The photo from KP.ru
The script of the Andrey Babitskiy’s interview by Aleksandr Kots and Dmitriy Steshin originally appeared at Сводки от ополчения Новороссии, translated from Russian by J.Hawk.
The famous journalist tells Komsomolskaya Pravda why he went over to the Donbass
For more than ten years Andrey Babitskiy was the poster child for our liberal commmunity, he was their authoritative source and loudspeaker. He was no office-dwelling journalist–he traveled the dusty and bloody roads of two Chechen wars. His position on the Chechnya events made Andrey Maratovich sincerely hated by Russian state officials and the military. In the end he had to go to Prague and join the Radio Freedom run by the State Department and hated by all patriots. But yesterday we met him in the center of Donetsk. He’s been living for a year in the rebellious republic and has no plans to go anywhere else.
The Collapse of the Brand
–My moral and ideological downfall started when the events in Crimea started to unfold. I was the chief editor of the Echo of the Caucasus radio, a subdivision of Radio freedom. I created it from nothing and worked there for four years. During the events in Crimea I wrote an article about Putin’s speech. I did not like his term “national traitors”, but I supported his decision to protect Crimea’s population. Thath position turned out to be completely at odds with Radio Freedom’s policies. They instantly took administrative measures against me, prevented me from working, and moved me to the Moldova office. They cut my salary and I had no work at all for a whole month. I was in Transnistria, and then I asked to come here. It was my position–the people have expressed their will and needed help.
–The people also expressed their will on the Maidan, is there a difference?
–The Maidan is a different story, here the anti-corruption youth protest was almost instantly privatized by extreme nationalists. The results of the Maidan are distinctively “brown”, in political terms. One can’t accept that. From the moment they started to burn Berkut. One must understand that the will of the people cannot turn into madness. But here people simply voted in favor of their traditions, language, and culture. I came here for the first time as a Freedom correspondent, filed stories and performed analysis. It was not consistent with the station’s politics, but the Moldova office did not attract much attention, my name was the station’s brand. They stopped treating it as a propaganda outlet.
–So what happened?
–In early September of last year I made I compiled a report in Novosvetlovka about uncovering a grave with two militiamen and two civilians. They were shot by Aidar Battalion. They went to get flour and did not realize Novosvetlovka was already captured. I wrote the report from local accounts, and the Moldova office published it. The Ukrainian office of Freedom was nationalist even before, but now it completely went nuts. They made a real scandal out of it: “This can’t be, it must have been staged.” And the Ukrainian office is feared for its temperament. By this time Freedom was already supporting Kiev in the conflict and expounding State Department’s position…I returned and on 29 September they fired me. So I went back to the Donbass because I believe that my work is to be done here, and I feel I am part of this world, I believe my protest here to be justified and deliberate.
–Do you see similarities with Chechnya?
–The Ukrainian military is operating as indiscriminately as Russian. But there was no expression of national will, no referendum, in Chechnya like there was on the Donbass. And my sense is that Dudayev lacked the support of the majority of Chechnya’s population during the First Chechen War. Here the situation is far more clear, and the majority voted for self-determination, so to speak, to be together with Russia. And definitely in favor of separating from Kiev.
–They were saying: “Babitskiy working in Chechnya was the opponent of the state, but Babitskiy in the Donbass is a supporter of the state.” How can that be? You burned bridges with a huge number of your readers and admirers!
–I am also a “traitor” which makes people hate me all the more. And in general, I don’t think that my position on Chechnya was anti-Russian. Anti-war, sure. I wrote some poorly put together phrases which were taken out of context. About cut throats. It was a description, not support of what had been done… In 2005, after Beslan, I did an interview with Basayev but who read it? And I asked him extremely unpleasant questions, I called him a child-killer. My former image has not yet dissipated, and I don’t know what my image is right now. I radically broke with “that” side, but so far there’s no rapprochement with the opposite side. I don’t like the propaganda hysteria in the Russian media, so I’m in limbo.
