It was noxious. On a poster, a young African woman is resting on the ground, her breasts are exposed, one leg bent suggestively. Right behind her, a wild-looking black girl with red hair is wagging her hips.
What I am observing is not an ancient pornographic cartoon. It is an old, official poster, which is advertising a so-called ‘human zoo’, or as it used to be called in French: ‘Jardin Zoologique D’Acclimatation’. And it is not hanging somewhere around Pigalle, but in a highly ‘respectable’ Army Museum, Musée de l’Armée, in the enormous palace – Hôtel national des Invalides – near the Military School, Napoleon’s Tomb and the headquarters of UNESCO.
On this matter, Iman Hassan wrote for ‘Africa Matters’ in 2013:
“In the 19th and 20th century, Human Zoos were public exhibits of indigenous people to demonstrate the customs and lifestyles of the ‘uncivilized’ in comparison to the ‘civilized’ western nations. The infamous ‘Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation’ was used as a means for the imperialist tyrants to feed their fascination with pseudo-scientific studies. In particular, surrounding racial differences amongst them and the indigenous nations they colonized. The Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation housed various ethnic groups who had all been subsequently taken from their homelands and relocated to Paris as species for the human exhibit. As I began to read more and more about this institution, I came across an article titled ‘Les Somalis au Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation’ which elaborated on the experiences of the Somalis inhabiting the exhibit in Paris. The zoo was one huge scientific exhibition to reaffirm the ignorant belief that Western culture was the pinnacle of social evolution. The zoo housed a caravan filled with twenty-six Somali children, men and women, who all belonged to various tribes, including the tribe my father belonged too…”
The Army Museum in Paris is also where posters that glorify the mass murder of African people are still proudly hanging on its walls, side by side with the ‘artworks’ celebrating the French conquest of Madagascar.
I spoke to the museum guards. I wanted to know whether there was more information available inside this museum – about the colonial onslaught and the countless genocides.
I searched for some monument, or at least for a glimpse of repentance. With all those massacres, rapes, even genocides that France performed (and in some places is still performing) – in Africa, in the Caribbean, in the Americas, in Oceania and in Asia – there surely must be at least one huge hall reserved for the mourning of all their crimes against humanity; crimes that actually paid for those enormous French cathedrals and churches, palaces and schools, hospitals and theatres.
But I found nothing of that nature; just an orgy of patriotism, and a vulgar glorification of French military might. There was the armor of the medieval knights; there were countless historic weapons and armored vehicles, as well as banners. But there were no depictions of the millions, in fact of tens of millions of victims, of the French colonial terror.
The museum guards kept smiling at me, repeating that there is absolutely nothing related to imperialism and colonialism in this tremendous ensemble of palaces, maintained by the government, in order to boost national pride and to thoroughly pervert French, European and world history.
Those human zoo posters were there, but they had nothing to do with repentance, and they were obviously causing no outrage. African people dragged to Paris, stripped naked and exhibited like animals. Who would be surprised?
They reminded me of those pre-WWII Italian fascist posters, explaining pedantically to the young recruits who were selected for the occupation of Ethiopia, the anatomy of African women – their future booty!
In the meantime, the decay of Paris was omnipresent and shocking.
There were two beggars right next to my hotel in the relatively posh 15th arrondissement. One of them was an amputee, exposing his terrible wound while leaning his back against the wall. Both were French and white.
One of my French translators was just in the process of leaving apartment where he had been living for 30 years. The search for a new place was traumatic, as prices in Paris had reached yet another unrealistic peak.
Everything appeared to be broken, from the trains to hotel lifts. In order to connect to ‘free internet’ in my hotel, I had to constantly watch an appalling advertisement – recruiting young people to join the French air force.
“Ten, even five years ago, The French government at least pretended that it cared about its people”, explained my translator. “Now they just don’t hide it, that they don’t care.”
We were having one of those 120-euro-dinners-for-two, but sitting at the bar, because there was no table available. I was told that the place was actually ‘reasonably priced’. I felt somehow embarrassed to mention that an average set-price dinner in Tokyo goes usually for 10-15 dollars per person.
“Nobody complains”, continued my translator. “People used to… They don’t, anymore… As if they have totally given up… Almost all critical thought has disappeared from French mass media, and there are very few alternatives… That is why people now read critical publications produced in the United States, a country which has a much greater variety of thinkers than France and the rest of Europe.”
‘All the While in the United States, the majority of left-leaning intellectuals admire the ‘refined and cultural’ Europe’, I thought.
