It is not the trip to Crimea that raises the question. It is the goals pursued and the conditions of this journey that are the question

A text by Georges Dallemand, federal deputy Les Engagés

Honorary Ambassador Jean-Louis Mignot published a statement on La Libre’s website titled “Hadja Lahbib is not the only one who has made a problematic trip”. He quotes me and takes as an example a trip to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2013 by a friendship group that I belong to, a trip that I did not participate in. He develops a curious argument and types next to the topic. I would therefore like to answer him.

First of all, contrary to what he suggests, I have never blamed our new Secretary of State for going to Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia. On the contrary, I find a virtue in these trips to areas “where others don’t go,” to use an expression dear to MSF. These trips have been my mainstay for decades. I have often gone to war zones to bear witness to the horrors that forgotten populations have suffered behind closed doors. Over the past few years, I have traveled several times to northeastern Syria, to the Kurdish Autonomous Zone, to meet with the forces there who had fought the Islamic State for us, at great cost, and who still hold in their prisons, our great relief, a dozen terrorists of Belgian nationality, without excessive gratitude on the part of our government. Should I have left them in the abandonment that we show to them? Or ask the regime in Damascus for permission to enter this area which they do not control and which they are imposing a heavy blockade on, with the assurance that they would have denied me entry? I was also the only European parliamentarian to go to Nagorno-Karabakh at a time when this area, populated by Armenians massacred throughout their history by their Azeri neighbor and forcibly bound by Stalin to Azerbaijan in 1921, was undergoing a bloody attack by Azeri forces. These new horrors took place in October 2020 in general indifference. At the request of local associations, I went there and told, under difficult security conditions, about the hell that the Armenian civilians had endured in their shelters. I was a direct witness to the bombing of the hospital in Stepanakert, the capital of this small area. As a doctor, I have seen and reported on the horrific injuries inflicted on civilians by Israeli and Turkish drones, which the Azeri forces have used to scare them away. Was it necessary to give it up for not getting Baku’s approval and to maintain the camera? Of course, I personally financed these difficult trips.

I also happen to have, like many parliamentarians from Belgium and around the world, traveled to Taiwan at the invitation of its government, which only has parliamentary diplomacy to try to break the implacable isolation imposed on it by China. I was then severely warned, like others, by the Chinese ambassador in Brussels, who forbade me (!) to go there again. Should we comply with this injunction when China does not control this country and declares that it wants to invest it militarily against the will of its people? I recently took two trips to Ukraine when our government no longer had an embassy there and felt we shouldn’t go there. As President of the Friendship Group with the Ukrainian Parliament, I wanted to show that my solidarity did not stop at the border. People from other countries also participated in the trip. Should I abstain again, as we were the only member state of the European Union that had not returned its ambassador to Kiev?

I entered politics to try to continue my humanitarian struggle and always meet people in need. As a Federal Member of Parliament sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am heavily involved in international security issues, with the greatest concern being to help protect populations from the scourge of war. I think I am more relevant going into the field of conflict rather than sitting at my desk. When the door of a ruined territory is closed, it sometimes happens to me, with the help of the local populations who want my visit, to return through the window, always with caution, under the watchful protection of my hosts.

Ambassador, what raises the question is not a trip to Crimea. That is both the purpose and the conditions of our foreign minister’s trip. Was it necessary to go there to cover a festival designed by the Russian regime as an instrument of propaganda, a “soft power next to hard power to achieve results”, as one of the leaders of this festival says, whose remarks does she report on her topic radio? A festival specially organized to boast of a Crimea that would have always been Russian and where life is good. Was it also necessary to forward this propaganda by being sponsored by the Russian regime, which is under European sanctions for having invaded this area militarily in 2014 in defiance of the international order? These are the questions that many people ask. They are legit.

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