When the East Bloc tanks mowed down the Prague spring, there were nine of them on Red Square: nine dissidents, nine brave men and women who challenged the Soviet dictatorship. Only a few European intellectuals were impressed and arranged for these lone heroes to be liberated from the psychiatric facilities in which they were then detained by the political police.
And yet, 21 years later, the European chambers and general staffs are discovering to their astonishment that these featherweights – Solzhenizyn, Sakharov, Bukowski and the nine on the Red Square – had in fact conquered the Soviet empire.
All the greats of this world are victims of the Stalin syndrome: «The Pope. How many divisions has he got?» But unfortunately, these despots correct their miscalculations faster than the democrats. The very secret service in which Putin did his primary education (before reaching the top of the KGB and the Russian state) tried to liquidate Johannes Paul II before Western governments had even begun to understand what an immense anti-totalitarian freedom fight Woytila symbolised.
The new dissidence that was recently manifested in Moscow failed to impress the moral and political authorities. Paris, Rome, London, Berlin turned away and came to their own conclusion: Putin, his oil and gas, his weapons of destruction and the weapons that he sells to the entire world weigh more than a few thousand demonstrators who are beaten, dispersed and arrested by security forces ten times stronger. Schröder pockets his dividends from Gazprom, Jacques Chirac goes into retirement without the slightest regret for the legion of honour that he stuck on Putin’s back (more). And Romani Prodi seems to confuse Putin with Pushkin.
Anna Poltikovskaya was murdered and has already been forgotten (more), together with dozens of other journalists who became the victims of fatal contracts. Journalists investigating the forces behind the building that was blown up in Moscow are eliminated. 300 people died in the explosion and it was used to justify the war in Chechnya. And Litvinenko was poisoned with Polonium (more).
Khodorkovsky and Trepashkin are locked up in deepest Siberia. Every fourth or fifth Chechnen has lost his life. Gary Kasparov and his friends are receiving threats and being prevented from demonstrating with a rose in one hand and the Russian constitution in the other. How many heads have to roll, how many hopes destroyed before Europeans, those champions of human rights, finally react?
«For Europeans, 5 000 people on the street doesn’t mean that much. But in a country in which taking part in a demonstration can have serious consequences, even 1000 people are a real success,» explains the former chess player. Dear reader, understand the euphemism that hides in this sentence: because these demonstrators live in a place where «a bullet in the head is still the fastest way to solve a conflict» (as a visionary Anna Poltikowskaja wrote in 2003).
Careful! Don’t think that this is just about idealism, morality and values. Don’t think this is about good guys against reality, the ethic of conviction against that of responsibility.
Since when is is realistic and responsible to let an autocratic power grow on a sixth of the earth’s surface – a power that nobody can control other than the masters in the Kremlin, his secret service, his police and army? Have we forgotten that Russia has the second largest atomic weapon arsenal in the world and an unparalleled ability to blackmail with oil and gas?
If censorship, corruption, beatings, threats and murder prevent all forms of criticism, and silence the opposition, then nobody will be left in Russian society to stand up for democracy, reason, responsibility, caution and human respect.
Have you learned nothing, you European greats? Do you think it’s smart to watch all the internal opposition powers – the only ones that could possibly help reign in a unilateral power that seems, willingly or not, bent on destroying the world – be decimated?
It might be worth recalling the historical summary that Vladimir Putin delivered to the Duma in April 2005, in which he called the fall of the Soviet Union «the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.» In the eyes of our great man, neither Auschwitz nor Hiroshima, neither of the two world wars not the millions who died in the Gulag compete for this title as the worst events in 20th century history.
The razing of Grosny, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chechen civilians, the decimation of the already diminished freedom of expression in Russia are evidence of the Kremlin’s obsession: terror of any form of critical questioning.
It’s time that the European Union stand up for the freedom that it has passionately defended since Greek antiquity. This passion can be attributed to its origins. It animated the anti-totalitarian revolts in Berlin (1953), Poland’s awakening (1956), the uprisings in Budapest (1956), Prague, Warsaw and finally the fall of the Berlin wall. And what resulted: from the student revolts against Milosevic in Belgrade to the Rose revolution in Tbilisi to the Kiev December in Orange. It’s high time that we articulated clearly that the soul of Europe does not lie in a few divisions, but rather in the Other Russia and Gary Kasparov.
This text originally appeared in French in Figaro on April 25, 2007, then in Perlentaucher on May 3.
Andre Glucksmann is a French philosopher who was active in the protest movement of the 1960s and opposed the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. His most recent book is «Une rage d’enfant» (reviewed here). Here some further features by Glucksmann.
translation from German: nb