Crisis in Ukraine

03.04.14

Putin’s Only Strength Lies in the West’s Weakness

The protesters who kicked Viktor Yanukovych out of office embody the spirit of liberal Europe.

This is the second time that Bernard-Henri Lévy has spoken in the Maidan. On February 9, before the massacre, speaking at the invitation of the Council of Maidan, he extolled the restraint shown by the protesters. Describing Kiev as “the beating heart of Europe,” he evoked the common interests and aspirations of Ukrainians and western Europeans. On March 2, he returned to the Maidan, speaking after the country’s interim prime minister and before Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and candidate in the presidential election scheduled for May 25. He is one of the few foreigners (along with John McCain and Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia) to be invited to speak in the Maidan. The speech was broadcast live in its entirety on the Ukrainian television channel owned by Petro Poroshenko, another presidential candidate. 

People of the Maidan!

With scarcely more than your bare hands you pushed back the Berkut militiamen.

(Read More on the Crisis in the Ukraine)

With almost no help you drove Yanukovych out.

With a calm worthy of a great people, you dealt a historic blow to tyranny.

In so doing you have shown yourselves to be not only Europeans but the very best among us.

Europeans you are by history, of course, but now also by the blood you have shed.

Europeans you are, of course, because you are the sons and daughters of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Taras Shevchenko, but also because, for the first time, here in the Maidan, young people died clutching the blue flag of Europe with its circle of stars.

Others tried to discredit you.

They claimed that you were the perpetuation of Europe’s darkest memory. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The virtues of resistance that are the spirit of Europe and that a great Frenchman, General Charles de Gaulle, brought to their apogee—those virtues you embodied during the bloody days just past. And the national socialism, anti-Semitism, and fascism that were the shame of our continent were found on your enemies’ side.

I bow before your dead.

I bow to your bravery and say to you with even greater resolve: “Welcome to our shared home.”

°°°°

Today, however, a new force rises before you.

A force that knows and respects only force.

A force that acts with impunity in the eastern part of your country, on your historic lands.

A force readying itself to amputate Ukraine and, in so doing, to do what no force in any other country of Europe has dared to do for decades.

The argument is familiar: It is that of Hitler in 1938, citing the fact that the people of the Sudetenland spoke German as a reason to invade Czechoslovakia.

The method is familiar: It is that of Hitler, once again, using the Winter Olympics in Garmisch Partenkirchen as cover for remilitarizing the Rhineland.

But you are here, people of the Maidan, to prevent this new crime.

You are, young people of the Maidan, to keep your brothers to the east from falling back under the boot of empire.

You have rallied once again to say no to the dismembering of your country, which has suffered too much over the centuries and has paid dearly, how dearly, for the right to live freely.

Yesterday, I stood before the Russian embassy in Kiev under a sky of Ukrainian and European flags: How impressed I was by the quiet but firm determination of the Ukrainians around me!

I was at the Rada, your parliament, where I met with your leaders: Vitali Klitschko, the man who, like Danton in the French Revolution, called upon the citizenry to mobilize; and Yulia Tymoshenko, whom Putin is already trying to smear, who asked me to tell you this: “Of course I won’t go to Moscow; Putin is my enemy.” But what struck me most forcefully was their will to stand up, martyr against power: the woman whose body bears the stigmata of her struggle for freedom, and the champion, the son of the Maidan, the symbol of probity and quiet strength. If they remain united; if you all remain united as you are here today, you will win, and Putin will be forced to yield.

°°°°

But I also know, people of the Maidan, that if Putin is to be definitively defeated you will need the assistance of your brothers in Europe.

Europe must protect Ukraine.

Europe must vouch for the integrity of your nation’s borders and the freedom of your cities.

Europe must sign—if possible as early as tomorrow—the agreement of association for which your young people and your veterans fought and died.

Europe must—why not?—come solemnly to Kiev to sign that agreement, a gesture that for you would be a safeguard and for Europe a new baptism.

And Europe must do with Putin what it did with Yanukovych. It must deal with the master as it did with the valet. It has the means to sanction Putin—and it should use them.

What if Europe were to say to Putin, “We need your gas, but you need our euros, so hands off Crimea”?

With a calm worthy of a great people, you dealt a historic blow to tyranny.

What if Europe were to say to Putin, “A man who sets an example of violating borders in Europe has no place in the forums where the international community strives to bring stability to the world—so, Mr. Putin, either you get out of Ukraine or we’ll throw you out of the G-8, the next meeting of which, irony of ironies, is set to be held in Sochi”?

And what if Hollande, Merkel, and Obama were to make known to the would-be predator of Crimea—and, God forbid, of Donbass and Donetsk—that he will not be welcome when, in a few months’ time, the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the landing in France of the armies of liberty?

Putin’s only strength lies in our own weakness.

Putin can advance only when we are afraid.

But what if fear changed sides?

What if European leaders were to show a fraction of the courage displayed by the people of the Maidan?

What’s that? You weren’t afraid, but we westerners are? You stood up to the new czar but we’ll bow down before him? That cannot be; it would be too absurd. That is what I intend to say, upon my return, to the leaders of my country.

“¡No Pasaran!” exclaimed the Spanish Republicans in 1936.

“¡No Pasaran!” you threw back at Yanukovych’s fearsome Berkuts when they had you in their sights.

“¡No Pasaran!” Europe must say today to Putin’s rabble.

Long live one Ukraine, indivisible and free.

Long live Europe and Ukraine in Europe.