The True Targets of Putin’s Travel Ban, par Bernard-Henri Lévy (Wall Street Journal, le 2 juin 2015)

poutine wsjNo, it is not an honor to be banned from traveling to Russia. It’s sad. Crushingly sad. Not for me or, I imagine, for the 88 others on the recently revealed blacklist barring current or former European political and military leaders and critics of the Putin regime.

But it is sad for Russians, or in any case for Russian democrats, for those who oppose the war in Ukraine; it is sad for the associations of mothers of soldiers, for advocates of law and liberty, and for journalists—all of whom will be deprived of vital contact with allies outside the country, placed in quarantine, confined.

In other words, this blacklist is aimed not at Westerners but at Russians.

It is not a problem for me or, I imagine, for others on the blacklist like the German politician Karl-Georg Wellmann—we have never been in the habit of spending our vacations in Moscow or Sochi. Mr. Wellmann did intend, over the weekend, to hold talks in Moscow about the future of Ukraine. He was stopped from leaving the airport and sent home the next day, in an episode that ultimately laid bare the travel ban.

But it is a problem for our friends there, for those whose aspirations and just cause we support.

It is a problem for the comrades of Boris Nemtsov, the Putin opponent who, on Feb. 27, was gunned down on the Great Stone Bridge, a short walk from the Kremlin—whose death, we were promised, would be the subject of an immediate investigation that would shed light on the circumstances, the perpetrators and the sponsors of the murder. Three months later, the world is still waiting. Three months have passed, more will pass, and still more, during which the investigators will have plenty of time to shroud the affair in the impenetrable opacity appropriate to this sort of crime.

The blacklist is also a problem—a sort of collective punishment—inflicted on the entire segment of Russian civil society embarrassed by Vladimir Putin, a segment of the population that badly needs European civil society to bolster its belief that Russia deserves better than despotism.

It is an old tactic of dictators: to isolate their subjects, to cut the ties with the outside world, to asphyxiate them, and thus to push them to into discouragement and despair. It is the eternal temptation of a Russian autocracy that, from Leonid Brezhnev to Mr. Putin, has neither learned nor forgotten anything.

Once the dissidents are dispensed with, either by locking them up (Pussy Riot, Alexei Navalny) or liquidating them ( Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky), or expelling them ( Mikhail Khodorkovsky); once the troublemakers, the deviant thinkers, the too-well-informed-about-the-workings-of-the-machine, the detectors of the new and disturbing lie are silenced, let’s hurry up and finish the job by dealing with the foreign witnesses. Intimidate them or, when intimidation doesn’t work, slam the door in their face, as Mr. Putin is doing with the present ban.

Quiet! We’re knocking heads; muzzling the press and dissident voices; hunting homosexuals, Tartars and any remaining free Chechens; saying no-go to the NGOs; erasing any record of the Russian soldiers who have died in Ukraine.

And when doing things like this, one really does want as few witnesses as possible.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed. Vladimir Putin remains an enemy not only of democracy in Russia but of democratic countries in general. He has a broad strategy that includes the weakening, perhaps the destabilization—and, if that works, the dismantling—of the European Union. He holds the EU responsible for the destruction of the Soviet Union, an event that he views as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe (his words) of the 20th century.

Nothing has changed, either, in how I view Russia itself. Since France’s New Philosophers broke ranks with reflexive, uncritical leftism after 1968, I have been a fervent admirer of the Russian people and their marathon battle against misrule.

A few days before the blacklist was announced, Russia’s leading television network asked me to give a “long” and “in-depth” interview in Moscow. I agreed. That remains my position. I’m up for any conversation, no matter how difficult or confrontational. Because there is no worse solution than abandoning a great people at the moment of their showdown with tyranny. I hope to see you soon, my Russian friends.

This op-ed was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.

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