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Moscow's Obsession With Ukraine; Interview With Ai Weiwei; Interview with "This is Not Propaganda" Author Peter Pomerantsev; Interview with "War: How Conflict Shaped Us" Author Margaret MacMillan; Interview with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Artist Illustrator and Author Art Spiegelman. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 04, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AI WEIWEI, ARTIST AND ACTIVIST: For me, it's a big disappointment, not only how it's being used, but also how -- the directions China is taking.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): China's most celebrated artists slams the use of the stadium he created at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
I speak with Ai Weiwei about the power of art as activism to support human rights.
Then: Amid the saber-rattling between Russia and NATO, what's really behind Moscow's obsession with Ukraine. I asked author and Russia
propaganda expert Peter Pomerantsev and war historian Margaret MacMillan.
Also, one of the most distinguished works of Holocaust literature is under attack.
ART SPIEGELMAN, AUTHOR, "MAUS": I think it's part of the dangerous and perilous times that we're living in.
AMANPOUR: Walter Isaacson speaks with Art Spiegelman about the banning of his graphic novel "Maus" in Tennessee schools.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The Beijing Olympics start today. Despite organizers' best efforts, these events are often caught up in geopolitics, perhaps none more so then the
Winter Games in China. They come amid accusations of state genocide against the Muslim Uyghur population and a zero COVID strict lockdown policy.
The United States is leading a diplomatic boycott of these Games, but joining in at the Opening Ceremony, the presidents of China and Russia will
display their tight alliances at a time of maximum tension with the West over Ukraine.
My first guest tonight is a strong critic of China's human rights record and crackdowns on democracy. Artist and activist Ai Weiwei also built the
country's acclaimed 2008 Olympic stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, which today becomes the only one in the world to open a Summer and a Winter
He explores his complicated relationship with his homeland in his new book, "1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows."
And he joined me from self-exile in Portugal to talk about the need to witness and remember.
AMANPOUR: Ai Weiwei, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us from Portugal.
WEIWEI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So look, let me ask you.
The Olympics have started in Beijing. It's also Chinese new year. So happy Chinese new year.
What do you make of your fabled stadium, the Bird's Nest, being used again, for these Olympics, both the Opening and the Closing Ceremonies? You built
it for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
Unfortunately, as an architect, you cannot control how the building is being used. For me, it's a big disappointment, not only how it's being
used, but also how -- the directions China is taking in past decades. It's a bit surprising.
AMANPOUR: We know and the world knows, and they watch China very carefully. There's the allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs. There's
the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, the intimidation of Taiwan. There's just so much happening, including a fairly draconian zero COVID policy.
Of course, China would deny all those accusations. But you have said in your book: "Freedom is the precondition for fairness. And without freedom,
competition is a sham."
So, given that the Olympics are starting, and there's a huge number of international athletes, you think the athletes should go, right? I know
that the U.S. has led a diplomatic boycott, but you don't think athletes should boycott the Games?
WEIWEI: I think every individual should have their own sense of justice and fairness.
So, the game is about fairness. The competition is all about fairness. And the so the athletes, representing human spirit, of course, they should
defend those very important issues, such as human rights and freedom of speech.
AMANPOUR: You know, Ai Weiwei, you talk a lot about the duty to witness, the duty to speak out.
One of the crises I didn't mention, but am mentioning now, is the disappearance of Peng Shuai, who pretty has much disappeared from public
life since she accused a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault.
The IOC had been in contact with her.
And now the IOC says about these Games -- that's the International Olympic Committee -- "The Olympic Games are the only event that brings the entire
world together in peaceful competition. Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political
issues. At all times, it recognizes and upholds human rights as enshrined in the code of ethics."
What would you say to the IOC if you were able to engage with them now?
WEIWEI: I would tell IOC, first, they never remained as a neutral position. They're always standing next to the authoritarians or business.
Business is the first target for them. So, they have been -- since the 2008 Olympics, they have been working with the government's propaganda, and,
this time, they're even more. They are -- they are ignoring the top athletics from China's safety and well-being, but, rather, to be part of a
state of propaganda, which is -- it's pretty sad.
You know, how can an international organization become like this?
AMANPOUR: You obviously did that documentary, "Coronation," I think it was called, very early on about COVID.
Now we see nearly two years on China has still a zero COVID policy. We see the very strict measures around the Olympic Games, but also very strict
measures. One case of COVID in a community can bring a lockdown on millions and millions of people.
What do you make of that -- of that policy?
WEIWEI: I think that China is desperate, trying to prove the government of authoritarian is much more efficient than West.
They're laughing about the West, but, at the same time, they really crash the people, their own people. They have all kind of restrictions. They
would lock the people in their door, put -- they're doing all of those crazy, crazy things, and just trying to maintain this kind of zero COVID
condition, which is not scientific, because COVID is something we may always have for a long time.
