A Mexican war correspondent in South Ossetia
Raul Fajardo, a correspondent for Mexico's Agave Producciones broadcast center, has made a documentary entitled Ossetia: Chronicle of Genocide and Liberation, in which he depicts the realities of last year's attack on the republic by Georgian forces.
RIA Novosti spoke to Raul on the anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.
Could you tell us why you decided to make this film?
RF: I am a war correspondent. I have been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, and lately in South Ossetia. Our studio decided to make a documentary from the viewpoint of an ordinary Mexican, to understand the essence of the conflict, and to see everything with our own eyes. We did not want to present our audience with information dictated by the world media.
What impressions did Tskhinvali and its residents leave on you?
RF: As soon as I arrived in South Ossetia, I was stunned by its beautiful nature. It seemed like heaven to me. This land is as generous as its people. Regrettably, when I saw Tskhinvali, it was damaged by shelling, and almost destroyed by artillery fire. Some schools, hospitals, the university, and the parliament were literally erased from the face of the earth. Many houses were burned to the ground. It was painful to look at this devastation, which evoked scenes from World War II movies.
At the same time, I admired the spirit of the local people. Despite their tragedy, they greeted us with great warmth and took care of our security. They supported us as much as they could. Sharing with us their last piece of bread, they followed the Caucasian tradition of receiving guests with every honor.
What do you think about Russia’s decision to send troops to the republic to establish peace?
RF: Apparently, the international community did not understand fully what was going on there due to a lack of information. Nevertheless, a year later we see that for the people of South Ossetia this was merely an opportunity to survive an aggression which, I am convinced, could only have led to genocide. Moreover Russia launched a very organized military action, which achieved its goal: peace in the region was established in a very short space of time and with minimal losses. Compared to the tragically long drawn out wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, where I had also witnessed war-inflicted misfortunes, Russia’s mission was a real success. I believe that Russia’s participation in this conflict achieved the main objective by saving the lives of Ossetians and local Russians.
Following on from your answer, the consequences of Russia’s military action in the region were positive, or am I mistaken?
RF: Judging by the testimonies of civilians I have heard, young Russian soldiers are considered heroes in Ossetia for their military skills displayed in combat. Ossetians are grateful to them for the support of the civilian population at a difficult time, for saving lives by securing safe exit corridors from the conflict zone, and for helping save those who were buried under the ruins as a result of shelling. In particular I would like to point out the self-sacrifice of the so called Blue Helmets, the guys from the Russian peacekeeping force. When Ossetia was attacked, they carried out their duty there. Many of them fell victim to betrayal in the process.
Almost all of the victims in Ossetia were civilians. For the most part, children, women, and senior citizens were killed in Ossetia.
In addition, the operation codenamed Clean Field was aimed not only at killing Ossetians, but also, as its name suggests, at destroying their entire cultural and architectural heritage. I saw with my own eyes the ruined university and schools, museums and monuments, and gravestones destroyed by artillery fire. I am confident that if it had not been for Russia and the courage of the Ossetian soldiers who defended their homeland, mankind would have regretted today the genocide of the Ossetian people, the irretrievable loss of the people with a unique history, traditions and culture.
What do you think about the supplies of arms and ammunition to Georgia from the United States and other countries?
RF: I am a war correspondent and I know what it means for people in such countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and now Ossetia. It causes a lot of pain to talk about war – a tragedy for millions of people throughout the world and a source of profitable business for certain people. That became particularly apparent during the George W. Bush administration. One can even argue that wherever across the world military policies have been pursued, conflicts and “threats” have been invented in order to provoke countries into massive supplies of arms, deployment of military bases and development of doctrines aimed at aggression against neighbors and imposing alien interests on people in every region.
I think this underpins the “friendship” between Saakashvili and Bush, the advocates of such militaristic and adventurous policies from which they derived direct benefits. I am convinced that there is no need to prove whether or not direct instructions from Washington were received. The flooding of Georgia with arms, equipment and militaristic speeches is enough to blame the conflict on the United States.
Mr. Fajardo, what was the reaction to the South Ossetian events in Mexico?
RF: As we remember, the attack on Tskhinvali began in the early hours of August 8. Saakashvili deliberately chose that date for the attack to coincide, as we know, with the opening of the Beijing Olympics. Even as Tskhinvali was being shelled, people in Mexico, like in other countries, had their eyes fixed on Beijing and the start of the Olympics. It created a kind of smoke screen for the events in the region and most people only learned about the Caucasus tragedy several days later, that is, when Russia stepped into the conflict. It involved misinformation and created the misleading impression that Russia was the aggressor.
Major media outlets in Mexico, my colleagues, drew information from the major news agencies without properly verifying it because they had no correspondents in the region. Luckily, that tendency, in my opinion, and from my conversations with my friends and colleagues, gradually died down. Over time, the media and those members of the public who were interested in what had actually happened realized that Saakashvili was cheating, that he deliberately chose August 8 in order to cover up his aggression with the Olympics. I think that realization was a major step forward, but it is necessary that people know the whole truth. Our work is a small contribution, a grain of sand in the effort to document historical facts.
What do people in your country think about the content of the film?
RF: Traditionally Mexico, its people and government have supported peaceful settlements to conflicts through dialogue and within the framework established by the international community. At the same time Mexico has profound traditions and is faithful to the heritage of its ancestors, and our film shows the Ossetian people in the same way. That is why our film was met with interest and great sympathy for the victims of the conflict in all places it was shown (universities, cultural centers, analytical groups, in political debates, etc.). The abridged version we presented on a major news program on Mexican television was given its due by the viewers and by the journalists who made their comments.
How did journalists react to your film?
RF: The reaction was very positive and raised interest among my colleagues because it contained the most truthful documentary data on the region, its culture and the actual events. The work was appreciated above all as a testimony because it is almost entirely based on the freely expressed opinions of the people we interviewed on the spot, right on the streets of Ossetia and Abkhazia, people from different walks of life from academics to housewives, ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians involved in the conflict.
As far as I know, this is the only Mexican work on such a scale, which is why our efforts were appreciated. The advantage of seeing events for oneself, without distortion and bias, became obvious. The film also attracted interest in the United States because it is an objective film from a country that is neutral to this conflict.
Were you exposed to danger when shooting the film?
RF: Actually the film is more about the aftermath of the war than about the war itself. We shot most of it in September collecting evidence on the conflict. Luckily for us, the worst was already over. During the several nights that we spent there we could hear shots and explosions pretty close to where we were, but honestly, the people of Ossetia took care of us and we saw that they were all concerned for the safety and comfort of every guest.
How do you assess the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Do you think a new conflict may flare up?
RF: I was there and I followed the developments in these two republics and in the Caucasus in general, as well as at various forums and international organizations. I think the international community has gradually woken up to the true state of affairs; more and more people are learning about the deception Saakashvili tried to perpetrate by launching a treacherous attack and by his information war. Opposition to Saakashvili was formed even inside Georgia. Hopefully, international politics will become more rational under the new U.S. administration. It will not be based on the whims and greedy interests of several military cranks ensconced in Washington, but on the higher interests of the peoples of America, Russia, the Caucasus and the whole of mankind, who are in favor of peace and solidarity of nations, as well as a peaceful resolution to any conflict through negotiations.
Ossetia and Abkhazia have proved that they are able to cooperate and behave as peaceful nations. All they are asking is that the international community recognizes what is in fact: their existence as sovereign states.
Interview by Ricardo Zedano.