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Protests in Bosnia; U.K. Floods Crisis; Tragic and Funny "Philomena"; Imagine a World

Aired February 12, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Is there a Ukraine effect? After months of protesters clashing on the streets of Kiev, Bosnia and Herzegovina is seeing some of its worst violence and unrest since the war two decades ago.

Across the country, including its capital, Sarajevo, demonstrators have taken to the streets, setting fire to government buildings, trashing libraries, torching vehicles because of high unemployment, unpaid wages and government corruption and incompetence.

The protests have now turned more peaceful. But European leaders seem to have heard their message loud and clear. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted, "It's a wakeup call to us all," and "We need a new European effort to help Bosnia towards the E.U. and NATO."

So far the E.U. has failed to smooth that way and with unemployment conservatively estimated at 40 percent in Bosnia, the people there have yet to reap a peace dividend since the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war.

They split Bosnia in two and created a cumbersome and dysfunctional political system of multilayered and competing governments and bureaucracies.

Few people know better what ails Bosnia and how to fix it than Lord Paddy Ashdown, who's the former high representative and Europe's special envoy to Bosnia after the war. As the war had raged across the heart of Europe in the 1990s, Ashdown led the call for decisive action to end it.

And he tells me that Europe needs to move swiftly and decisively right now to put Bosnia back on track before this latest unrest unravels into an uncontrollable storm.


AMANPOUR: Paddy Ashdown, welcome to the program.

I first went to Bosnia on one of the most terrible trips, looking at the prison camps with you 20 years ago. So much has happened since then. The worst unrest since the war.

What is this saying to you?

And are you surprised?

PADDY ASHDOWN, BRITISH POLITICIAN: Christiane, the story of Bosnia- Herzegovina, as you know, since the days we were there, is one of two halves. The first 10 years after the war, Bosnia as a government made greater, faster progress than any other country post-conflict, in the world.

AMANPOUR: That's a remarkable statistic and not many people understand that.

ASHDOWN: Well, and a million people went back home, a million for the first time ever; refugees returned to their home. We paraded a single army, a single intelligence service, a single taxation . And it was going extremely well.

And then the European Union -- I have to blame the European Union, I'm afraid -- decided that the days of total ownership were over. They would withdraw the leverage that they had to push things forward.

The truth is that since 2006, all of those huge advantages made -- not, let me say, Christiane, by the international community but by very brave Bosnian politicians -- have been allowed to unravel.

AMANPOUR: Well, now, what it seems is people who weren't even born during the war years, young people, are really upset; they have no economy. They have no jobs.


AMANPOUR: It is a terrible situation. They're very frustrated by their present-day politicians who they accuse of corruption and total ineffectiveness.

ASHDOWN: There's the good news and the bad news. Maybe and at last the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina are turning against a political clique who have governed the country, been allowed to govern the country, I must say, made it dysfunctional, deep in corruption.

And if this is the worm turning and people and citizens are now demanding better, that's a good thing.

Now the bad news. You know better than me that the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is highly fragile, that it could shift into something ethnic. This is a very dangerous moment, potentially, not from what's happened but from what could happen.

Two facts are about to happen: the first is a census; that's never been done before. That will show Bosnia divided, I fear, ethnically and may encourage secessionism. And the second is the elections later in the year.

So the potential from a situation which, at the moment, at the moment is citizens complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruption amongst politicians, could move to something far worse very quickly.

AMANPOUR: Well, fighting, you're talking about?

ASHDOWN: Look, my --


AMANPOUR: -- major unrest?

ASHDOWN: -- no, I -- look, I don't believe that a return to conflict is likely in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But because of the dysfunctionality of the states -- and I blame the European Union in large measure for allowing that to happen -- I mean, they have got more instruments to continues Bosnia's journey towards a functional stake here for not joining the European Union, and they failed to use them.

So Bosnia has sunk back into dysfunctionality.

AMANPOUR: In the meantime, the foreign minister of Great Britain, William Hague, has said this week in the face of these protests, this is a wakeup call. We've got to try and put Bosnia's accession to the E.U. and NATO on a fast track.

