“The Exile Returns” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in America

The Exile Returns

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn posed such a threat to the Soviet Politburo that it exiled him after the publication of “The Gulag Archipelago,” but for twenty years the West was also a reluctant audience for his uncompromising views. Now, having completed his historical opus, the author is going home, to seek a role in the new Russia.

 

Other background:

https://www.moscovery.com/aleksandr-solzhenitsyn/

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1970/solzhenitsyn-bio.html

 

Key Books:

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Francois Mitterrand – Man of Action, Man of Words – Review of Philip Short’s, A Taste For Intrigue.

Francois Mitterrand – Man of Action, Man of Words – Review of Philip Short’s, A Taste For Intrigue.

R. L. Wallace November 8, 2015

Sitting up late one evening at Latche, I hear, all around me, talk of life and death, the origins of the world and the existence of God, the beyond and nothingness. The battle rages in both camps. What certainties on either side! They demonstrate, decide definitely, assert authoritatively. I listen and think that though I like those who ask themselves questions. I am wary of those who find answers.”
Francois Mitterrand – The Wheat and the Chaff

A man who lives the myths of his country is valued by its citizens because he shows through his actions and words what life is about, what its culture is.

The concept of country in France is as rich and fierce as any on earth, embodying Greek polis, the rule of monarchs, pagan cults, Roman poetry and oration, and Christianity in all of its beauty and beastiality.

Mitterrand, given his unique character, provided this composite for citizens to project upon, and to see themselves and to take in correspondences.

He stirred the thinking of the people. He defined causes worthy of engagement. He was fortunate in that human events were presented that allowed for the full expression of human action in the present.

He echoed de Gaulle, Napoleon, Robespierre and Louis XIV the sun king: strength, tolerance and justice for all people, leadership in the world community, the rule of law.

His actions as president strengthened the democracy, rebuilt the architecture of learning and created paths to adjust France to the new globalism and a European union. He knew where he wanted to take the people, a socialism that created equality for its citizens, a culture that blended Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance with the pragmatism of the American William James.

Mitterrand was a complex individual. He was highly mannered, a mesmerizing orator, a friend’s friend and a fierce opponent. These characteristics were honed in a rich family life. He grew up in the provinces, raised Catholic in a large family where books and learning were held in high regard and where the perception of money was devalued. He learned the rules of class from commerce (cognac vs vinegar) and religion (protestant vs Catholic). Entering Catholic boarding school at ten, he left the provinces for Paris at eighteen to enroll in two French colleges where he studied law, literature and politics with honors. He engaged in literary work beginning in the Catholic school through college and into the military and beyond. He was a strong writer and editor and applied the knowledge of literature and culture in most of his endeavors. Mitterrand developed a rigorous use of logic that is uniquely French – highly rational, academic and just.

He was a front line participant in losing his country and winning it back.

“In six weeks, four fifths of the French army deployed against Germany was taken prisoner….1.8 million soldiers were captured. … they were sent to POW camps inside Germany.” 1.

“Mitterrand was wounded on June 14, 1940, near the village of Stenay, by an exploding shell fragment that lodged in his back.” 2.

As an infantryman (colonial soldier) he fought hard, was wounded in battle, was captured, became a leader in the detention camp, escaped from German incarceration (after two failed attempts), and became a leader in the resistance that finally toppled the German occupation.

After WWII Mitterrand entered civilian life and joined the French political establishment where he operated for decades before his election to president in 1981. It is this period that Short spends most of the book describing in excruciating detail.

Philip Short has made an important contribution to Mitterrand works available in English. His reportorial style is fact based and walks the reader through Mitterrand’s chronological life steps. Mr Short reported on Mitterrand and other French issues for the BBC for several years in the 1980’s thus giving him a base of experience for the book.

Today there is an ongoing literary renaissance of French books, essays and films that celebrate Mitterrand’s life. It is hoped that more books will be translated into English. It is unfortunate for Americans that France is largely lost through the veil of language as it is the central host of the culture most important to the founding of America and the structure of its culture.
Notes

1. Philip Short, A Taste For Intrigue – The Multiple Lives Of Francois Mitterrand (Henry Holt and Company (New York 2014) p. 47.

