An Open Letter to Oliver Stone

January 1, 2015
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An Open Letter to Oliver Stone

AN OPEN LETTER TO OLIVER STONE

Dear Mr. Stone,

I am an academic historian who likes to think he has some knowledge of world events during the past centuries. I am someone who has watched and thought about some of your better films and who had the good fortune to have been in Kyiv on the Maidan in November-December 2013.

I was appalled and distressed when I read that a person of your stature had decided he would make a film about Ukraine’s ousted dictator Victor Ianukovich. What unsettled me was not your idea about interviewing a dictator on film. Documentaries about surviving ousted dictators are important and useful. What I found appalling was not only that you seem to share his interpretation of his fate, but that you seem to attach particular significance to that interpretation. You seem actually to believe Mr. Ianukovich who, understandably, like any overthrown dictator, attributes his fate to “outside forces” rather than to himself, his policies and supporters, domestic and foreign. Just like Mr. Ianukovich and Mr. Putin, you seem to think that the new government that emerged from the Maidan events 2013-14 is the product of CIA machinations, that CIA involvement was something exceptionally noteworthy, and, implicitly, that because this government is supposedly a CIA product, it has no merit or credibility.

Do you really believe Mr. Stone that in any of the great events in world history during the past centuries the intelligence services and spies of the great powers of the time were not involved? Simply noting this fact in isolation from all other events leads either to apologetics or conspiracy theories. Allow me to illustrate my point.

In so far as French secret agents were involved with the leaders of the American rebellion of 1776, some of whom were Masons, does that fact override the influence of enlightenment ideals and the interests and grievances of those who fought King George’s army? Did the presence of French spies and Masons in Philadelphia New York and Boston mean George Washington was part of a foreign plot? Does the British government’s support for Greek nationalists in the 1820s mean their anti-Turkish revolt was merely a British plot? In so far as Spanish, French and German agents supported Irish leaders in their wars against the English government, does that mean that those who fought British troops in the name of Irish independence were dupes in foreign plots? Was the 1916 Easter Rising really a failed German plot? In so far as German intelligence supported and financed the Bolsheviks in 1917-1918, does that mean the Russian revolution was simply a German plot and that those opposed to the tsar had no legitimate interests or grievances? Did covert Russian and Chinese support for Vietnam mean a sizeable proportion of the Vietnamese people had no legitimate grievances against French or American rule and that their decades long war against those governments was merely a KGB plot?

I put it to you Mr. Stone that anyone who produces a film focusing only on the participation of one particular secret service in a given event merely creates cheap propaganda – in this instance of the kind that will benefit Mr. Putin and his dictatorship. At this point, I should perhaps add that, like many others, I have a critical view of the US government and US corporations. I am well aware of the work of analysts like Chalmers Johnson, Richard Barnet, William Greider, Naomi Klein, Gregg Palast, Will Hutton, Michael Hudson, Thomas Frank and Arianna Huffington. But I am among those who do not allow their critical view of the US and corporate power to blind them to the reality of Stalinist or Putinist Russia.

In so far as I am familiar with your films they do not suggest any knowledge of or previous work on eastern Europe or Russia, let alone Ukraine on your part. This is not surprising as for many Americans, even today, Ukraine still remains a “part of Russia”, a place “far away of which we know little.” But once one decides to undertake a project related to that part of the world such intellectual indifference is no longer acceptable. Allow me therefore take the liberty to suggest that you not limit any research you might undertake to Mr. Ianukovich, his cronies and Russian advisors. Might I suggest you at least peruse Karen Dawisha’s recent book Putin’s Kleptocracy (2013) and some of Andrew Wilson’s and Timothy Snyder’s books on Ukraine.

I hope that, at this early stage, your first thoughts about your possible film on Ianukovich and his rule have been misinterpreted or misunderstood and that my remarks prove unnecessary and irrelevant. But, in as much as you do seem interested at this point in a documentary film about one of the great events of post war Europe, I hope that you will record not only the activities of the CIA in that event. I trust you will also record the role of Putin’s FSB in bringing Ianukovich to power in 2010, in controlling his government thereafter, and in the events of 2013-14. Since Mr. Putin’s government has obviously given you a visa and permission to visit Mr. Ianukovich in Russia, dare one imagine your hosts might also oblige you with access to FSB files about FSB activities?

In any case, I trust that any film you might make on Ukraine will pay due attention to the interests and grievances of Ukrainians, who, like their eastern European counterparts demonstrated in 1989, do not want to be ruled by pro-Kremlin elites and are now again, as in 1917-22, fighting a Russian invasion to prove it. I would also hope that if a director of your repute did make a documentary film about Ukraine it would not simply parrot the ideas of a reviled ousted dictator who built fortified fairy-land palaces with gold toilets in a country foul with corruption private wealth and public squalor. I would hope such a film explain that Ukrainians want no more to be controlled by Russia or Russian controlled dictators, than Latin American and Asian peoples want to be controlled by America or American controlled dictators.

Respectfully yours

Stephen Velychenko

UKR translation: http://historians.in.ua/index.php/istoriya-i-pamyat-vazhki-pitannya/1400...

French Translation: http://www.conspiracywatch.info/Ukraine-un-historien-repond-a-Oliver-Sto...

Russian Translation: http://www.geopolitika.lt/?artc=7118

German: http://www.perlentaucher.de/9punkt/2015-01-20.html?highlight=Stephen+Vel...

Japanese: http://b.hatena.ne.jp/entry/uatoday.tv/politics/historian-slams-stone-fo...

Italian: http://www.ucrainaviaggi.com/forum/oliver-stone-e-il-suo-nuovo-film-sull...

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Join the conversation! (7)

Orysia Tracz's picture
Orysia Tracz January 2, 2015, 12:58 am

Please send this open letter to the mainstream media, American and all other.  Use your media contacts to be sure this is seen by readers everywhere.

 

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Rob Crossan's picture
Rob Crossan January 2, 2015, 11:45 pm

Oliver Stone has very little clout in the USA, nobody takes his politics seriously, he's about as respected as Graham Phillips is in the UK.  They're sell outs and it's well known, Oliver Stone in particular, takes the opposit position of the US often, just to promote himself.

I can say that with fair certainty there's very strong support for Ukraine in the USA, not only amongst the politicians and elected officials, but also the people.  We're tuned in and we're not buying the stupid Russian version of events.

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Philip Korkus's picture
Philip Korkus January 3, 2015, 04:33 pm

Oliver Stone is a sophist, and no amount of knowledge can break a sophist out of his own self-deception. A sophist is a person who reasons with clever, but fallacious and deceptive arguments, and Stone is at the head of the class. Just because someone can direct movies (so called), doesn't mean that they've also got great understanding.

The defining characteristic of a sage is his simplicity, humility, clarity, and deftness at comprehending and using what he knows without doing any ‘violence’ to the facts...as the world presents them. And, that’s just not who Oliver Stone is!

Like the book, "1984" everything is turned on its head in Oliver Stone's Orwellian world. Black becomes white! Up is down! Where 1+1 doesn't equal 2, it equals 11. It's a part of his DNA to converse in group-think and double-speak...where he takes pride in deceit, lies, and disinformation. Where he takes pride in wallowing in misery, claiming time and again that everybody would be so much better off without the fascist west and hated Americans.

The change of government this past spring in Ukraine wasn't a revolution (or a coup). A kleptocratic leader, granted, he was democratically elected, exceeded his power and authority and committed grave acts against his own people. Had he not run...his tail between his legs, he'd have been impeached and sent to prison (or at least he would not have been in any functioning democracy).

When he absconded, the parliament formed an interim government. There was then a Presidential election (where Poroshenko received an overwhelming mandate) and fresh Parliament elections. These latter weren't even a legal necessity as the existing parliament had time to run, but Poroshenko and the interim government recognized the particular circumstances and decided that a fresh election would be needed to re-establish the democratic mandate.

All of the above is a functioning democracy, albeit in strained and exceptional circumstances...no thanks to "mother" Russia.

Meanwhile, in Crimea, an illegal invasion/occupation by armed Russian troops - in clear violation of their lease agreement in Sevastopol & the 1994 Budapest Agreement, usurped the legitimate regional government of the region. They then held what can only loosely be described as a referendum, effectively at gunpoint. This parody of democracy, which would not have stood up to inspection by international observers had they been allowed to observe, cannot legitimize the flagrant land grab by the Russian Federation.

In the Donbas region of E.Ukraine, a similar pattern emerges. Armed thugs seize government and local authority buildings. Initially, there was hesitation by the disorganized central authorities. In time, they sought dialogue and discussions with the invaders as they weren't used to having a neighboring country consolidate control and seize their land. These criminal thugs (Russian soldiers on "holiday" as Moscow likes to propagate, half seriously) morph into an increasingly well trained, armed militia as Russia adopts a slightly less obvious role compared to the one in the Crimean peninsula . Finally, just as these militias seem on the verge of defeat, Russia steps up its involvement (the so-called little green men) and sends large quantities of materiel as well as men, into Ukraine to stop and reverse the Ukrainian army. The coup de grâce, is another set of illegal elections...in flagrant violation of the agreement signed by the rebels at Minsk. Said Minsk Protocol, was an agreement to halt the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine, signed by all parties on September 5th, 2014. The agreement, which followed multiple previous attempts to stop fighting in the Donbas region earlier, implemented an immediate ceasefire.

Now, while the change of regime in Kiev may not have been perfect by Western standards, it was largely within the democratic mechanism and the Ukrainian constitution. The invasion in Crimea and the Donbas regions, are entirely outside of the law and have no democratic credentials.

So, what’s next for Russia? Poland? Latvia? From recent history, it's clear that they don’t want to just annex their democratic neighbors, they want to crush, destabilize, and render them helpless - as in Ukraine.

One can debate the status of the Crimea, and the wisdom of Russia claiming more land in eastern Ukraine, but repeating it over and over again that this land is part of Russia, is not debatable. It’s not. It is argument by conclusion...opinion presented as fact!

 

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Ronald Cameron's picture
Ronald Cameron January 4, 2015, 02:40 am

Regarding the "lease agreement in Sevastopol":

Am I correct, that Sevastopol is the only warm-water port accessible to the western part of Russia, and hence, it is the base of the Russian fleet?  In other words, it's the only port (excluding one other, on Russia's eastern coast) where Russia's fleet will never be blocked by ice, during winter months?  If so, this port would be of extreme military importance, would it not?

Given the tumult associated with the Ukranian regime change, and the replacement of one friendly to Moscow with one looking toward the EU, if that lease were broken -- for whatever reason -- may it have been a factor that Russia could have lost control of the port, to NATO? 

Regardless of how likely this may be in reality, Ukranian officials are quoted in the media as wishing they could be part of that military bloc.  Is it possible Putin felt he couldn't run the risk of this happening? 

Strangely, in media attempts to explain what happened in Crimea, I see more about the ethnicity of the population, their 'closeness' to Russian culture, that children were forced to speak Ukranian in their schools, and so forth, but in what I've read or viewed, there's never any mention that Putin may have been concerned that if he did nothing, he could loose control of a strategically-important port, to powers he views as being hostile to Russia's interests. 

What is the reaction to this idea?

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Stephen Velychenko's picture
Stephen Velychenko January 3, 2015, 08:23 pm

Whatever one might think of Stone today the fact remains he has made at least three truly profound and excellent films.

That is why his Kremlin handlers chose him and apparently convinced him to play their tune. I trust that as many readers of my letter as possible write similar items addressed to him.

We must all hope he is not as naive as his handlers think he is.

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Pavlo Senchyna's picture
Pavlo Senchyna January 3, 2015, 11:30 pm

There have been moments I have wondered about Stephen Cohen, actually, in that he has in the past parrotted Kremlin language nearly verbatim, but I doubt Stone is “handled” by the Kremlin. I could be wrong, but he bears all the marks of a “self-starter”. I would also question your judgement on his films—compared to a filmmaker such as David Lynch, for instance, roughly of the same generation, I think Stone's 2nd or 3rd rate at best—but that is just a question of taste, of course.

 

But most of all—even though I very much appreciate your letter in that it gives people some well-reasoned, and historically-grounded ammunition to throw back in Stone's face—I would also question its primary assumption.

 

Namely: I think you are making a mistake in assuming Stone to be a thoughtful and conscientious enough person such that, given some more research and careful consideration of the issue at hand, he might at some point come to see the error of his ways. Appealing to the man's thoughtfulness and intellectual integrity is rather like appealing to Bashar Al-Assad’s feeling for common humanity: it misunderstands in the first place what the man is all about.

 

Stone, in this latter part of his career especially, precisely appeals and is geared to a certain segment of the public not inclined to think through things, a segment not in the habit or even likely to consider the necessity of doing any research, and who are certainly not interested in being thoughtful in any way. It is a segment interested rather only in self-righteous emotional reactiveness. It embodies a mindset of crass and mindless populism that is in fact the mirror image on the Left of the worst of the Tea Party crowd on the Right.

 

Stone's native audience is precisely the same group of people in the West that the Russian TV channel RT is catering its noxious propaganda to. Indeed, one can find instances even in the earlier part of Stone's career that would claim him as a pioneer in the same sort of endeavor RT is now engaged in—fouling the public information system.

 

Consider for example Stone's film JFK. It would be instructive to compare this film to Don DeLillo's great novel Libra, which deals with a similar storyline, and involves a number of the same characters:

 

Whereas DeLillo constructs a narrative that encourages thoughtfulness regarding the social energies, the various cultural and political interests that rumbled and careened through America at a particular historical juncture, Stone's film encourages only a sort of reactive mindlessness that leads nowhere, provoking an unthinking emotional response by way of what can only be called conspiracy-mongering.

And while Stone has managed to build up an image as a sort of Leftist gadfly, a bold gladiator of Leftist causes unafraid to take on the great powers of the world, his real role as a mass media maven is in fact to smudge things up, to obsfuscate and render his fellow citizens' potential to effect real change inert and effectless. Rather than encouraging thought, discussion, action on such truly exigent matters like income inequality, Stone's work instead diverts attention and energy away from such pressing issues, sending them instead down a rat's hole of murky and bottomless conspiratorial paranoia.

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Melinda CopsResent's picture
Melinda CopsResent November 19, 2016, 08:07 pm

Stephen Cohen owes his livelihood to Putin, and his fame.

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