And so they are doing this by this kind of bureaucratic idea, rather than scientific treatment. So, I think that's pretty sad. And, also, what really
happens in China about the origin of the disease, we will never know, because there's never a transparency about what happened in Wuhan at the
AMANPOUR: You have left your country.
I mean, you're not physically expelled, but, for your own safety, including a stint where you spent some 81 days in jail several years ago, you have
left. That's why you're in Portugal. Before, you have been in other European capitals.
Why did you feel it was necessary to leave, given your activism, your art, your prominent position in China, as a really key member of the community
WEIWEI: Well, as an individual or as an artist, you never really have a clear sense of safety. Everything belongs to the party, like Peng Shuai.
She -- you can never hear what's in her mind. She only can perform with the party's instruction.
So, there's no way you can escape it. China is totally under control of one party. And the party can do anything. It can make you disappear. It can
make you in trial without lawyers. And, also, they can put you long time behind bars.
So, nobody can make an argument. That's the reality. So, if I want to have a sense of safety, a normal life, I have to escape.
AMANPOUR: When I last saw you a few years ago here in London, you were showing an exhibition that also depicted the physical containment and
confinement that you were in for those 81 days in jail, when you were -- when you were arrested or in prison.
You also have a very famous picture that's part of your art repertoire of yourself dropping a 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty urn.
I want to know, those events, the symbolic and the real, the destruction of your own studio in Beijing, is that what led you to write this book? Why
are you writing this book right now?
WEIWEI: Whatever happens to my life or to my father's life or whatever happens in China is absurd.
Nobody can really use rationality and clearly understand what is really happening. That's why the West is so frustrated, because China have their
own logic and their own rules.
So, for me to write down factually what is really happening is my -- become my responsibility. I have to let my son's generation to understand what
really happened to his father and his grandfather.
AMANPOUR: Well, you write: "My father, my son, and I have all ended up on the same path, leaving the land where we were born."
So, talk to me about your father. He was a renowned poet. What happened to him? What is the story that you want to tell about your father?
WEIWEI: My father was a poet, and he studied in Paris, when he was 18 and 19, studied art.
And right after he moved back to China, he was being put in jail. And the sentence -- the same kind of accusation as mine, it's call subverts state
power. And years being -- serving in prison, then he joined the communist struggle, had become part of the new establishment.
But right after China has been established, he has been punished, criticized as a rightist, and with about half-million of intellectuals
being sent to very remote countryside. My family being sent to the Xinjiang, Uyghur region, as far as it can be from the capital.
And in that time, he spent about five years to do hard labor, to clean the public toilet for the village, and the -- which is very harsh condition for
a poet or for anybody.
So, I grew up with him, so I understand from the very beginning of my consciousness how authoritarian state is like, and how they would punish
anybody who's an artist or have different opinions about them.
AMANPOUR: And, Ai Weiwei, what did you experience in that internal exile? It was hard for your father, you describe, but what did you have to do? Did
you also have to do hard labor? What did you experience there? How did it shape you?
WEIWEI: Yes, as someone growing up in countryside, I have to do all the labors, pick up the cottons or to do all kind of hard labors when I was
between my 10s to my 15s. This is very normal.
AMANPOUR: And did you say that was in the Xinjiang area? Is that where you were, where the Uyghurs are?
WEIWEI: Yes, the Uyghur people now is in the same location, but we are the earliest ones to put in the reeducation camp.
AMANPOUR: You were the earliest ones.
So what do you think is happening to the Uyghur population there? China denies flat-out that there's any kind of coercion, harassment, much less
genocide, as the U.S. accuses it of.
WEIWEI: I think what China has been always practiced to reeducate people, to put them in some kind of concentration camp to do brainwash or to put
them in hard labor camp.
This is -- they always do, not only to Uyghurs. They do to the Han people. They do to Tibetan people. This is the only way communists can maintain
their control. They don't know other way. So, for them, it's absolutely normal.
AMANPOUR: You say, for them, it's absolutely normal. And you have said that don't forget that absurdity is a key feature of all totalitarian
And one of the first big pieces of public art that you did was when there was the terrible earthquake in Sichuan, and you did this amazing memory of
all the children who died by using backpacks -- or getting backpacks to symbolize how many children had died.
What was the reaction when you did that? What was your intention with that piece and the reaction afterwards?
WEIWEI: 2008, right before the Olympics opening, about three months before that, Sichuan had a huge earthquake, which made 80,000 to 90,000 people
And until today, we don't have a correct number. But I focused on 5,000, more than 5,000 students who was dead, the -- because they are in the
school, which is a public building and owned by government.
So, they have no excuse to escape from being accused as a corrupted building, construction site. So I did the research. And they located about
5,219 students with their name and birthday.
This opened my open confrontation with the state power, because they tried to do everything to cover it. And as an individual artist, we successfully
find out the truth.
But, until today, China still avoid to talk about those names. They cannot. They never really openly admit what was wrong. And this is about very
single incident, which reflects the whole development of Communist Party. They never admit any mistakes. The only thing they do is to cover up.