2. Ronald Tiersky, Francois Mitterrand – The Last French President, (St. Martins Press June 2000), p 49.

In Putin’s Nationalist Russia, a Tolstoy as Cultural Diplomat

It is not a surprise that literature aids all countries in showing a human face in the midst of 
hard-edge politics and ideology.This piece is from The New York Times. Follwing the NYT piece is aninterview with Putin and Tolstoy concerning the culture policy document.
RLW

20150321TOLSTOY-slide-19NS-jumboCreditJames Hill for The New York Times

By RACHEL DONADIO, MARCH 20, 2015

YASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — On a sunny winter afternoon here, Vladimir Tolstoy, a great-great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy and an adviser on cultural affairs to President Vladimir V. Putin, strode up the birch-lined path that leads to the bucolic family compound where his forebear wrote “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” It is now a state museum. At each step, he was greeted by staff members heading home for the day.

“Good evening,” Mr. Tolstoy said with a warm smile. “Good evening,” the museum employees, mostly women, responded. “Please send our best regards to our czar and tell him we respect him very much,” one woman told Mr. Tolstoy, who nodded cheerfully.

At once friendly and feudal, the scene at this estate some 125 miles south of Moscow captured something of the mood in Russia today, where Mr. Putin is regarded as a czar, especially outside the big cities, even as the liberal intelligentsia reviles him and laments his popularity. It also reflects the benefits for Mr. Putin of enlisting the support of a member of an illustrious family as he continues to strike notes of national pride.

Since being tapped by Mr. Putin in 2012, Mr. Tolstoy, 52, has emerged as the more conciliatory, highbrow and Western-friendly face of Kremlin cultural policy. He works with, but is temperamentally different from, Russia’s more combative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, who is known for aggressive assertions of Russian superiority and conservative values.

Mr. Tolstoy said he had worked to remove language from a ministry policy draft that was leaked last year stating that “Russia is not Europe.” But, like most Russians, Mr. Tolstoy is full-throated in his support of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, a territory that many Russians believe should not have been ceded to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954.

“Leo Tolstoy was a Russian officer who defended Russia in the Fourth Bastion in Sevastopol,” he said, speaking through a translator over tea in a cafe near the museum. “For us, in our mind, this has always been Russia.”

He was referring to the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55 in the Crimean War, in which Russia fought the allied forces of France, Britain, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire and ultimately lost control of the city. “Of course, as a descendant of the Russian officer Leo Tolstoy, I cannot have any other attitude toward that,” he added.

Mr. Tolstoy was raised in a middle-class family in the Moscow region and trained as a journalist. In 1994, he was named director of Yasnaya Polyana, which is centered on the house where the novelist wrote and has been preserved as it was at the time of his death, in 1910. There are also a working farm and orchards, and Tolstoy’s grave is in a wooded glen that the writer associated with his beloved older brother, who died young.

Mr. Tolstoy improved the quality and range of activities at the museum, adding lectures, a literary prize and Russian-language classes. His wife, Ekaterina Tolstaya, took over as director after he became an adviser to Mr. Putin.

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Mr. Tolstoy said that Mr. Putin had offered him the post after a meeting of museum directors in April 2012 at which Mr. Tolstoy criticized the government’s cultural strategy and the president’s advisory council for culture as ineffective. “When the meeting was over, the president asked me to stay for a bit and asked if I was so critical, could I do this job better?” Mr. Tolstoy said. Now, he briefs Mr. Putin on cultural issues and acts a bridge between Russia’s cultural world and the Kremlin.

On a recent afternoon, he was fielding calls from Irkutsk, Siberia, for help with funeral arrangements for the writer Valentin Rasputin, who died last week at 77 and had expressed a preference to be buried in Irkutsk, his birthplace. Mr. Tolstoy said he regarded Mr. Rasputin as the best writer of the past half-century. He was known for his vivid portrayals of the environmental devastation caused by industrialization in rural Russia and also for his conservatism: He called for prosecuting the punk activist group Pussy Riot after its provocative performance in a Moscow church and inveighed against perestroika, the liberalization initiated under Mikhail S. Gorbachev before the Soviet Union disintegrated.

