My Meeting with the Most Wanted Man – the Assange Case
Helene Bergman – 13 july 2012
After the negative media campaign that Assange has suffered by Swedish journalists, I was pleasantly surprised when the news came that Assange wanted to see me.
I was in London on a completely different journalistic matter, and took a chance.
When my English colleague got to know that I would be meeting Assange, she furrowed her brow and then admonished me seriously:
“Keep at arm’s length from him. Do not sit too close! He only sees women as sex objects!”
I asked if she had met him.
“No-oo,” she replied, “but I’ve read and heard a lot about him.”
The last thing she said before we parted was, “Be careful!”
I smiled and thought “what men do not see women as sex objects and vice versa!”
As I stepped out into the March sun on Groswell Road in London, the woman A’s words from the detention memorandum in the case Assange echoed inside me.
As she says: “I was proud as shit, to get the world’s coolest man in bed and living in my apartment.”
From then, everything changed for Assange.
He went from being the world’s coolest man to an internationally hunted man. A man who has sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London out of fear of being extradited from Sweden to the United States. However, he is not afraid to answer a police interrogation of suspicions of alleged sex crimes in Sweden.
It is the hunted man with the ball and chain I’m about to meet in London; before he sought refuge in a South American embassy and before he received the news from the High Court in London that he will be extradited to Sweden.
He is a man the media paints as a demon, a womanizer, erratic and arrogant.
Why do I see him? Because I am convinced that it is not true. My long experience of life as a journalist and feminist, and of men and journalist colleagues, says it is a false picture.
But the only way to be sure is to see him, to look into his eyes, to talk to him, to hear what he has to say. That is the way of serious journalistic work.
I sympathized from the beginning with Wikileaks’ and its founder, Julian Assange’s, ideology to stand up for the people and speak truth to power. It resonated well with the original feminist journalist ideology that I have worked for during all my years as a journalist. Standing up for the oppressed. In most cases it is women, but there are also men who are oppressed.
Simply put: To give a voice to the weak. Expose the powerful! It is the heart of real journalism.
Thus, Julian Assange views the world in the same feminist way as I do.
I saw, and see, him as a colleague. A colleague who, in just a few years, has become a world celebrity, who has received awards for his journalistic achievements, but who also has burdens and encumbrances to bear. Not exclusively good, but not evil, either. In short a man.
I got myself ready at the inexpensive but well-situated hotel not far from Kings Cross and then went for a walk in the small park outside the hotel when I became bored of my room. The park was surrounded by a tall, black wrought iron fence, that contained within it Japanese cherry trees in full bloom with pink flowers. I sat on a park bench in the sun and wondered how I would meet Julian. I assumed he knew who I was, because he agreed to meet with me.
I decided to take on the protective role of a journalist, even though this would not be an interview. That would come later. It was just a meeting and Julian knew that too.
I had received a forwarded email:
Please can Helene meet Julian at 12.30 pm at the following address:
18 Wellington Street
London. WC2E 7DD
just of the Strand near Aldwych
Both booked under XX
When I saw the email, it felt as if I were taking part in a spy novel. I Googled for Christopher `s and read that they had a modern American kitchen. Almost a provocation that we meet right there!
The entrance was grand. The high glass door was arched and surrounded by four tall Greek Ionic columns in modernized form.
I was expecting to be invited to lunch.
The Pakistani man in the reception at my small hotel called a taxi for me. Ten minutes later, a car driving without a taxi sign but with a taximeter arrived. The driver was from Bangladesh and was friends with the Pakistani.
The run took about ten minutes and the taxi driver and I had time to talk about Bangladesh and that there was a large Bangladeshi community in London. I have a particular journalistic interest in Bangladesh and, coincidentally, that interest was the reason why I was in London.
The taxi dropped me off outside the entrance of Christopher `s at just the right time.
Hesitantly, I ascended the five broad stone stairs and the glass doors opened silently to reveal a vestibule in which sat an elegant young lady. She smiled kindly at me and I presented myself.
She looked down at her booking list, nodded and asked me to sit down at the bar and wait.
It was mostly men in casual clothes sitting at tables in the bar.
I made my way to the built-in sofa by the windows. Sitting there, I had a good view of the entrance, which meant that I would see Julian before he saw me.
A waiter came over and asked if I’d like to order anything. I asked for water.
Time passed. Every time the glass doors opened, I felt a tug inside me. But so far, no Julian.
Finally, a tall man, accompanied by a short dark man, and wearing a crème brown hat came through the glass doors. As they made their way to the fashionable lady at the desk, I saw that it was Julian.
Both men turned toward the bar and came right over. Julian clearly knew what I looked like, so I assumed he had seen my picture from Newsmill, where my articles have been published.
Julian smiled when he saw me. I stood up and he greeted me in a friendly way with a kiss on both cheeks. I felt as if we had known each other a long time and I dropped my journalist’s role. I greeted his companion a bit more formally. S wore a Palestinian scarf around his neck and dressed in a baggy t-shirt: He appeared a generally pleasant and likable sort.
Julian sat down beside me and took off his hat. His hair was quite white and his eyes were intensely blue with an intelligent and friendly look. He wore a thin knitted sweater, beige chinos and a pair of ugly shoes.
The waiter arrived and Julian asked S how much money they had.
“Enough for water,” said S and ordered Perrier.
I began by saying that I read his book, “Memoirs are prostitution.”
“It’s not my book! In all other countries, except Sweden, a label has been placed on the cover that the book is not authorized by me. Further, there are several errors in the book and my mom has never been a hippie.”
After that invitation to talk, Julian continued himself without further prompting. He talked so much. I got the feeling that he had a real need to talk, to explain, to set things right.
He was worried about the Swedish legal system. Not when it came to prison, but about the jail. He had heard that he would be locked up without any contact with the outside world. Before he was even convicted, even before he was charged.
He pulled up his trouser leg and showed me the grey anklet. There was no bitterness, just a bit upset of having had to wear it for so many
days, over 400 days already when we were at Christopher’s in London that spring day in March.
Julian did not mention a word about what happened in Stockholm a year and half ago, nor did I ask. However, he asked what I was doing in London. When I told him, I saw how the journalistic spark in his eyes awoke.
“That,” he said. “That, I would like to publish on Wikileaks. He sounded enthusiastic, and I thought, “finally, someone understands my story about the giant vaccine scandal in the laboratory, where people in Bangladesh have been used as guinea pigs and where Sweden is involved”.
At the same time, I was amazed that he, in the situation he was in, could manage to become engaged in my project.
I shifted a little, changed the subject. We joked about Sweden, about this and that, and even about sex, in that way that you can with someone you trust, with someone whom you know will not misunderstand you.
The hour we had at our disposal was too short. I think we both wanted to continue talking. What struck me most was that Julian Assange was so well-read and analytically insightful. In other words, he seemed to be fully on top of the situation.
The obvious continuation of this open-ended meeting was to make an in-depth interview with Julian, even despite him being deeply critical of Swedish journalists.
Through my contacts, I got the green light! I sent over the twenty questions I wanted him to answer:
For example, what does he think about his transformation from hero and “rock star” to demon and alleged rapist in the media?
About how the media has painted him as an arrogant male chauvinist pig.
How is his relationship with women? What does he think about the feminist movement?
Does he regret starting Wikileaks, considering all that has happened to him? Is he afraid of being extradited to the U.S.? And much more.
Well Assange was willing to answer all the questions, but none of the Swedish newspapers I approached (Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, or Aftonbladet) were willing to publish the interview. I never got any answers as to why they were uninterested.
However I wasn´t surprised. For more than a year I had tried to get my articles about Julian Assange and the State feminism in Sweden published in the biggest main stream media in Sweden. I haven`t succeeded and I don’t understand why. Instead, I have read a lot of articles and chronicles without much facts but lots of smear of Assange. Even the Swedish Television hadn´t been objective, although it should be, as their regulations stipulate it should be.
The sad and horrific result is that the public in Sweden still does not know what Assange thinks, only what his opponents think.
Helene Bergman, a journalist and former host of the legendary women’s program Radio Ellen on Swedish Radio.