Both sides of the northern Atlantic Ocean have been, of course, blissfully and determinedly ignoring the fact that real change – true revolutions – are taking place, successfully and right now, in Latin America, Asia, and even Africa, but definitely far away from those intellectually corrupt and nihilistic centers of imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Of course the Europeans and North Americans never took the revolutions in Venezuela, China or South Africa seriously, as those revolutions were following ‘indigenous’ paths, and homegrown concepts.
Revolutionaries in Caracas or Beijing were not begging for advice in Paris and New York, in Madrid and London; they did not have to; they were better, more brave and successful. And no matter how ‘Left’ some Western intellectuals claimed to be, most of them have been suffering from a chronic cultural superiority complex, unable to admit their own pathetic defeat at home, let alone to follow the leadership of Asian and Latin American comrades, from the countries where socialism has clearly and patently won.
Relatively small acts of defiance and opposition by Western leftists and anarchists against the regime are seen, at least in the West itself, as epic and heroic battles.
In Venezuela, China, Cuba, Russia, Eritrea or South Africa, their entire foreign policy is designed to counter the murderous designs of the Western fascist regime. Battleships and airplanes are on the ready to defend their countries and sometimes even their neighbors. Hundreds of millions of men, women and children are being elevated from poverty. New mass media outlets are proudly offering the world alternatives to Western propaganda. There is the new great solidarity of BRICS countries. It is all happening. It is happening now!
But you would never guess it, reading the headlines of Parisian dailies.
The European public, most of it, is cynical, sarcastic, and even hostile towards countries like China, Russia, and those in Latin America.
The ignorance is striking. And it is ignorance in its purest, most toxic form. It is not passive ignorance; it is active, dragging the world back to the dark ages.
At Les Halles in Paris, an anti-war exhibition is both naive and deceiving.
At first sight, everything appears to be just fine, and honorable: there are drawings of bombs and there are cartoons depicting embedded journalists. The Palestinian ‘issue’ is addressed, and there are plenty of images of tormented children.
Parisians change trains and shop at Les Halles. They visit the art cinema and a media library. And these days, whatever they do here, they can see all around them, huge posters, drawings and other images, that depict the absurdity and maliciousness of war.
But if one stops and really takes a closer look at the art displayed, the integrity of the exhibition quickly crumbles. What is it really trying to say? That any war is wicked and that all sides involved are wrong?
It is all ‘safe’ and ‘mainstream’ with just a few soft politically risqué images, just enough to create a moderate atmosphere of daring. Israel and Palestine: the Israeli military and Palestinian ‘extremists’ pull a rope in two different directions, as if the two sides were equally guilty of the war. The Middle East as a whole: the West and jihadi cadres are depicted as two equally malicious forces, as if there was no horror of the US and European destabilization of the region, and as if none of those long centuries of colonialism existed, plus the decades of neo-colonialism.
“What do you feel about this exhibition?” I asked an elegantly dressed girl. She is window-shopping in front of the Japanese ‘Muji’ boutique, while throwing side-glances at the bombs hanging from the high ceiling.
She smiles at me, charmingly: “Terrible, no? All these wars… and killing of people, no?”CounterPunch is Moral Oxygen in a Corrupt Empire. Support the Fund Drive Today!
In Stuttgart, a middle-aged woman sat cross-legged on a cobblestone in the central square, Schlossplatz. The upper part of her body was fully exposed. She was staring emptily into the distance. She looked confused, scared and unwell. Somebody called the police and she was arrested; ordered to pick up her things, to get dressed and to enter the vehicle. She did not fight; she just did what she was told, slowly and mechanically.
A few steps from where she had been sitting before, a group of young people were setting up their stand, ‘exposing the capitalist system’ and ‘educating the public’.
I tried to speak to them, but it was very difficult to find a common language, or to even figure out what exactly the point was that they were making. They were critical of banks, but they also believed that it would take the United States to save the global economy. I introduced myself, but they had very little interest in any of the points that I was making. They were here to ‘educate’ about the greatness of their hero – JFK – and other ‘progressive US Presidents’. They began lecturing me. After a while, after their arguments became desperately confusing, I left.
That same night I received an email from Berlin, where a group consisting of German and French intellectuals was asking for permission to translate and to disseminate my article on the German holocaust committed in Southwest Africa at the beginning of the 20th century.
“I discovered your article “Namibie : L’holocauste Africain de l’Allemagne” and it was like a kick in my face. I would like to share it with our community… your article is a bomb!”
Obviously, there has been very little knowledge in Berlin about those horrible deeds committed in Africa by the pioneers of German Nazism.
The entire Europe is pregnant with pseudo-knowledge and with arrogant assertiveness. It appears that everybody knows everything. But behind the self-confident façade, there is often only the gaping emptiness of ignorance.
