Full interview with Oriana Fallaci in the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, June 24, 1973:
Journey into the private universe of Haile Selassie
The Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, God's Chosen, Power of the Trinity, King of Kings, Haile Selassie was interviewed by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in his audience chamber in his palace in Addis Ababa.
The interview is unique because the words of the man who says he is the direct descendent of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba disclose his obsession with principles obsolete for centuries.
His country, reports Miss Fallaci, "has never heard the words 'right' and 'democracy'" and his subjects live in the "squalor of a feudalism we [Europeans] have never known, even in the darkest days of the Middle Ages."
During the interview Miss Fallaci breeched protocol by ignoring the interpreter and speaking directly to Selassie, asking him to answer her questions in French.
Selassie did so, slowly and sometimes pausing for long seconds. When he did speak he employed the pluralis majestatis form of French to refer to himself, indicating the highest and most formal esteem. This characteristic of the emperorís speech is indicated by capitalizing his references to himself in the English translation.
Oriana Fallaci: There is a question, Your Majesty, that has been troubling me since I saw the poor running after your car and fighting over an 18- pence dollar. What do you feel, Your Majesty, when you distribute alms to your people? What are your feelings when you are faced with their poverty?
Haile Selassie: Rich and poor have always existed and always will. Why? Because there are those that work and those that don't, those that wish to earn their living and those that prefer to do nothing. Those that work, that want to work, are not poor.
For it is true that Our Lord the Creator sends us into the world as equals, but it is also true that when one is born one is neither rich nor poor. One is naked. It is later on that one becomes rich or poor, according to oneís deserts. Yes, We too are aware distributing alms serves no useful purpose. Because there is only one means to solve the poverty problem: work.
Q.: Your Majesty, I'd like to make sure I've understood you right. Do you mean, Your Majesty, that whoever is poor deserves to be?
A.: We have said that whoever doesn't work because he doesn't want to is poor. We have said wealth has to be gained thru hard work. We have said those who don't work starve.
And now We add that the capacity to earn depends on the individual: Each individual is responsible for his misfortunes, his fate. It is wrong to expect help to fall from above, as a gift: Wealth has to be deserved!
Work is one of the commandments of Our Lord the Creator! Alms, vous savez ...
Q.: Your Majesty, what do you think of the new, disconnected generation? I mean the students rioting in the universities, especially in Addis Ababa and ...
A.: Young people will be young people. You canít change the uncouth manners of the young. Besides, there is nothing new in that: There is never anything new under the sun. Examine the past: You'll see that the disobedience of the young has occurred all thru history.
The young don't know what they want. They canít know it because they lack experience, they lack wisdom. It is for the head of the state to show the young which path to tread and to punish them when they revolt against authority. It is up to Us. But not all the young are wicked and only the most irreducible culprits must be punished unbendingly. The others must be reduced to reason and then persuaded to serve their country.
That's what We think and thatís how it must be.
Q.: Punished even to the point of a death sentence, Your Majesty?
A.: One should examine things thoroly. One then discovers that the death penalty is just and necessary. For disobedience, for instance. Why? Because it is in the interests of the people. We have abolished many things. We have abolished slavery, too.
But not the death penalty, We canít abolish that. It would be like renouncing punishment for those who dare to defy authority.
That's what We think and thatís how it must be.
Q.: Your Majesty, I would like you to tell me something about yourself. Tell me: Were you ever a disobedient youth? But maybe I ought to ask you first whether you have ever had time to be young, Your Majesty?
A.: We don't understand that question. What kind of question is it? It is obvious that We have been young: We weren't born old! We have been a child, a boy, a youth, an adult, and finally an old man. Like everyone else. Our Lord the Creator made Us like everyone else.
Maybe you wish to know what kind of youth We were. Well: We were a very serious, very diligent, very obedient youth. We were sometimes punished, but do you know why? Because what We were made to study did not seem enough and We wished to study further.
We wanted to stay on at school after lessons were over. We were loath to amuse Ourselves, to go riding, to play. We didn't want to waste time on games.
Q.: Your Majesty, maybe I wasn't clear enough . . .
A.: Ca suffit, ca suffit! Enough, enough!
Q.: Your Majesty, of all the monarchs still occupying their thrones you are the one that has ruled longest. Moreover, in an age that has seen the ruinous downfall of so many kings, you are the only absolute monarch. Do you ever feel lonely in a world so different from the one you grew up in?
A.: It is Our opinion that the world hasnít changed at all. We believe that such changes have modified nothing. We don't even notice any difference between monarchies and republics: To Us they appear two substantially similar methods of governing a nation. Well, tell Us: What is the difference between a republic and a monarchy?
Q.: Actually, Your Majesty, ... I mean to me, it appears that in republics where democracy reigns the leader is elected. But in monarchies he isn't.
A.: We don't see where the difference lies.
Q.: Never mind, Your Majesty. What is your opinion of democracy?
A.: Democracy, republic: What do these words signify? What have they changed in the world? Have men become better, more loyal, kinder? Are the people happier? All goes on as before, as always. Illusions, illusions.
Besides, one should consider the interests of a nation before subverting it with words. Democracy is necessary in some cases and We believe some African peoples might adopt it. But in other cases it is harmful, a mistake.
Q.: Your Majesty, do you mean to say that some nations, your nation in fact, are not ripe for democracy and therefore don't deserve it? Do you mean to say that freedom of speech, of the press, couldn't be tolerated here?
A.: Freedom, freedom. ... Emperor Menelik and Our Father, both illuminated men, examined this word in their day and studied these problems closely. They raised them, in fact, and granted many concessions to the people. Later on We granted further concessions. We have already mentioned that We it was who abolished slavery. But, We repeat, some things are good for the people and others are not.
It is necessary to know Our people to realize this. It is necessary to proceed slowly, cautiously, to be a watchful father for oneís children. Our realities are not yours. And Our misfortunes are endless.
Q.: Your Majesty, have you ever regretted your kingly fate? Have you ever dreamed of living the life of an ordinary mortal?
A.: We don't understand your question. Even at the hardest, most painful moments, We have never regretted or cursed Our fate. Never. And why should We have?
We were born of royal blood, authority is ours by right. Since it is Ours by right and since Our Lord the Creator has deemed We might serve Our people as a father serves his son, being a monarch is a great joy to Us. It's what We were born for and what We have always lived for.
Q.: Your Majesty, I am attempting to understand you as a man, not as a king. So I beg to insist and I ask you whether this job ever constitutes a burden, for instance when you have to use force to accomplish it.
A.: A king must never regret the use of force. Painful necessities are still necessities and a king must not stop when he is faced with them. Not even when they hurt him. We have never been afraid to be harsh: It's the king knows whatís best for the people, the people themselves don't know it.
As regards punishment, for instance. We must apply what Our conscience dictates, nothing more. And We never suffer when We inflict punishment because We believe in that punishment, We trust Our judgment completely. So it must be and so it is.
Q.: Your Majesty, you frequently mention punishment and rebuke. Is it then true that you are as religious and devoted to Christian teachings as is believed?
A.: We have always been religious, ever since childhood, ever since the day Our father Ras Makonnen taught Us the commandments of Our Lord the Creator. We devote a great deal of time to prayer and attend church as often as possible: every morning when We can. We receive the sacraments every Sunday regularly. But We don't consider Our religion alone valid and have granted Our people the freedom to observe any religion they please.
We believe in the reunification of the churches, which is why We were so happy to meet Paul VI during Our voyage to Italy. We were greatly taken with him. We judged him a man of superior capacity: especially as regards his intention to work towards church unity. He received Us with great friendliness.
