Anne-Laure Bonnel is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who has spent much time in the Donbass region reporting on the conflict there. She produced the film Donbass in 2015, and recently she has given numerous interviews in which she has argued for the escalation of war to cease. It is commendable that in France there is still a nationally licensed radio station giving time to dissenting voices like hers. The legacy media in North America seem to have turned out the lights and become a collective of somnambules staggering into a long war with Russia, oblivious to the catastrophic consequences. The transcript of Ms. Bonnel’s recent interview (2022/04/13) on Sud-Radio follows below.
There have been several voices making similar pleas in recent weeks, but all on marginal, alternative media. Saner minds are noticing that our leaders, as well as most mesmerized citizens in Europe and North America, are taking us into a disaster that could end in nuclear war. The talk is uncannily reminiscent of Jean Jaurès’ warning before the outbreak of war in 1914, which he made only weeks before the war and before his assassination by nationalist radicals. Just one short excerpt of it should remind us that history rhymes perfectly from one century to the next:
Think of what a disaster war would be for Europe. It would not be, like in the Balkans, one army of 300,000 men, but instead four, five or six armies of two million men. What a massacre! What ruin! What barbarity! And this is why, when the storm clouds are above us, I still hope that this crime will not be committed. Citizens, if the storm breaks out, we will have to act as soon as possible to stop the crimes of our leaders… Whatever happens, citizens—and I say these things with a sort of despair at this moment when we are threatened with murder and savagery—there is only one way to maintain peace and save civilization. All working people—French, English, German, Italians, Russians—must gather their forces and unite to avoid this terrible nightmare.
Anne-Laure Bonnel talks to André Bercoff from Radio Sud, about the war, Europe, Biden, and the possibilities for peace, April 13, 2022, (English subtitles in the video, 14:46)
André Bercoff (AB): Hello, we are in the eve of the second round of the elections, on April 24, and the war doesn’t stop, it continues, in front of us, Russia, Ukraine, Donbass, Belarus, etc. We are filled with rumors, counter-rumors, information, misinformation, and we have here Anne-Laure Bonnel, who was in the Donbass, making videos, who was also in Nagorno-Karabakh, a journalist in the full sense of the word. And she has just written an open letter to the president and the other candidates. … Anne-Laure Bonnel, since you came back from the Donbass, where you were for a few weeks, and after returning, you published an open letter yesterday [the letter follows this transcript] or the day before, addressed to the president and to the candidates, where you say that we don’t measure the greatness of a man by how many victims he makes, but by the number of lives he saves. So, are you saying, listen, we need to stop, that’s very well…
Anne-Laure Bonnel (ALB): So, to answer you, I think that if we don’t try anything, nothing will happen, but I certainly have hope, a very, very small hope that it can end, but we must try everything. And I wrote that letter after my many travels since 2014 to Donbass, so that we can reflect about what we can do if this war gets even worse. The candidates’ programs, faced with a break-up of Europe, cannot hold. Very serious things can happen.
AB: But what can Europe do?
ALB: These comments are only by mine, but what I’ve seen has worried me a lot. I’m observing that the USA is still extremely belligerent. So there’s no question there has been a Russian invasion, but I say watch out. It can escalate quickly. Yesterday, I talked to a friend whom I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. He works with finance in New York, and he said, “Anne-Laure, it’s incredible that in France no one talks about it, but Biden is completely senile.” So, between two oversized egos, who can say it won’t escalate. How can we be sure?
AB: Between Putin, who is a total egotist…
ALB: And Biden, who has his head on the clouds.
AB: So things can escalate.
ALB: We’ve seen that in history. Things can escalate. Besides, maybe France can do something. It would be my dream. I would be very happy if we could be this instrument of peace and dialogue.
AB: But how we can do that? You have been there. I mean, we see what’s going on, you saw things recently there. Who could say something, Joseph Borrel, also Biden, on the other side … but Europe, how do you explain? Because America, we can understand. They want to sell their gas, and they have the military industrial complex. I don’t say they are good reasons, but they have reasons. But Europe? What interest does it really have, especially when you know that some access to [Russian] resources was lost? What interest does Europe have in prolonging this war between Russia and Ukraine?
AB: None. So why do they do this? Why do all European leaders go on saying, “We’ll give 1.5 billion to the Ukraine”? It’s not for its development, but to help them to continue the war.
ALB: I have come back, as you know, from covering the war in Armenia. I documented war crimes there, but Europe didn’t care because no one knows about that massacre. Today maybe they have the feeling that this war [in Ukraine] is closer to our borders, but that’s not all. I always repeat that there are 200 conflicts each year. So what’s going on? Unfortunately, I am not a geopolitician who knows all details of the maps, but there are certainly interests that are too close to those of the United States, a lack of distance in terms of a European sovereignty, and today my feeling, and it’s my own, is that we have a stupid submission, and a loss of sovereignty. Europe should be for dialog and not for making false promises. You don’t shoot at an ambulance that is on fire. I remind you moreover that the USA is extremely belligerent, but it’s not happening on their soil. It’s happening on ours.
AB: They are making us fight for Ukraine.
ALB: Absolutely, but their own shirts don’t get sweaty. Apart from that, we saw this week, thanks to Régis Sommier, the former director of Paris Match, the presence, reported by Le Figaro, of American soldiers training, in Odessa in particular, the paramilitary, or the militias. Since 2014 it’s a fact that the Americans have been training the Azov Battalion. So Europe needs to ask why we are following the United States. I’m not in a position to answer, and I don’t know why, and it saddens me.
AB: So, exactly, let’s talk about how, in your view—you’re not the Minister of Defense—but still, Anne-Laure Bonnel, how in your view, could we advance because there are negotiations. Sometimes they stop, restart, stop again, restart, with Israeli politicians, Turks, etc. How can we advance in your view? To begin with, you said somewhere else to stop sending arms, etc., but one may answer, “OK, then only the Russians will have weapons, and we’ll have nothing, we are unarmed, so what do we do?”
ALB: I would answer that if we had put in the same energy after the Minsk Agreements in 2014 to make sure those agreements were respected, the need to send weapons now wouldn’t exist. Now, what can be done since the Minsk Agreements are in a stalemate? How can we go back to sit at the table? We need to appeal to the more balanced people, those more moderate. It’s not about legitimizing the Russian invasion. It’s not about excusing everything but about reflecting on how Europe can sit around a table to avoid escalating the conflict. It has already produced enough death. There has been damage that is unsustainable, both for rebuilding the country and for human lives which are totally shattered at all levels. So what can Europe do? It’s our job to reflect, we must reflect how to achieve peace, instead of feeding war. And why can’t we change the way we think about it? How is it possible that today, choosing dialog, choosing wisdom, choosing distance and critical thinking, are met with accusations? Why can’t Europe be for peace? Must we say that the way to end a war is to send arms? Or must we reflect and hold dialog?
AB: But the problem is that in Europe, we just discussed that, in order to have dialog you need balanced minds, as you said, men and women of balanced minds. The issue is that Europe leaders who follow…
ALB: On that issue, we miss Angela Merkel, because I remind you that she said, when Mr. Zelensky had just become president of the Ukraine, and in 2008, she refused allowing Ukraine to enter NATO. She said it. She repeated it. Expressly. Yes, she repeated that last week. I saw this in an interview. She repeated that, expressing her refusal, saying that that refusal was beneficial for European safety and stability. What has happened with today’s leaders? I don’t know, but in any case, there is clearly a hysteria that does not go in the direction of dialog, so each European country and each country in the EU risks paying the price on all levels, be it entering the war—in which case the [French presidential] candidates’ programs all go up in the air—but besides that, the economic crisis. We already feel it. Inflation—we already feel it. I was talking to my neighbors. They were asking themselves how they could go on holiday, considering the price of fuel.
AB: Yes, it’s true, and also there are shortages of certain products.
ALB: And if we don’t stop this war… Who is benefitting from it right now? Who benefits? I trust that the listeners will have their own reflections on that subject.
AB: Anne-Laure Bonnel, from that point of view, you have written that letter [see below]. It’s always good to make an appeal to reason. It’s not the order of the day, but it’s important to appeal to reason, and I remind people once more that you are not editorializing after having just sat in your armchair. You’ve been there, on the ground, and on that subject, do you plan to return?
ALB: I will try, but for now I can say that what I saw was a massacre, and I am really concerned that we can’t show both sides, in terms of victims.
AB: Exactly. There is a testimony by a French journalist that you can’t name, I understand, but it’s someone well-known, who told you what, exactly?
ALB: Many accuse me of not showing the abuses by the Russians. I’d like to say that about such abuses, talking to former generals, in whom I have total trust, they appeal to caution. Why am I specifying this? I made you listen, Mr. Bercoff, off the air, to a message received by someone at one of the largest French media companies, who works for Canal+, M6, TF1, France 2, and others, in which this person told me, “All the images that I obtain are given to me by the Ukrainians, on location, by the Ukrainian agencies.”
AB: It means the totality of the images…
ALB: I don’t say the totality, or the majority of the images, but I think it’s a large part. This message, in any case, from this person, who is someone I can’t name—but I have a lot of respect for his work—he told me this clearly, and he said many other things too. The discussions that we had, and that I can’t mention, could annoy a lot of people. So, caution is in order, one must say.
AB: What about Russian images? For example, I suppose that the Russians also do propaganda from their side.
