Not long after the liberation of France and the end of World War II, the famous and rich Rothschild banking family held a party at the Chateau Ferrieres for Jewish orphans who had survived the Holocaust. The atmosphere was pleasant and jovial, but little Andre Glucksmann took off his shoe and chucked it at the wealthy hosts.
Glucksmann, now a famous French philosopher, would later explain that he could not stand the hypocrisy of such people, who sought to pretend that everything was all right and that a party could erase the horrors of the war.
Glucksmann’s father was originally from Romania and his mother from Prague, who met each other in Palestine where they had each moved before Hitler’s regime had become stronger. After they married, the couple had two daughters and settled into a comfortable life. However, in 1930, the pair moved back to Germany to assist the anti-Fascist opposition. After they were exposed in 1937, the family fled to France, where Jojo Glucksmann was born. To others, however, he was known to as ‘Andre Riviere,’ a French, Catholic child. The family lived with false papers and constantly moved around Lyon to avoid detection.
Andre’s father died in 1940. In 1941, French police uncovered the identities of the Glucksmann family and brought them to a camp near Vichy, from where they were to be deported to Germany. However, because of Andre’s French citizenship – having been born in France – and clever actions by his mother, French police allowed the family to go.
Little Andre’s act of rebellion in the gardens of Chateau Ferrieres, besides being possibly the first instance of modern shoe-throwing, has been a hallmark of his lifetime work and political activities. In 1989 many thought that the nightmare was over and that all would be well. Glucksmann, however, would take a more critical view of such common assumptions.
Glucksmann began his foray into politics early, joining the Communist party at the tender age of 13. However, by the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Glucksmann had since became a strident critic of communism and renounced it as another form of totalitarianism. A member of the anti-Marxist movement, Glucksmann became a leading member of the French ‘new philosophers,’ a group of philosophers that broke with Marxism in the 1970s whose ranks also include Bernard Henri-Levy and Alain Finkielkraut.
The new philosophers movement was composed of philosophers coming from socialist, leftist traditions but, over time, became fierce critics of communism after learning of Soviet atrocities. A tenet of the new philosophers movement argued that the left’s obsession with the concentration of power were founded on means of oppression.
Glucksmann has distinguished himself by his unique views and support for energetic foreign policies. He supported Ronald Reagan’s decision in Nicaragua, has often spoken of France’s responsibility for the Rwanda genocide, and condemned Russian atrocities in Chechnya. In 2008, in the lead up to the Beijing Summer Olympic games, Glucksmann co-authored with Vaclav Havel and other public figures a letter to the Chinese government in an appeal to respect human rights.
In May, the French philosopher visited Georgia and had time to speak with Tabula.
In a recent interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, you spoke of the growing gap in relations between Germany and France. You note that Germany has turned to Russia. What influence will this have on the future of the European Union?
This is not news. Germany began to turn towards Russia when Gerhard Schroder was chancellor, who now works for Gazprom. Germany is looking back at the 19th century and investing its future on the idea that it can help spur Russian modernization and the development of democracy. I think this is a mistake that can be explained as being the result of German naiveté. Germany will never be able to transform Russia – Russia is insidious. The whole notion is an illusion, which has held the entire German political establishment prisoner. They hope that some kind of economic miracle will happen in Russia that will eliminate corruption and usher in democracy. For Europe, which is basically led by Germany and France, this is a dangerous assumption.
Today, Russia’s number one trade partner is with Germany. France is third or fourth. In the field of nuclear engineering, German Siemens has left French Areva to sign a contract with the Russians. As a result, we have now become competitors. France is on one side and Russia and Germany on the other.
Germany had a bad influence on the Euro crisis too. In January, it was already obvious that Greece was in a difficult situation. At that time, Greece only needed 40 billion euros to resolve the crisis, but Germany refused. Why? This is an important issue, but no one seems to want to discuss it. What happened was that local elections were coming up in Germany and Merkel saw it as politically dangerous to spend money for this purpose. She lost the elections anyway and today Europe is spending untold billions to defuse the Greek crisis. It is often said that Mediterranean countries are expensive to manage for Europe and Greece was criticized by all. And as we can see, the local elections were damaging for Merkel’s party in Germany. Yet, Germany has not been criticized and no one speaks loudly about it, because Germany is the richest country – just not very rational or smart. I think France does not yet realize what has happened. Instead, France is imitating Germany and trying to catch up through relations with Russia. The Mistral deal is a good example of this.
This is the next question – what is the reason for the Mistral deal? Is it only financial interests or …
Of course there are financial interests, but the Mistral arrangement does not make France richer or poorer. The more realistic motivation is that France is trying to act like Germany. By selling ships and Renaults [French cars] to Russia, my country is trying to balance the economic integration of Germany and Russia. I think that the Mistral deal is a real shame for France. The Russians have openly stated that they could conquer Georgia within 40 minutes with this ship. Though it is true that the ship does not change anything strategically – unfortunately, ‘big brother’ Russia could conquer Georgia in 40 minutes or 26 hours without the Mistral – but the fact is that the deal does not send the best message. Baltic countries, the Romanians, and all Western Europeans are talking about this. In addition, France has breached NATO and EU ethical codes.
France is troubled. It is trying to prove that the Mistral deal is just a commercial arrangement and that Georgia is very important to France. But the fact is that this step was done in the wrong way. For me and others who share this opinion, we are speaking out often on this matter in the French media. We should not forget that Russian money is always tainted by corruption. Recently, Russians have begun investing money in the French media. They also purchased France Soir, which was a very important publication about 30 years ago. The magazine was purchased by Russian oligarch [Sergei] Pugachev, who bought it for his son.