Q.: During your visit to Italy, Your Majesty, the Italians did their utmost to demonstrate how sorry they were for having waged war against you. In one word: With the welcome they gave you they told you that in 1935 it was Mussoliniís war. Are you now convinced of this?
A.: It is not for Us to say whether there existed a distinction between Italians and Fascists. It is for your conscience to say so. When a whole nation accepts and maintains a government in existence, it means that the nation recognizes that government.
We, however, must make it clear that We have always distinguished in our judgment Mussolini's war from Mussolini's government. They were two different things.
At the same time, We do not feel able to judge Mussolini's government as regards the aggression against Ethiopia. It is the government itself that judges what may be useful to its people, and Mussolini's government obviously attacked us in the belief that such a war would be useful to the Italian people.
Q.: Your Majesty, maybe I didn't quite grasp your meaning. May I ask how you judge Mussolini today?
A.: We refrain from judging him. He is dead and what purpose is served by passing judgment on the dead? Death changes everything, sweeps everything away. Even mistakes. We dislike mentioning hatred or scorn in connection with a man who Is no longer able to answer Us.
The same applies to the other invaders of Our country: Graziani, Badoglio. All dead. Silence is fitting.
We met Mussolini in 1924, when We were not yet emperor and went to Italy on an official visit. He received Us very warmly, like a real friend. He was kind. We took a liking to him. We talked with him frankly, discussing the past and the future. He inspired Us with trust: After that talk all Our misgivings vanished. Later, he broke his word to Us. That is something We were never able to understand. But it is no longer important.
Q.: In that case, Your Majesty, how do you now view those painful years? The war we waged against you?
A.: We view them with different, contrasting reactions. On one hand, it is impossible to forget what the Italians did to us: We suffered so much on your account. On the other hand, what can we say? To wage an unjust war and win it can happen to anyone.
As soon as We returned to Our country in 1941, We declared: We must be friends with the Italians. Today we are truly so. You have changed in many ways and we have changed in many others.
And . . . letís put it this way: History doesn't forget but man can. He can also forgive, if he is kind-hearted. And We try to be kind. Yes, We have forgiven. But not forgotten. No, not forgotten. We remember everything, everything!
Q.: Your speech at the League of Nations, too, Your Majesty? And the day of your flight, too?
A.: Yes, indeed. Well do We remember that speech, the eve of that speech, the Fascist newsmen insulting Us, the words We uttered to claim justice: "Today it is happening to us, tomorrow it will happen to you." That's exactly what did happen.
We also remember the day We departed into exile because it was the most painful day in Our life. Maybe the least understood, too. Because it took a lot of courage: Sometimes things that do not appear inspired by courage demand great courage.
The fact is We had nothing left except the hope of returning to govern Our people. But that hope was great and as We roamed farther it became a certainty. Oh, We would never have left if We had feared We might have to stay in Europe for good! We had understood how the future was shaping and nobody ever saw Us despair during those years.
Q.: Your Majesty, you always stress your friendship towards the Italians, and indeed you showed great indulgence when you returned to Addis Ababa. May I therefore ask you whether the Italians have achieved anything worthwhile in Ethiopia?
A.: Certainly. Why not? There were bad things they did, especially in the beginning, and there were good things. Especially later on. As ever in life, nothing is ever all black or all white. We may state it freely: The Italians harmed Our country greatly, but they also did some good things.
Nothing new, nothing miraculous: Let this be clear. Nothing We had not already begun. Moreover one must not overlook the fact that had they achieved nothing positive, they would have had the whole population against them. Obviously, they needed popular support.
However . . . letís say that if, on one hand, they interrupted what We had already started, on the other they continued it. And today We are well-satisfied that we protected the Italians on Our return.
Q.: Your Majesty, in the 31 years since it regained its independence Ethiopia has certainly not known much peace. Wide-spread rebellion still prevails today and there have been attempts to overthrow the government. The most serious took place 12 years ago, the one the Crown Prince was involved in. What can you tell me of this, Your Majesty?
