Socialist Worker

‘It all started with a bad experience in Romania’

Justin Butcher is the writer and director of the anti-war trilogy of plays that began in January 2003 with The Madness of George Dubya. He spoke to Kelly Hilditch about his work. His latest play, Guantanmo Baywatch, is reviewed elsewhere in this issue<

Issue No. 1925

The whole thing began for me in November 2002 after a rather bruising experience in Bucharest, Romania.

I happened to be doing some work there the week that George Bush had come to visit, and I was staying in a hotel that was on his itinerary.

My colleague and I were having a chat with the barman one evening about what was happening.

Later, as we got up for to leave the hotel for dinner with some clients, our way was barred by this phalanx of CIA agents who said, “Sorry gentlemen, your conversation was overheard by a member of the US air force. He was not comfortable with the nature of that conversation. We would like to ask you some questions.”

We were taken to separate corners and questioned by armed agents, and if I hadn’t been so angry it would have been funny. It was something straight out of Dr Strangelove—this humourless, irony-free gaze.

They said, “What are your feelings on the president’s visit to Romania? Are you supportive of President Bush and his administration?”

When I questioned them back they said, “You don’t understand—we’re only doing our job,” to which I replied, “No, you don’t understand—you go around the world in martial splendour, you stage a high profile visit to a city like Bucharest, thousands of your people are here, and you expect people not to chat about it.

“And then you behave like this, and you wonder why people hate you?”

Eventually they decided that we weren’t terrorists and we were allowed to go, and it was just a little encounter.

But it gave me a tiny sense of how many people in much worse situations all round the world must feel—a sense of being powerless and humiliated by the ugly underbelly of the hyperpower.

At that time the war drums were beating, and I looked around and no one seemed to be protesting in theatre.

I had no experience in political theatre but I thought I would have a go and try to do an anti-war farce.

Maybe no one would come and see it—but at least I’d have done my bit.

So we did The Madness of George Dubya, which was followed by A Weapons Inspector Calls, and today we have the final in the trilogy, Guantanamo Baywatch.

We just added our ten pence worth to the international outrage and attempts of the movement to stop the war, and we were just a tiny part of it.

But what was really amazing about the peace movement was its scope.

When it comes to the US elections, I don’t think you should kid yourself about Kerry’s liberal credentials. He’s demonstrated himself to be well to the right on all sorts of issues.

If people imagine that we’re going to see a radical shift in US foreign policy as a result of a Democrat victory I think we need to be pretty guarded.

The liberal face of the Democratic Party is far more palatable.

But if we think it means that we’ll automatically get a signature on the Kyoto agreement, reform over trade justice, debt relief and significant steps in terms of AIDS medication in Africa, or arms controls for god’s sake, you just have to be very guarded.


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Reviews
Sat 30 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1925
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