ALB: You know that, in my case, Mr. Bercoff, it’s the first time in a conflict that I have put myself in the video images. I don’t know if you have seen any of the images. I do this to show that no one gave these images to me. It was me and my team who filmed them. Suddenly, I trust only what I see, and what I film. That’s why I’d like to return to the field. The images that are given, be it by the Russian side, be it by the Ukrainian side, I don’t take into consideration. For me, it was simply to prove the source of the images… because some day I want to release all the recordings in my film. I’m going to go back to how the investigation and the images were made. But the images that you see in my film, and the photos you see on my social media accounts, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I appear in them. It proves that they were not given to me, neither by the Russians, much less by the Ukrainians. By no one. And I trust only, I repeat, the images that a journalist films himself. In times of war, disinformation reigns.
AB: For sure.
ALB: It’s no secret. And people must always question the credibility of all images, so, be cautious, and most of all, hold onto benevolence because we hear rising hatred in the rhetoric, and that is potentially explosive, and we will all pay the price.
AB: Anne-Laure Bonnel, thanks. We will move on, but we will surely keep in contact with you if you leave, and above all, it’s very important, I repeat, to keep our heads, if not cool, at least lucid. I am reminded of the words by René Char, “Lucidity is wounded when one is closest to the sun.” We must keep it at all costs. Thanks again, Anne-Laure Bonnel.
ALB: Thanks so much.
Paris, April 11, 2022
Dear Mr. President, and other candidates;
The greatness of a man is not measured by the number of victims he makes, but by the number of lives he saves!
The tragedy I witnessed in the Donbass leads me to write you the following…
The task that awaits you for the next five years will write your name in history. But in what way?
We know that human justice is not fair. But let us have the courage to value intellectual justice and justice of the heart!
The perfect and wonderful world on Earth is a utopia and we know it. On the other hand, the decisions that we take, that you take, will have to tend towards the most positive outcome for each human being, an outcome for which one day you will be accountable.
Would you prefer to be associated with a victory through negotiated peace or one resulting from a carnage where there is no one left to kill?
The real de-escalation cannot be done by talking about the paradox of arming a country that is certainly proud and courageous but also vengeful and supported by countries that have their own interest in it.
Let’s not get stuck in one camp. Let us not limit ourselves to a binary and simplistic vision of a situation that is not appropriate. Let us not be instrumentalized. Let’s not be bought economically or emotionally.
Let us be Great! Let us be above the fray! Let us be exemplary! Let us be the standard-bearers of a pacifist and humanitarian solution!
Today, more than ever, the issue of war must be at the heart of the elections. This issue is the cornerstone. Your programs, however powerful and comprehensive they may be, will be worthless if a war in Eastern Europe were to escalate. The economic, ecological, societal, and humanist fallout would undermine all your good intentions for the French people. Is this what you want—to take the risk of not being able to honor your electoral promises?
In recent years, the French people have been subjected to various economic constraints. Do you think they are ready to face yet another crisis? Let’s be honest. Be honest with the French people. Let’s put our cards on the table: what is your plan for how the war should end? * History has shown us time and time again that those who did not anticipate, were sunk.
Let us never forget that every war has its dark side. And to dare to go headlong towards an easy shortcut would show a lack of humility. It is taking the risk of a backlash that history will remember. Can you be so adamant about responsibility as to support weaponry that will cause more casualties on both sides? What does your conscience tell you? What will future generations say if one of your decisions with fatal repercussions turns out to be wrong? Of course, it is difficult for a Frenchman to put water in his wine, and yet… Let us show the world the strength of our choices! Let’s show the world that France can overcome, can surpass one-track, easy, and simplistic thought. Let us show the world that it is possible to extinguish the fire of the cannons rather than to increase them. Make your mark on history! Yes, it’s time to lead by example and calm down. It is time to not escalate the situation through direct or indirect provocation. It is time to avoid any belligerent words. It is time…
No! It is not too late!
Yes, Russia has a responsibility!
But… Who benefits from the crime—the countries supplying weapons?
Who benefits from their own interests? Consider the countries that graciously offer us an alternative to Russian gas.
Who benefits from a good conscience—those who give lessons from the comfort of their sofa, in front of the television news cameras?
Who benefits from peace? The citizens and peoples caught in the crossfire! Those who have no choice but to suffer the decisions of some leaders initially elected to represent them, to protect them, but who in the end often turn out to be caught up in their thirst for glory and victory.
This victory is not unilateral. This victory does not belong to one side. This victory is possible and must be universal and worldwide! Finally, let us remember this:
“To triumph, evil needs only the inaction of good people.” – Edmund Burke.
The people of the world are counting on you.
War reporter in search of truth and peace
and her team
* Translator’s note: The correct translation might be “what is your plan if the war should end?” or “… if the war doesn’t go as you expected.” The verb enrayer has multiple meanings. The meaning that was suggested by the context is what I put into the text above.