Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed Milan Zadelka, a Czech war correspondent who specializes in filming in war zones. The journalist told the head of the Foundation about the unfair investigation into the case of his friend Alexander Franchetti, who became a victim of political persecution, about the propaganda of Western countries that deliberately distorts information with a Russophobic agenda, and explained why it is unprofitable for the European Union to help Ukraine.
Mira Terada: Hello! Thank you for joining us today. Could you please tell us about yourself and your job?
Milan Zadelak: I conclude contracts with various television corporations and shoot videos for them. Thanks to this, I was able to conclude an agreement with Michigan Television. It is the largest television in Latin America. I filmed in Donbass in 2015 and 2016 on both sides of the conflict.
M.T.: Your friend Alexander Franchetti has become a victim of political persecution and faces up to 8 years in prison on trumped-up charges. How is his case developing? Do you keep in touch with him?
M.Z.: I met Alexander at a big event in Crimea, where I filmed a video about the big event of the Night Wolves motobike show. This is my great friend. 2 years ago, when he was in the Czech Republic, he lived at my house. After that, he left. I asked him why he couldn’t come via Ukraine in an easier way. He then replied that it was very unsafe for him. He said that a reward had been issued for his head in Ukraine. He does not know the exact amount, but it seems that the amount was about 100,000 euros. When he asked Alexander Franchetti what would have happened if he had been caught in Ukraine, he said “I would have been tortured a little, and then I would have disappeared from this world.” He is now in prison, and therefore contact with him is limited. However, I am in contact with his wife, Svetlana, and his daughter, who lives here, and I was recently given back the opportunity to visit him in prison. We had the opportunity to talk for 90 minutes. He said that despite the fact that he is in prison, the attitude is generally good, he was even allowed to use personal items, not prison ones. So I brought him his personal belongings and washed them so that they were clean. I know that now the conditions have become worse, and his wife informed me that all personal belongings were taken from him. We talked to him about his extradition to Ukraine. He is very skeptical about it. The court has already decided that he can be extradited to Ukraine, that there are no obstacles for this. And Alexander himself expects from this, at best, torture, at worst, death. The lawyer offered to make me a witness at the trial, since I am obviously the only person living in the Czech Republic who filmed a report with Alexander in Crimea. In particular, there was a conversation about his group “North Wind”, in which he took part, and about what he basically did there. The lawyer said that the decision had already been made in advance, since the judge came to the court session with a ready-made printed decision on several pages. That is, this decision was clearly pre-prepared. I can confirm that I was also at the second part of the court session, and indeed at the end, when the court said that the court would deliberate, they deliberated for a few minutes, and then they called everyone again and read out the decision and justification, and this decision and the justification had already been printed on several pages, which naturally was not possible to do in a few minutes. That is, indeed, all this was printed on the sheets already in advance. Of course, there are different ways to challenge a decision, and so on. I spoke with his lawyer yesterday, and the lawyer still admits the possibility of another solution. This is to try to offer to change him as a prisoner of the military with Russia, to somehow make some kind of exchange. But this is still such a theoretical version, and we need to wait what the embassy of the Russian Federation, which only found out about such an idea of a lawyer, will say to this version. Unfortunately, our system of jurisdiction makes it possible to extradite people to a country that is currently at war.
M.T.: At the end of December last year, Alexander wrote an open letter in which he stated that the prosecutor of the Prague prosecutor’s office had denied his and his lawyer’s appeal. What do you think is the reason for such an unfair attitude towards Alexander?
M.Z.: This is my personal opinion. At the moment, everyone is talking about the fact that he is being held in exceptionally strict conditions, and there was even a trial via videoconference, he was in prison. Even the judge said: “Remove the handcuffs from him.” Because it’s funny, just a man is in prison, four guards are standing behind him, and he is in handcuffs. At first, we thought it was such a show. But he can’t even answer questions when he does, he wants to gesticulate and can’t.
M.T.: What does Milan about it? What is the reason of this attitude towards Mr Franchetti?
M.Z.: They say they are worried for his safety. They say that he will be poisoned or killed, some Russian special services will infiltrate the Czech prison. He believes that this is certainly a question for the prosecutor or for the justice system, but he suggests that, perhaps, being sure that they will extradite him to Ukraine, they do not want to look for him somewhere later if he let’s say he runs away. In general they want him to be there under their control.