Not long ago, the sense that Russia had somehow lost its way after the fall of the Soviet Union was pervasive here, but Mr. Tolstoy and other Putin loyalists have succeeded in reviving a sense of national pride expressly through cultural policy.

Guided by Mr. Tolstoy, a committee of leading cultural figures and state officials ultimately produced an 18-page policy document that defines culture broadly, saying it is as valuable to Russia as its natural resources. It also touches on moral precepts, the importance of religion in shaping values and the place of the Russian language in uniting a country of more than 140 million people and diverse ethnicities. The document also highlights Russia’s distinctiveness “as a country which unites two worlds, East and West.”

Some cultural figures have criticized the document for not addressing the pervasive influence of Russian state television, which operates as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Many didn’t pay it much attention. “It’s abstract, like a biblical text,” said Kirill Razlogov, a prominent film historian.

Far more concrete is the impact of laws that ban obscene words in the theater, films and public performances and that criminalize giving offense to religious believers, both of which were passed after Pussy Riot’s members were jailed in 2012.

While Mr. Tolstoy may agree with the general direction, his approach is more tolerant. “I believe everything has a right to exist unless it’s a provocation,” he said. “I think art shouldn’t be offensive.” As for Pussy Riot, he said: “I don’t support them, but on the other hand I also believe the reaction was inappropriate. An artist shouldn’t be punished in court.”

He described himself as a moderate who could “find balance” between traditionalists and liberals looking Westward. “On the one hand, Russia is open for cooperation,” he said. “And on the other hand, we have our own perspective on good and evil.”

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Mr. Tolstoy seems to be generally respected by the intelligentsia. Victor Erofeyev, a writer who has been critical of Mr. Putin, said he thought Mr. Tolstoy was “a smart guy” who also reflects a growing tendency since Mr. Putin’s re-election in 2012 to see Russia as somehow purer than the West.

“They really believe in it,” Mr. Erofeyev said. “It’s not like during Communist times under Brezhnev” when “people say, ‘I love Communism,’ but we never believe in it. Here they play with a notion of Russia in a more delicate way. They say, ‘You know, Russia is still is a country of big culture, it’s a country of big human relationships, friendship, love affairs and so on, and that’s why we are more interesting than the West.’ ”

Back at the cafe, Mr. Tolstoy grew animated in talking about Russian pride. “Today’s Russia cannot be forced to do what it doesn’t want to,” he said. “It’s impossible to achieve either by sanctions, or even by an overt attack. Russia respects itself, and it wants only justice, nothing else.”

On that wintry afternoon, dozens of visitors flocked to Yasnaya Polyana. There was snow on the ground and gray ice on the pond, and the birch trees caught the afternoon light. The spirit of the novelist’s former home “is love,” Mr. Tolstoy reflected.

In Tolstoy’s novels, “there are no characters who are complete villains,” his great-great-grandson said. “All of his characters are real people.”

Correction: March 21, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of a Russian writer who died last week. He is Valentin Rasputin, not Vladimir.

__________________________________

Working meeting with Presidential Adviser Vladimir Tolstoy

April 23, 2014, 15:45 The Kremlin, Moscow

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photo: The Presidential Press and Information Office.

 

Mr Tolstoy presented to Vladimir Putin the draft Basic Principles of State Culture Policy.

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Tolstoy, is the concept document for developing the culture sector ready now?

PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER VLADIMIR TOLSTOY: Yes. Above all, thank you for entrusting us with its drafting. The result is an unprecedented and very interesting piece of work.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As far as I know, it has aroused a lot of debate.

VLADIMIR TOLSTOY: Yes, it is the subject of active public debate right now, though what is being discussed is not the document itself, but the preliminary materials that made their way via various sources to the press and have indeed sparked a huge public discussion. This shows that the time is indeed ripe to address the various issues in the culture sector, and that the public wants a serious debate at the national level on this matter.

