My Case Is a Literal Example of American Democracy Decline: Film Director & MEP Tells Sputnik Why US Blacklisted Him
By Evgenia Filimianova
Photo: CC0
Director of the famous documentary Apology of an Economic Hitman and current member of the European Parliament, Stelios Kouloglou, spoke to Sputnik about the "decline of the US democracy" and how his journalistic work on political injustice, terrorism and whistleblowers has angered the American government so much, he got banned from entering the US with no clear explanation.
Photo: Stelios Kouloglou
When did you realize you there may be a problem with your traveling to the US?
I realized I was on the blacklist in 2010 when I went to the American Consulate in Athens with two of my assistants (cameramen) to renew our journalistic (work) visas to the US because they had expired.

I was traveling to the US every year during the first decade of the 21st century, as I was covering events for my weekly TV program called Reportage Without Frontiers - from 1996 to 2008 I was traveling every year to the US.

My cameramen got their visas right away and I was told to go home and wait.

I am still waiting.
Photo: S. Kouloglou
Did the US embassy provide any explanation as to why you were not granted a visa?
They are not obliged to give an explanation to foreign citizens, only to American citizens.

I have made several attempts to find out what happened and I went to Reporters without Borders, the watchdog on freedom of information, and we sent letters to the US State Department, to different ambassadors in Belgium and in Athens.

No answer.

The people at the Athens embassy were embarrassed because they know me and my job.

I called them and asked them: "What is going on? Why are you not giving me a visa?"

The ambassadors were also embarrassed and proposed I apply for a tourist visa. My tourist visa application has also been rejected. At the time I didn't know why my applications were denied.
Why were your applications rejected?
What I knew is that there have been different objections on the part the US embassy addressed to different Greek governments because of my TV program aired on the public channel — ERT.

I had a weekly TV program, reportage and documentaries. Reportage Without Frontiers was a very well-known - it was named the top news program in the country four times and received numerous international awards.

The US embassy in Athens was also watching it and they were against it because the program was critical of the 2003 invasion of Iraq — and also the lies that have been told to justify it.

I had done a documentary one year after the invasion that was called 25 Plus One Lies to Sell a War. It was about the lies the US administration, as well as the British administration told the public.

After it was aired, the documentary got a high rating and the American embassy addressed the government directly again, saying: "How do you expect us to help you in the Cyprus question, when there is a program on the Greek public broadcaster attacking the official US policy."

I always tried to represent the other side — the opinion of the American authorities. The lies however, were discovered by American people, activists and diplomats who were critical of the Iraq invasion.
A US soldier looks through a pair of binoculars as a fire in the Rumeila oil field burns in the background in southern of Iraq, Sunday, March 30, 2003. Photo: AP, Yonhap/Jin Sung-chul
In 2008, the ERT board of directors discussed my case. One of the board members, who was also at the time an adviser to the Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, said that I was provoking problems between the US and Greece.

I have the official minutes of that meeting.

One month after this meeting, they fired me. It became a political issue, a scandal. People were protesting, it was a big deal.

In 2009 the new government [the center-left PASOK party] asked me to restart the program and invited me to continue with my work. In 2010 I went to the US consulate to renew my visa.
Once you became a Member of the European Parliament, did it change the course of the situation?
I was hoping it would but it didn't. In the summer of 2016 I applied for a US visa and it was rejected. In 2017 I was invited to address, as a member of the EU Parliament the People's Summit in Chicago. I tried to go, they [the US] didn't give me an explanation [for rejection].

All this time they wouldn't give any kind of explanation, they would tell you to wait. But in December 2017, I was part of the official delegation of the EU parliament to the United States with the purpose of having high-level meetings with Senators, Congressmen, etc.

So they had to give an explanation this time.
Photo: Stelios Kouloglou
All other delegates got their visas apart from me. The day the delegation left to the US, I stayed in Brussels — I was finally given an answer, referring me to an article in the US legislation.
Photo: Stelios Kouloglou
There are different reasons why a US visa application can be denied. In my case, I found, it was 'terrorism.'

I had to go the American government website see the definition of such justification.

"Terrorism" means you are suspect in one of a range of activities — from hijacking a plane to having endorsed a terrorist organization.

In my case I was referred to section 212(a) (3) B of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Photos: Stelios Kouloglou
"Having endorsed" could mean I wrote an article about Hamas or Hezbollah — the organizations the American government consider to be terrorists. The US embassy don't give you a precise answer.

I have not endorsed terrorism and I have done a lot of documentaries against terrorism.

My film "The True Story of 17th of November" is about the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, a terrorist organization. Its members have killed many diplomats, politicians and businessmen.

My documentary was dedicated to the families of the victims — it is one of the most watched documentaries in Greece.
One of my last documentaries — Laughing to Death — is about the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists and the power of humor and political satire.

I have held a conference in the European Parliament against terrorism.

So it [the accusation by the US] is completely ridiculous.
My case is a literal example of the decline of the US democracy. They don't want to listen and tolerate any critical voices coming either from within the US or outside.
Photo: Stelios Kouloglou
My friend John Kiriakou [a former CIA agent, a counter-terrorism adviser and torture whistleblower] was outraged.

He said "Oh my god, I can't believe it."

He wasn't very much surprised by the American reaction in my case, as he went to prison for telling the truth.

Photo: Former CIA officer John Kiriakou. AP, Cliff Owen

My documentary — the Oligarchy — talks about the capture of politicians by big corporations and how financial interests control freedom of information. Big corporations are not interested in freedom of information and press.

They consider them as a dangerous enemy. The country of oligarchs is the United States.

Countries are not businesses and running one like a business means you can fire people you don't like. People who don't bring profit can be abandoned and this is what is actually happening in the US. They are throwing people who don't have insurance in the streets.
Tell us about your work on the documentary Apology of an Economic Hitman
This film could have also played a role in my current case. In 2009 it was shown at film festivals in the US. There was a one page review in New York Times dedicated to it. It received two international awards - in the Zaragoza (Spain) International Film Festival (2008) and in the Korean International Film Festival (2009).

Apology of an Economic Hitman is a story of an American whistleblower who was working for the World Bank where he describes how the Unites States used the World Bank and the IMF take control of different countries by means of blackmail and even political assassinations. John Perkins was involved in this business and then he decided to speak out.
This documentary could have played a role in placing me on the US's blacklist.

You never know.

I have met some US whistleblowers. I've done a film on them in 2004, titled 'Whistleblowers'. Probably, this is one of the reasons the American government got so angry with me — I presented the whistleblowers as courageous people, the modern heroes of our time.
Did the European Parliament or other European agencies provide help in resolving your problem?
I have sent a letter to the president of the European parliament Antonio Tajani and I'm waiting for his answer. I want the European Parliament and the European Commission to take action and ask for clarification.

I am asking for a concrete explanation for why a European parliamentarian is denied to go to the US. Should we be doing the same to the US Congressmen coming to Europe?

It's unbelievable and it is all about the freedom of opinion and freedom of the press. I have no skeletons in my closet — nothing! It is ridiculous!

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Stelios Kouloglou and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
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