Is that even likely?

ASHDOWN: We have to put -- make Bosnia a functional state. The foreign secretary and I wrote a warning that this would happen four years ago, before the election. He has done his best to make this happen. I have to say the rest of the European countries have not backed that --

AMANPOUR: What is he doing wrong?

ASHDOWN: Well, they're allowing everything to unravel. It has opened the door to a mood of secessionism, especially in Republika Serbska, run by a highly opportunist prime minister, Milorad Dodik. That is beginning to unstitch the cohesion of Bosnia.

The international community has to act now. If they don't act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold, could easily become unstoppable as we approach the elections and then if you're going to move to the breakup of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I don't say conflict is a most likely outcome.

But I can't discount it.

AMANPOUR: Does Dayton need to be revisited?

ASHDOWN: Undoubtedly Dayton, which was the ideal solution to the war, is the wrong basis to build a sustainable state. And it's exactly that, that the European Union must now push for. They go beyond Dayton to build a functional state, which can serve its citizens.

And at present, that isn't the case.

AMANPOUR: And I cannot let you go without asking you about our own country right here, Great Britain.

Your area where you live, the area you represent, it is underwater. You're going back there now.


AMANPOUR: Exactly. You're leader of the Liberal Democrats; your party is in governing coalition right now. And the government is under serious criticism for its handling of this crisis.

ASHDOWN: This is an act of God. It's an act of God that has gone beyond the scale anybody could have imagined.

AMANPOUR: What should happen?

I mean, your -- it's the worst it's ever been.

ASHDOWN: Yes. So politicians take on God. Usually God wins, Christiane. That's the truth of it.

Now I'm not saying --

AMANPOUR: Should they have deployed more rapidly?

Could they have taken it (INAUDIBLE)?

ASHDOWN: We should look at that, I think, in the -- in the -- in the aftermath of this. I don't think it's worth spending -- wasting one moment to decide now where the blame lies.

Clearly it hasn't been done as well as it could have been. We need to concentrate on one thing. It's what the government is doing.

By the way, I think the opposition is doing it as well; it's getting together and acts -- acting to be able to help these people in a terrible position they find themselves in.

Much more important we concentrate on the action today and look at who's to fault -- at fault when this thing's passed.

AMANPOUR: And what about preventative next time? Does the government have to worry about climate change and real policies --


AMANPOUR: -- to prevent this kind of thing?

ASHDOWN: -- I certainly hope that it means the end of the climate change deniers, which are a very powerful force through the Tory Party. I hope we won't see any more of that.

And the answer is yes. And it opens some very big questions.

Do you sacrifice farmland to protect towns?

And these are fundamental questions.

So three things: first of all, we're dealing with an act of God, the proportions no one could have imagined.

Secondly, the immediate thing is to give some relief to those who are suffering so terribly under these circumstances.

Thirdly, we need to decide how we got here later on.

And alongside that, we need to think about what the long-term policies are, facing what it is, you rightly say, the global consequence -- a global consequence of global warming.

AMANPOUR: Lord Paddy Ashdown, thank you very much for joining me.

ASHDOWN: Nice to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And we'll have more about the rising floodwaters here in England later on in the program.

But after a break, remember the three things you're never meant to talk about around the dinner table, sex, religion and politics? Well, in this Oscar season, one of the nominations for Best Picture tackles all three subjects with humor and with tears; a conversation with triple threat Steve Coogan, the coproducer, cowriter and costar of "Philomena," when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And another look at movie awards season, "Vanity Fair" magazine's annual Hollywood issue has splashed the shiniest stars across its cover. And this year's Best Picture nominees focus on a number of real-life issues that we often cover on this program.

Tonight we focus on the tragic and funny "Philomena." It's the story of an unwed teen mother and her infant son, who were separated by the Catholic Church. Now the church has come in for a tsunami of criticism over the past few years, and most recently in a brutal report by the United Nations on the sexual abuse scandal.

But the report also focuses on another scandal; that's the notorious Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, where unmarried mothers worked in slave- like conditions decades ago. Their children were taken away for adoption by Catholic families around the world.

One such young woman is Philomena Lee, who was played in the movie by Dame Judi Dench. Her 3-year-old child was taken away Christmas Week 1955 and she never saw him again.

Her 50-year quest to find her boy, together with a British journalist, Martin Sixsmith, who's played by the British comic actor, Steve Coogan, is the basis of the movie, "Philomena," and that's been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and four BAFTA awards, which will be handed out here in the U.K. next week.

And here's a quick look.


"MARTIN SIXSMITH": My guess is that Anthony was adopted and sent to America.

"PHILOMENA LEE": I think I would like to go. I'd like to know if Anthony ever thought of me. I thought of him every day."


AMANPOUR: I spoke with Coogan, who also co-wrote and coproduced the film and who's just back from meeting the pope, Pope Francis, with the real-life Philomena. I wondered whether this story of loss and faith was an unusual project for a well-known comedian.


AMANPOUR: Steve Coogan, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

What attracted you to this story?

STEVE COOGAN, ACTOR: First of all, my background is Irish Catholic and the subject matter was very much in that sort of area.

Also because the story was once about an old Irish woman who is both, in some respects, unremarkable. But the way she dealt with the misdemeanors that were perpetrated against her was actually very remarkable.

And I thought this -- the film would resonate with people because it was about a mother and son being separated.

AMANPOUR: You talk about a mother trying to reunite with her son. It is a tragic tale, as everybody who's seen the film will know.

But it's also vintage Coogan. There are times when you are really, really funny and I want to play a clip and then talk to you about it.



"LEE": Now we're getting closer. All these years wondering whether Anthony was in trouble or in prison or goodness knows where. But as long as I didn't know, I could always tell myself he was happy somewhere and that he was doing all right.

"SIXSMITH": Don't upset yourself.

"LEE": What if he was obese?

"SIXSMITH": Obese?

"LEE": I watched this documentary that says a lot of Americans are huge. What if that happened to him?


AMANPOUR: I mean, it's made me laugh all over again, because that interaction and that exchange is really funny.

Why did you think funny was OK? What does -- what role does funny play in these tragic stories?

COOGAN: To contemplate serious issues needn't be a chore. This film deals with religion. It's one of those three subjects, sex, religion and politics, that you don't talk about at dinner parties.

And I thought there is a way to talk about this without upsetting people. And if people are laughing whilst you're having this discussion about religion or institutionalized religion, if you like, if they laugh now and again, then they're kind of -- they're more open. They're more open to the discussion.

AMANPOUR: So we'll talk about sex and religion and politics in just a moment.

But first, I have to ask you, what was it like playing alongside this gigantic legend of a talent, Judi Dench?

How did you work with her? What brought you together as characters?

COOGAN: Well, when we wrote the script, we knew that Judi was attached at a certain point. So we rewrote the script to play to her strengths because, of course, she has this great depth and gravitas, that she wears very lightly in her performances. But she's capable of this -- of real emotional depth.

The relationship between the -- Martin, as I play him, and Philomena, she plays her, is -- it's about a kind of -- it's really, in some ways, just an "Odd Couple" story. It's very -- kind of an old-fashioned Hollywood film. It's a story about intellect versus intuition, if you like.

He's the slightly smug, conceited, self-righteous, intellectual liberal and she's the conservative working-class retired nurse.


COOGAN (voice-over): And they both are very different views of the world.


AMANPOUR: And the film has led to other things, obviously. I want to get to the real Philomena Lee and to the visit you both paid to the Vatican last week. And you met the pope in a general audience to try to, you know, explain to him and get him on board with the Philomena Project, which I think -- you explain it to me.

You want the Irish government to open up the archives.

Tell me what it is you hope this will achieve.

COOGAN: In the U.S. and the U.K., there are laws which assist you to have access to information that will help you trace your parents or your children. And those laws don't exist in Ireland.

And really there's been a culture of obfuscation and obstruction over the last 30 or so years. And the Philomena Project, which was set up to try and pressure the government into making -- to both assisting people to track down their parents or their children, should they so wish, and making information more readily available.

It was the purpose of the Philomena Project and its association with the Adoption Alliance in Ireland. And the church -- and the Vatican knew about this and extended an invitation to Philomena to visit the Vatican with the full knowledge that that would send a signal.

And, indeed, we screened the movie inside the Vatican and the pope's private secretary, Monsignor Karcher, and one of his senior advisers, Bishop Sanchez, were very comfortable with the film and the message in the film and intimated to me that the culture of the Vatican would be a different one than the culture that existed before Pope Francis.

So we're hopeful.

AMANPOUR: That would be an amazing result of this film and the project.

I want to also play for you what Philomena said after meeting the pope. At one point she said, you know, I'm no longer angry about what happened to my son and to me. And she also said that she felt like she was almost absolved after this meeting.


PHILOMENA LEE, INSPIRATION FOR FILM: I feel so forgiven as it -- all them years ago. I mean, it was such an awful sin to have a baby out of wedlock. But yesterday I felt all my sins had been -- that, you know, he really made me feel that they were going to do something about it. And -- but it made me feel so good inside.


AMANPOUR: So doing this film, some have criticized it for just sort of piling on more sort of anti-Roman Catholic Church, anti-Vatican stuff.

Others have said, no, it's a really serious message.

For you, what was it? I've heard you say it's a bit like an open letter to your parents.

COOGAN: Well, you know, it's -- the problem with sort of a lot of media culture these days is that conversations become about entrenched positions, about attritious wars of ideas rather than people understanding, you know, and embracing the nuance of the person who has an opposing view to them.

I am -- I'm not Catholic. But there are aspects of Catholicism that I still admire and respect. And it was important in the film that it wasn't just some polemic diatribe against the church. That would have preached only to the converted.

And it was important in the resolution of the story that Philomena Lee herself, she dignifies her faith. She shows that religion can be a good thing. And she, if you like, lives her values and is consistent with her values and lives them and, unlike others who preach values but don't abide by them.

So it's an important -- it's important that, despite the criticism of the Catholic Church, that at the end there's an olive branch that's held out to the church to say that there's a way forward. And the way forward is through the ordinary people who live the values of their religion.

AMANPOUR: Steve Coogan, thank you very much. And we wish you a lot of luck with the aims of the Philomena Project and of course during this awards season that's upon us.

Thanks very much.

COOGAN: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, imagine an area the size of San Francisco, some 40 square miles, submerged by floodwaters in the last month. It is not a sinking archipelago in the South Pacific; it is, of course, the ongoing disaster right here in rain-soaked England.

How bad are the floods? Well, Khalsa Aid, which is the same international relief organization that sent aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan back in November and also sent assistance after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans back in 2005, is now sending volunteers and supplies to parts of Britain.

But with more storm clouds on the horizon, is it too late to bail out the politicians? That when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, leadership, whether in Bosnia or the Vatican or anywhere else on the planet, requires courage, vision and sometimes a good pair of wellies.

Imagine a world where the weather men can make or break a political career. It's a lesson that Britain's prime minister is learning the hard way as parts of this country brace for more storms after the wettest January on record.

Knee-deep in water, Mr. Cameron has pledged that, quote, "money is no object," when it comes to flood relief. However, as the Thames River keeps rising and threatens to reach its highest level in six decades, Cameron's critics, when they're not piling sandbags, treading water or seeking shelter from the flood, say the government's response has been too little too late.

So could this torrential downpour be Mr. Cameron's swan song? Now you heard Paddy Ashdown tell me earlier on the program that what's happening is an act of God and that no one can beat that hand.

But back in 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush was pilloried and his reputation was forever scarred for his slow response to Hurricane Katrina when it slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the United States.

But it was just last November when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing thousands of people that the government and President Aquino was criticized for its lack of preparation and inadequate response to the tragedy.

Perhaps Prime Minister Cameron has realized that it's sink or swim. He's canceled a trip to the Middle East next week to stay home and avoid the political graveyard if the rains and the criticism continue.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.