M.T.: And in your opinion, what is the reason for the biased attitude towards Russian citizens in European courts.
There is a Ukrainian hysteria going on in the Czech Republic right now.
Sasha couldn’t have chosen a worse time to visit the Czech Republic than when he arrived. Incredible things are happening. All Prague and the Czech Republic are being repainted for blue-yellow colors. Even “Russian” ice cream is renamed into Ukrainian ice cream. Numerous demonstrations and actions are taking place, all kinds of balls in honor of Ukrainians with free food, all kinds of support, transport is free for everyone who has Ukrainian documents, visits to some zoos and other events too. Now Ukrainians just don’t need to have vaccine passport. In general, Ukrainians now can get anything they want, unlike the Czech population, and they even began to joke that the capital of Ukraine is now Prague. In short, absolutely everything that has at least some relation to Russia, or to the name Russia is bad, everything that has at least some relation to Ukraine or where the word Ukraine is contained is just fine. And this is my answer to your question why such injustices occur.
M.T.: Is it true that a law was introduced in the Czech Republic, which states that a person can be punished with up to 3 years in prison if he expresses support for Russia?
M.Z.: Yes, this law exists. I think it’s not three years, but 10 years, maybe. Now criticism is very strong here, and the law that has been adopted in Russia, that such actions can be punished with 15 years, and we are better here, we have only 10 years.
M.T.: Over the past few months, the attention of the world community has been focused on the situation in Ukraine. In your opinion, what is the purpose of the West, which is escalating the atmosphere by trying to create a confrontation between Russia and NATO, and why do Western colleagues refuse to accept Russia’s central proposal of not expanding NATO to the east?
M.Z.: Russia is a traditional enemy or enemy of the United States of America. President Zelensky is very strongly insisting on declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but the United States and NATO members absolutely clearly said “no” to Zelensky, since this could lead to open confrontation with Russia until nuclear war. Despite the \ clear answer “no”, Zelensky still continues to insist and escalate the situation. Today, Zelensky said that NATO is weaklings, and if Ukraine falls, then the whole Europe will fall, he accused NATO of being weaklings, they can’t do anything, they are very weak, and continued to demand his conditions. Therefore, Zelensky can draw Europe, NATO and the United States into a colossal war. I think that the time has come to clearly explain to Zelensky that, of course, some help must be provided to him, but this has its limits.
M.T.: What do you think is the true background of the crisis? How can this end for Russia and Western countries? What are your predictions for the near future?
M.Z.: If I knew how it would end, I would at least win a Nobel Prize, because all the best minds in the world are thinking about how it will end. I don’t know where the truth is, but here people are afraid, saying that, perhaps, the Russian army overestimated its strength. From the way the local media present information here, a local person may get the impression that Ukrainian troops have already surrounded Moscow. President Zelensky is shown here a hero, like a superman. All sorts of souvenirs, pillows with a photograph of Zelensky, photographs of Zelensky are already on sale here.
M.Z.: It seems that if he now submits his candidacy for the president of any country and the Czech Republic, he will immediately win. Seriously, we need to put everyone at the negotiating table, because war is the last thing that can be.
M.T.: Western countries try to denigrate Russia or put it in a bad light. What is the true reason for the pressure on Russia, and who is at the origin of Western propaganda?
M.Z.: It’s hard to say who’s behind all this. As I have already said, Russia has historically been the main enemy of the West. I filmed in Donbass on both sides of the conflict, and there was massive propaganda on both sides of the conflict. The most important thing is to put everyone at the negotiating table and solve it somehow diplomatically, because diplomatic problems should not be solved directly on the battlefields. There shouldn’t be combat.
I do not blame the Russian Federation for starting some kind of conflict.
At the time of those events I was in Crimea. I was in Crimea for a couple of days before the beginning of the events, and absolutely everyone, both the top politicians of Crimea and ordinary people, everyone, without any exception, stated on camera that even in the evening before the beginning of active events, said that this is absolutely nonsense, and Russia cannot attack anyone. At first, for the first few hours, everyone was in shock, and everyone also said that at first they perceive this as Russia’s aggression against another state. Local people treated me very well, though I am a western person for them. I have never face any negativity on their part. Everything was great, and even the local people, the local woman, to an incredible extent, thanks to their help and her help, I was able to go back. In particular, since flights from those airports were canceled and without their help there was no chance to get out of there and get to Moscow first, so that later on the last flight to have time to fly to the Czech Republic at all.
M.T.: Why for 8 years the West ignored the attacks of Ukraine on the Luhansk and Donetsk republics and was silent about the aggression of Ukraine, but when Russia entered Ukraine with a special operation for denazification and demilitarization, the West started talking that Russia was an aggressor?
M.Z.: The first thing we need to admit is that the West, including the Czech Republic, does not perceive Ukraine as a fascist state. Naturally, there is a lot of evidence, photographs and so on, of how Ukrainian formations are fighting under all sorts of fascist flags. A huge number of these photos and videos exist on social networks, and a large number of Czechs have seen or could see it, but the Czech authorities label all this information as disinformation. The Czech Republic is historically an ally of Ukraine. Here, all the information is presented in such a way that this is the aggression of the separatists and that they are militias. All information here is presented exclusively in the way that this is the aggression of the separatists against Ukraine.
When I was in Donbass, I saw the destruction, the damage that the Ukrainian army caused to Donbass, and I also saw civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.
While Ukraine called it an anti-terrorist operation, the residents of Donetsk called it a war, and I recorded it on a video camera, and I showed it. This is the answer to your question, why at that time no one dealt with this conflict in our country. Further, perhaps some of these events was not covered because of coronavirus.
M.T.: Do you think that what is happening in the information space now can be called a real information war?
M.Z.: Yes, of course, every war consists of real battles, as well as espionage and information battles. And this is a normal part of the war, and in our journalistic circles it is said that every second person is a spy. This is the reason why when I film in these conflict zones, people ask my opinion. People always ask me when I film in these war zones, on whose side I am. I always say that as a journalist I cannot be on someone’s side. As a journalist, I must be objective and neutral. I can only say what I saw, heard, filmed on a video camera, what I can show, prove with videos. I should be as neutral as possible. There is another point here, which, for example, I said in one speech.
The inhabitants of Crimea in no way perceive the events as an annexation, but perceive them as the result of their referendum.
The reaction of the editor in response to this was a question whether I am able to understand that this referendum was actually manipulated. My answer was that I could not judge about possible manipulation of the referendum because I did not attend it.
M.T.: I will now express only my personal opinion on this question, but in my opinion, the situation that has developed in the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics over the past 8 years is hushed up because it was not geopolitically beneficial in order to disclose the entire genocide that happened there. But when Russia finally began to take active steps to eliminate real terrorists, Nazis and fascists, the whole world started talking about it, because it is very profitable now to impose various types of sanctions on Russia to worsen its position both economically and politically. I’m interested in Milan’s opinion on this issue. The fact is that now the pandemic has not stopped, people still die of coronavirus, but at the same time it feels like the pandemic has faded into the background, although children have been dying for all eight years, tens of thousands of people. And everyone was silent about it.
M.Z.: There is even such an anecdote in the Czech Republic that Putin, whether he is an aggressor or not, in any case he is the only superman, a hero who was able to stop the coalition within 24 hours.
M.T.: What do you think, the bias of the situation, the information that is now in the Western media, is it not simply beneficial to the West in relation to and in comparison with the fact that events were hushed up for 8 years, because that it was not profitable to talk about them?
M.Z.: My personal opinion is that this situation is not beneficial to anyone. I can not clearly judge who benefits from this.
For the European Union, this cannot be beneficial, because assistance to Ukraine in any way: financial, military and other is too expensive.
They say that a crazy energy crisis is expected, a crazy economic crisis, the prices for gasoline and oil are beating all historical records here. It is certainly clear and understandable that these sanctions will have a very large impact on the Russian economy. This is already showing up. Anyone who wants to get rich should trade, not make war. The best way now, the absolute priority, is that all parties to return to the negotiating table. Perhaps both sides should make some concessions, but continue to negotiate. The biggest concession should be made by Ukrainian President Zelensky himself, so that he does not try to drag the world into this conflict and does not accuse the West and NATO of being weaklings and doing nothing.