THE BLOG
02/18/2014 10:54 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Kiev's Independence Square -- Where Europe Hangs in the Balance

I had the privilege to speak on February 9 to the crowd gathered in Kiev's Independence Square, which is known as Maidan. This is what I said:

People of Maidan! Here in this square, the people of Ukraine have come together. Those from the west of the country and those from the east. Ukrainians from the city and those from the countryside. Tatars and Poles. Cossacks and Jews. There are the grandchildren of the survivors of Holodomor, the massacre by starvation orchestrated by Stalin, and those of Babi Yar, that terrifying symbol of Holocaust by bullet. In Paris, we have the Place de la Bastille where the French people coalesced. You have Maidan, where the Ukrainian people are establishing themselves. It is very moving, for a citizen of the country of the original declaration of human rights, to be present, in this square, at an exceptional moment in history such as only great peoples can produce. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the party of Kiev's imprisoned Iron Lady, Yulia Tymoshenko, just announced, in this forum, the creation of a "parallel government," a government that emerged from Maidan, one that already enjoys greater legitimacy than that of the puppets of the Kremlin. I salute that new government.

People of Maidan, you have a dream that unites you. Your dream is Europe. Not the Europe of accountants, but the Europe of values. Not the Europe of bureaucrats, but that of the spirit. Not the Europe that is tired of itself, that doubts its mission and its meaning, but an ardent, fervent, heroic Europe. And it is equally moving for a European coming from a Europe beset by doubt, one that no longer knows what it is or where it is going, to rediscover that flame here. You are giving us a lesson about Europe. You remind us what a wonder Europe can be if we can pull it from what the anti-Nazi German philosopher Edmund Husserl called the "ashes of great lassitude." I am a French citizen. I am a European federalist. But today, here in Maidan where Europe is being summoned to return to its first calling and to its special genius, I am also a Ukrainian.

I am wrong, by the way, to refer to a European dream. For nothing is more concrete than the Europe painted for me by each of the women and men that you have asked to lead your movement: a Europe that signifies--for all--freedom, civic values, good government, and the struggle against the gangster state of the oligarchs. You embody the European project. You restore to it its content and program. You give to the word and to the idea of Europe a meaning that is not "purer," as a French poet said, but more precise and richer. And that is why I believe that the real Europe is here. That is why the real Europeans are those who have come together here in Maidan. That is why Ukraine is not a vassal of the Russian empire begging to be joined to Europe. It is, at least for the moment, the beating heart of the continent, and Kiev is that continent's capital.

People of Maidan, brothers and sisters in Europe! I also want to tell you how many of us, from Paris to Berlin and elsewhere in Europe, have heard your message. I know that you feel alone. I know that you have the feeling of being abandoned by a Europe that, in turning its back on you, is turning its back on its very substance. That is true. But it is also true that you have friends in the societies of Europe. And even here in Kiev, in European diplomatic posts, you have discreet allies who share your spirit and are working in your favor. They are your hope; but you are theirs. If they give up on you, you lose; but if you lose, they lose as well. They know that. We all know it. Millions of us have understood that our own fate is being played out here, in Independence Square, which you have renamed Europe Square.

It is my firm intention, upon my return to France, to proclaim it loud and clear: no visas for the goons who, like Louis XIV when he had "Ultima Ratio Regis" engraved on his cannons, are threatening to storm Maidan; a freezing of their assets in every bank in the European Union as well as in the tax havens whose doors we now know how to break down. There is a whole range of sanctions that the democracies can apply, and we must not let anyone forget it. The president of my country will soon meet with the president of the United States. Who knows? Perhaps Mr. Hollande will be able to convince Mr. Obama to join once more in an initiative to save this kidnapped piece of Europe.

People of Maidan--one last word. I leave you with a heavy heart because I know that in the coming days anything can happen, even, alas, the worst. In the long history of people affirming their sovereign rights by occupying the squares and places of their cities, we remember the Place de la Bastille in Paris or Wenceslas Square in Prague, and even the Agora in Athens. At the same time we cannot help but remember that other model, the anti-model: Tiananmen Square and the rebellion that was drowned in blood! But know, too, that as I leave you I am filled with immense admiration for the courage, the self-control, the wisdom, and the restraint that you have exemplified for the world. Your weapon is your self-control. Your strength is the calm determination, unmarred by pathos, shown by everyone from Lisa, who runs the canteen that feeds Maidan, Vitali Klitschko, the former boxer who one day may be the president of the new Ukraine--all of whom have told me that nothing will stop the ethos of Maidan.

Your strength also lies in the spirit of responsibility--I was going to say, of discipline--with which you maintain your barricades and, behind those barricades, take care of the part of the city that you have liberated. For a single word covers both the tending of cities and the quality of civilizations. Civilized--in my language as in that of the fresco artists who, in the tenth century, painted the praying Virgin, hands raised in a sign of peace, in your Saint Sophia cathedral--describes both the lover of civitas and the carrier of civilization. And, yes, your strength is that great civilization of which you are a part, despite that piece of Europe's tragic and criminal history that haunts you, just as it does all the peoples of the continent. Before Russia existed, Ukraine and Kiev flowered. There is in every citizen of Maidan more history and culture than in the braggart of Sochi, the would-be Tarzan who is more like a Popeye, a paper tiger and a real enemy of Saint Sophia and her wisdom. It is for that reason that you will win. It is for that reason that, sooner or later, you will overcome master Putin and his valet, Yanukovych.

I welcome you to Europe.

Excerpts of this speech appeared in the Wall Street Journal on February 13. The speech was translated by Steven B. Kennedy.