Who knows why they need it? It is particularly significant because it is Pugachev who will be constructing the Mistral in St. Petersburg if the deal is signed.
There is an opinion that Europe and America’s honeymoon is over. Obama did not go to the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall and he did not attend the EU summit either. What do you think is going on?
I think that it is too early to make any conclusions. Until now, Obama has been thinking about insuring 40 million Americans. Obama managed to push through the healthcare law, unlike Bill Clinton, who never managed to do it. All of his energy is directed at domestic issues and he has mostly avoided foreign problems. We do not know what is happening in the US government and where other people besides Obama stand – like [Vice President] Biden, for example, who is not as naïve or a dreamer like Obama. It’s too early to say what we should expect from Obama.
Let’s talk about China. America had a honeymoon with China too. But the ban on Google by the leaders of the Chinese Communist Part was seen as ‘iron curtains on the world of information’ by [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton. This statement is an allusion to Churchill’s famous phrase, which was understood as such by the Chinese. Hillary Clinton is right. Today, everyone is talking about ‘soft’ power and, according to Obama, soft power is understood by everyone as everyone loving each other. But Hillary Clinton’s statement shows that the real soft power is information. Fanaticism and extreme nationalism will not grow in an informed society.
That is why the First Caucasian channel is a good idea. Your country would never surprise anyone with military power, but Georgia’s neighbors would get the opportunity to see the possibilities of development, free discussion, democratic life, and the struggle with corruption and poverty. This is very important. I read something very interesting in Kommersant recently, that the Russian police is in such a bad situation that even Medvedev was troubled. And Kommersant said that the Russian police needs the same reforms as happened with the Georgian police. That means Georgia is already an example. Information is an important weapon – Google is more powerful than Napoleon.
However, it was indeed a mistake that Obama did not attend the Berlin Wall anniversary.
Eastern Europe is in trouble. European leaders and thinkers – Vaclav Havel, Mart Laar and others wrote a letter to Obama saying that America has left Eastern Europe. How justifiable is this fear?
The fear of the signers is just that Obama will turn away from Atlantic countries to the Pacific. They have a reason to say to the president of America “be careful!” because they know their former enemy better – Russia.
You supported the independence of Chechnya and now you are protesting the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Why?
The Russians killed more than 200,000 Chechens. This is too much for a nation of less than a million. I never supported former red army officials like Dudayev, Maskhadov, Basaev, and other terrorists, I was supporting the people who have been fighting for freedom more than 300 years and were almost annihilated. Why? Tolstoy explains it better than me – to serve as a lesson to other nations who live within Russian borders – look what happens to all who does not submit. It seemed like Putin read Tolstoy before the Second Chechen War.
Abkhazia is a different case. While Russians murdered Chechens in Chechnya, Abkhazians, with the help of Russians, organized the ethnic cleansing of Georgians. Abkhazians are not asking for recognition of their independence – they want the legalization of the results of their ethnic cleansing. The idea of Abkhazian independence has two defects – one is that their ‘independence’ is merely poorly masked annexation by Russia. And why not? Abkhazia is the region’s Riviera. The Russians have already bought up everything in the French Riviera with their Gazprom money, after all. But in France, it was bought with money. In Abkhazia, they took it with force. Second, recognizing the independence of Abkhazia means recognizing ethnic cleansing, and I could say the same thing about South Ossetia. However, I don’t even want to talk about South Ossetia. With all due respect to the Ossetian people, 30,000 people ruled over by mafia does not make a country. Their autonomy, within Georgia, is acceptable, but autonomy does not mean annexation by Russia.
I supported the independence of Kosovo because Serbians organized ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians, who were the majority population in Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing is the important factor on which I base my logic.
It is obvious that the Russians have changed tactics and are now trying to destroy Georgia in a friendly way. They talk about the centuries-long friendship between the Georgian and Russian people, meet with opposition leaders, meet and greet with the ‘intelligentsia,’ and generally tries to prove that their problem is with Saakashvili, not Georgia. What do you think of this?
It’s a good point that Putin and the Kremlin are trying to breach the castle from the inside. Buying off saboteurs is cheaper than sending tanks into a city. Putin was not able to overthrow Saakashvili’s ‘regime’ – as he calls it – by force, so now he is looking for different ways. I think the fact that Putin is changing his tactics is a sign of success for Georgia. Of course, Russia is still able to conquer Georgia by the force of arms, but afterwards he would be faced with a population who hates the Kremlin. That is why Putin is trying to bribe people as he did in Ukraine. However, he has not won in Ukraine yet either. Ukraine is separated and the most important part of the country is opposed to subordinating itself to Russia.
For more than 300 years, Georgia has been an object of Russia’s morbid fascination. Recently, on Yevgeny Primakov’s birthday, Putin made a toast to the reunification of Georgia. Some people might mistakenly believe that he meant the return of Abkhazia and Ossetia to Georgia, but that’s not what he meant. He made a toast to the reunification of Georgia with Russia. I’ve said before that this is no longer an issue of politics, but more like a mental illness, which brings us to 19th century Russian writers. The fact that Georgia is the region’s Riviera does not fully explain Russia’s interest. More important is the issue of the country’s psychology. Georgia is a different type of country – more free and open. Georgia is the antithesis of the Russian narrative and that is what drives Russia crazy.