Anna Jaillard-Chesanovska, Ukrainian journalist, resident of France
Russophilia in France has existed since Napoleonic era
12.03.2018 14:55 823

On February 1, 2016, French commercial channel Canal+ was the first to show a scandalous film by director Paul Moreira "Ukraine: The Masks of the Revolution." The film was shown despite the request of the Ukrainian Embassy in France since it misrepresents events in Ukraine during the Revolution of Dignity and is a "powerful propaganda weapon." The film sparked sharp criticism from France's influential media, prominent intellectuals, the Ukrainian community, and French journalists who cover events in Ukraine.

It happened so that Anna Jaillard-Chesanovska, a Ukrainian journalist, translator who has lived in France for a long time, worked on the translation of two interviews for the film. Without knowing it, Anna joined the creation of a propaganda product, but at the same time she became the only witness to the process of its creation, who had the courage not to keep silent about it. Film director Moreira filed a lawsuit against Anna, and a court obliged the journalist to pay the director 13,000 euros in moral damages. An appeal was considered a few days ago, and a court ruling is expected in a month.

Anna Jaillard-Chesanovska spoke in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform about the details of this case, Russia's influence in France on the perception of events in Ukraine, and about why the French know about Russia more than about Ukraine.

Q: Anna, how did it happen that many people spoke out against the film, it was criticized by French journalists, intellectuals, but the film director filed a lawsuit against you?

A: I think that there are two reasons for this. The first one is personal. I worked on the translation of two interviews for this movie. Moreira then contacted me with the request to translate an interview with Mosiychuk (Ihor Mosiychuk, a former spokesman of the Azov battalion, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, who called the film falsified and asked the SBU to ban Moreira from entering Ukraine) and Biletsky (Andriy Biletsky, former commander of the Azov battalion, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada). I used to work for this production company. I did the translations of media reports for them. I knew that they were produced a good product. At the time Canal+ was more adequate than it is now. When it was bought by Vincent Bollore, a French tycoon, changes were made there. For example, it is indicative that some of the archival videos criticizing National Front leader Marine Le Pen, which could be viewed on the Internet, were removed. That is very strange.

When we negotiated with Moreira, I did not know about changes on the channel, they were still in the process. When I started working, I was sure that French journalists and television workers would make a good report. For several years now, I have been working for French television specifically for projects dealing with Ukraine and Russia, and the quality of the final product has never been thrown into question.

I also assume that the film director was very offended by the fact that a girl-translator touched him on the raw. Unlike all other journalists who criticized the film itself, I was the only person involved in the process, saw the real video clips, and had something to compare.

The second reason is that I am the most vulnerable target, because I do not have the support of journalist unions, my name is unknown and, of course, it is much easier to win a lawsuit against a Ukrainian woman than against any well-known French journalist who criticized Moreira's work.

Q: Did Moreira tell you about the plot of the movie?

A: Yes, I asked him about it. He described it as a movie about volunteer battalions and volunteers. He also said that it would be about the Right Sector and Azov. I then replied to him that it was very good to make such a report, because there are many myths and legends about volunteer battalions, and that objective information should be provided on this topic. So I translated two interviews that did not contain anything shocking. There were some phrases that could not be said on French television, but there was nothing special about it.

The film was shown for the first time on February 1, 2016. Just a week before the release of the movie, some French journalists asked me how it turned out that I was working on a propaganda film. I was surprised. My colleagues passed the movie to me, because Moreira sent it to them before the screening so that they could appreciate it. After I watched the film, I was shocked.

I had a feeling that the author was going to shoot something scandalous and focus on a specific topic. That is, he shot a film about the far right, about the Right Sector, about Azov, but he presents them as forces that govern Ukraine, that the Revolution of Dignity was organized by them. These are theses disseminated by Russian propaganda against Ukraine.

Q: What about your part of work? In what form were the interviews that you translated?

