A perspective from an activist for humanity

16 Apr 2016

From DONi Newsteam

greg041816By David Simpson

Ed note: As a part of the DONi Newsteam coverage of the war in Donbass we are reaching out to persons in Donbass and abroad to share their views on a wider level. If you have a story or would like to be interviewed in person or by email, contact Dave Simpson at: d.simpson@dnipress.com

Today we visit with American Greg Butterfield, a man who lives in New York, but whose work is worldwide. His activism has taken him all over the globe trying to better living conditions for the less fortunate, assure civil rights for the oppressed and in general help the world be a better home for all of humanity.

DONi: Tell us a little about your life in your country. Age? What do you do for a living? Size of family? Pets? Hobbies or interests? What do you think about the country you live in? it’s strengths? weak points?

Greg Butterfield: My name is Greg Butterfield. I’m 44 years old. In my day job, I’m an office worker for a New York law firm specializing in defending civil rights. My “real” work happens after hours, as an independent journalist and activist. I live in Brooklyn with my daughters Ripley (age 11) and Drusilla (age 7). I grew up in poverty in the American Midwest during the Reagan-Cold War years. Early in life I developed a critical view of the United States and the mythology which it presents to its own residents and the rest of the world. I believe a country founded on the genocide of Indigenous peoples and slavery of Africans, and which today carries that legacy around the world in the form of wars and neoliberal economics, is incompatible with the principles of democracy and freedom it claims to represent. I think people here and worldwide urgently need a fundamental, revolutionary change to happen in the United States, to create a system based on equality, peaceful relations with the rest of the world, and people’s needs before profits. I’m a founding member of the anti-war organization International Action Center (IAC). For the past two years, I have coordinated the IAC’s activities against the U.S.-Ukraine war in Donbass and in solidarity with Donetsk and Lugansk. I’m proud to say that we held the first protest in the U.S. against the coup in Kiev in February 2014. Since then, we have organized numerous protests, pickets and informational meetings around the country in an effort to break the information blockade of the mainstream U.S. media.For example, last September during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the IAC organized a protest against Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s visit. We condemned him as a war criminal, demanded an end to U.S. support of Ukraine, and proclaimed our solidarity with the Donbass republics.

DONi: How did you first learn about the situation in Donbass? How do you get your news about Donbass? What opinions do you have about the conflict?

Greg Butterfield: Like many left-wing activists in the West, the Maidan developments in Ukraine first came to my attention in December 2013, when the fascists demolished the Lenin monument in Kiev. Soon after, some of my fellow activists attended the World Festival of Youth and Students in Ecuador. They met representatives of the Komsomol of Ukraine, who warned of the threat of a right-wing coup in their country. In early 2014, I began writing about the situation in Ukraine for Workers World, a socialist newspaper. After the coup in Kiev, I made contact with several Anti-maidan leaders in Kharkov and Odessa, and from there learned about the resistance movement in Donbass. Over the last two years I’ve written extensively for Workers World and other independent media about the U.S. role in the Ukrainian coup, Western support for the fascists in Ukraine, and why it’s important for the anti-war and working class movement in the U.S. to support the anti-fascist struggle of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Early on, it was difficult to get any first-hand information in English about the situation in Ukraine and the Donbass Republics. I actually taught myself to translate written material from Russian so that I could write about the war from a more informed point of view. Today I continue to translate several pieces each week into English on my blog, “Red Star Over Donbass.” I want to thank editor-in-chief Janus Putkonen and the staff of DONi News Agency for their commitment to making news and analysis from Donbass available in English and other languages. This has been such an important resource for supporters of Donbass in the U.S. and for me personally, as we continue to fight the media blockade.

DONi: Who do you think is to blame for the situation in Donbass? What does the media in your country tell you about the war here?

Greg Butterfield: I think that U.S. imperialism is the moving force behind the war on Donbass and the takeover of Ukraine by ultra-nationalists and neoliberal politicians. Back in 1992, while the breakup of the Soviet Union was still underway, a Pentagon strategy document was leaked to the New York Times. It mapped out the U.S. strategy to isolate and break up Russia, China and any other country that dared to exert independence from U.S control. And that strategy has been carried out step by step for nearly a quarter century, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Especially since President Putin came to office and began to assert Russia’s independence in the late 1990s, Washington and Wall Street have been steadily trying to tighten the military and economic noose around Russia through NATO expansion and political provocations. The coup in Ukraine was a big and very dangerous step in this U.S. aggression. Just like in Syria, Libya and many other parts of the world, the U.S. rulers view the thousands of civilians killed in Donbass and the millions displaced as acceptable “collateral damage” to achieve their goals. The mainstream media in the U.S. lie and say the exact opposite of reality. Washington claims that Russia is the aggressor, that the people of Donbass are “occupied” by Russia, that Ukraine is a “democratic” state, and our corporate press repeats this as gospel truth. It is a real uphill battle to educate people about the reality of the war that people in Donbass are facing. There is an extra layer of difficulty because of the hangover of anti-Russia sentiment from the Cold War era, which had such a profound, reactionary effect on political life in the United States. So it is difficult even to get some professed anti-war and progressives to hear an alternate viewpoint. But we keep trying! Actually, the biggest problem right now is that the U.S. media are saying virtually nothing about the situation in Donbass and Ukraine. At least when they are talking about it, we have the opportunity to create controversy. One of the main purposes of my upcoming visit to Donetsk and Lugansk is to help stimulate discussion about the war and the rebuilding efforts in the republics among the anti-war movement in the U.S. by bringing back interviews, reports and first-hand information.

