‘All the major conflicts of recent decades have been about national identity’

An interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

cc. The President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad, has been extremely demonised in the West for many years. As a result, almost everything Assad says in public is hushed up in our country – unless some of his statements can be used against him. It is not surprising that the search terms “Assad” and “interview” entered into the Google search engine yield not a single German-language hit1 referring to the current interview with the Syrian president.
  Thomas Röper, editor of the German-language Russian website Anti-Spiegel, translated a half-hour programme broadcasted2 by Russian television on 21 April which commented on the interview and quoted passages from it at length, and published it on 24 April3. We have decided to document some of Bashar al-Assad’s statements because they show how people think in the non-Western world. And because we are convinced that it is a contribution to peace in the world if we take such statements seriously and study them thoroughly. Of course, it is also worth reading the text of the entire programme.

The Russian television programme is part of a series called “Global Majority”. It presents personalities from non-Western countries. The title of the programme stems from the fact that three quarters of all countries in the world, the vast majority, do not consider themselves part of the West and their leaders take a very different public stance on global political issues to those in the West. The following quotes of the Syrian president are translations from the German text.

Bashar al-Assad

Assad is introduced at the beginning of the programme: “Bashar was not yet five years old when his father came to power in a coup d’état. Hafez al-Assad was the leader of the Baath Party, which combined socialism with Arab nationalism. He advocated a partial liberalisation of the economy and valued the West for its scientific and technical achievements, so the president allowed his son Bashar to study at the Hurriya Lyceum in Damascus. But the father did not prepare his son for government. Nor did Bashar al-Assad himself aspire to it. He graduated with honours from the Faculty of Medicine at Damascus University as an ophthalmologist, worked in a hospital and then completed an internship in the UK, where he continued his studies a year later.” Bashar’s brother Basil was actually supposed to succeed Hafez al-Assad as president. But he died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar al-Assad returned to Syria and was prepared for several years to succeed him as president, which he did in 2000.

Fending off the attack on identity

Assad’s first quoted interview statement responds to the question about the attempt by US policy to destroy non-Western traditions all over the world in order to bring states and peoples under its control: “All major conflicts in recent decades have been about national identity. You have to learn to protect it from external influences, because the only way to defeat someone is to destroy their identity. Of course, identity is a broad field and encompasses many aspects, including culture, the value system and one’s own traditions.” He adds: “[...] if you remain true to your identity, you have the strength to say no. You can analyse the situation and manoeuvre to the best of your ability. But once you’ve lost your national identity, it’s all about personal gain – the money. And money is international, and with money you can control. So, America controls all its partners, in the West and in the East. And it can control every country and every politician.”
  Later in the interview he will say: “Western politics, especially American politics, is based on the principle of ‘divide and rule’. That is their way of controlling, a kind of blackmail. Such behaviour is immoral. But it is the reality. America turns every conflict into a dangerous chronic disease like diabetes or cancer. But the warring parties have to pay the price for the conflict. And when we talk about America, we mean the entire West, because it is completely controlled by the USA. America profits from every conflict and then watches the chaos spread and waits for the moment to strike the decisive blow. They profit from every conflict.”

‘Only a hard blow will 
bring them back down to earth’

What can the affected states and peoples do about it? According to Assad, the West has “long since developed a Caesar delusion. Only a shock therapy can help against this. For centuries, they have enslaved and plundered other countries. And only a hard blow will bring them back down to earth.
  Those who have resigned themselves to their vassal status must be helped to return to reality. And perhaps we should start with those who have lost faith in themselves. And only then should we deal with the collective West. You have to learn to say no when you don’t like something. But that is not easy, because the pressure [from the West] can take a gentle form. It is not always a direct threat. But basically, it is a threat. We have learnt to talk to them in their language. Formally, there is no war between us, although what they are doing can be described as terror. We are trying to circumvent their blockade, otherwise the war in our country will never end. But the world is changing very quickly: new alliances and leagues are emerging, and new ways of putting the occupiers in their place are also emerging. These countries are actively using media and social networks to undermine the self-confidence of people in dependent countries, and this must be combated. We must learn to pursue national interests and not be afraid to do so.”

‘Our war is a war for existence’

Bashar al-Assad is asked what price the Syrian people paid when they refused to “become a satellite of the West”.
  His answer: “The price was very high. Many other countries would not pay it. But we live in a world of the jungle, or I would even say in a world of slavery. And in a world of slavery, dignity has a very high price. There will be no rights, no independent country, not even the right to live, if you don’t pay that price. It is the price for the right to exist, for the right to be. Our war is a war for existence, that’s why this price was so high.”
  A TV presenter adds: “Modern Syria has only existed for just over 70 years, but there was already a civilisation here in the fourth millennium BC. The country has a population of around 17 million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslims, mostly Sunnis, and around five per cent Christians. The rest are atheists or belong to other religions. Damascus is the oldest capital city in the modern world.”

The global situation 
in the world is changing

The interview is continued:
  “Question: I have the impression that the global situation in the world is changing and that the heads of state and government of the countries that belong to the global majority are gradually taking the path of defending their national interests, while the influence of the USA in the world is declining.
  Assad: Absolutely right. You learn from the mistakes of the past and we could be friends with the West, but the West doesn’t need friends. It doesn’t even need partners; it just needs vassals.”
  Assad then talks about multipolarity: “Multipolarity has always existed. It is the basis of global civilisation. At all times there have been different forms of social organisation of people. The various empires of history, which differed greatly from one another, bear witness to this. Sometimes they were hostile to each other, sometimes they worked together. But they were all very different. Multipolarity can be economic and cultural. [...] The unipolarity that emerged after the collapse of the USSR is new for humanity. Unipolarity is unnatural and has led to the chaos that my country and many other countries in the world are paying for today.”
  And: “The problem today is the lack of clear rules for relations between states, which leads to constant conflict. As long as there are different languages and cultures, the world is multipolar. It is important that this should be legally recognised. Russia and Syria are doing their utmost to contribute to this process.”

The wars in Syria and in Ukraine 
will correct the course of history

Assad is asked what significance he believes the Russian military operation in Ukraine has for world history. He replies: “I think that the military operation will correct the course of history. Not change or rewrite it, but correct it. As a great power, Russia opposes Western interference in the internal affairs of other countries. For me, it makes no difference whether Russia is fighting global terror in Syria or in Ukraine. The enemy is the same. Russia is strengthening stability in the world, politically and militarily. And it is doing so because it has suffered itself. The collapse of the USSR did not happen spontaneously. It was brought about by deliberately pitting small ethnic groups that had historically lived together against each other. One example is Crimea, which Khrushchev incorporated into the borders of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Russians in this region never sought independence from Russia. But the Nazis began to declare war on everything Russian. And everyone knows that Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are close in terms of history, language and culture and that the majority of the population in eastern Ukraine is Russian. But the Ukrainian Nazis have a specific goal. America actively supported the aggressive nationalists even before the Second World War and fuelled them during the war. And since 2004, it has been using them via its secret services in the fight against Russia. And that is not normal. I am sure that the battle will end with a Russian victory that will reunite the brother nations. That’s why I say that Russia is correcting what others have done.”

China: Capitalism 
not without a welfare state

Bashar al-Assad also comments on the importance of China: “After the collapse of the USSR, the illusion arose that liberalism had won the final victory and that paradise on earth must be politically and economically like America. It seemed that money should become the most important goal in life, to which ethics, feelings and humanism had to be sacrificed. China, however, offered a different model: a balanced combination of communist ideals and a capitalist economy. There, a centralised welfare state coexists with entrepreneurial freedom. Since 2008, we have seen China grow steadily against the backdrop of the West’s equally steady decline. In other words, China has proven that elements of capitalism are necessary for an economy. But capitalism as a principle of all state action is doomed. This is how we see China’s strategic role in the world.”

Is partnership with the West possible?

Bashar al-Assad is asked whether he sees opportunities to “resume dialogue with the West”. His answer: “There is always hope. Even if we have to assume that nothing will probably come out of it. We have to try. Politics is the art of the possible. No matter how bad we think they are, we have to work with them and explain to them that we will not give up our rights and that we are only willing to work together on the basis of equality. America is currently illegally occupying part of our country, financing terrorists and supporting Israel, which has also occupied our country. But we meet with them regularly, even though these meetings do not lead to any results. But times are changing. I lived in the West for a long time and have respect for their scientific and cultural achievements. These achievements have made them strong. But their strength has led them into moral decay. The political class has also degenerated. Western politicians only think about their own careers. They no longer care about the interests of their countries. Their media create a virtual reality and at the same time work on the destruction of the family, the atomisation of society and the isolation of the individual. All of this carries the risk that their achievements will be cancelled out in the future.”
  Western politics, according to Assad, is “dominated by economic principles, and capitalism began to dictate its own rules. Countries became companies, heads of state became CEOs. But companies act in the interests of the economy: they merge, plunder others and go bankrupt, all in the name of profit. Modern politicians no longer think strategically, they only solve the current problems that are brought to them. They are also no longer responsible for what they say. Everything that is agreed can be cancelled the very next day.”
  In addition, US policy itself treats its “partners” in the West shabbily: “Many countries have realised that America has no friends. And those who thought they were partners of the US now realise that America has no partners. Even in the West. Friendship and partnership presuppose common interests. America, however, only has its own interests. That is why relations with this country can be neither stable nor secure. For this reason, all countries in the world have begun to expand their relations with China, including the West and Latin America. And that is understandable, because America disregards the interests of its supposed partners, actively uses the dollar as a weapon and uses it to exert political pressure. They don’t care that raising the base rate will increase inflation and unemployment in partner countries with whom no one is talking about these measures. But this can’t go on forever.”

Serving his country as a citizen

At the end of the programme, interview passages about the Assad family are shown.
  “Question: Mr President, you are the father of three children. Tell me about your experience, about the difficult path you have travelled. Do you want your children to work in the civil service, which is so complicated and sometimes so controversial?
  Assad: […] I believe that everyone decides these questions for themselves, depending on how they see their place in the world, and I don’t know what future my children will choose. We are all citizens of our country and we will serve it. And everyone must decide for themselves in what form. You can be a politician and not serve your country. It depends on the person as they are. And it is not the parents’ job to decide for their children what they should be. Parents can only raise (educate) them to love their homeland, to respect the country’s history and to be willing to serve the country. My children are not studying politics. One wants to become a programmer, the other an engineer. And anyway, politics is not work. It is service. The most important thing is that you qualify yourself in a certain area. And then you think about what you can do for the country. My children lived through the war and often ask me: ‘Why did the war start’? If their peers can resist the onslaught of [today’s Western] liberalism and understand why the war was inevitable, they will be a very successful generation.”  •

1 as of 4 May 2024
2https://www.1tv.ru/shows/globalnoe-bolshinstvo/ from 21 April 2024
3https://anti-spiegel.ru/2024/der-syrische-praesident-assad-im-o-ton-ueber-die-gruende-fuer-den-konflikt-mit-dem-westen/ from 23 April 2024. (In very few places, the translation of the Anti-Spiegel has been slightly adapted linguistically)

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