AMANPOUR: And it's very fundamental, your art seems to be, about not just bearing witness, but also justice. You were trying to get justice for those
children who were a victim of corrupt builders with corrupt building processes that have never been held accountable.
You have also tried to get justice in the West, for instance, for refugees. Back in 2016, you attached 14,000 life jackets to the concert hall in
Berlin and other locations. And they were really powerful reminders of the West's failure towards refugees.
We're now watching another refugee crisis unfold in Afghanistan. What do you say about that and your -- you criticize China, but there's so much to
criticize, as you have done, in the West as well.
WEIWEI: Well, I'm a citizen of the world, if I can call that. Actually, I'm a citizen of nowhere.
So, wherever I see injustice, I always think that's connected. Whatever happens in Afghanistan, in Syria is connected to China, also connected to
the United States. We have to understanding humanity as one, human rights as one. We have to defend everybody who has been mistreated. And only by
doing that, we can build a better future.
AMANPOUR: Do you have any prospects of going back to China? Are you in touch with your mother, your -- the rest of your family? Are they OK there,
despite your very prominent criticism of the regime?
WEIWEI: I try to talk to my mom almost daily, and trying to calm her down, because she is almost 90.
And the only thing she worries about is about me, my safety, my well-being. And she is -- really thinks I'm her child.
Of course, after all those conversations, she never forget to tell me, "You should never come back," because she's worried. I understand. She cannot
afford to see me disappear again.
AMANPOUR: That's really sad.
Is she able to come out? Can you bring her out to see her? She's 90, nearly.
WEIWEI: Yes, she's 90. And that's her country, you know?
Me or her have the perfect rights to stay in our own land. We only think that the nation, the government is temporary. But the people, the feeling
of people and the culture is more permanent than any dictatorship.
AMANPOUR: Those are amazing words, and amazing faith that you still have.
What's next for you in your art world? And are you more of an activist or an artist these days? How would you define yourself?
WEIWEI: I'm very -- just a normal being. And I try to respond to whatever happens and whatever I see in the world.
But most important is to keep the consciousness and to make expression and to communicate with people.
AMANPOUR: Well, you do a lot of very, very effective communicating.
Ai Weiwei, thank you so much for joining us and being on our program again.
WEIWEI: Thank you so much. It's so nice talking to you.
AMANPOUR: And you too.
AMANPOUR: When it comes to world views, China and Russia are largely on the same page. So says Vladimir Putin himself.
That means he has Beijing's support as he rattles the West over Ukraine and access to China's coffers if he's hit by Western sanctions. Amid the daily
avalanche of headlines, you may be left with one main question: Why? Why is Putin so fixated on Ukraine?
Here to offer some historical perspective is Peter Pomerantsev, author of "This Is Not Propaganda," and historian Margaret MacMillan, author of "War:
How Conflict Shaped Us."
Margaret MacMillan and Peter Pomerantsev, welcome to the program. And thanks for joining us, as we really try not just to do the breaking news,
but to peel back the historical context of what's going on.
So, Peter, let's start, because you have written about this. The notion that Russia calls Ukraine mother Russia, part of mother Russia, but we know
from history that Ukraine, even before the Bolsheviks, way back to the 19th century, had a very independent streak with the nationalist movements of
What history is Putin referring to?
PETER POMERANTSEV, AUTHOR, "THIS IS NOT PROPAGANDA": Well, first, it's largely sort of an invented history. It's more about sort of the stories
that you tell about Russia's own identity as an empire, which, in this weird, semi-mythical genealogy, traces back to Constantinople, which then
passes the true orthodox phase to Kyiv, and then to Moscow.
But a lot of this stuff has little to do with serious history. It's more about kind of establishing Moscow as the third Rome, which is one of the
myths that Russia has, which is one of the myths that kind of is meant to imbue it with an imperial purpose and meaning.
But, apart from that kind of like, weird, sort of looking for your own sort of imperial grandeur and connections to Rome through Kyiv, there's
something else going on which I found so, so curious.
I mean, what specifically Putin and many in Russia say is that Kyiv is the mother of all Russian cities. And in this sort of very, very sort of
aggressive Russian propaganda about Ukraine, they sort of switch between calling Kyiv the mother and sort of deifying it in some strange way, and
then saying, well, if you're not going to be my mother, then you're a prostitute who sold herself to the West.
And there's this really kind of weird relationship, which I think has even less to do with kind of like false history and even more to do with
something strange and psychological going on.
AMANPOUR: We will dig into that a little bit.
But, Margaret, does that resonate with you, this strange sort of psychological attachment that Putin has announced to the world about
Ukraine? And even his own Foreign Ministry has said that, when the Soviet Union fell, all those central, well, Soviet states, Soviet republics,
became orphaned, and they include Ukraine, Belarus, which are often referred to as Russia's siblings.
What does this invoking of this family iconography mean in historical context?