Not long ago, in Germany, I was engaged in a conversation with two university-educated persons, about the political situation in Bolivia and Ecuador. Only after an hour of listening to their arrogantly self-assured tirades (they were defining the Bolivian, Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments as ‘dictatorial’), did I realize that they could not even name the capital cities of the countries they were judging, nor their Presidents.
I have lived and worked on all the continents, and I have to testify that Europeans are easily the most indoctrinated and the worst-informed people on the planet. They only know about their tiny playground and almost nothing about other much greater cultures than their own: those of Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. Such ignorance and spite towards others comes, as a result of the brutal European military conquests, and, the rapes and plunder of the entire planet. It is the attitude of thugs who have just finished ransacking some unfortunate village.
Europe is clearly the most dangerous continent, and it feels like that: aggressive, jumpy, and confrontational.
While the United States is lately doing most of the shooting and bombing, Europe is still firmly in charge of the ideological concept. It is indoctrinating the world, through its media outlets, its propaganda, and ‘education’. Even its ‘cultural centers’ (including French and German ones) function as propaganda hubs, something that I am planning to address in one of my upcoming essays.
My ten-day visit to Europe culminated in Pilsen (‘Plzen’ in Czech). I accepted an invitation to speak at the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, at the University of West Bohemia.
The invitation came from the faculty’s head, my friend Milan Kohout.
A former signatory to Charter-77 and a leading dissident during the Cold War, Mr. Kohout emigrated to the United States, where after being confronted by the ‘capitalist paradise’, he became a powerful activist, turning against the capitalist system, imperialism and Christian terror.
For personal reasons, he had to return temporarily to the Czech Republic, but since then he has been counting the days that were left for his return to Boston:
“The Czech Republic is so right-wing, so brainwashed and so racist”, he lamented over the endless pints of beer we downed during my first night in Pilsen:
“I miss the multi-culturalism of the US, and I miss the diversity of opinions.”
Like my translator in Paris, Milan was clearly convinced that ‘as bad as the US is, and it is very bad, the real opposition to the regime there is definitely not to be found in servile and indoctrinated Europe.’
And so I ended up facing some 150 students from the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, in the city that has been immortalized in my memory as synonymous with hell. This is where, after being born in the Soviet Union and having a Russian/Chinese mother, I had to fight for my life from the first grade, after each class, for being Russian, for having ‘Asian ears’, for ‘being different’.
This is where, during the winters, when I went to play badminton in a gym, I had my shoes pissed into, and then thrown out into the street, with the urine turning to ice.
This is where I had to face, periodically, a gang of local kids, several times a week, being beaten up mercilessly, for years, for being ‘Asian’ and ‘Russian’, while at the same time gypsy kids were being terrorized and beaten up all over the country, all over the continent… All this, before I managed to team up with ‘fat Karel’, a kid who was overweight and therefore like me, terrorized and humiliated, for being different… Then Karel and I became hardened, like steel, we learned to fight back, and we stopped being scared – a counterpunch, straight back, with no mercy!
This was Pilsen, where someone shot at my face with an air gun, and missing only by an inch, my right eye.
“Andre grew up here”, said Milan Kohout when introducing me. “But do not expect any sentimental feelings…”
I got out of that bloody place – from Pilsen, from Czechoslovakia and from Europe – as soon as I could, which was damn soon… Damn soon!
Students actually knew very well who I was. To give them credit, they had researched my work: my books, films, and reports…
“They have never really heard any alternative ideas here”, I was told by Milan, before my lecture began. “Here, it is total ignorance… only a one-sided, pro-capitalist, pro-Western narrative. During Communism, people were much better informed: they went out of their way to get alternative information, and they treasured whatever they got. Now, they just accept, they don’t challenge whatever they are told.”
I recalled how the Prague Post newspaper managed to misquote my friend and mentor, Noam Chomsky, on 6 June 2014, twisting what he said while he was visiting the Czech Republic:
“Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by terrorists, part of whom were trained in Russia and who committed murders in Latin America, the Philippines and Southeast Asia, he told journalists”.
Chomsky was, of course, talking about the death-squads trained by the West, nothing to do with Russia! Prague Post did what the servile, collaborationist press in Prague had been doing, for decades and centuries, under every regime: it was serving its masters, openly lying and twisting the truth, even changing the quotes!
I told them – the students – plenty about ISIS. How the West trained them and armed them in Turkey and Jordan, in the so-called refugee camps, so that they would help to destabilize al-Assad’s government, and later, after they got, as it was predicted that they would, ‘out of control’, how they were to be used as the justification for Western ‘intervention’ and for the creation of ‘independent Kurdistan’, servile and full of oil.
