A few days ago I was interviewed by Alla Lazareva of the Ukrainian newsweekly, Tyzhden. As the first anniversary of the Maidan revolution approached, we spoke about that event, about Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, about Ukraine’s position between a diffident Europe and a forceful Russia, and about my proposal for a Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
Alla Lazareva: You visited Ukraine several times during the revolution in the Maidan. How do you see the short- and long-term prospects for our country?
Bernard-Henri Lévy: That’s true, I was here several times. And the people who were holding down the Maidan did me the great honor of asking me to speak on two occasions. Both times were very emotional experiences for me. Unforgettable. Ukrainians « made history » in the Maidan. Whatever happens afterwards, making history is always an important moment in the living adventure of a great people. Now, how do I envision Ukraine’s future? What I’m going to say is not going to move you very far forward. But in essence I believe the future depends on you. By that I mean that it depends essentially on the grand alliance between the Ukrainian people and the country’s elite, an alliance forged in the Maidan and of which Poroshenko is in a way the symbol.
AL: You know President Poroshenko. What do you have to say about him?
BHL: That he is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. I first encountered him in the Maidan. Then later in Paris, when I took the initiative of asking him and Vitaly Klitschko to come meet President François Hollande in the middle of the electoral campaign when they were both candidates. Later on in the campaign I accompanied him to meetings in two cities of the Russian-speaking east. What impressed me was his mixture of determination and faith. His seriousness. His courage, in other words. Because it takes courage to stand up to Putin as he has. Europe is rolling over. Europe is afraid. But Poroshenko has stood up. And that is admirable.
AL: From the West one often gets the impression that even if the European Union says it supports Ukraine, in fact economic interests are stronger, especially in terms of energy imports. Is there a remedy for that, in your opinion? You say, in your play, Hôtel Europe, that the EU knows how to protect red tuna but not human beings…
BHL: Yes, that’s how it is. And what the remedy might be, I don’t know. Unless it’s to tell and truth and then tell it again. To confront the people of Europe with their timorousness and narrow self-interest. To write Hôtel Europe, in fact, which is an angry protest against the spirit of appeasement that has returned to Europe to the detriment of poor, beleaguered Ukraine. Speaking of unforgettable occasions, I’ll give you another example: It was the day I visited Odessa, in the shadow of Eisenstein, Pushkin, and Isaac Babel, to give a reading of the play, in which Ukraine figures so prominently, as you know. It was last August at the Odessa opera house. That moment will stay with me as long as I live.
AL: Would you like to repeat the performance in Kiev?
BHL: I would love to. In fact, I believe that there is a plan to make that happen next December on the first anniversary of the Maidan. I haven’t yet received official notice, but, believe me, if the plan is serious I will be more than happy to come do the play, the reading, for my brothers and sisters in Europe who live in Kiev. This show is for them–it is theirs. I wrote it, or finished it, anyway, during the great Maidan revolution, which is why it is dedicated to them.
AL: How would you explain the effectiveness of Russian propaganda with western elites, particularly in France, during the war against Ukraine?
BHL: First of all, western elites are afraid. They’re always afraid. They have a terrible fear of strength, of force. And force, today, is Putin. That’s a terrible thing to have to say, and I’m sorry to have to say it so bluntly. But I can’t do otherwise: It is the unvarnished truth. And there’s another thing, too. Putin has an extension in the West, in France, specifically, an echo that is the most effective proponent of his ideas. And that echo is the extreme right, the entire extreme right, from Marine Le Pen to various neo-Nazi cells that are–once again I regret having to say it–the shame of my country. You have experienced the influence of these people. You are aware of the number of votes Le Pen gets and her standing in the polls. That explains it. The spearhead of Putinist propaganda in Europe is these extremists, the anti-Semitic extreme right. And that’s also what makes simultaneously shameful, comic, and ludicrous Putin’s upending of the truth when he had the nerve to label the Maidan revolutionaries as anti-Semites.
AL: You told one of my colleagues that Ukraine was betrayed three times: by western political leaders, by intellectuals, and by public opinion. Is that situation reparable?
BHL: Things are always reparable. Look what happened with the Mistral warships. The contracts were signed. The boats were built. Russian sailors were in France ready to take delivery. But a group of us nevertheless found a way to convince President Hollande to suspend delivery. Anything is possible. When you want it enough, you can do it. Anyway, you have to try. Europe’s fate hangs in the balance in Ukraine. When Ukrainians fight for Ukraine, they’re fighting for all of Europe. And that’s worth fighting for.
AL: In an interview you said you favored a Marshall Plan for Ukraine. Do you believe that such a plan is really possible?
BHL: It wasn’t in an interview. It was at a symposium in Vienna organized by a Ukrainian billionaire named Dmytro Firtash, where I indeed floated that idea. Present at the event were business people, bankers, German and Austrian industrialists, financiers from the City of London. I thought, this is my chance, now or never, I might as well put forward a specific, concrete plan that would be understood and could be acted on by those who were listening. An economic plan, in other words. A Marshall Plan.
AL: You know François Hollande personally. Have you raised this subject with him?
BHL: Yes. And I also plan to discuss it with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, because one of the ideas that I put forward at the symposium in Vienna was a large Ukrainian government bond issue on European markets backed by a triple guarantee from the IMF, the U.S. Federal Reserve, and the European Central Bank. It is a concrete idea that could be set in motion immediately. And it would contribute greatly to the recovery of Ukraine, which Putin is trying to bring to its knees.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy