French playwright Bernard-Henri Levy will perform his play « Hotel Europe » on May 28 in Lviv. The play will be staged in Lviv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater named after Solomiya Kryshelnytska, beginning at 7.30 p.m. The play is dedicated to the events of EuroMaidan Revolution. In this op-ed, Levy anticipates and answers some of the most frequent questions directed his way.
Q: You’ll be back in Ukraine on May 28 to perform your solo play, Hotel Europe, at the Lviv Opera.
BHL: Yes.This will be the third time I’ve performed it in Ukraine. The first time was in Odessa, the home of Isaac Babel, Eisenstein, and one of the most venerable Jewish communities of Ukraine. I performed it in Kyiv on Feb. 21 of this year, the anniversary of the uprising in the EuroMaidan Revolution, which was, to my mind, one of the most beautiful revolutions in contemporary history. And now I’m going to present it again. Once more I will deliver the monologue on Europe and its spirit in the city of Lviv, which ranks alongside Vienna, Prague, and Budapest as a symbol of great Central European culture. It is a signal honor for me. I never feel more European than when I am in these cities where Europe is something longed for, something worth fighting for, something hoped for. Do you want to know something? My dream would be to perform the play, to deliver the same words—the same tribute to Dante, Goethe, Shevchenko, and Nadiya Savchenko—in Donetsk, Luhansk, Debaltsevo, and Mariupol. I hope someone reading this takes the hint!
Q: You have fought hard in Europe for Ukraine’s cause. How is that going ?
BHL: I confess that I am perplexed. I don’t want to worry your readers unduly. But I sense an ill wind blowing in European capitals. As if the spirit of solidarity that we felt at the moment of the Maidan were collapsing for good. As if the European capitals were coming around to the view that the price of opposing Russia’s arrogance might be too high. I’m not referring to public opinion. Most people continue to be disgusted by Putin’s mischief, provocation, and threats. I’m talking about leadership circles, the elites, people in power, who may be abandoning you.
Q: Even France ?
BHL: No. France remains an exception. I’m pretty sure that both your president and, more recently, your prime minister, were more than satisfied with their conversations with President François Hollande. And we both know that Hollande has not budged on the very sensitive matter of the Mistral warships. For principles to prevail over business, for solidarity with a fellow people to triumph over naked financial interest, is not that common. And, in this case, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. If you want my honest opinion, it was a truly statesmanlike gesture. After the decision not to deliver the Mistrals, Hollande was accused of putting France’s signature into doubt. To the contrary, I believe that he did himself proud and that, by refusing to deliver the ships, we assured our partners of our determination and our power. But France is not Europe. And although Hollande commands considerable respect he lacks on his own the leverage needed to rally a defeatist, chilly Europe that, as I say in the play, is afraid of spending next winter without Russian gas.
Q: How far do you think this accommodation with Moscow can go ?
BHL: I deal with all that in the play. I regret to say that I had anticipated the trajectory of the new appeasement policy for which Ukraine is paying the price. Diplomats, especially from Brussels, are strange people, lacking in memory and, sometimes, in dignity. A few days ago, in the French and British press, we were treated to some interesting leaks, cannily organized. The leaks came on the eve of the annual conference on enlargement of the European Union. Their purpose was to inform us that many member states were now placing accommodation with Putin and the resumption of business as usual ahead of fidelity to the political and moral commitments made at the time of Yanukovych’s fall. An example: It seems that a majority has now convinced itself that it views as “natural” and perhaps even “desirable” that this or that state in the region should become part of “Eurasia.” And let me remind you, while we’re on the subject, that Eurasia has two characteristics. First, it is a geopolitical project based on a fascistic ideology dating from the 1930s, as I explained backward, forward, and sideways in a presentation at a conference in Kiev last year, the text of which you published. Second, it is a war machine poised against the European Union, a way of offsetting it and, through support for the populistic, xenophobic, and anti-European with which it is rife, of destablizing it and even causing it to come undone.
Q: You are close to President Petro Poroshenko. Have you shared this with him ?
Let me say, first, that the more I see of President Poroshenko the more I am struck by his calm, his determination, and his independence. The last time I saw him was in Paris three weeks ago. At my home. I had invited a group of French opinion leaders to come meet him and hear what he had to say. Everyone was impressed by the man, by his certainty that Ukraine would prevail, and by the visionary nature of the reforms that he intends to carry out. When my character in Hotel Europe, at the very end of the play, appoints his ideal government for Europe and makes Poroshenko minister of greatness, this is not just a stylistic flourish! So now, to answer your question, yes, I believe he is aware of the fragility of international support for his country. He sees the dirty little game of those who have the gall to conceal their cowardice behind the excuse that Ukraine has supposedly has been too slow to reform, too reluctant to fight corruption, and so on. That is yet another reason—for me, at any rate—to argue more strongly than ever for support for Ukraine from Europe and France, for the United States to release the weapons that Ukraine needs, as demanded by a growing number of members of Congress, and for everyone to continue to oppose the Russian imperialism of which Ukraine has been the first but certainly won’t be the last victim
Q: How can a play like Hotel Europe be useful at a moment like this ?
As you know, it is a play largely devoted to Ukraine, an ode to the defenders of Donetsk, to the heroes of Debaltseve, and to the heavenly hundred who died in the Maidan. And it is an appeal for the liberation of Nadiya Savchenko, the courageous pilot who was kidnapped by separatists in the east and whom Putin has held since then in defiance of the laws of war. So to perform the play in Lviv is first of all a concrete gesture of solidarity and a way of saying to my European brothers and sisters, which is how I think of the Ukrainians: “You are not completely alone; your friends from the outset are still with you; there are still a lot of us who know that you are our sentinels, our shield against the heirs of Stalin and Nicholas I.” But you will see that the play is also a no-holds-barred message to a timorous Europe that, if it didn’t have thinkers, journalists, and honest consciences to remind it of its own values, would already have jumped on Moscow’s wagon and reneged on the commitments of a year ago. I will also perform my play in Berlin, Brussels, and, I hope, New York. On every such occasion I intend to make heard the voice of a Ukraine that is free, democratic, indivisible, and European.
Q: Do you like performing the play ?
Indeed I do. When Jacques Weber played the role in Sarajevo and subsequently in Paris, putting into it all the genius of a great master of the theater raised on Cyrano, Don Juan, and the tragedies of Ibsen and Racine, I felt intense emotion. But to perform the play myself in Odessa, Kiev, and, now Lviv, three centers of European consciousness and resistance to anti-European sentiment, it’s another feeling altogether. An unparalleled sensation. The impression of being immediately and absolutely understood. The miracle of words that, as they are spoken, seem to echo the inner monologue of an audience engaged in playing not a role but its life, destiny, and hope. It is a feeling of communion and fraternity such as I have rarely