MARGARET MACMILLAN, AUTHOR, "WAR: HOW CONFLICT SHAPED US": Well, as Peter said quite rightly, it actually means very little if you look at the
But I think it is something that Putin perhaps believes, but he has certainly pushed a lot. I mean, I have read or try to read his long essay
last summer, in which he argues that the Ukrainians and the Russians are spiritually one people. And it's this reference also to the greater Russian
spirituality. This is one of his many themes, that Russia is a more spiritual civilization than the decadent West.
But a lot of this is invented or very one-sided. And a lot of it is very recent. I mean, a lot of this history is very much like the nationalist
histories that were written in Europe in the 19th century, where people trolled through the past and picked out stories to weave into this legend.
I mean, I think the irony is that the way in which Putin is treating Ukraine today has actually created more Ukrainian nationalism, rather than
AMANPOUR: So that's interesting.
I want to ask you both, because a historian from Harvard, Serhii Plokhii, has recently wrote in "The Financial Times" that Putin's goal, even though
he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy -- and I'm paraphrasing -- of the 20th century, this gentleman doesn't believe
that he wants to reestablish the Soviet Union.
He says: "His goal is rather to reinstate or maintain the Kremlin's control over the former Soviet space more efficiently by creating dependencies,
preferably ruled by autocrats, in place of the former Soviet republics, an imperial power struggle, with him as the ruler of rulers at the top."
So, Peter, do you agree with that analysis? Are we already seeing that in Kazakstan, in Belarus, where he's definitely in -- sending troops and
essentially siding against democracy protesters in both those republics?
POMERANTSEV: Without a doubt.
And you can see that in the kind of Russian propaganda in lots of places throughout the region. But it's always saying that any kind of spurts to a
democracy are actually kind of like Western agents, and you should support the good local autocrat.
So I completely agree with Serhii Plokhii. I think Putin is a 20th century -- a 21st century ruler in that sense. But it's not even about that space.
It's about global status. I mean, Russia still narrates itself as a global power. It sees itself as one of the few truly independent powers that can
define what others do in the world.
And so even the games that he plays locally, the real game is to get the attention and the status vis-a-vis the U.S. and China. So Russia isn't just
a regional provincial power. It really does think of itself globally, for better or, usually for its neighbors, for worse.
AMANPOUR: And, in a way, you can trace a little bit of this anger back to when President Obama called it, I want to say a regional power or middle
level power, and that set Putin off. I mean, he has not returned from that insult and -- perceived insult.
And so I'm going to play a sound bite of what Putin has said about NATO expansion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We were given promises not to push the infrastructure of the NATO bloc to the east one
inch. Everyone knows this well.
Today, we see where NATO is located, Poland, Romania, the Baltic countries. They said one thing. They did another. As people say, they screwed us over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, well-acquainted with the British vernacular, that's how he's summed up his situation.
Do you think -- and when you see, obviously, NATO expanding eastwards as much as it can, do you see that as a valid fear by Putin, Margaret, in the
historical context? Or do you see Putin using anything to stop Ukraine getting any closer to the West?
You remember, all of this started when Ukraine wanted not to join NATO, but to have a special agreement with the E.U.?
MACMILLAN: I think Putin probably, like most of us, has mixed motives.
I mean, I think that the talk about mother Russia and spirituality is important. But I think he's never forgotten -- and he lived through it, of
course -- that he was once the agent of a very powerful empire. I mean, he was in Dresden when the Cold War ended. And, suddenly, there were
demonstrators outside. He was having to burn documents very quickly.
And he'd gone from being the agent of a very powerful empire to being somebody who had to get home. And I think that's really weighed on him. The
disintegration of the Soviet Union, I think, again, I think was for him a catastrophe, as it was for many Russians.
And the loss of their influence and empire in Eastern Europe, again, was something that many of them haven't forgotten. And so I think that's part
of it. I think he also wants security. And that, I think, is understandable. When you think of how porous Russia's borders have been
through much of history, and how often Russia has been invaded, this is understandable.
But it's the way he's doing it, which is actually, think, producing an alliance against him. And it is really quite wrong. I mean, this is, again,
a typical example of the ways in which he will weave stories together with bits of false evidence.
There was never a promise made that NATO would not move one inch eastwards. That promise was not made. And the Russians did not get that promise. But
that doesn't stop them, of course, believing very strongly that they were somehow cheated.
And we can argue whether or not it was wise to expand NATO. I think people would still debate that, but the fact is that the countries that wanted to
join NATO in Eastern Europe did so voluntarily and willingly. And this is something, I think, that is very difficult for Putin to accept.
I mean, I think what he wants to do is try in every way possible reestablish the influence that Russia used to have in the middle of the
Soviet Union, and recreate as much as he can a safe place for Russia. And I think he does. I think Peter Pomerantsev is absolutely right. He does think
as Russia being a global power, even though its economy is shrinking, it's got demographic problems, it's not a match for either China or the United
But he still thinks in those terms, very much, I think, because of his own experience.
AMANPOUR: So, now I want to talk about with both of you -- and, Peter, you have done a lot of work on this, particularly on the idea of propaganda and
the manipulation of public opinion.
So, what are you getting from your analysis right now of the Russian people and their pro or con yet another war? What are you getting from what you
see happening in Russia itself right now on the airwaves and in any other kind of media?
POMERANTSEV: Well, Christiane, it is a very sort of situation in flux. And it could turn on a dime. I have seen it turn very quickly before.
But, at the moment, the main thrust is: Putin is the peacemaker. These crazy Western people keep on talking about war. He hasn't mentioned war
once. He's only talking about kind of, like, how he wants to bring peace and stability, and it's just this crazy West and these crazy Ukrainians who
are obsessed with aggression.
So, it's very much like Putin is the peacemaker and he's being compelled into aggression, but he won't give in.
What is there though, and I think it's very important to connect, you know, the narratives inside Russia to what Putin says internationally about NATO,
which is a grievance narrative. I think we have to be very careful about grievance narratives that come from bullies. There are people who are
general aggrieved, minorities or people alienated by economics, that they can have a grievance narrative. That's righteous grievance.
When you see a bully who is powerful and rich and oppresses others with a grievance narrative, we're in a scary place. The great German psychologist,
Eric Fromme, when he talked about the Nazi's grievance narratives, he said, actually, this is them saying what they want to do to others. When a bully
starts going, I'm the victim, what he's saying is, I want to victimize you.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And, of course, we saw that play out in the Balkans with the Serbs grievance narrative and then, the dreadful results from what
happened there. So, that is really an important point to make. Because we do hear these false grievances all over the place.
And on the other hand, Margaret, it is true that the Russians have practically gone blue in the face saying that they are not planning an
invasion, right? They don't say why they have got 100,000 plus troops circling Ukraine on practically three fronts, but they do say that they are
not trying to invade. On the propaganda and information/disinformation front, I want to play a little bit of a soundbite from Correspondent Nic
Robertson in Moscow about what they're hearing on state media. Let's just play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I try not to watch the news, she says. I think they're escalating it a lot. I believe very little
of a they're showing.
What the state media are saying, there's hardly any truth in it, he says. It's just information that plays into someone's hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, those are everyday Russians in the street and it's quite sophisticated, right? I mean, I don't know the percentage of people who
believe that. But, Margaret, I'm sure it was a lot less when they invaded and annexed Crimea and as Peter referred to, the 2008 invasion of Georgia.
What do you get, Margaret, from looking at the state of media play around this crisis, particularly inside Russia?
MACMILLAN: Well, as Peter said, I think, absolutely rightly, there is a grievance narrative here and a number of elements go into it. A number of
these elements have been around for quite a long time, that Russia was betrayed at the end of the Cold War, that Russia was prepared to cooperate,
it was treated with contempt by the western allies, the western allies have steadily moved towards the Russian borders, that Russia is a victim here.
And it is a very powerful narrative.
And the other element, I think, that's coming out more and more is when you have this grievance narrative, you also have those who are responsible. And
so, increasingly, you see, in what Putin himself is saying, but also what Russia media under his control is saying is, there are others that are to
blame for this. There are those -- our enemies, our enemies at home, the Ukrainians are the tools of western powers who want to destroy us.
And this we've seen before. I mean, we've seen it -- we saw it in the breakup of Yugoslavia, we saw it in the rise of the Nazi's in Germany. It
is a very dangerous thing because it begins to create a world in which there are conspiracies, everyone is out to get us. And increasingly, I
think, what we have to worry about is the ways in which Russia manipulates the media, not just in Russia itself, but the ways in which it is able to
spread disinformation, which it has been doing very skillfully through a number of means, including through social media.
AMANPOUR: So, finally, for both of you then, given that this is happening before our very eyes, Margaret, is there -- I mean, everybody says we can't
read Putin's mind. It's all up to him what he decides. Is there any historic parallel or paradigm that we should look at to know where this
kind of heat is going to lead in the immediate to middle future?
MACMILLAN: I think what we should be worried about is Putin getting himself into position where he would lose too much faith to back down. And
the trouble with rattling sabers is sooner or later, you put them back in the scabbard or you use them. And if he doesn't use his threats, he will, I
think, perhaps feel that that later on that he should have done. I mean, this -- he's got himself, I think, into a very difficult situation and he
may talk as much as he likes about his new best friend, China, but I don't think this is going to really help him in the long run. I think the Chinese
friendship is a very dubious one from Russia's point of view.
What I worry about is an accident might happen. And when you have a lot of troops near a border, when you have tensions rising, there's always the
possibility of accidents. And so, I think at the moment, we're in a dangerous place.
AMANPOUR: And, Peter, what is your view of that? Where this goes from here? They keep talking and talking, and there are more phone calls between
Putin and world leaders and, you know, more of this jaw jaw. Where do you think it's going to lead?
POMERANTSEV: Look, I think there's two things to think about here. One is, is Putin going to do this very aggressive military action in Ukraine and
circle Kyiv, slice off the south, which some military analysts are predicting. We have to be very, very clear that that will have huge
consequences. So, in that sense, I think, you know, the U.S. and U.K. and other western powers have been doing the right thing. They're kind of
getting rid of any ambiguity.
What we had in 2008, the invasion of Georgia, 2014, the first invasion of Ukraine was ambiguity. What was he up to? We can't tell. This time we're
saying, look, we're calling you out early, here are the consequences. You may think this is one spiritual space, but put that aside, here is reality,
here are the costs. And I think that's the right thing to do.
But then, there's this larger story about European order, about sovereignty, do small countries like Lithuania or Latvia or the Baltics get
to choose their alliances. And that's a story that's going to run and run. Putin has no interest in finishing that. He wants an endless kind of cycle
of getting the West's attention, of high tension of summits at (INAUDIBLE) that is all part of his status games.
And the brutal fact is, Russia is powerful enough to always be able to that. You know, it might not be the superpower it thinks it is, but it is
powerful enough to get our attention and stoke tensions. So, this is going to be a very, very long, you know, drama.
AMANPOUR: Peter Pomerantsev and Margaret Macmillan, thank you both for your historical perspectives.
This morning couldn't be more timely as a wave of book banning washes over the United States. Its latest victim our next guest, Art Spiegelman. He's
the author of the acclaimed graphic novel about the holocaust, "Maus." It was banned by a Tennessee school board last week, they say due to content
that includes nudity, profanity, and violence. Seriously, it's about a concentration camp. And Spiegelman wrote "Maus" about his parents who
Here he tells Walter Isaacson about what banning his book could mean for American democracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Art Spiegelman, welcome to the show.
ART SPIEGELMAN, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING ARTIST, ILLUSTRATOR AND AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.
ISAACSON: A Tennessee board of education removed your book, "Maus," from the curricula a few weeks ago and it's caused great controversy, it's even
made "Maus" now number one on the Amazon bestseller list. Now, that you've had a week or so to reflect on it, what do you think are the lessons from
SPIEGELMAN: I think it's part of the dangerous and perilous times that we're living in. A lot of it is directed at critical race theory in giant,
frightening quotes and part of it is directed against non-gender normative people's books.
It's amazing how often comics come up as a problem. It used to be that comics were burned back in 1954 when they were afraid they were causing
juvenile delinquency. Now, in part thanks to "Maus," it's an accepted part of most curricula, the graphic novels, as they're called, are within the
scope of what is taught, because it's effective. And the school board seems to be following an agenda, either consciously, or if I want to be generous,
unconsciously, of Moms for Freedom, for liberty or whatever, turning this into an issue of parent's rights rather than an issue of education and
making sure that children are prepared for the world that is kind of barreling at them.
ISAACSON: After the controversy erupted over the removal of your book from the curricula, the school board in Tennessee issued a statement. And I
would like to read it to you and get your reaction to it. They said, we do not diminish the value of "Maus" as an impactful and meaningful piece of
literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the holocaust. To the
contrary, we've asked our administrators to find other works to accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion.
Tell me your reaction to that.
SPIEGELMAN: Well, I've now come to realize that age-appropriate is a broad range that includes probably 40-year-old people on that school board as
well as 14-year-old students in their classes. When you talk about middle school, you're talking about some kids who can barely read and some kids
who are just taking advanced placement classes for their university education. And anything that helps that education happen is important.
ISAACSON: Why do you think it's important for an eighth grader to be taught a book like "Maus"?
SPIEGELMAN: Because in order to be a responsible human, not brought up with a lot of propaganda and prejudice, it's a matter of being well
educated. And some people are able to do that on their own. Many people need the schools to do it. I understand how many people believe that should
be primarily a religious education. I don't know that that's the only way to get to an ethical future, but an ethical future is really important, to
redress the ways we've created a never more divided set of classes in America.
The difficulty right now of being a person of color in America or manifest that could make totally clear in the past few years. And as we get
polarized throughout that issue, it's important to embrace it all.
ISAACSON: One of the school board members this week said, yes, but parents can read "Maus" at home to their kids, that's fine, we just don't want to
make it part of the curricula. Does that make any sense you and why would you say that?
SPIEGELMAN: Well, I think they would say that because it's part of localizing all politics at this point. School boards are much better
equipped than Congress to pass laws about how children might be educated, so they can be useful and good citizens of our country in peril. But also,
it's a bit disingenuous for them to keep focusing in "Maus" on a few rather mild bits of foul language and on something that I found really offensive.
They keep not talking about the real issues, which is the holocaust, saying, we don't mind teaching the holocaust, but basically, I feel they
want a kinder, gentler holocaust to present to their children.
And what they really are upset about is there's one panel with what they describe as a nude woman, and then, they've described that as sexual. I
found that as offensive as anything they found in "Maus." It's one panel, not with mice, but with inset into the book about my mother's suicide and
how I responded when I found out about the day she killed herself, that has her naked in a bathtub full of blood, without making anything especially
licentious about that image, it's just a person in a bathtub with blood. And usually, in the bathtub breasts are visible.
So, I think they were asking me to like put a bathrobe on my mom in the bathtub or something, because it doesn't make much sense as describing that
as sexual. For them to use the word nude woman rather than naked, which is about her vulnerability, is also either a conscious or unconscious choice
in how they presented this in order to deflect from the real issues in the book.
And in fact, why "Maus" is such a good teaching tool even though I have confessed that I never expected or wanted it to be a Y.A. novel. I've
learned my lessons over the years because kids have learned their lessons from "Maus" and they have done very well assimilating those lessons from
the children I've spoken to in schools, the young people.
And I think the very things they're objecting to, which is not -- one of them actually said, I love the holocaust, in his school board meetings,
saying that, it's great for the part of the story that my father is telling. That's perfect. But why is there all of this other stuff that has
nothing to do with the holocaust, which is not true. Because the way book comes forward and the way it was meant is it's through my eyes,
understanding and learning and thus, teaching myself as well as anybody wanted to share the book with me.
How the heck I ever got on to this planet? Both parents were supposed to be dead in Auschwitz. So, as an adult, I went back to my father and he was
willing to tell me in detail. And we finally found common ground where we could talk to each other without yelling at each other, like, ironically,
in his memories of his time in the death camps.
ISAACSON: Tell me what you think the underlying fear was that's causing people want to remove from the curricula books like yours?
SPIEGELMAN: Well, I think it's part of a general and widespread authoritarian influence. Like, when I tried to deconstruct what happened
with the school board, which I'm sure would be no happier with any of the books that are out on gender issues and grace issues, has to do with who's
in charge here. And they wanted to be the Moms for Liberty.
And the problem with that is they're not really equipped to give children a good education. In fact, the school board is probably made up of parents
who went to school in (INAUDIBLE) County and never got a good education that would allow them to deconstruct my book, for example, with any
intelligence. Therefore, even though I didn't make it for children, if it's going to be in schools for kids who are 14 years old, that's not a problem,
but it's better to be done under a curriculum that's giving supporting materials, that's actually helping one understand the issues more broadly.
And in fact, the people who are -- the teachers at this board meeting were adamant that they thought that it should be taught in their classes,
because it is part of a curriculum that can show newsreel footage, other films, other books, articles that put it in context, they say they don't
want to drop it, because I'm the third item on their curriculum. The fourth quarter is about Japanese internment camps.
So, better that -- I think that they're on the right track. I feel sad when I listen to the -- when I read the minutes of the school board meeting that
even they were trying to find ways to get past the school board by saying, well, we tried whiting out some of the bad words like damn and the word
bitch is there in the book when I'm talking about my anger at my mother for having abandoned me, in the heat of having to find out she had killed
herself. And they just they just left the B of bitch in place.
And I -- as a modest proposal, I would said, rather than leave the B, they could put in bagel or blintz because it brings up more wholesome parts of
Jewish heritage and maybe we could put some recipes in the back. It's just all deflection, which is the case for every one of these books that's being
banned across the country.
ISAACSON: Let me push back on something you just said, which is that the parents are not really well educated enough and that they don't really know
what would be good for their children? Isn't that a problem if we're not trying to balance the act that parents should have some say and that we're
seeming contemptuous, parents who want to say, I need some control over what's being taught to my kids?
SPIEGELMAN: Well, obviously, that's a very American attitude. But I believe the way it's done, for instance, in France, which is the other
culture I'm sort of exposed to regularly because of my wife and my friends in France, is public education is about educating people so that they could
participate in their great democracy experiment. And therefore, one has to learn to trust the teachers or hire teachers that are trustworthy.
It's not about trusting children. It's about trying to make sure they're not exposed to anything outside of the very narrow focus that's being
offered to them. And this includes people who are triggered by reading about the slave Jim in "Huckleberry Finn" and being exposed to a bad word.
This is better taught in a school than having them come across the word and think that Mark Twain is writing about it in 2021 and exposing them to the
N-word. It's in a context in which Jim is the most human and fully developed character, in some ways, in all of "Huckleberry Finn."
So, I'm just a First Amendment fundamentalist and believe it's best taught with more talk. That one exposes children to things. These things could be
taught, should be taught, all of it, including the ugliest parts, as well as the most beautiful, without trying to whitewash it and hide the actual
histories that children and young people and adults need to be exposed to.
ISAACSON: In "Maus," you portray the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats and other groups as different animals. In some ways, that helps give an
emotional distance, in a way. These are not human characters.
SPIEGELMAN: Right, Walter, it does both. It both gives me enough distance to make these things by putting this mouse and cat and pig and dog masks on
the people, but their masks -- and it's made clear in the course of the story, I don't think of myself as a mouse, exactly, but that allows both
the distance for me to enter into the material, but also kind of intimacy.