A working group headed by [Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] Sergei Ivanov was established. We held two meetings, which produced the Basic Principles of State Culture Policy. The draft document, if approved, will then be presented for broad public discussion at various forums such as the Public Council, the State Duma, the Federation Council and youth forums, and the results of these discussions will then be taken into account in drawing up the final text. We will be ready to ask you to approve the Basic Principles of State Culture Policy in autumn, perhaps with its presentation for joint discussion by the Presidential Council for Culture and the State Council, as it is also extremely important to take regional aspects into account too, since the next stage of the work will involve these finer points. This is a national-level document and naturally it outlines the general framework.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What are the main points, as you see them?

VLADIMIR TOLSTOY: I think the most important point is that we need to see culture in much broader terms than just the sector covered by the Culture Ministry: theatres, archives and libraries. Culture is a basic concept, a fundamental part of a person’s identity and the foundation of the national character and even of the state. It includes moral values, broader public education, youth policy issues, and the kinds of cities and villages we live in. We have tried to take an all-encompassing approach to culture. We realise at the same time that managing this process requires a special approach, and this will all be the subject of further discussion.

Culture has a particularly important historical role to play at this moment in our country’s life when we face a complicated foreign policy situation and special circumstances at home. Culture should play a consolidating and unifying role in this situation. Appeals – what I would call inflammatory appeals – that would lead to isolation are very dangerous in this context. We cannot allow internal divisions to emerge. We have a common cultural space, and we have talented people, who perhaps do not all share the same points of view, but it is important that the Basic Principles of State Culture Policy should unify the nation. This is what the document aims to do.

As far as foreign policy goes, you have probably heard from Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Spivakov and many of our other cultural figures about how many provocations take place before their concerts in the West, but how when the concerts are over, audiences of thousands of people give them standing ovations. This is exactly the kind of soft power that should be one of the state’s biggest priorities today, and this is the role that our national culture can play. This will send an important signal to our country and the world that Russia is a nation famed for its great culture and will continue to look for and encourage new talent, especially creative talent.

It is very important for us to keep producing talented composers, writers and directors. This requires a state support system. Talented people develop in their own right of course, but if we do not notice them in time and give them the support they need, we could be losing a national genius who would bring the country fame.

It is very important to educate viewers and readers. People are reading less these days, but Russian literature is a foundation for our moral qualities. We need not just talented performers but also talented listeners and viewers, who know and love music, theatre and film. Perhaps only one in 10,000 people accepted to arts schools will go on to become a real creator, but the other 9,999 people will be talented viewers and will fill up our concert halls.

We have just shown the whole world that we know how to build magnificent, outstanding sports facilities. We have shown that we know how to nurture and develop exceptional athletes who become Olympic champions. I think it is important that the world also see our ability to build equally magnificent theatres. This is already happening. We have the Mariinsky Theatre and the Bolshoi Theatre, theatres in Astrakhan and other cities. It is important that other regions should also become home to strong cultural venues of this kind. We can show the whole world that the flow of creative talent in Russia will never dry up and will always delight the world with new works.

I think the document reflects all of this. At least, it contains the premises that could help our country’s culture to flourish.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I agree with you that culture is our main, unifying national substance. What is important is not people’s official ethnic identities, but how they perceive themselves, who they consider themselves to be, which basic cultural principles were instilled in them from childhood, what kind of environment they were raised in, and what moral and ethical references they follow.

In this sense it is very important to create a common cultural space. I expect that this is the document’s basic aim, but we also need to put in place good conditions for developing cultural institutions and ensuring timely financing for priority areas. This is very important for developing culture as a sector. I hope the document will cover these matters too.

VLADIMIR TOLSTOY: Yes, of course. The document is also concerned with the importance of the information space and the content of television programmes and the Internet. Young people spend more and more time on the Internet today, and what they find there is very important. This is also the concern of culture policy.

We hope very much that these principles will be supported. This is a long-term programme, of course. You are right to note that it addresses primarily children and young people. We can expect to see some substantial results. Some say it will take a generation – 20-25 years – to really get results, but I am not convinced. I think that we could start seeing the first tangible results within 5-6 years or 10-12 years.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s take a more detailed look. As I said, this is the main component and main substance for our self-perception and sense of identity as a nation. This is why it is so important that the document be balanced, and I hope it will be. Let’s take a closer look at it now.

<…>

April 23, 2014, 15:45The Kremlin, Moscow

The War In Ukraine – A Frenchman’s Eyewitness Report – Bernard-Henri Levy

Bernard-Henri Levy: Poroshenko’s visit with death in Kramatorsk before fateful meeting with Putin

Feb. 15, 2015, 12:31 p.m. | Op-ed — by Bernard-Henri Lévy – from Kyiv Post – Ukraine’s leading English-language newspaper.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-POROSHENKO

 

A handout picture taken and released by the Ukrainian presidential press service shows Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (2nd R), standing next to French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy (R), looking late on Feb. 10 at an unexploded rocket in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Oblast. Fighting in Ukraine has killed at least 45 people in the last 24 hours, Kiev officials and rebel authorities said, ahead of a four-way summit in Minsk to thrash out a peace deal.
© AFP

ukraine

map from Google

The meeting was scheduled for that very evening—the evening before the Minsk summit this week—in Petro Poroshenko’s office at the presidential palace in Kyiv.

But the moment my colleague Gilles Hertzog and I arrive at the Kyiv airport and step on the tarmac, my phone rings.

It is Valeriy Chaly, the Ukrainian president’s deputy chief of staff, who is already in Belarus for the summit.

“Stay where you are. Whatever you do, don’t go into town. I can’t tell you anything on the phone. Protocol is coming to pick you up.”

We sit in a deserted waiting room where a converted duty free is selling bad coffee and bars of the Roshen chocolate, ubiquitous in Ukraine, on which Petro Poroshenko made his fortune.

After two hours, the security ballet begins—men in black, headsets in the ear, long, ultra-slim briefcase in hand, a routine that several decades in the planet’s hot spots have taught me signifies the imminent arrival of the Boss.

From there, everything moves quickly. The men in black assume battle stations as we charge back onto the tarmac, where a jet sits with its twin engines running. We scramble up the ramp at the rear. A security man leads us to the forward cabin, where Poroshenko is waiting. The Ukrainian president is barely recognizable in his khaki T-shirt, camouflage pants and military boots—but mostly because of an almost worrisome pallor, something that I have not seen on him before.

“Sorry about all the mystery, but except for him,” Poroshenko gestures to Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian army’s commander in chief, who is also in uniform—“nobody knows where we’re going. Security reasons. But you’ll see. It’s awful. And I want you as witnesses.”

The flight, headed southeast, lasts an hour.

We are headed to Donetsk Oblast, where, the president tells me, vicious shelling of a civilian area has just claimed several dozen victims.

The conversation turns to the summit in Minsk, Belarus, where the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine will meet.

“Tomorrow at this time you’ll be face to face with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. What are you going to say to him?”

“That I will yield on nothing,” Poroshenko replies. “That neither Ukraine’s territorial integrity nor its right to Europe are negotiable.”

“And if he persists? If he won’t abandon his idea of federalizing the areas now in the hands of the separatists?”

“Then I’ll walk out and submit the question to public opinion and to the United Nations. We are not Ethiopia in 1935 or Czechoslovakia in 1938 or one of the little nations sacrificed by the great powers at Yalta. We’re not even your friend [Alija] Izetbegovic, who accepted the partition of Bosnia in Dayton.”

I tell him that the difference this time is that France, under François Hollande, is with him. He says he knows that.

I remind him that Germany contracted an ineradicable debt with respect to Ukraine (seven million dead in World War II alone) and that Chancellor (Angela) Merkel cannot fail to honor it. He nods as if to say that he knows that, too, but is a little less sure of it.

In any event, he feels strongly that his country has paid too dearly for its freedom and independence to accept any form of diktat. “I am hoping with all my heart for a peace agreement, but we are not afraid of war. Didn’t your General (Charles) de Gaulle say that great people, in dark times, have no better friends than themselves?”

We spend the rest of the flight discussing the formal statement that he will make at the opening of the summit, where the fate of his country will be hanging in the balance. It is a little after 10 p.m. when we land in Kharkov.

About 30 armored vehicles are waiting for us near the plane.

And off we go in convoy across the deserted plains of the Dnieper to Kramatorsk. After three hours of fairly easy going, the last 30 miles are a frozen track rutted by military convoys.

No lights to be seen.

Not a soul stirring.

The chilling atmosphere of a dead city.

And then, suddenly, a clutch of poor people warming themselves around a fire.

Here, the middle of the city had been the target of a Smerch rocket fired from a distance of more than 30 miles in the early afternoon.

Here, and within a radius of about 900 yards, the giant antipersonnel weapon released its rain of minirockets, killing 16 people and wounding 65.

And here I discover another Poroshenko: no longer the military leader from the plane; still less the billionaire president that I accompanied to the Élysée Palace a year ago; but a ravaged man, livid in the floodlights illuminating the scene. He listens as survivors recount the hellish whistle of the rocket, the women returning from the market who were mowed down by the deluge of pellets, the panic in the streets as people rushed for shelter, tripping over bodies, the brave mother who covered her child with her body and was killed, the arrival of rescuers, the anguish that another rocket could follow.

“What a disaster,” he groans.

He repeats it several times: “What a disaster . . . We are kilometers from the front. There’s no one here but civilians. This isn’t war—it’s slaughter. This isn’t a war crime; it’s a crime against humanity.”

And then, standing at the edge of the crater formed by a rocket that had failed to explode, Poroshenko—suddenly immense and strangely colossal because of the bulletproof vest that his aides had him don under his jacket—points at the engine of death as if it were his personal enemy and adds: “A monster of that size, outlawed by the Geneva Convention, the separatists don’t have those. That could only be the Russians.”

He repeats, a grim smile freezing his features. “The Russians. When I think that the Russians will be there in Minsk tomorrow and will have the audacity to talk about peace . . .”

A doctor, his arms bare even though the temperature is well below zero, approaches to escort us to the nearby hospital emergency room.

The president lingers at the bed of each of the injured, sometimes asking questions, sometimes offering sympathy, sometimes, with the hardiest, trying to joke. I think I even see him give a quiet blessing to an old woman as she hands him the fragments that had been removed from her legs, saying, “Here, Petro, you give these to Putin. Tell him they’re from Zoya in Kramatorsk.”

We make a last stop, far from the city, at the military headquarters of the general staff of the Donetsk region. In a vast building entirely covered with camouflage net are dozens of officers, helmeted Herculeses, their faces furrowed and exhausted, some asleep on their feet with their backs to the wall, still clutching their weapons. And there Poroshenko resumes the role of war leader. He disappears into the map room with his top officers, where he gives orders for the counteroffensive that will have to be launched if the Minsk summit fails.

It is 3 a.m.

Military intelligence fears the launch of another rocket attack. In any event it is time to go. We take the same route back, though it seems even more desolate.

Once we return to the plane, I tell Poroshenko that I had dinner the night before in Paris with a former ambassador to Ukraine who is advocating deliveries of weapons—and who believes that the Ukrainian armed forces are in a tough spot, especially in the Debaltsevo pocket, where thousands of troops are menaced on three sides.

“He’s not wrong there,” Poroshenko responds with a smile, digging into the cold cuts that the flight attendant has just brought to him. “But make no mistake: The time is long past when the navy at Sebastopol and the barracks at Belbek and Novofedorivka gave up without firing a shot. That’s the only advantage of war: You learn how to wage it.”

I also tell him that many in the U.S. and Europe doubt the capacity of his soldiers to make good use of the sophisticated weapons that eventually may be delivered to them. At this, he guffaws and, after exchanging a few words in Ukrainian with his chief of staff, says:

“Well, tell them, please, that they’ve got it wrong. We would need a week, no more, to take full possession of the equipment. Know that, because we had no choice, our army is about to become the best, the bravest, and the most hardened force in the region.”

From that point on, he darkens again only when I mention the uphill battle that his American friends will have to fight before any equipment can be delivered: Congress will have to reapprove the Ukrainian Freedom Support Act that it first passed on Dec. 11. It is an appropriation bill to release the $350 million in military aid that was approved. Final approval will be needed from President Obama, whose tendency to procrastinate in such matters is well known. And a decision will need to be made about whether the equipment can be taken from existing stocks or will have to be manufactured, which would take even more time.

“I know all that,” Mr. Poroshenko mutters, closing his eyes. “I know. But maybe we’ll get a miracle. Yes, a miracle.”

That reminds me that Poroshenko is a practicing Christian, a deacon in civilian life. On the presidential campaign trail last year, in Dnepropetrovsk and elsewhere, before every meeting, I watched him find the nearest church and take a moment to kneel and pray.

***

The idea also crosses my mind that the skilled strategist that he has become—the civilized man whom circumstances have obliged to join the admirable club of reluctant heroes who make war without wanting to—is possibly thinking that what he most needs now is to gain time. Perhaps gaining a few weeks would be the chief advantage of the accords that, without for an instant trusting Vladimir Putin’s word, he is going to sign.

Minsk. Is it a fool’s bargain?

Will the agreement he signs be a false one that, like last September’s, stops the war for just a month or two?

Of course. Deep down, he knows it. His statement after the signing of the accord was simple: “The main thing which has been achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared without any conditions at all a general cease-fire.”

For the time being, the nightmare will recede a bit.

It is nearly dawn when we finally land in Kyiv. And Poroshenko has only a few hours to make it to that summit where, one way or another, he has a rendezvous with history.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is a leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His 2013 book, Les Aventures de la vérité—Peinture et philosophie (Grasset/Fondation Maeght), explored the historical interplay of philosophy and art. A play, Hotel Europe, performed in Sarajevo, Venice, Odessa, and Paris in the latter half of 2014, is a cry of alarm about the crisis facing the European project and the dream behind it. This article was translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.

 

Towards a More Altruistic Society – Matthieu Ricard

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Towards a more altruistic society

At the end of last week, Plaidoyer pour l’altruisme (The Case for Altruism), a 920 page-book on which I have been intensely working for 5 years, came out in French (the English publication is scheduled for January 2015).

Cooperation, wrote Martin Nowak, is “the architect of creativity throughout evolution, from cells to multicellular creatures to anthills to villages to cities. Without cooperation there can be neither construction nor complexity in evolution”(1).

It seems that, today, we need to move to the next level of cooperation to face the many challenges that our times are confronted with. Each of these challenges has its temporality and priority. A major difficulty consists in reconciling three different time scales and three different types of preoccupations: the economy in the short term, life satisfaction in the mid-term, and environment in the long term.

The economy and finance are evolving at an ever-faster pace. Life satisfaction is measured on the scale of a life project, a career, a family, a generation and a life time. The evolution of the environment used to be measured in terms of millennia and era, but the pace of environmental changes has now considerably accelerated.

We should not however give up the idea of reconciling these three time scales. Altruism is the vital thread that can link them together and harmonize their requirements. Altruism is not merely a noble, somewhat naive ideal; today, more than ever, it is a necessity.

If we have more consideration for others, we will not indulge in wild, self-oriented speculations with the savings of those who have placed their trust in us.

If we have more consideration for others, we will care for the quality of life of those around us, we will make sure that their situation improves.

Finally, if we have more consideration for future generations, we will not blindly sacrifice the world that we hand down to them in favor of our short-term wants and desires.

Altruism is thus the key to our survival and the determining factor of the quality of our current and future existence. We must have the insight to recognize it and the audacity to say so.

In its essence, altruism is a benevolent state of mind, consisting of feeling concerned for the fate of all those around us, and wishing them well, strengthened by our determination to act for their benefit. Valuing others is the most fundamental state of mind that leads to altruism. When it is our “default mode”, it expresses itself as benevolence towards anyone who might come into the field of one’s attention and translates itself as goodwill, readiness and willingness to care. As shown by psychologist Daniel Batson, when there is a need that is perceived in others, we readily develop empathic concern, bringing about the urge to fulfill that need. When the need is related to a yearning for happiness, valuing others and benevolence will foster the realization of that aspiration. When the need is related to suffering, valuing others and compassion will induce us to remedy the suffering and its causes.

On the individual level, collaboration between neuroscientists and contemplatives has shown that altruism and compassion are skills that can be cultivated with training. These studies have also distinguished the differences between empathy (the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others), loving-kindness (the wish that others may be happy) and compassion (the wish that they might be free from suffering).

