POLITICS APRIL 2, 2008
Nearly 20 years ago, we enthusiastically witnessed the most extraordinary event of the end of the 20th century: the fall of the Berlin Wall. A reunified Germany opened the way to the resurrection of the European continent. Then a wave of "velvet revolutions" brought down the communist dictatorships, one by one. We who have been unrelenting opponents of these iniquitous regimes since the long-ago days of the "New Philosophy," were thrilled by this magnificent celebration of freedom. And in spite of the naysayers, the purveyors of sour grapes, we were pleased to see in this unprecedented event the beginning of a new era.
A little more than a decade later, the movement continues. Proving that the first event was not a mere moment of grace, enigmatic and ephemeral, the trend continued with the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine at the beginning of the 21st century, marking in these countries the triumph of the same democratic ideas. The two insurrections, collective liberations that were both joyous and peaceful, proved once more that the history of humanity is more than just an accumulation of bad news. In the protestors' minds, Marx was indeed dead, but the desire for emancipation survived him and even spurred on by his death.
The reason we are writing to you, Madame Chancellor and Mr. President, is because the most important NATO summit since the end of the Cold War is now beginning in Bucharest, and we would like you to remember the hundreds of thousands of students, peasants and blue collar workers massed in the streets of Tbilisi and Kiev in 2003 and 2004, waving European, French, German, English and American flags. Those unarmed men and women were the worthy heirs of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, pastors from East Germany and Hungarian and Romanian intellectuals. They were the true incarnation of Europe. And from Paris or Berlin, we were hardly able to grasp the thrilling and profoundly revolutionary aspect of this great adventure of our time.
Today they are asking to be associated with the organization that has assured the security of our democracies for nearly 60 years. In whose name should we refuse them? Who will dare to take responsibility for slamming the door in their faces at this decisive moment in their history and in ours?
In Bucharest, there will be discussions about Afghanistan, Kosovo and Macedonia, and therefore, whether we wish it or not, also about Georgia and the Ukraine. And we will need to know if the democratic West will live up to its values of freedom and tolerance, supporting its natural allies and extending a hand to those who, in Europe or on its borders, fervently celebrate its constituent ideals. To deny the MAP (the Membership Action Plan: not membership in NATO, but nonetheless the beginning of a reversible process that could bring membership within 10 or 15 years) to the Ukraine and to Georgia would be a tragic error. Is the world so favorable to us today that we can give up and refuse to open our arms to the rare countries who are willing to risk following our political model?
For decades, we have separately and together supported those who fought for human rights and against the democrats persecuted all over the world. From Bosnia to Afghanistan and Pakistan, from Darfur to Chechnya and Tibet, from Beijing to Minsk, we have seen what it costs to be a friend to the West, seemingly so reluctant to help its partisans and so quick to give in to its enemies. For once in Bucharest we are not condemning a dictatorship nor boycotting a tyrant (which realpolitik balks at doing anyway), instead we may recognize the journey and the strength of will of these sovereign peoples by integrating them into our politico-military family. This will not deprive our economies of a single job. It will not cost us a single barrel of oil. We will not have to choose, as Ambassador Paul Claudel did when he was denounced by the Surrealists, between the delivery of natural gas or freedom for our friends. No. What is asked of us is very simple. And yet it turns out to be strangely complicated.
The problem is that once again our community of nations and peoples is dividing, curling back on itself. Certain governments scoff at supporting the young democracies of the Ukraine and Georgia, when they do not openly oppose this simple but oh so symbolic gesture, because of their fear of rubbing Russia the wrong way, a fear reiterated nearly to obsession. This opposition, if it is confirmed, would be a terrible moral failure. It would also be a political error multiplied by a grave error of judgment and strategic miscalculation.
Finally, since we seemingly have decided to appraise through Moscow's eyes all things relating to Central and Eastern Europe, let us look a little more closely. Vladimir Putin, as befits a good KGB agent, and his successor Dmitri Medvedev, the architect of the giant Gazprom, are not fanatic ideologues. They are crafty autocrats, realists, experienced in the logic of power struggles. If Georgia and the Ukraine acquire the MAP, the Kremlin will protest, threaten, perhaps even (if it has not already been done) aim a missile or two toward Kiev or Tbilisi. But it will not lead to any unconsidered action against these countries, nor will it cut off diplomatic relations with either NATO or the European Union. Our decision would be equivalent to giving sanctuary to the Georgian and Ukrainian territories. The natural gas would continue to flow. And the "logic of war," which so terrifies our own Norpois, would jam.
Conversely, we are convinced that a refusal would send a disastrous signal to the new czars of nationalist, capitalist Russia. It would show them that we are weak, feeble, that Georgia and the Ukraine are lands to conquer and that we are prepared to sacrifice them on the altar of their renewed imperial ambitions. Not integrating or, more exactly, not considering the integration of these countries into the European space would destabilize the region. In short, if we yield to Vladimir Putin, if we sacrifice our principles to him, if we withdraw without trying anything, we will reinforce the most aggressive sort of nationalism in Moscow.
Take Georgia: This little country in the Caucasus has been subject to Russian embargo for many years. Its territory has been bombarded several times by the planes of the former Red Army. Two of its regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) are governed by hired separatists controlled by Moscow. "A good reason to do nothing," whisper our realpolitik strategists, half-ashamed, half-intoxicated by their own subtlety. Are they forgetting Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland, the capitulation and the sacrifices of Munich? Do they not remember the integration of West Germany into NATO, in spite of the Berlin blockade, in spite of the division of the country and the Soviet threats? Which has worked better, the strategy of renunciation or the strategy of courage? Which has brought peace, prosperity, a taste for and the practice of democracy to the European continent?
Now let us look at the Ukraine. "Kiev is the symbolic cradle of the Russian Empire, its history speaks for itself," say the peremptory diplomats eager to refer to the past in order to avoid dealing with the present. But what do they know of the history of the 20th century? Do they not see that the 6 million Ukrainian dead, in the great famine and the Stalinist repression, definitively broke the Empire for which its Russian leaders claim to maintain a bloody nostalgia? Have they already forgotten the slogans chanted by the demonstrators in 2004, "We are free and independent, we are Europeans"?
The signatories to this letter do not hold any official position. They strive to think about the world as it is, without relinquishing that which was and still is the greatness of European civilization. And they will not accept the idea that the West may sacrifice once again its democratic friends and brothers in freedom on the altar of misunderstood interests. Let us not allow the Kremlin to have the right to veto the relationships that Europe and America mean to create with their natural allies. Let us open the doors of NATO to the Ukraine and Georgia.
Madame Chancellor, Mr. President, your responsibility today is immense. Listen to your heart, your destiny, and that of your people. Do not give in to the Sirens of renunciation or the convenience of appeasement. The future--the near future--is watching you and judging us.
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy is the author, most recently, of American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville and Ce Grand Cadavre a la Renverse. The philosopher Andre Glucksmann is the author of Une Rage d'Enfant. Translated from the French by Sara Sugihara.