Because if you have these mice all look sort of alike, you know, they're all triangles with two dots, little lumps for ears, that means that if you
identify with me, you're going to be as a character in the book, Artie talking to his dad, you'll also be identifying with the people who look
almost exactly like him, because they're all looking more or less alike, and there's a mean feat to try to make sure you always understood who you
were looking at, when I was telling the story of the destinies of many of these people.
I don't know how to resolve the dilemma you brought up a couple of minutes ago, the one about, well, parents have a right, what, dot, dot, dot. They
have a right to have input, but I think they -- all parents should have an advanced teaching degree before they take the ultimate authority for that
sort of thing. Because, hey, it's the same state that 35 miles away from the school board life was trying to keep evolution from being taught in
schools in scopes Scopes Monkey Trial days. This is not a useful education. If they had succeeded in banning teaching Darwin in their schools.
Similarly, I don't think that stopping one's education with the New Testament is any better.
ISAACSON: You said we're living in really perilous times. But do you think that pulling a book like yours out of a curricula for eighth graders is
really a step on the way to a real book banning and book burning?
SPIEGELMAN: Absolutely. I don't know to what degree, the school board was working in collusion with Moms for Liberty, but that's a very overt
program, rather malevolent, completely malevolent, well financed to pull books out of libraries, out of schools, to only teach a very positive and
patriotic picture of America's past that isn't useful in understanding America's present. It's as perilous as you think it is.
These laws are being amped up. It's not just taking it out of a curriculum and leaving the kid to fend for himself if they can find the book, it's
also about trying to control everything that's being read, including in libraries. Fine libraries for having books that have been banned. I think
there was one case where I was reading that you could get a $10,000 a day fine if you were promoting a banned book in that area. And that's coming
closer to the genuine book banning.
The problem with banning books is, I was right that they're not Nazis, the school board, that's not what's happening. But, you know, it's not
effective to ban a book, as you can see by "Maus" shooting up on the bestseller list again. But you have to then go on and burn the books. And
then, after you have to burn the books, you have to burn the people that wrote them and read them. It's a trajectory. I would like to say
(INAUDIBLE) certain, but not exact.
ISAACSON: Whoopi Goldberg just got suspended for two weeks from "The View" because of what she said in a conversation about your book and the
controversy surrounding the pulling of your book from the curriculum. So, let me read you what she said in the discussion and get your reaction to
it. She said, the holocaust is not about race, it's about man's inhumanity to man. And then, one of the other co-hosts said, it was driven by white
supremacy. And Whoopi Goldberg said, but these are two white groups of people. She apologized, but she was still suspended. Tell me what you think
SPIEGELMAN: Fair enough. I think what was said was said in some kind of ignorance of a master race exterminating an interior race was the rhetoric
of Germany at the time. So, whether or not Jews are white, black or striped isn't the real issue, it's about man's inhumanity to man, the same way
slavery is about man's inhumanity to man, the same way about that the genocide of indigenous Americans was also men's cruelty to men.
But within that, race seems to be an important and highly charged topic in America. I think she learned her lesson because of the conversation that
ensued as a result of what she said, which is basically a process of education. It's what happened to her. She came out, I think, with a very
sincere response saying, I didn't get it. I get it now.
And I don't think it was -- it shouldn't be feared for her job. And the punishment is unnecessary. What happens, instead of a canceling was simply
somebody just talking to her and explaining what the reality of that history is. And I think she was able to get it. So, case closed, let's move
on and deal with the problems of keeping what has to be remembered remembered, which is not just Auschwitz but our entire history.
ISAACSON: What role can "Maus" play in fighting anti-Semitism? And for that matter, in fighting racism?
SPIEGELMAN: Well, it gives one a model of what happened in a way that's clearly, from my experience, just understandable, kids younger than 14,
adults, I know that a copy was given by my friend J.R., the photographer, to a neo-Nazi who is in a prison in California and I got a fan letter from
him afterwards that helped him open his eyes to what he'd been part of. And I was trying to figure out how a get a Nazi tattoo off his body.
So, it's across the board that it's useful. I don't think I don't think neo-Nazis are out only to get Jews. I think there's the great fear that
Americans who aren't off the mayflower (ph) might not be allowed to be part of the politics, be allowed to vote, things like that. And neo-Nazis are at
least unhappy with black citizens as they are with Jewish. It's all one pile of othering to make one's self feel stronger and better.
So, I think it plays into being useful by being in cats and mice for Nazis and Jews, because cats and mice allow it to become that self-destructing
metaphor I was mentioning. It's about all races and all fascists. And if you find them on your school board, if you find them messing with your
libraries, they need to be resisted because you can see the possible sequences.
ISAACSON: Art Spiegelman, thank you so much for joining with us.
SPIEGELMAN: Thank you. A pleasure to be with you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And a reminder of the importance of keeping books like "Maus" on every book shelf.
That is it for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode to shortly after it airs on our podcast. You can find that at
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Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.