“Oh, from Venezuela…“ my Congolese friend is saying to me, “I once interviewed Hugo Chávez in Paris. He stayed with me for hours, and then he invited me to Venezuela to attend his TV show. Sadly, the opposition then attempted a coup, and the invitation never materialized.“
The misty look on his face suggests that the journalist I have just met here in Bonn had fallen prey to the aura of the late galactic commander.
A Serbian journalist I met later confirmed my fear that this was not a group where I could be totally open about my position on Chávez. “He is a hero in my country. We found him refreshing … coming out of a war in which the great powers bombed our country, here was a man unafraid of speaking the truth to these guys. It was riveting. That,“ she says as she turns to a Russian journalist I have just met, “is why we love Putin so much. Because he‘s not afraid to stir the pot.“
Granted, this is not a meeting of chavistas. So far, I have met journalists and bloggers from at least twenty different countries, and it is hard to say there is a definite bias in their background. For example, I have met three South African journalists from a wide spectrum of views … one fiercely anti-ANC, one unbiased investigative reporter, and a guy who‘s like the Andres Izarra of the Zuma administration.
But for years I have been living in a bubble, thinking that any foreigner with chavista inclinations was already in the pocket of the government, and that anyone left simply had to be critical of this disaster. “Not at all,“ says my new Slovenian friend, “Chávez is a hero to many in my country.“ Eslovenia, chamo, Eslovenia.
I had simply dismissed the enormous amount of goodwill Chávez generated – not with his checkbook, but with his personal charm and his fierce anti-Americanism which plays so well this side of the Atlantic.
This gives me a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, engage with people who see things differently, and see if I can convince them, to make them look beyond their pink-tinted glasses.
Lord knows I‘m not convincing anyone at home. I might as well try some proselytizing here, on the shores of the Rhein.