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Putin's Precedent and Other Topics

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HITLER YOUTH SYMBOL
Hitler youth honor an unknown soldier by forming a swastika symbol on Aug. 27, 1933 in Germany. (AP Photo) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Putin's Precedent.

Remember Hitler, waiting for the end of the Winter Olympics that he had organized at great expense at the Garmisch Partenkirchen ski resort, before remilitarizing the Rhineland a few weeks later? Remember that same Hitler, arguing that the people of the Sudetenland spoke German before invading Czechoslovakia in 1938? Do those events remind you of anything? On the Maidan in Kiev, where I had been invited to speak for the second time in as many weeks, nobody needed me to draw them a picture. It's exactly the situation the Ukrainians are facing today with Putin's surprise occupation of the Crimea. And it's the same argument of "linguistic nationalism," which, as we've known since Herodotus contrasted it with the civic nationalism that the Greeks were then in the process of inventing, is always accompanied by war, ethnic cleansing, and exclusion. I am aware that one must not try to compare what is incomparable. And Hitlerism is, once and for all and as a matter of principle, something that should never be evoked except with fear and trembling. But that does not mean that we may not take note of the slips, the hiccups, and the stutters of history. And the course of things also has its Witz, its flashes of black humor, dark and painful, that suddenly chill the blood in your veins. Imagine if a Flemish party in Belgium were to follow Putin's example. Or the Lega Nord in Italy. Or the Serbs of the Republika Srpska. Or any of the Hungarian, Romanian, or Macedonian linguistic minorities that Istvan Bibo (1911-79) described, in his great book on the plight of the small states of eastern Europe, as the wound of the continent. The entire regional equilibrium would be affected. Europe itself would explode. It would be the Sudetenization of our nation-states.

Awash in the current of the National Front.

A Sunday broadcast on Canal Plus treated me, for the umpteenth time, to the spectacle of the National Front presenting itself as the Mr. Clean of French politics. In response, I refer readers to investigative work demonstrating that the contrary is true, which we began to publish three weeks ago on the Règle du Jeu website (laregledujeu.org). You'll find a day-by-day account of a National Front candidate in municipal elections and investigative reporting, candidate by candidate, into the basis of the party. Although we are only midway through our inquiry, the picture is already quite revealing: A candidate getting the audience to applaud the name of Bastien-Thiry, the man who tried to kill de Gaulle. Another candidate's proclivity for neo-Nazi emblems and insignias. Yet another's passion for videos of David Duke, the erstwhile American politician and leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and his claim that Sarkozy "is orchestrating French genocide." A fourth candidate getting caught in Caen transporting a supply of firearms in the trunk of his car. A fifth convicted in 2000 to a year in prison, including six months without parole, for "armed violence at a meeting." A sixth, running in Marseille's fifth district, who, in the cantonal elections of 2011, hired as his campaign manager a man who had been convicted, in the course of an investigation into the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, of having concealed an assault rifle and bomb parts. A seventh, in Marseille again, who chaired the support committee for the three National Front poster hangers who killed Ibrahim Ali on February 21, 1995. And finally the candidate in Agde who described the mainstream weekly Le Point as "anti-French shit in the service of the bloody ... Jews." More and even better examples exist. But the very least one can say is that for its security risks, its violence, and, if words mean anything at all, its corruption, the party of Madame Le Pen has nothing worth teaching to anyone.

Luc Bondy's Marivaux revival at the Odéon.

While cramming long ago for the entrance exam for the Ecole Normale, we learned that after the period of the three great Athenian tragedians, classical drama took two major forms. The first, that of Aristotle, prioritized meaning and thus the text, with all of the attendant catharsis, purging of the emotions, and so on, that went along with the text. The second form was that of Plautus and Terence, whose Roman comedies were more playful in every sense of the word: from the theatrical to the ludic, from drama to farce, and including plays on words such as the play of parts that have come loose... Things haven't changed much since then. Except that now there are directors who combine the two forms. One such is Luc Bondy, who is, in principle, a text man but, with his restaging of Marivaux's False Confidences at the Théâtre de l'Odéon, seems to me clearly to have chosen to work in the tradition of Terence and Plautus. Moving spaces and immobile time. Wavering psychology and frozen marionnettes. No real beginning; no real end. Nonstop construction and deconstruction of sets that appear solidly built yet at the same time oddly ephemeral. A festival of the mind; a waking dream. Intelligence in the lighting and subtle madness in the dialogue. Brechtian scenes that morph in an instant into starry Shakespearean nights. And Isabelle Huppert, both playful and grave, mischievous and melancholy (let's not forget that this was a later play by the author of The Game of Love and Chance), who seems to hesitate between speech and silence, reality and illusion, taste for the truth and art of the false. Beautiful work. Great theater.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy