A Marshall Plan for Ukraine

03/05/2015 01:43 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2015

Speech delivered March 3, 2015, at Palais Ferstel in Vienna

It was six months ago.

I was returning from one of my countless trips to Kiev, where what impressed me was the resilience of the new Ukraine and its democratic fervor.

And, right here in Vienna, at the Hofburg Palace, a living symbol of European cosmopolitanism and culture, I launched the idea of a new Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

I was very quickly joined in the effort by the two large federations stemming from the Soviet era, one along the lines of the British trade unions that put an end to industrial slavery, the other bringing together the nation's employers, including the oligarchs, as they set about to build a new Ukrainian capitalism.

Shortly thereafter I met two men, Lord Risby (a member of the British House of Lords) and Karl-Georg Wellmann (a member of the German Bundestag), who are very unlike myself -- who, in many regards are the opposite of the activist writer that I am. But one of them knew better than anyone the path that eastern Germany had taken to become a land of prosperity and law after so many years in subjugation under the Russian boot.

Then along came a man who is also a legend, a man who knows -- oh how well! -- what reconstruction and nation building mean, a man who avoided civil war in his country, the man who freed Nelson Mandela and governed with him. For that he earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Frederik de Klerk's embrace of this idea was a source of great joy for me.

And then there were the men and women, the experts, seated here before you. They come from various countries. They do not know each other, for the most part, but they speak the same language -- the language of Europe and of love of Ukraine. All responded enthusiastically to the idea of reconstructing Ukraine, not vertically from the top down, but starting with Ukrainian civil society assisted, horizontally, by the civil society of Europe.

Last, but not least, I have received, in the past few hours, two messages.

One is from the French president, François Hollande, the man who refused to deliver Mistral warships to Putin, the advocate of Ukraine on the international scene: President Hollande assured me of his support for this endeavor, now and into the future.

Another is from a man whom I am honored to call a friend, a man I met when he was taking the stage in the Maidan as I was leaving it. That man is the incarnation of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression: Petro Poroshenko. He, too, sent me a message last night in which he asked me to convey his support to you this morning. The results of your efforts will go first to the Ukrainian parliament and to him. For that reason, he sends to you, his French, German, British, and Polish friends gathered here, his encouragement.

* * *

So, what is at stake?

As you all know, we are talking about a country that has been ruined and is on the brink of collapse.

I have visited the eastern oblasts.

I accompanied President Poroshenko to Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk that was bombed.

I spoke with civilians who had been harried by the Russian and Russian-sponsored dogs of war, and with soldiers fighting the invasion.

And what I saw there were brave and valiant people defending their country with great tenacity. But their country has been broken by the triple curse of communism, corruption, and war.

So, our idea is to contribute to the reconstruction of that country.

War, of course.

The first task is to win the war that the Ukrainian people did not start but that they are waging with courage.

But economics, as well.

Or, more precisely, the continuation of war by other means that is economics.

That is what is at stake this morning!

Please understand that I am speaking of economics as history.

I am speaking of economics underpinned by an intellectual and moral reform of the entire society.

I am speaking of economics as understood by my professor, French philosopher Louis Althusser, who would say that economics is never solely a matter of production, finance, and accounting -- these parameters always imply profound choices about the spirit of laws, about biopolitics and the health and possible suffering of human beings, and about one's idea of time, space, and the very nature of being.

It is for that reason, ladies and gentlemen, that for the next 200 days you will be called upon to make proposals and suggestions about Ukraine's finances, to be sure, but also about public health, about strengthening the rule of law, and about fighting the open wound, the leprosy, that is corruption.

* * *

In the course of the task that awaits you, you will encounter eternal defeatists and professional cynics.

You will encounter those who go around saying that Ukraine is a leaky barrel that is not worth your effort.

You will encounter those who think that history and geography are destiny and fate and that Ukraine belongs almost by natural law in the Russian sphere of influence.

Do not let yourselves be intimidated.

For when your recommendations -- followed in 200 days by the Marshall Plan of my dreams--see the light of day, the entire history of this region will be changed.

And you will have written a new page of the history not only of Ukraine but of Europe.

The promoters of the original Marshall Plan of 1945 proved to be among the best and most effective pioneers of Europe.

Indeed, I have always believed that General George Marshall, inventor of the plan that bears his name, deserves, though he was American and by one of those twists at which history is so adept, to join Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann, and Jean Monnet in the Pantheon of the founders of Europe.

The same will be true here.

If, in 200 days, your suggestions and proposals are persuasive enough to convince the world to invest massively in the birth of the new Ukraine, you will have helped to make Ukraine another Poland or another Czech Republic. You will have heeded the call of your brothers and sisters and opened to them the doors of Europe.

As we said a year ago on the Maidan in Kiev: Oukraïna Vstavaï! Yevropa Vstavaï. Slava Oukraïni.... and Heroyam Slava !

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy