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Kusturica: Why does NATO still exist? To fight terrorism? It’s laughable!

As Brussels goes into a renewed push to bring more countries into its fold, the divisions between nations in fact go deeper. The call for European integration rings on Kiev squares – and some fear it will turn into western expansion. Who knows what’s for the best? Today we look at the picture not through the eyes of experts or politicians. We ask a great artist about the changes in the air: Emir Kusturica – filmmaker, actor, writer, and musician is on SophieCo.


Sophie Shevardnadze: Emir Kusturica – filmmaker, actor, writer, musician – you name it, everything. Great to have you on our show today. So, Ukraine has been on the news lately, everyone’s talking about it, you have said that Ukrainians are looking at the Yugoslav scenario – what exact parallels would you draw with Ukraine and Yugoslavia? Do you think civil war is possible there?

Emir Kusturica: I don’t think the civil war will come because the question of the Ukraine is more the question about “who will give more,” because I have a feeling that those people who are awoken from their European colleagues, they are much more agreeable to accept some good bid. So this artificial name of what we call today NATO is in fact spreading…or what they used to say in World War I – “Drang nach Osten.” And now this is very visible that in fact the European Union formally doesn’t mean NATO but in fact it’s very much connected. Why am I saying this? I have an example in which for the strategic reason, Bulgaria and Romania became Europe before even Serbia and Croatia. What is Europe for me? Europe is an old system that gave us Renaissance and that gave us the biggest achievements in the Judeo-Christian civilization and I am behind this. But each time, it comes every once in a while in a century to a crisis, then there is the formal way to go for the goods which are on the other side. My problem, a little bit of problem, of understanding this, is if the present administration with the president is 100 percent decided not to go to Europe as they said, I don’t know if this is a sincere act of Mr. Yanukovych or is in fact negotiating, trying to get more from Europe. But the point is, they will never get money from Europe because Europe cannot give them anything.

SS: They don’t have money.

EK: They don’t have money, and now the question is – who has the money? And they all know Russia has the money, because Russia has the sources in Siberia, which they don’t have for whom – Napoleon was coming trying to get it, Hitler was trying to get it and even Madeleine Albright said that its unfair if such a small number of people are living on such a great territory. She was in fact thinking that your gas, your oil and all the minerals and all the stuff that you have over there – it’s unfair not to share with them.

SS:But what do you think about the people who are on Maidan Square? What do you think of them?

EK: They look very frozen, they are like many others…but I think…

SS:But do you believe they are being sincere wishing to be integrated into Europe?

EK: Some of them, yes. I watched Pankovich, the man who was a Nazi, who was celebrating, in fact, marking the anniversary of the death of the man who was a Nazi. So you could have a wide range of different people there, you could have people who really believe when they come to Europe they will have 1000 euro each month, and you have people who are instrumentalized, who are trained – but when you see Syria, it’s very obvious that Syria had not an uprising that came just by itself. I’ve been in Syria - beautiful people, tender people, fantastically clean, like never I’ve seen in the whole Arab and Persian world, and what broke out there was for sure organized. Who does it?

SS:It’s an export of fundamental Islam to Syria…

EK: Listen, I’m the victim of fundamentalists in Bosnia. I’m ethnically cleansed from Sarajevo with like 150,000-200,000 Serbs. I know what it is. This war was always the one that was attracting the people who didn’t want to fight.

SS:What do you mean “attracting people who didn’t want to fight?”

EK: Everybody likes to live in a good society, in which you could meet a friend, drink coffee with a Muslim, speak about theology with an Orthodox, and speak about electricity, about Nicola Tesla and many other issues. When one nation is concerned, it is always less attractive. So Sarajevo was multiethnic…Today, as much as I was fighting for Yugoslavia to stay together, part in which I am active – which is called Republic of Srpska - I think it’s time to try to live alone, to use and to choose self-definition as the issue of self-defense, because if you are sharing a place with somebody who tells you that Muslim ideology will win in the end, in between Catholics and Orthodox – the future of the state is not guaranteed.

SS:I want to get a little bit back to Sarajevo since you brought it up. You talk about it all the time - it’s in your films, you write about it, you even say you dream about it. You’ve never been back. What would happen if you went back to Sarajevo?

EK: The problem is that I’m emotionally blocked, because most that I’ve loved has died naturally in the war…Sarajevo is an ethnically cleansed city in which 95 percent of people are Muslims. Sarajevo was constituted from at least 150,000-200,000 Serbs, who were pushed out. It sounds paradoxical – the city was closed by the Serb troops around the hills, but most of the people who were civil, as we say, European, like me, I consider myself European – they were pushed out. So, when I think of going…once I was dreaming I was in the car hiding myself, first of all because of the fact that I was raised there, I made two films over there, and I started living there, and to “start living” means opening the spiritual and another process. So one can say, “how come this guy doesn’t want to go there?” but I am absolutely scared that my disappointment would end up in a kind of existential story of Jean-Paul Sartre in which if I would have gone there, I would walk, and nobody kicks my ass, I would probably be leaving it without one single emotion. A city is about who is there – when you go in the nightlife of Moscow, you go to the place where you find people, because the crowd is not something that interests you, and this crowd has been changed - socially, religiously, intellectually - and for the last 20 years it has built up another system of values in which I do not fit.

SS:But your story is also like a typical story of a representative of a lost generation – the breakdown of the Soviet Union…

EK: Do I look like a lost generation?

SS:No, no, a Hemingway-style lost generation. So, you know, Soviet Union breakdown people went through that…I am a little younger, but I also feel it is lost, I don’t have that strong sense of belonging to one country or another, because I’m Georgian but now I live in Russia and I was born in the Soviet Union. Do you have a strong bond to one country or sense of belonging to one place? Do you feel 100 percent Serbian, is this what you are?

EK: Identity-wise – yes I do, 100 percent. But on the other hand, I am working everywhere, I’m playing music in Latin America, in South Korea, in North America. When I’m making a movie, I go all over the world. I have French nationality too because I am very much devoted to the idea of the French vision of art. I don’t know for how long it’s going to last, and I really feel good with the French, not all. So this is nothing general, but a breakup of these kinds of big countries – even Yugoslavia was big – is making, I would say, consequences which are absolutely difficult to carry on. Because once you were growing up with national team in handball winning championships, with Croats, Macedonians and everybody around you, and apparently now they are in fact your enemies – this is what does not fit in one single human life.

SS: What do you think about Serbia’s inevitable EU membership, because unlike Ukraine, Belgrade isn’t being offered an alternative?

EK: I would say that Serbia is placed in southeast Europe and becoming a member of EU makes a lot of limits in production, makes you developed as much as they want, gives you the chance to get access to great funds. The question is how much you get and how much you lose. I think becoming an EU member is very expensive for Serbia and I think that if I was a president, I would never go this way. They go.

SS:But what other choice does Serbia have? Do you think they can survive on their own?

EK: Why not? You always can survive. How has Castro survived next to America and still doing well, still being alive? Why not? Another question is – when you become an EU member does it mean – but they don’t say it – becoming NATO? I think its compatible, and this is a bigger mess. I would stay neutral; I would be playing militarily and economically a country which could combine the two worlds. If I look at Hungary, if I look at the Czech Republic - except they have these all these old houses - I don’t think the life of individuals is much better than before, except they could travel, they could work, they could do many other things. But, what do we know in 20 years in the crisis that is very obvious: what will Europe be in 20 years?

SS:I guess no one can say what it will be in 20 years, but if you look at it now it sure has a lot of problems and mostly big countries dictate what the small members should do. But, overall, it has the diversity…

EK: Serbs will have a big problem because they cannot sell produced Rakia. I think, when they were given two chances to go to Europe to lose Rakia, they will always make Rakia, not go to Europe.

SS:So there is a chance that Serbia won’t become part of the EU then?

EK: I don’t know…

SS:Now, what I’m saying is that if you look at Europe now, it does have the unity and the diversity, and these are the qualities that you appreciated in the former Yugoslavia, no?

EK: Please, give the break with idealistic visions. Europe is Germany. All the power and all the reproductive power and ultimate political power is Germany. What Germany tells you, it will be. Not Romania or Hungary tells you. We are speaking about the whole region that is going through a big crisis.

SS:So why would Germany need Ukraine if they have Greece and Spain and Italy and so many others?

EK: Every piece of land in which they could bring Siemens, they could bring their banks, they could extend their power. If they have one million people in the country – it’s a market.

SS:You know Russia very well, you come here all the time, you speak Russian, you are filming a new project that is also based from eyes of Dostoevsky, and you said many times that Putin is what Russia needs; you’re supporting him, you say he is great for Russia. Why do you think conservatism and an anti-Western stance are good for Russia, in your opinion?

EK: I think every country in the world, including England, which is the parameter for this, needs to have the conservatives, because what the experimental people bring is just too quick, and governing the state is with many layers and many difficulties unexpected. So, you need somebody who will control the territory by all means with a very strong hand, and I think Putin is not as strong as they say. In between Putin and some others, you have either anarchy or Stalinism. So I think Putin is in a very good middle, in which at least the goods that are coming to Russians are still processing. And I hope, one day, he will start developing very soon more the question of social awareness, the question of the people, the teachers who live better, middle class. The problem for him is that the crisis in the world makes middle class even in America not live as good as they were used to. The whole world is stepping into Pharaonic times in which you will have 3 percent of billionaires and nothing, and then you will have more or less poor people. A system like this is to be avoided, and my support to Putin was in fact, I would say, very fair, because there were elections, they were asking me “what would you vote, to whom is your vote?” and I would say if I was English I would be against him because I know what England wants from Russia. English history in the last 200 years was “how to stop Russia on its way to Europe.” If I was American, and you know what Americans do around the world, everybody knows: one says loudly, the other one is not brave to say. We know what NATO, apparently, militarily unified Western world, existing to kill the Warsaw Pact, and in the end they still continue existing. For what? For terrorists? Not very persuading. So, when you have a guy, who came after Yeltsin, after a dancing president, who allowed every single agency to come to his office, somebody who is trying to protect your dignity, to have you on your own to decide which way to go – and I said I would always vote for Putin.

SS:It’s so interesting – they way you talk about politics in Europe, in Russia, in America – like, if you look in your artistic style, like film and music – you are always about breaking the rules, in everything you do. And then when you talk about politics…

EK: I’m nearing 60 now…

SS:Yeah, but when you talk about politics, for an average viewer, you are pretty conservative. How does that mesh together?

EK: It develops. If you remember Scorsese’s movie ‘Taxi driver,’ he first doesn’t have a job, then he gets a taxi, and then by driving the taxi he meets many people, he falls in love…In the middle of this, he just cuts his hair and becomes looking like a punk, then he is witnessing the abuse of a girl, the woman he loves is gone, he is alone and he kills in a very bloody scene people who do bad things. Then anarchy is behind him, he survives, his girl is back home and he is again a normal man. So I’m speaking conservatively because I don’t want to see again the Bolshevik revolution in which the mass is destroying such a strong and such a good Tsar, killing the Tsar and killing all family around. I don’t believe this is the way to do things, I’m always today more for evolution than the revolution, but I could still be a revolutionary on the other side – because, don’t tell me that people on Maidan are bringing good stuff for Ukraine, because today in broken Yugoslavia, in each republic, they have great memory of the past and they all say they lived much better before than they live now. I’m saying “how come you are now in Europe?” They say they don’t know, but it was much better.

SS:But also the catalyzer for you becoming so famous all of the sudden and winning the Palme d’Or – it was because of the Western viewer who saw your movie and claimed you – do you see a contradiction here?

EK: I’m not in contradiction with my Western viewers at all! The problem of our East in perception of the West is that we believe that the Western world is unified from the top to the bottom, that they think the same. Go to Paris and finish at four o’clock in the morning in different bars and see how much they hate the politics they do. So, this mass, these groups of people are like us – normal people. Those who govern, they think about all “on behalf of millions,” as Dostoevsky says. And they could even kill not to be guilty.

SS:With everything you do, you have this complete inner freedom, right? In your films, in your music, the way you speak to people – but you have the luxury of speaking about issues not being in the process. Do you think that freedom is applicable to the politicians?

EK: My freedom is comparative to the truth that I was never a politician.

SS:So that’s why I am asking, do you think that could be applied to politicians who are in charge?

EK: The moment I become a politician everything will fall apart, because then you have to have a discipline, then you have the way that somebody tells you. Like this - I could say what I feel and I must tell you: all my life I was doing what I like and this is for why I could say that I have a quite successful and happy life.

SS:I know that when you became world famous, you were reading lectures in Columbia University. You were making a film in Hollywood with the best actors. Why didn’t you stay there?

EK: I would die.


EK: Because there’s no freedom there. Hollywood is impressive, great, it was the source of my knowledge, the movies from 50s, 70s, from Capra to Lubich, the best directors in the world. Then Hollywood became what it is today – it’s a factory, which they call “the film industry,” and when they speak, agents are in-between them, they speak about industry. I must say that I’m an old-fashioned man who sees cinema as a great adventure in which each time I start making a movie I never know where I could stop, it’s like playing Tchaikovsky and finishing with Vivaldi. I’m 100 percent into the shooting, which is not allowed there. They have a strong system in which they fabricate movies, and I create movies. But I’m into other things now. I’m finishing second city, which is on a peninsula on the Drina River, which is across the border in-between Serbia and Bosnia, Republika Srpska. I’m building a farm in which I’m going to stay taking care of cows and sheep, and I’m finishing my movie and I hope that my life will be stretched and so diverted, that when the moment of dying comes I wouldn’t even feel that I died.

SS:Emir Kusturica, thank you very much for your interview, and I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors.

EK: Thank you.