A: As I wrote for Liberation: "The editing of the interview completely distorted the original words and was made so as to coincide with the picture of Ukraine that the author wanted to present. It was difficult to recognize the original version of the conversation and understand the true meaning of statements made by persons interviewed. Thanks to clever deception, sharp cut-off phrases, tragic music and depiction of violence, two people whose words I translated looked like wild creatures obsessed with stupid and malicious nationalist ideas." Moreira filed a lawsuit against me for this criticism.

It takes a lot of time to describe in detail, because very delicate work was done, and they produced a film that pours water on the Kremlin mill. In general, I wrote two articles, the first one for Liberation about manipulation with film editing, about how a journalist can take an interview.

The second article was published on the Huffington Post blog. It was a translation of an interview of producer Yulia Serdyukova with Hromadske TV, in which she accused Moreira of having stolen a few clips from her documentary "All Things Ablaze." I translated this interview and published it with a short description.

A few months later, I was summoned to court, because Moreira sued me for libel.

Q: What else do you remember about the work that was done for this film?

A: When I watched the film for the first time, I saw that in the titles there is only my last name as a translator. In fact, one more translator also worked on the film. She translated completely the rest of the material for this film, organized all interviews in Ukraine, but her name were not mentioned in the titles.

I then wrote to Moreira and asked him to remove my last name from the titles for this movie, because I did not want to give the impression that I participated in the work he did. When the movie was released, there was no surname there.

Q: Do you have original interviews that you translated?

A: No, unfortunately, I have nothing left, because when translators go to work on television, in the studio, they do translations at the computer of a journalist who is engaged in the material. Therefore, I do not have any clips or translations, unfortunately. I have no evidence except that I know and remember this. He (Moreira) also knows this, so it hampers him.

Q: What are accusations from Moreira's lawyers built on?

A: Moreira's defense team is very aggressive, because, in my opinion, when people do not have facts and evidence that they are right, they attack. Their defense is based not on evidence, but on personal accusations that have nothing to do with the case, like, for example, my civic position or circle of my friends, etc. They also represent Moreira as a well-known, objective journalist who works very objectively. They defend the scenario that in Ukraine there are many fascists and neo-Nazis who have a great influence on power, because the whole film is built on this. In order to prove this, they refer to this film and some of the articles that were written in France about the far right. Of course, we have them, but the question is how much influence they have in society. We know perfectly well that in the last election they gained a very small percentage of votes.

Moreira's representatives are trying to prove that I am connected with ultra-right forces. As evidence they use the fact that on Facebook I had a photo with Vasyl Slipak, a close friend of me and a fighter who died in the east, which was taken against the background of yellow-blue and red-black flags. They call this red and black flag the flag of the Right Sector, because they do not even know what the flag really means. My explanations that the flag of the Right Sector differs from this flag and that the one on the photo has existed since the Cossack times are not taken into account by judges.

In fact, the problem is that Ukraine is little known in France. That is, judges consider the case as my point of view and his (Moreira's) point of view, because they cannot rely on their knowledge or facts about Ukraine.

Q: But Moreira has the videos that you translated, and showing them in court may prove who is right. Were they added to the case?

A: Moreira's defense team does not provide those video interviews that I translated, despite the fact that my lawyer asked about this. They refused to do so. I stressed in court that these videos can prove that I'm not lying. But they do not provide them. At the same time, they speak about fascists, about what does not concern the case, and also make absurd accusations against me, for example, that I am funded by the Right Sector, that I am a neo-Nazi, that I was a spokesperson for the influential Euromaidan organization, which managed to get a ban on Moreira's movie in a certain country. Judges do not know how it really happened, what our Euromaidan generally means. Of course, when a person argues something so convincingly, even if he has no evidence, then the judges may have the impression that this may be a reality or inspire a suspicion.

What also "pleasantly" impressed me was a statement by the prosecutor that Moreira has no ties with Ukraine or Russia, so he is objective, because he is a French journalist and he has no reason to invent anything. But I, according to the prosecutor, have grounds for this, because I am Ukrainian, I have a biased vision and opinion, and I want to protect Ukraine. She said that I just did not like the movie and so I decided to write about it in such a manner.

I respond to such accusations that I did not like the film not because I am a Ukrainian or I am protecting Ukraine in any way, but because it does not reflect the real situation in Ukraine. Of course, this cannot be liked.

Moreira's lawyer said that when there is no money, you have to think twice before criticizing someone. That is, it turns out that if you have money, you can say anything, and when you have no money, it's better to keep silent.

Q: At what stage is the trial now, and what to expect next?

A: There has recently been consideration in a court of appeal, and its ruling will be received on April 4. Unfortunately, I do not count on a positive ruling, because I see and said this in court that this struggle is similar to confrontation between David and Goliath. Such a super-famous film director is against an activist, who, according to their claims, is financed by right forces.

Therefore, if there is a negative ruling, there is still a cassation court, and even after the cassation court, if everything is left as it was last time, it is possible to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, everything in the European legislation is much clearer about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, slander. The lawyer explained to me that due to the fact that everything is much clearer there is a much greater chance of winning the case.

Q: I understand that the amount of a fine is high and you do not have the funds to pay it, but I know that you are actively supported by Ukrainians in France - and this amount, with the help of the community in France, and Ukraine, can be collected. Is it not just about money?

A: It's not just about money, but it's also important, because I do not have that amount. On the other hand, why should Ukrainians or anyone else pay a film director who so offended Ukraine? In fact, I am very supportive of Ukrainians both in France and Ukraine, and I am very grateful to them for that, because it gives me even more strength to continue the struggle. I, in turn, do not want a journalist who produced a biased film about Ukraine win this case.

He can assert in relation to this film that this was his opinion, but then I do not understand why a person who is confident that he is right is compelled to defend himself through a lie. After all, at the trial, for example, he said that he was sending the complete transcript of my translation to journalists of the Liberation blog in order to prove that my article is a lie. But it was not the case. I know pretty much that this is not the case, because I contacted people from Liberation and asked them whether they received a message with the transcript from Moreira and they replied that this was not the case and they did not receive anything. And if he had this script, why did not he bring it to court?

In this case, we cannot say that he was wrong. No, here he deliberately notes what does not exist. And that is the most shocking thing.

We also observe a very sneaky approach to the case. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that Moreira's lawyer has handed over to us the latest elements of the case - the new ones that can be submitted to court before an appeal - just before the hearing. We had no time to read them carefully and respond adequately, and to think about what answer should be better given.

Q: Tell a little bit about yourself. How did you get to France? How did you start working as a journalist here?

A: I cannot say that I work in French journalism. I am not a French journalist. I am a Ukrainian journalist. I work with French journalists, write for Ukrainian media outlets about France, here I have a blog in French, but I do not deal with journalism as a profession.

I came to France 18 years ago to study, first of all, with the intention to learn French, return to Ukraine and work there, because I was already a journalist at the time. But it happened so that I stayed here and now I work here, more as a translator. That is, this is my official profession.

Q: I know from my own experience that a large number of French people are sympathetic and interested in everything that concerns Russia. What can explain this?

A: Yes, this Russophilia and interest in Russia have existed for a very long time, especially since the era of Napoleon, his campaign in Russia. Cultural ties between France and Russia have existed for several centuries. Our country was independent for a very short time and was viewed as a separate state. Some people here still perceive Ukraine as part of Russia.

In general, the French often view Russia as something exotic - snow, bears, black caviar. One can even say that the French love these exotica, not knowing how dangerous this love can be now.

Also, Russophilia in France is supported thanks to the strong Russian lobby, in which a lot of money is invested. There are exhibitions, concerts, various allegedly cultural events, to which, by the way, some indiscriminate Ukrainians are invited in order to create a picture of "one people."

This is manifested in detail. For example, they translate the name of "Kyivan Rus" in French as "Russie Kievienne" and "Russia" as "Russie." That is, we have a difference between Rus and Russia, and here we do not have it. I think that it was thought up very delicately.

Q: Is there any significant difference in the perception of the world, contemporary events by ordinary French people?

A: We have to admit that between French and Ukrainians, as well as between French and Russians, there is a huge chasm that cannot be overcome so easily. The mentality is very different, our history is very different. Ukrainian history is, in fact, very tragic. There are such things: if they are not experienced historically, not recorded at the DNA level of each representative of the nation, then it's impossible to understand this. It's like the full understanding the hungry. They did not experience this, therefore they cannot understand this, for example, the totalitarian nature of Russia. Yes, they read in books about the Gulag and repressions, but this remains something abstract for them. We all have some relatives who were expelled to Siberia, repressed, or those who died of the Holodomor. This is our story and it is at the same time the story of each, a personal tragedy, we experienced this and understand this with all the cells of our body.

French cannot even imagine that in the 21st century these abstract things for them can still exist on the European continent, and that in Moscow, in which you can arrive in a few hours by plane, there is a real dictator whose hands are in blood up to his elbows. They do not understand that Russia, which is the heir to the totalitarian Soviet regime, has in fact been left with such a regime, despite new technologies, despite the victory of democracy in Europe. And now the situation in Russia is returning more what was recorded in the 1930s, before the time of "Stalin's terror." Even the everyday life of a Russian in modern conditions or a Ukrainian under war conditions is something for the French that can no longer exist today.

Q: Listening to you, I cannot help but ask you. Did you associate Paul Moreira's suit against you and the imprisonment of Ukrinform's correspondent in France Roman Sushchenko with the fact that this might be a counteraction to those who can tell in France the truth about events in Ukraine?

A: I thought about it, and not only me. There are many friends of Roman, our mutual friends who support him. These are historians, journalists, and intellectuals. Of course, we spoke on this topic, because somehow this is all weird. It began with the trial of Moreira, and then they imprisoned Roman. I cannot say clearly, but it is very convenient when in France, in particular in Paris, there are no people who can write without fear about what they know and do not need explanations about the mechanisms of the Kremlin propaganda, because we know this due to our historical experience. This is definitely what distinguishes us from our French colleagues. As for Ukraine, for us these are our realities, which we know not from retellings. We do not have to first understand and then write about it. Therefore, such journalists are dangerous for the Kremlin, because they can decipher a lie, and this is the reason why I worry about my Ukrainian colleagues who work in France. I have the impression is that work is being done to discredit Ukrainian journalists.

Q: How did you work while Roman was in Paris?

A: Roman is a person I most often saw at all events. He ensured daily coverage of events in France as a representative of the news agency, and he worked very actively. Be it cultural events, exhibitions, events in the cultural center, concerts, political events, meetings, or negotiations, Roman was everywhere. When they accused him of being allegedly an intelligence colonel, it looked very absurd for us. That is, knowing how Roman works every day, how long time it takes for him, then in order to work as someone else, especially as an intelligence colonel, you need to have some super-possibilities so as to split up, simultaneously attending events and doing something else. I think it's the case - the bigger the lie is, the more absurd the information is given, the easier it can be believed. In fact, these accusations are even funny, but that would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Roman is always ready to share his contacts and tell about events. It is not very widespread in journalism, because journalists often love to keep information for themselves. Roman was not like that. He is a very generous, intelligent and reliable person. These are my memories of him. I was deeply shocked when he was arrested. And the first thing that came to my mind is that they are trying to kill a Ukrainian journalist.

Q: What would you like to tell Roman?

A: I want to say that we are very proud of him, that he is a man of great service, reliable, sincere. He is a great professional, a very glorious journalist and we lack him very much. This emptiness is felt. We lack him in the information sphere, in our friendly and professional circles. He should hold on and not lose hope and faith. We look forward to his release, and we hope that he will return to France and will be able to work even more, having his own terrible and important experience. Roman, hold on, we love you, wait for you and believe in you.

Olha Budnyk, Strasbourg-Paris

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