an experience I had in Donetsk where residents celebrated a party on the street in the knowledge that the front line, where soldiers and civilians die every day, were only 4 km away.
With regard to Donbass, we still operate with numbers from around 10,000 death victims, a number from 2014 and have nothing to do with reality. Perhaps we're just good at suppressing it.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - You recently again travelled to Crimea. Tell us about this particular journey and what you experienced. It is very interesting to hear about your impressions, did you talk to regular people and what do they say?
Hendrik Weber: - This time we were in the Crimea with a group of 9 people, half of whom were not members of People Diplomacy Norway. Everyone was interested in the country and the population and also in the political situation in the Crimea. As several times before, we visited different cities and gained a good overview of the history, culture, landscape, minorities living in the Crimea and the current political situation.
From time to time, we are accused of only talking to politicians and that we do not know what ordinary people are all about. This is completely false and wrong. Mette and I have traveled to Crimea now 8 or 9 times since 2016. We talk to regular folks all the time, it is unavoidable, as everyone knows who travel to a country.
There are situations that occur in everyday life when we are in the Crimea. We are in touch with airline passengers next to us, regular taxi drivers and bus drivers, people in restaurants and markets, interpreters and guides, people on the street who ask who we are and what we do in Crimea. There are people everywhere with whom we talk, young people who are not afraid to contact us, but happy to see Westerners, people in stores or an old man doing his morning gymnastics on the boardwalk.
It is like fieldwork, you talk to a wide variety of people. That does not mean we get the whole picture, but I think we have a very good impression of what people in the Crimea think or what they are concerned with.
We were in Crimea again in the end of November, 2018. This was not a delegation trip, but working on the associations. People Diplomacy now exists in many different countries. At this conference, the Presidents or Founders of the different countries came together to form an International Association "Friends of Crimea". This association should not compete with the existing unions, but should be a platform that collects information and forwards it to the respective countries.
Dr. Muradov, the deputy Prime Minister of Crimea and adviser to the president of the Russian Federation had invited to and led this conference. On the sidelines of the conference, People Diplomacy Norway, signed an agreement to cooperate with the Black Sea Association and the House of Friendship. There is a very close contact with the Crimea on very different levels and we want to expand these relationships further.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: - We understand that you have started a company that will offer travel possibilities to both Russia and to the Crimea. Tell us about this idea.
Founder of People Diplomacy, Hendrik Weber: - There are many who contact us and would like to travel to Crimea, but not as a delegation and without political meetings. They just want to look at historical places and want to experience the culture, or simply lie on the beach. As I said, Crimea is a warm place with so many tourist possibilities - and cheap too!
People get no help if they want to travel to Crimea. Websites where one can book hotels or flights do not offer any services in Crimea, for example. We also want to plan our future delegation trips ourselves and independently of these politicized obstacles. Not only we can offer individual trips to Russia, and not only to Moscow and Saint Petersburg but many other exciting regions.
In addition, we will use our company to facilitate trips for investors and business people from all over Europe to Crimea and other regions of Russia. Through our network and our contacts, we can help people get in touch with each other or find the right business contacts. So, both for business and tourism. The aim is the same as the founding principles for the EU: We want trade and intermingling, instead of new wars.
The company is now registered in Moscow and our first customers travel to New Year's Eve in Saint Petersburg with a very special program. I would just like to mention that the company is not related to the People Diplomacy Association. These are two different things. We hope to accomplish friendship rather than war with both.