A.: That We are not worried, or not more than necessary. Such episodes occur constantly in a countryís history. There's always something moving, brewing. There are ambitious people everywhere. Wicked people.
The only thing to do is deal with them with courage and decision. One must beware of uncertainty, weakness, or conflicting emotions: They lead to defeat. We have never allowed Ourselves to fall a prey to them. Force must be used against force, and that is how We reacted in that circumstance.
Certainly, the episode caused Us pain: We never expected some ... any . . . the . . . But the real culprits were only a handful. Thus, We punished them and forgave the others. That's all.
Q.: Not quite all, Your Majesty. I was referring to the episode that . . .
A.; Ca suffit, ca suffit! Enough, enough!
Q.: Your Majesty, if you are unwilling to discuss certain things, tell me more about yourself. They say you are very fond of animals and children. May I ask if you are equally fond of human beings?
A.: Human beings . . . Well: It's hard to feel indulgent to human beings.
It's much easier to show indulgence to animals and children. When one has led such a difficult life as Ours, one feels more at ease with animals and children. They are never wicked, or never deliberately so at least.
Human beings on the other hand . . . Well, there are good men and wicked. The former should be made use of and the latter punished, without attempting to understand why the ones are good and the others wicked.
Life is like the theater: One mustn't try to understand it all at once and immediately. It is no longer amusing. Besides, We demand too much of men to be able to respect them.
Q.: What do you demand of them, Your Majesty?
A.: Dignity, courage.
Q.: The two leaders of that coup showed dignity, Your Majesty. They showed courage, too.
A.: Ca suffit, ca suffit! That's enough!
Q.: As you will, Your Majesty. But what do you demand of a king, of yourself, Your Majesty?
A.: In this case, too, courage. And a balanced outlook. A king must be able to maneuver, be capable of oscillating between friends and enemies, old and new. A king must know how to take his time and bend everything to his predetermined air.
We learned this in Our youth, when We read your books and imbibed your Western culture in accordance with the wishes of Emperor Menelik and Our Father. For indeed, We began very early to appreciate the new things you mention.
We have traveled a great deal. We don't like traveling. It tires Us. Frequently, it doesn't even amuse Us. But We go just the same because We consider it useful to travel in search of friends, and this is a king's function.
Q.: Some surprising voyages, Your Majesty, in search of unexpected friends. You have even been to China and met Mao Tse-tung.
A.: We had a long talk and Mao Tse-tung pleased Us greatly. He made an excellent impression on Us. Excellent. Exactly like Paul VI. He is a good leader, an earnest leader, and his people were well-advised in choosing him.
We liked China, too. There is a completely different way of life there, but each in his fashion, as We also stressed in Our dialog with the Chinese that yielded a favorable result.
Q.: Your Majesty, you are Ethiopia. It's you that keeps it in hand, that keeps it united. What will happen when you are no longer there?
A.: What do you mean? We don't understand this question?
Q.: When you die, Your Majesty.
A.: Ethiopia has existed for 3,000 years. In fact, it exists ever since man first appeared on earth. My dynasty has ruled ever since the Queen of Sheba met King Solomon and a son was born of their union.
It is a dynasty that has gone on thru the centuries and will go on for centuries more. A king is not indispensable, and, besides, my succession is already ensured. There is a Crown Prince and he will rule the country when We are no longer there.
That is what We have decided and so it must be.
Q.: On the whole, Your Majesty, yours has not been a very happy life. Those you loved have all died: your wife, two of your sons, and two daughters. You have lost many of your illusions and many of your dreams. But you must, I imagine, have accumulated great wisdom, and of this I ask: How does Haile Selassie view death?
A.: What? View what?
Q.: Death, Your Majesty.
A.: Death, Death? Who's this woman? Where does she come from? What does she want? Enough, go away, ca suffit!
QADAMAWI HAILE SELASSIE