American journalist, Casey Michel, reports from some of the most exciting places on the planet. From former Soviet Union countries to political issues in the Eastern world, Przemysław Stolarski speaks to him about how doing journalism in such different and potentially volatile countries differs from what we all know in the West.
All eyes of the world are still focused on the conflicts in Ukraine. How do you see the future of this conflict? Who will play key roles?
‘The key player remains, unfortunately, the Kremlin – namely, those individuals among the president’s inner circle, and the president himself, who have continued to support and supplement the separatists in eastern Ukraine, and who are responsible for the first forced border-change in Europe in decades.
I’d hesitate to predict how the conflict will end, but it remains clear that each passing day enacts more costs for Russia – soft power expended, coffers spent, reputation tarnished. DC, Brussels, and Kyiv will continue playing obvious, outside roles – but the key continues, and remains, Moscow.’
What about European Union ‘solidarity’ in this matter? Many columnists and experts in Poland are saying that our political handling of this matter was poor, and we will stay alone without help from the West. Do you think countries like Poland should behave like Hungary, for example?
Poland has remained one of the most vocal advocates for a strong response against the Kremlin, alongside Sweden, the UK, and – lately – Germany’s Angela Merkel. The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia can serve as a catalyst for solidarity and unity among the European Union – whether it will remains to be seen.
Poland’s leadership should avoid the example set by Viktor Orban, whose grasp of the definition of “liberal democracy” seems largely nonexistent.
Could it be step aside from EU sanctions to appease relations with Kremlin?
It’s clear the EU needs to maintain as much solidarity as it can regarding sanctions, especially as Russia continues to occupy Crimea and support separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Coming to calmer areas you report from and your main point of interests: how do sphere of influence look like in Central Asia? Do you think that European countries neglect this region?
I don’t think European countries completely neglect Central Asia, but the two main pillars of influence remain Russia and China. Due in large part to its own self-defeating policies, Russia has begun ceding economic ground in the region to China.
While Moscow maintains military and soft power influence, China’s clout will only continue to surpass that of Russia, especially in the medium- and long-term.
How did the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo affect societies of former Soviet Union countries? Some of them are mainly-Muslim, so was it of as much importance as in Europe?
As Central Asia has a largely secularized Muslim population due to a legacy of the Soviet past, the protests against the Charlie Hebdo attacks have been relatively muted. That said, the governments may attempt to spin the attack as evidence that their journalistic repression will need to continue – for the sake both of piety, as well as public safety.
Foreign journalists in Central Asia are mostly from the USA, Canada and West Europe, while almost no one from much more closer Central and Eastern Europe. What is it like doing journalism in such countries?
Working as a journalist in the region in a combination of struggle and reward. As Central Asia is one of the more under-covered regions in the world, the opportunities for stories remain wide. The region is marvelously interesting, full of people who are as hospitable as they are kind.
What about the political risks to journalists such as yourself? Have you ever had problems in those countries with doing your job?
I haven’t had any issues working as a journalist in the region, but I know plenty of other journalists who have – whether you’re accused of working for a foreign government, or of attempting to stir up ethnic trouble. You must be extra sure that all your paperwork is in order, and that you don’t put your contacts at risk.