Accessibility links

Europe: Andre Glucksmann Talks To RFE/RL At Forum 2000

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann spoke to RFE/RL during the Forum 2000 conference in Prague on 10 October.

RFE/RL: Could you elaborate on your idea of "devoir d’ingerence" [the obligation to intervene] in today’s world?

Andre Glucksmann: The "obligation to intervene" is an idea that goes back at least 30 years, and which emerged with famines and the start of genocides around the world. And the idea is that governments don’t have the right to do everything. The rights of peoples to rule themselves is very different from the rights of governments to rule their peoples. As a result, in certain serious cases, albeit rare, there has to be some sort of international force to protect civilians. Example: there was a genocide in Cambodia – the UN did nothing, the democracies did nothing. The communist government of Vietnam was the only one to intervene for rather obscure and very imperialist reasons. But despite that, I approved the intervention of the communist Vietnamese, even though I was strongly opposed to communism and had no illusions about the Vietnamese communists. But at least they were stopping the massacre.

Therefore, there is a right to assistance to avoid worst-case scenarios. And often the UN gives up its obligations to provide assistance. For example we had a case of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 -- the Cold War was over, the wall had fallen. In three months, the majority of the population wiped out the minority of the population. The Hutus wiped out the Tutsis, killing 10,000 Tutsis each day for three months – making one million dead. Well, the UN did nothing, democratic powers did nothing – we, the democrats -- let 1 million Tutsis die. And all it took to stop this genocide was a force of 5,000 blue helmets – 5,000 -- because [the genocide] was very centralized and not at all random. The general commanding the 1,000 UN soldiers [in Rwanda] appealed to the world, but nothing was done.

So I am in favor of the right to assistance in serious case.

RFE/RL: Are there any cases of "devoir d’ingerence" in the world today?

Glucksmann: Of course. But not all rights to assistance are military. It can be the case when you are facing a dictator who has killed so many of his citizens -- so many of his citizens -- that those citizens no longer have the strength to resist dictatorship. For example, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But there are also more peaceful examples. Charles Taylor, who was an appalling dictator in Liberia –was forced to step down because all democratic powers -- the Americans, France, England -- demanded his removal, and the UN followed. So finally, Charles Taylor, who was a terrible blood-thirsty autocrat, left without war.

So, there are cases of rights to assistance and there are cases of rights to assistance – not all are military. You have to put diplomatic pressure. I spent the past 10 years of my life urging the West, Westerners and democrats, to exert pressure on Mr. Putin to get him to put a stop to the worst of all wars which are currently devastating the planet. That is the war in Chechnya. You know, you don’t often see a situation where an army razes a city of 400,000 people such as Grozny. The last time this happened for a European army – and I think it was the last time in the world -- was in 1944, when Hitler razed Warsaw. Well, the Russian army razed Grozny in 2000, and I have been asking for ages for diplomatic pressure on Putin to make him stop this massacre, which has already cost the life of one out of five Chechens. Sometimes the protests bring about change.

I protested for 10 years against Milosevic’s atrocities and after those 10 years democratic powers resolved to intervene – not because of me, but because Milosevic committed shocking damages. He created 1 million refugees in Kosovo. Sometimes it takes more time but I think Mr. Putin must be forced to stop the massacre he is committing in Chechnya.

RFE/RL: Do you think Russia’s current situation and how it is behaving presents a danger for the rest of the post-Soviet area?

Glucksmann: Listen, the answer to that lies in your question itself. You only have to look at the face of the current Ukrainian president, scarred by dioxin, to know that the methods of the Soviets, the Russians and the pro-Russians are particularly disastrous. The poisoning of opposition leaders, assassination or imprisonment are potential dangers for anyone. Why? Because Russia is the second-largest nuclear power in the world, because Russia is the second-largest seller of arms and Russia is very powerful in terms of energy. As a result it has a huge capacity to do harm. It doesn’t have the potential for economic development apart from living off the platform provided by oil. But when it comes to harming, it knows how to do it. So, I think that the process of liberation is actually continuing. It started in Budapest, in Poland, also with Russian dissidents, in Prague. And I think this wind of freedom which is re-unifying Europe, not enlarging it, re-unifying it, continues in Ukraine, in Georgia, and I hope will continue in Belarus too.

RFE/RL: Do you think that enlargement of Europe is a means of putting an end to conflicts in the region?

Glucksmann: Of course. In the Balkans, it’s the prospect of joining the European Union which arrested, above all prevented the resumption, of the conflicts because within peoples’ minds there is still a lot of hostility there. And it’s because Croatia, Serbia, have the prospect of joining the European Union that people calm down and punish their war criminals, albeit slowly and with great difficulty. You spoke of the enlargement of Europe – it’s not an enlargement, it’s a re-unification. You know, if in 1946 Russian, Soviet troops had not occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries, Poland and Czechoslovakia could well be among the founding members of the European Union. So, there is no enlargement but simply a reunion, a reunification.

RFE/RL: But is it not precisely in France where, I have the feeling, there is a lot of fear and skepticism about this enlargement of the European Union?

Glucksmann: That’s precisely because the general public is told it is an enlargement that people are afraid. If it was explained to them as a reunification, they would accept it far more easily. You know, if Western Germans had been told that they were enlarging to East Germany, they would have balked. But they spoke about Wiedervereinigung [reunification] and it seemed totally natural. And I believe it is totally natural for European peoples to re-unite. In my opinion, should democracy increasingly take root in Russia, Russia obviously deserves a place in Europe – it is a European power.

RFE/RL: Do you see borders in this reunited Europe?

Glucksmann: Quite simply, its historic borders. But frankly, if there hadn’t been the 1914 war, Russia would be the cultural [center] of Europe today. It had the best painters, the best scientists, the best filmmakers, and the best novelists at the start of the 20th century. There is also the issue of Turkey. But I’d remind you that Turkey lies on the coastline which was part of ancient Greece. Half of philosophy was born in what we call Turkey today. Heraclites was officially a Turk.

RFE/RL Interviews

A special page devoted to RFE/RL's interviews with newsmakers and other leading figures from across our broadcast region.