P. Haviland: Silence = Death for Bulgarian Medics

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | August 18, 2004, Wednesday // 00:00
P. Haviland: Silence = Death for Bulgarian Medics Paul Carrington Haviland. Photo from own Archive.

Paul Carrington Haviland was born 1949 in Toronto (Canada) and now is living in London as British national.

Holder of a BA with High Honors from the US Eckerd College and a UK Linguists Diploma in Translation, Mr Haviland is a member of the British Institute of Linguists.

His career went through teaching of English and French in Burkina, France, Morocco, Canada and the UK. He is also working as a free-lance translator.

Before starting his current work at the Independent Television Facilities Centre in 1997, he was working in the BBC World Service.

His books of translation include "Capitalism Against Capitalism" by Michel Albert (Whurr, London, 1995) and "The Blue Line" by Daniel de Roulet (Autonomedia, Brooklyn, 2000).

Paul Haviland is a coordinator of the Bulgarian Medics Solidarity Project (www.nishand.org), which provides for fund raising for the families of convicted medics. It aims to raise as much money as possible to be donated directly to the children and immediate families of Bulgarian nurses Kristiyana Valcheva, Nasiya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova and their co-accused, the Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hajuj.

Mr Paul Haviland is now talking to Novinite.com editor Ivelina Puhaleva over the Bulgarian medics AIDS trial in Libya.

Q. Mr Haviland, what prompted you to write about the Bulgarian medics in Libya?

A. I knew nothing about this case until a Bulgarian friend alerted me to it. I am always indignant when I hear of miscarriages of justice, and this one seemed to me to be a particularly horrendous case. My own sister is a nurse, as well as a cousin who once worked in North Africa. It was enough motivation for me to imagine something horrible like this happening to a member of my own family.

Q. Your article published in the British Medical Journal is titled "Quiet Diplomacy is Not Enough". Do you really think that the means of quiet diplomacy is out-of date in the modern world?

A. Not necessarily. I'm sure quiet diplomacy achieves a lot in circumstances where two parties in a dispute each have a point of view that can be defended. But in this case I feel certain that the Libyan court's decision cannot be defended or justified. An appalling injustice has been committed and this needs to be said out loud and without reservation.

Q. What kind of means will it take to reverse the course of the trial so that the medics are acquitted?

A. Libyan politics is a strange business and I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of the regime in that country. However, it seems likely that the Libyan leader Col. Gaddafi has the power to quash the verdict and dismiss the case. This is what Dr Luc Montagnier and many other scientific authorities and human rights groups have asked him to do.

Q. How would you explain the "extreme caution", as you describe it in the publication, of those putting pressure on Libya?

A. My fear is that, with the recent diplomatic offensive by Col. Gaddafi to improve Libya's standing within the community of nations, the big powers are so anxious to keep him "on side" that they do not wish to annoy or upset him over something which (from their point of view) concerns only a minor European country. Perhaps that is "Realpolitik", but it remains unacceptable. Col. Gaddafi should be told in no uncertain terms that he must ensure justice for the medics before he can be welcomed back into the international community.

Q. Do you believe that Libya is actually lingering with the trial while trying to horse-trade the fate of the medics for own political benefits?

A. I imagine there is a certain element of horse-trading going on here. But I suspect that some authorities in Libya are actually embarrassed about this case and would welcome a way out. The courageous and decent thing to do, of course, is to simply admit that an injustice has been done, and to take the necessary steps to correct it.

Q. You said that normally the first thought upon hearing about the case is "It couldn't happen here." Why do you think it was possible to happen there? Do you detect any political errors in the trial's development?

A. I believe that the origin of this horrible injustice is ignorance among the Libyan population about HIV, and the willingness of the regime to indulge this ignorance by designating scapegoats for the tragedy which occurred at the Al-Fateh Children's Hospital. Rather than explain to its population how the tragedy actually came about, the regime took the "easy" route of blaming innocent medical personnel. As far as I understand it, the medical and scientific evidence presented by the defence at the trial was clear and convincing. If this evidence was ignored, it can only be the result of a political decision by the Libyan regime.

Q. Bulgarian government has suggested to establish a fund for the children infected in that AIDS epidemic. But you have started to raise funds for the families of the Bulgarian medics. What is your purpose?

A. The initiative you speak of is an excellent one, for all human beings afflicted with HIV/Aids should be cared for and treated. Fortunately there are many organisations and individuals throughout the world who are working towards that goal. My aim is quite modest: to bring some element of certainty, even if it is only financial, to the families of the medics. It seems to me that they must endure a particularly terrible uncertainty, namely, the dread fear each morning that their innocent relatives might not live to see the dawning of the next day. My hope is simply to provide some help to the family members if, on top of all their other anxieties, they experience financial difficulties. I also embarked upon this project with the express aim of increasing awareness of the medics' plight in the UK and elsewhere.

Q. You said you came upon discouraging things while dealing with that painful for the Bulgarians topic. What have struck you most?

A. I was struck by many things: the lack of media attention paid to the case, for example. I was also surprised that several HIV experts I spoke to were completely unaware of the case. But mostly I am disappointed that here in Britain -- a country and a people who believe in fair play and justice -- this case is never mentioned in connection with Libya. Today, whenever Col. Gaddafi's name comes up, the January 2004 agreement over Libya's nuclear programme is sure to be mentioned. How was that agreement reached, except through political pressure? Lockerbie is sure to be mentioned: that issue is on the way to being resolved because of constant political pressure. In Britain, the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London always gets a prominent mention: that happened 20 years ago, and I am sure it will one day be resolved because the British government keeps up the pressure. So the lesson is: pressure from politicians, governments, groups and individuals does pay off. I want to see Britain's considerable diplomatic muscle put to work to resolve this matter. It is not something that should be kept quiet.

Q. Officials involved in the trial advice that media stick to more cautious approach when reporting on the case, but you have called on to continue beating the drum. Do you think it would help the convicted Palestinian and Bulgarians be released?

A. Remember what Aids activists learned after 10 years of neglect in the 1980s: their slogan was "silence = death". That applies here too. The regime in Libya must be made keenly aware that this case is being monitored by the world at large and that the medics have not been, and will not be, forgotten.

Q. You have appealed for more discussion on the AIDS trial. What else do you think has remained unsaid about it?

A. It needs to be stressed that this is not just a strange and freakish event. It could happen elsewhere; it probably will happen elsewhere, for so long as people are encouraged by cowardly authorities to remain ignorant about HIV and its transmission. This case is symptomatic of an all-too-human desire to find scapegoats and to seek refuge in conspiracy theories. That desire is understandable, but it must be resisted. The best way to resist it is to tell the truth, fully and openly, and to continue the great human project of educating ourselves and our fellow human beings.

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