Monday, March 7, 2005

From a French supporter

I have taken the liberty of reproducing this letter in its entirety.

Dear President Bush,

I count among the very few intellectuals in Paris who from the start publicly supported an armed intervention against Saddam Hussein. My sole and simple reason for this position was the inhumanity of his dictatorship; my only regret was that it hadn't been toppled in 1991. I was thus exerting my citizen's right to voice public disagreement with my government's policy; and my philosophical right to contradict a quasi-unanimous French opinion that, from the far right to the far left, majority and opposition alike, from the grass-roots activist to the president of the Republic, stigmatized your initiative.

I therefore appreciate as a connoisseur the evolution of public feeling in France and Europe, highlighted by your recent visit to the Continent. You will have noticed how anti-American protests along the stops on your trip were few and far between. Nothing like those, massive and uncompromising, that were sparked here by the arrival of Nixon and Reagan. Likewise, when Condoleezza Rice gave her speech in the heart of the Paris Latin Quarter last month, no hostile group tried to spoil the party, even though the students of Paris are as prone to protest as those of Berkeley.

Do not think the conversation is over. It has only just begun. At the next setback for the warriors of freedom, as soon as a monstrous terrorist strike grieves the good people once more, the stupid litany will again catch its breath: Peace at any price, peace before all, peace even out of the graveyards!

Our former minister for foreign affairs, Dominique de Villepin, currently a rising figure in the French government, proclaimed urbi et orbi the radical antagonism between "two conceptions of the world." His own, that of Paris, stipulates the absolute precedence of peace, with freedom following some day or another. The opposite one gives precedence to freedom, the only foundation for a solid and lasting peace.

This second principle guided the first European democracies and great thinkers such as Kant. It inspired the best aspects of the American and French Revolutions. It commanded their Declaration of Human Rights. It is still inscribed today on public buildings of the French Republic, even though no one here in Paris knows how to read them in the right order anymore: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité." Freedom is the No. 1 requirement, and it's the choice you made. Thank you, and well done.

The decent greeting given to you on the ancient Continent is not due, you will have easily noticed, to an abrupt conversion of the elites in France, Germany, Spain or Belgium who brashly speak for the whole of Europe. World news embarrasses their preconceptions. People confront terror and choose the ballot box at the peril of their lives; that was the reality both in Afghanistan and Iraq. They defend free elections against the mafias and those nostalgic for the Soviet order: this is Ukraine and Georgia. The street and the "pacifist" circles of Western Europe have thus been forced to bow down temporarily before this evidence of unexpected courage.

During your journey, you reiterated your enthusiastic support for the soft revolutions that struggle for freedom on the boulevards of Beirut and achieved it on Kiev's Independence Square.

You didn't hesitate either to criticize, in measured terms but in a loud and clear voice, the autocratic straying of Vladimir Putin. Again, well done! And in doing this you astounded the capitals of Western Europe who fight to win the favors of the master of the Kremlin and do not dare proffer the slightest criticism against him, a reflection of how much they underestimate the strength and truth of this aspiration for democracy sweeping through the former Soviet empire as well as through the "Arab world."

From Budapest in 1956 to Kiev in 2005, the movement of emancipation that changed the face of Europe over the past 50 years is now tackling despots all around the planet. It puts the will to live free at the very beginning of the beginning. It is instituting the principle of civilized life for the 21st century.

The success of your most recent journey proves that European opinion, under the pressure of sheer facts, is capable of putting asleep its anti-American prejudice. Please dare, Mr. President, to not give up on the necessary common support for the battles for freedom. Do not give up your obligation to prevent rogue states from selling any kind of weapon indiscriminately, helping nuclear proliferation and effectively or morally supporting the battalions of hatred that crisscross the planet with three professions of faith in their pocket: hatred of America, hatred of the Jew, hatred of women.

I could not conclude this letter of congratulations without mentioning my reservations and a burning regret that you did not have a word for the tragedy that has obsessed me, haunted and pursued me for the past 11 years and I fear will continue to till my grave. You did not let the word Chechnya be heard. Remember Grozny, Mr. President, once a city of 400,000, the first capital to be razed by a European army since Hitler punished Warsaw in 1944. Think of this small people, less than a million inhabitants, which has lost between a fifth and a quarter of its population over the last decade. In proportion, imagine France being bled of 13 million people, America of 60 million.

Please conceive that over the last three centuries, a colonial war has thrice led this indomitable community to the brink of disappearing. First under the weight of the czar's merciless armies. Then when in three days Stalin and Beria threw the entire population in the Gulag. And the third time today, when civilians are being indiscriminately hit in the name of Mr. Putin's conception of "anti-terrorist operations." The free press around the globe bears witness to the unthinkable actions of the Russian army. I confirm their bleak portrayals, having illicitly gone to see them for myself on the ground.

Why such stubbornness? Why so little compassion? Moscow's obstinacy isn't based on strategic reasoning or interests in fuel. This tiny territory is a threat to no one, all the more so since the pro-independence combatants have pledged to honor demilitarization under international control. The main reason for Russian cruelty in the Caucasus, Tolstoy had already spotted it, is pedagogic. What matters is to make an example, and to teach to Russians themselves what it costs not to follow ukases. In 1818 general Ermolov gave Czar Nicholas I the key to this endless combat: "This Chechen people inspires by its example a rebellious spirit and a love for freedom even in your Majesty's most devoted subjects." "Respect of minorities," you said. "Freedom," you insisted. Will you allow, Mr. President, a people that greets the foreigner with these words — "freedom comes in with you!" — to be exterminated?

To demand that President Putin set himself free from this ominous tradition is to help him get out of an autocratic whirl into which he is sinking. To do so is to defend an oppressed minority and support Russian democracy. I pray you to remind Mr. Putin publicly that in these times in which, against all odds, information does come through, a people that annihilates one another cannot be free itself. Our common civilization is going straight to suicide by close-mouthed toleration of the war crimes and insults against humanity.

Respectfully yours, A. Glucksmann.

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