DONi: What is your view of American involvement in the Donbass war?

Greg Butterfield: I see U.S. imperialism’s involvement as the main cause and problem behind Ukraine’s war in Donbass.

DONi:What is your opinion of Russia involvement in the Donbass war?

Greg Butterfield: I believe Russia has acted defensively throughout the crisis. Russia never wanted sanctions or bad relations with the West. But the Russian government and people also understand that the West, and the U.S. especially, has painted a target on their backs. And they have shown that they will defend themselves and their allies, just as they have done in Syria. Like many friends of Donbass, I wish the Russian government would act more decisively in this struggle, and help the people’s armies in Donetsk and Lugansk make a more robust response to the ongoing Ukrainian aggression. Personally, I feel the Minsk agreements have worn out their usefulness and now serve mainly to tie the hands of Russia and the republics. But that’s something that has to be resolved by the people and governments of Donbass and Russia.

DONi: What opinions have you formulated about the current Kiev administration?

Greg Butterfield: The junta in Kiev is a puppet of Washington and Wall Street, with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the role of colonial governor. The prevalence of U.S. citizens and stooges in the regime is very instructive, such as Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili. Even more loathsome is the role of open fascists and neo-Nazis like Andriy Parubiy, cofounder of the Social-National Party, who was just appointed speaker of the Rada. Today the U.S. empire is in a state of continual crisis – we call it “capitalism at a dead end” – and the rulers are so desperate that they are willing to use undisguised fascists to sustain their power. People all over the world, and even here in the U.S., need to look at what Washington is doing in Kiev, because this is what they want to impose on the rest of us, too.

DONi: Do you feel safe in your own nation expressing your views about Donbass?

Greg Butterfield: Thus far I haven’t felt unsafe expressing my views on Donbass, mainly because the issue has been so marginalized by the media here. When it becomes a more visible and controversial issue, then the danger of repression may grow. When we held our protest against Ukrainian President Poroshenko last autumn, his security detail worked closely with the New York Police. One of Poroshenko’s goons attacked a protester and beat him up. Then the police wanted to arrest our injured comrade, but luckily he escaped. Another protester, who had tried to stop the assault, was threatened with arrest and given a summons to appear in court. That day we got just a small taste of what the anti-fascists in Donbass and Ukraine have faced on a daily basis.

DONi: What officials in our government are you familiar with? Do you have a favorite(s)? If so, why do you like them?

Greg Butterfield: I’m familiar with many officials of the governments in Donetsk and Lugansk. I especially admire Head of the DPR Alexander Zakharchenko. He’s shown great personal bravery, going to the front lines and even being wounded defending his fellow soldiers. He has also gone among the people to address their concerns, called out Ukrainian war criminals to their faces, and successfully maintained unity among the resistance forces and their allies through many long and difficult months.

DONi: How do you see situation in Donbass ending or being resolved?

Greg Butterfield: I share the belief expressed by my personal hero, the late commander of the Ghost Brigade, Alexei Mozgovoi, that the war can’t be resolved without the overthrow of the junta in Kiev. Mozgovoi always appealed to the soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and to the common people of Ukraine to turn their guns around against the fascists and corrupt politicians and join the people of Donbass in common cause. I know that is the wish of the many Ukrainian anti-fascists now living in exile and working for the cause of Donbass as well. I believe that will happen, sooner or later.

DONi: Where do you see Donbass five years from now?

Greg Butterfield: Five years from now, I hope the Donbass republics are independent, peaceful and prosperous, committed to developing a social economy that benefits all of society. I’m certain that even if the war drags on, the courageous people of Donbass won’t stop fighting for their principles.

DONi: If you could say anything to the people of Donbass, what would you tell them?

Greg Butterfield: I’d like people in Donbass to know that they have friends in the U.S. Right now our numbers are small, but we’re growing and will continue to grow. We are working to educate people and create connections with people’s movements here, such as the “Black Lives Matter” movement against racism and police brutality. I’m struck by the parallels between the way Ukrainian nationalists treat people of Russian background, and the way white supremacists in the U.S. treat Black people and immigrants. I’m sure we will find common ground to build a strong alliance against our mutual enemies: fascism and imperialism.

David “Dave” Simpson is an ex Agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who now works as a DONi reporter in Donetsk.