–What do you think, why did the West collectively support the “insurgents” in Chechnya, but equally collectively opposes the uprising on the Donbass, even though the people here are much closer to Europe in terms of their mentality.
–The Chechen rebellion, let’s call it that, was an expression of ethno-nationalism. It was not clear to me right from the beginning–why is the West betting on nationalists? There was a certain degree of cynicism evident here, since nationalist regimes are more aggressive and they can be used. Russia is a geopolitical enemy and it can’t be hurt by democratic regimes which tend to regulate their differences through a political process, but nationalist regimes can be used like a fist. Just look at Kolomoysky–what an unpleasant personality. He could be Russian or Jewish, he is simply a bandit oligarch who doesn’t care whom he supports. He does not have a system of values. He simply earns money. But there are also smart, pleasant, and talented individuals who support the idea of the nation-state. I believe that’s nonsense. There was the Second World War, and in general the idea of nationalism, especially radical, ought to be criminalized. Just look at what’s happening to Ukraine. After the sloppy authoritarianism of Yanukovych it is drifting into totalitarianism. It’s an internal transformation caused by the Nazi ideology of that regime. The same happened with Saakashvili. He was supposedly carrying out reforms, but in the end he created a police state with elements of Nazi ideology.
–On whose side were you in 2008? Spiritually…
–Not only spiritually but in purely journalist sense I was on Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s side. This was the credo of our Echo of the Caucaus broadcasts. As far as Georgia was concerned, I was an FSB agent already then. But only the Georgians knew about it then, now far more people know.
–What are your relations with Kiev?
–No relations at all. I worked from that side when I traveled as a member of Radio Freedom.
–What is Kiev’s motivation?
–A very primitive one–we are building a nation. But what for? It doesn’t have to be built, it’s an organic process. One can build one artificially, using Hitler’s methods. But it should emerge through a natural process.
–How do you like Crimea?
–It’s wonderful! I love Crimea, I have a wife from Sevastopol.
–Have you been following the changes there over the last year?
–Well, the Crimeans don’t change. They didn’t like doing things before and they still don’t (but they like getting money). Last year’s euphoria is gone. But there is a clear, sober, wise understanding that yes, in some respects things have gotten worse. Russia has come with its bureaucracy and strict order. Ukraine simply ignored Crimea and paid no attention to it. There was comparable freedom–individual people did not experience the state’s presence in their lives. Except for the corruption. But now they have to abide by some rules. But those are details.
–How have things changed here? Is there a sense of exhaustion?
–Yes, of course. But mainly due to the authorities’ mistakes. It’s not entirely clear what is their strategy, what is their vision of the future. Let there be war, but there should be understandable rules of the game. There is something happening behind the scenes that external observers don’t understand. The people don’t know what their tomorrow will be like. A local sociological center carried out a survey. 57% are ready to suffer no matter what. There is a mobilization reserve, people already understand there will be no acquiescence to the old order. The sense of exhaustion will grown, there will be more complaints directed at the local authorities, but Kiev won’t come one millimeter closer as a result.
–So everything will turn out fine?
–There are indicators that point in that direction. In five years or so the administration here will start working as it should, there will be normal life, more capable officials, a high degree of integration with Russia. There is a common border, therefore I don’t think the situation here will be as depressing as in Transnistria. It will be more like Abkhazia and Ossetia, they also have problems with administration but people are absolutely certain of their tomorrow. I think they will soon start issuing Russian passports, there are already negotiations. They already came to an agreement on issuing Russian diplomas at institutions of higher learning, they are letting cars through at the border with the new local plates…The process is continuing and is becoming irreversible. Moscow policies toward the republics are not entirely clear or consistent. They are making the same mistakes as in Ossetia and Abkhazia… But in the end even though they are not living in the lap of luxury, they are better off than some of Russia’s regions. And there is a high industrial potential here, also intellectual potential. The starting position is much better than, say, in Karabakh. So everything will happen much more quickly. But we’ll need five years before we can make an assessment.
The original interview in Russian: