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From Tupamaros of Uruguay to church at heart of Europe

In «State of Siege,» you tell the story of a CIA operative kidnapped by the Tupamaros [left-wing guerrillas in Uruguay]. Were these 1960s movements a form of terrorism and can we compare them to what we call terrorism today? Of course they were a form of terrorism. Today, naturally enough, there is a blanket condemnation of all terrorism. I’m against this. Terrorism such as that of the Red Brigades and the Tupamaros is completely unacceptable. When they were active, there were democratic mechanisms in their societies that they turned against: elections, unions, freedom of the press. When, however, people live in parts of the world where there is no other way of gaining their rights, they end up as terrorists. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It is, however, necessary for them. If we have anything better to suggest, we can suggest it… But we cannot condemn them. During the occupation, for example, all Greeks, whether on the right or the left, were regarded as terrorists. But they had no other way of defending themselves. Today, you see, (US President George W.) Bush’s view of terrorism is prevalent… The solution is not what Bush says it is: to condemn it. Terrorism can last for centuries. We need to see the reasons for it, to change things so as to restrict it as much as possible. What do you think of the November 17 organization? Greek terrorism is an absurdity. These people don’t have proposals for another kind of society. They remind one of gangsters. Why is it absurd? I don’t see how you can change the world by robbing a bank or killing an official, whether English or American, without explaining what kind of society you envisage creating. Moreover, it is ridiculous because Greece has a functional democracy. There are a thousand and one ways for someone to express their views. Religious fundamentalism is on the rise. The French magazine L’Express had an article recently on aggressive behavior by Muslim kids in provincial French schools. Do you think this is a temporary phenomenon, or will it get worse? I’ve read the L’Express article. What the article does not say is why. French society is very racist toward Arabs, toward these young kids who were born in France, but whose origins are in Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco and who usually speak French and very little Arabic. French society’s stance is tough and aggressive when these people seek work or a house to rent. These people, then, are looking for a refuge. Algeria is far away… Religion is very near them. That’s what happened in Poland with Christianity: It was a refuge for people against Communism. Today, with Islam, a similar thing is happening. When Poland acquired parties and multiple forms of expression, Catholicism suffered a huge drop. What is it I want to say? That people have a need for an identity. The French have to accept that Algerians are a part of their society and will remain so. Your opinion is, then, that the more societies proceed with the acceptance and assimilation of the stranger, the Other, the more violence will recede? Yes. When I first went to France, the Larousse dictionary defined the word «Greek» first as a cardsharper and secondly as an inhabitant of Greece. In the French provinces, there is a deep-rooted conviction that whatever is foreign must be expelled. Jean-Marie le Pen has played a catalytic role because he is an excellent orator. We can say what we like about him, but no other French politician speaks so skillfully about problems, proposing, of course, far-fetched solutions that are completely impracticable but which sway quite a number of people. When le Pen leaves the scene, his party’s percentage will drop sharply. You have also scornfully been called a «foreigner» in reviews published after «Special Section.» I don’t care that much. Some people regard me as French, others not. Perhaps it’s people’s defensive systems, as was the case with «Amen» in Berlin. In two reviews, they wrote that the actors were so bad that they destroyed the film. Now, to tell you the truth, if there’s one good thing about this film, it’s the interpretations. Did being called a foreigner bother you? It bothered me a little because I was placed in a category which I thought I’d escaped from. When watching «Amen,» I got the sense of anger that did not always find an outlet. Are you an angry man? Oh, yes. As I was when I was shooting «Z» or «Confession.» Yes, I believe passion is necessary. It is unacceptable that our spiritual leaders did not adopt the necessary stance. Especially during World War II, they were the only ones who could have intervened and they didn’t. Quite the contrary. The close links they forged (and still forge) with power gives them an automatic excuse for their actions. What enrages you most about society today? Injustice. There are more possibilities for people to live better, which they are being deprived of. Generally speaking, words and deeds do not correspond. The Church is the chief culprit. It promises one thing, but its daily acts say something completely different. The Church is a comfort, a refuge, the answer to life after death. Where does its power come from? From the promise of a different life. Which it totally fails to keep. Do you believe the Vatican’s position in the face of the destruction of a whole nation puts it first among ecclesiastical authorities in terms of guilt? Another terrible period was the stance of the Church in Latin America. But that was far away and news didn’t travel so fast then. The Vatican lies at the heart of Europe. I discovered the pope in the Nazi era, 1940 to ’45, wrote and received 146 letters to and from the heads of the German church. Well, they weren’t just discussing the weather!