I told them what I learned from Christopher Black, a leading international criminal lawyer based in Toronto, who clearly defines the possible endgame of our planet: “The Ukraine is the latest theatre of operations in the world war that erupted with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the drive thereafter by the West to dominate world resources and markets. The first theaters of operation in this global war were Africa and Yugoslavia. In Africa, America ejected France from Central Africa and turned Rwanda into a military state used to maintain a state of deadly chaos in the Great Lakes region of Africa.”
The destruction of Yugoslavia during the same period culminated in the final brutal NATO attack of 1999 and the overthrow of Milosevic in 2001, Black wrote to me. In rapid succession the NATO states attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, then Libya and Syria. The ultimate target of these wars is, of course, Russia and its vast resources, and those countries such as China, Iran, and of Latin America that insist on maintaining their independence and sovereignty.
“But these wars cannot be conducted without propaganda, and as the wars themselves are total wars – that is, wars targeting civilians as well as military forces – so the propaganda techniques used are total, using every aspect of communication and penetrating all levels of society. Important elements of this propaganda are the various war crimes tribunals whose primary function is the dissemination of false histories of the wars concerned, and criminalization of those who resist,” Black told me.
I spoke to students about how the West is lately manufacturing ‘opposition movements’, on all the continents, wherever political leaders decide to defend the interests of their people.
I told them about the horrid European ‘new wave’ of neo-colonialism, particularly represented by France in Africa, and by the United Kingdom all over the world.
I told them about the concept of ‘people’ and ‘un-people’ – those who matter and those who matter not.
They were sitting there and listening; quite attentively, I have to admit.
In the end, after some 100 minutes of my bashing Western imperialism and fascism, the questions arrived, and they were relatively polite.
But I was told later, as students were leaving, some voices were less flattering: “What the fuck is he talking about?”
Before leaving the Czech Republic, I was invited to one of the studios of Czech Radio. The long interview was pre-recorded, and I was told that most likely, some parts would have to be cut out.
Then, it was time to go – I had to drive some 400 kilometers to Stuttgart, return the car, and fly back to the Middle East via Paris.
These entire ten days – what a bizarre, chilling feeling.
As I drove, I kept recalling details of this collapsing, unkind, depressed and depressing continent.
I kept the stereo system blasting, listening to Peruvian tunes from the Andes, and to Russian ballads.
I was thinking about those gloomy and unfriendly, very aggressive people, about crumbling infrastructure, about whole days without public Internet. I was thinking about ‘public’ toilets on the highways where one has to pay 70-euro cents just to take a piss, and about airport lounges stuffed with newspapers and magazines in several languages, almost all with Fascist-sounding headlines, pointing their fingers against the ‘enemies of the regime’.
This was definitely not the continent or culture qualified to lead the world.
Instinctively, I was longing for optimism, for the ‘nation and character building’ attitude, for human kindness and warmth.
I wanted to fly back, very quickly, to Venezuela or Cuba, China or Vietnam, to South Africa.
In Europe, I felt scared, I felt humiliated exactly like when I was a child; I felt unwanted and unloved. Exactly as I felt in those countries that had succumbed to Western terror and diktats: including those such as Indonesia or Kenya.
It is hard to explain all of this in a scientific manner, or by using an investigative journalism style.
I have written a lot of ‘serious’ books and essays about imperialism and colonialism, plenty about the brutality of all those European empires and their culture. I have written amply about European ignorance.
But this is simply an intuitive piece. And one should be allowed to write intuitive pieces once in a while.
As I was driving on the motorway, away from Pilsen, I was trying to imagine the world that is not owned, not controlled by Europe, by the West, and Christianity. I was imagining all those European countries having to suddenly rely strictly on their own natural resources and on their increasingly lazy and spoiled labor.
In the Czech Republic someone told me: “Well, I don’t want people to work too hard…”
And I thought: “Well, why should they work hard? The West has made sure of installing a global system in which few millions of un-people die constantly in order to support the lethargy of Europeans!”
I thought, if they have to fight, as they always do, they should fight each other, not to use the entire world as their murderous gameboy or playstation.
I thought: how long, how arduous a struggle it will be for the world to get rid of European cultural colonialism, of its global capitalist system, of its fundamentalist, depressing and murderous religions, that had been strategically implanted all over the world!
But the struggle had to begin and it has already begun. One country after another has been rejecting the grotesque arrangement of the world; an arrangement that was first designed in Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe, then adopted and modified by Washington.
I stopped at a service station, took one more 70-euro cent piss, drank an espresso macchiato and brought my powerful rented Volvo into the left lane of the Autobahn, stabilizing its speed at 220 km/h.
As I was approaching Stuttgart Airport, a huge military Hercules was taking off. Stuttgart is not only the home of the Porsche and Mercedes factories, but also of The United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM). It is deadly; it is murderous. But of course, in Stuttgart, nobody really knows or cares what it really is!
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.