Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Interview

Syrian 'love story' hopes to prompt EU compassion

  • Hassan's family talk to her by phone - scene from A Syrian Love Story, which won best film in Prague (Photo: http://asyrianlovestory.com)

An intimate portrayal of a Syrian family’s experience of the civil war could help to make Europeans more compassionate toward refugees, its main protagonist and its director have said.

The documentary, A Syrian Love Story, won best film at the One World festival in Prague on Monday (14 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Hassan's son looks at picture of Syrian leader al-Assad

It tells the story of Raghda Hassan, a 40-year old Syrian woman, and Amer Daoud, a 45-year old man.

The couple met in prison in Syria in 1995 when Daoud saw Hassan’s badly beaten face through a hole in the wall between their cells.

They were freed, married and had children. But in 2010 the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad jailed Hassan, an opposition activist, once again.

They later moved to Lebanon and France, where they were granted asylum. But Hassan left for Turkey to work with Syrian opposition groups, causing a rift with Daoud.

She was last in Gaziantep in south-east Turkey and in Istanbul before returning to Paris a week ago.

'Radical approach'

Hassan told EUobserver in Prague, shortly after news of the One World award, that the film was “a small thing” but that she hoped it would “improve the image” of refugees and “remove negative stereotypes” about them.

Hassan had, at one point, tried to commit suicide. She spoke on Monday with a confident smile.

She said the film, which opened in the UK last year, had prompted people in Europe to email her saying that they would quit their jobs and volunteer to be aid workers in Greece.

Sean McAllister, a British director, shot the movie in multiple locations between 2010 and 2015.

He said the One World award meant that “more people will see it”, adding that he was in “initial talks” with a studio for a fictional version that could reach a more commercial audience.

“The news [about Syria] tells only a part of the story. A documentary like this helps to characterise what the news fails to do,” he said.

He said that “there’s a strong right-wing reaction” against refugees in Europe. But he said some stories and images, such as those of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian infant who drowned in Turkey last year, have the power to “awaken the other instinct that people have, which is compassion”.

The EU recently closed its borders to Greece and Turkey in order to stem the flow of, mostly Syrian, refugees.

Russia’s military intervention in Syria has also strengthened the position of Assad and raised the prospect that the EU and US could agree to let him stay in power.

The One World jury made no mention of the developments. It said it was “impressed by the radical approach [of] the director … and the braveness of the protagonists”.

Idea of freedom fades

Hassan said news of the EU border closures made her sad.

She said: “I ask myself: ‘Isn’t it Europe that came up with the ideals of human rights?’

“Syrian people are escaping from war. When the war is over we are willing to return home. But for now this isn’t appropriate.”

She said the idea that Assad, who is accused of war crimes, could stay in office was “absurd, illogical”.

“Syrian people have shed so much blood to get rid of him and now the world is saying they might keep him in power? No. This is impossible,” she said.

Based on her work in Turkey and the quality of its camps she said it was “a good partner” for the EU in managing the refugee crisis.

But she said the EU, Turkey and the US let down the Syrian opposition by declining to act in the early stages of the anti-Assad uprising.

“If they had helped us Assad would have been overthrown and we could have elected a new government,” she said.

“In the beginning it [the uprising] was an attempt to win freedom. But over time foreign powers have turned Syria into a battlefield of their own interests.”

Assad 'is not the solution'

McAllister said he was inspired to make the film by the fabular quality of the back-story - a love affair conducted through a hole in a wall.

He said it lifted the events out of context and made the film more durable.

“My feeling was that people have had enough of the political framework in the news,” he said.

“What we’re trying to tell is a simple story of one family in their own living room who have the same kind of feelings that audience members have.”

He urged journalists to write about Syria with the intention of provoking an emotional reaction.

“It may sound cheap, but it’s necessary,” he said.

He also urged reporters to go to Syria or to get in touch with Syrian groups on the ground who are active on social media instead of relying on official sources.

He said bad reporting puts too much emphasis on jihadist group Islamic State and on the “hopelessness” of the situation.

"Mainstream media keep talking about the danger of ISIS [Islamic State]. But 95 percent of people are being killed by Assad’s barrel bombs,” he said.

“You’re playing into Assad’s hands if you say it’s hopeless. Hopelessness means that he’s the only solution.”

Three people die after EU border clampdown

Germany says situation in Greece is unsustainable as first three people perish trying to get round new EU restrictions on the Western Balkan migratory route.

Danes to appeal conviction for helping refugees

A Danish couple have been fined €3,000 for giving a lift to Syrian refugees, which judges deemed to be smuggling. They plan to appeal against the verdict in order not to set a precedent.

EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Remarks to Congress by the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, have shed light on the unusual nature of American diplomacy under president Donald Trump.

Macron warned on danger of Balkans veto

France's veto on North Macedonia enlargement will endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, a senior EU official has warned, but diplomats do not expect Macron to change his mind.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  2. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  3. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  4. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  5. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  6. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  7. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  8. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us