At the society level, research in the field of cultural evolution has also shown that human cultural values can change faster than our genes, and bring about significant transformations in societies. How can we bring about a shift towards a more altruistic, compassionate culture? First of all we need to recognize the importance of altruism. We then need to cultivate it at an individual level and, from there, bring about cultural changes. Cultures and individuals mutually shape each other, just as two knife blades can be used to sharpen the other.

Ricard, M. (2013). Plaidoyer pour l’altruisme. Nil Editions.

Buy the book in French

(1) Nowak, M., & Highfield, R. (2011). SuperCooperators (Reprint.). Free Press

Matthieu Ricard

Born in France in 1946 as the son of French philosopher Jean-François Revel and artist Yahne Le Toumelin, Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, author, translator, and photographer. He first visited India in 1967 where he met great spiritual masters from Tibet. After completing his Ph.D. degree in cell genetics in 1972, he moved to the Himalayan region where he has been living for the past 40 years.

Written works
Matthieu Ricard is the author of several books, such as Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Why Meditate? (The Art of Meditation in the UK), The Quantum and the Lotus (a dialogue with the astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan), and The Monk and the Philosopher, a dialogue with his father. His books have been translated into over twenty languages.Translations of Buddhist texts
Matthieu Ricard has dedicated his life to the study and practice of Buddhism following the teachings of the greatest Tibetan spiritual masters of our time. He has been the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama since 1989. He is the author of several volumes of Buddhist texts translated from the Tibetan, such as The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin, The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, and The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva (teachings by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche).

Photography
For many years Matthieu Ricard has been photographing the landscapes, spiritual masters, and people of the magnificent Himalayan region. His work is exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout the world. He is the author and photographer of a number of photography books including Bhutan: The Land of Serenity, Motionless Journey: From a Hermitage in the Himalayas, and Tibet: An Inner Journey.

Scientific Contributions
Matthieu Ricard is an active member of the Mind and Life Institute, an organization dedicated to broadening the understanding of how the mind works by exploring the intersection between contemplative traditions and contemporary scientific inquiry.
He contributes to the research on the effect of meditation on the brain at various universities in the USA and Europe and is the co-author of several scientific publications.Humanitarian commitment
All proceeds from Matthieu Ricard’s books, photographs, and events are donated to Karuna-Shechen (www.karuna-shechen.org/), the humanitarian association he created. Based on the ideal of “compassion in action”, Karuna-Shechen develops education, medical, and social projects for the most destitute populations of the Himalayan region.

For more information on Karuna-Shechen : www.karuna-shechen.org

The Neophyte – Diligence In the Face Of The World

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Gustave Dore: Le néophyte. (The Neophyte). c. 1877. Etching.
Awareness and vigilance in the midst of despair and death. Having the ability to look clearly at the world as it is and to work with it to achieve a balance and harmony of being, To give and receive in kind. This unique ability that only a few are able to attain – most are shrouded in darkness, myopia, despair and tunnel vision. And the massive amounts of intelligence, the billions of humans that have these characteristics, the capabilities that are lost to inwardness without a release, without an outward expression that connects, that is vibrant , that shares in the give and take.  This absence is a veil, a curtain, a fog that encapsulates the being, and limits awareness, precludes an ability to see how everything is connected and to give the connectiveness value — one person at a time. Zen calls the neophyte a person who possess the beginner’s mind. – rlw

A Brit Blows America’s Horn – “America The Marvelous”

July 2013

America the Marvelous

At any liberal-establishment dinner table in London, say, or Paris, the U.S. will figure as a big, fat, dumb child. Enough, says the author, in an adaptation from his new book: America is Europe’s finest invention—and ultimate aspiration.

By A. A. GillIllustration by Barry Blitt
KING OF THE WORLD The author has had it with European antipathy toward America.

Adapted from To America with Love, by A. A. Gill, © 2011 by A. A. Gill. Originally published in Great Britain in 2012 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson; to be published in the U.S. next month by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

‘Stupid, stupid. Americans are stupid. America is stupid. A stupid, stupid country made stupid by stupid, stupid people.” I particularly remember that because of the nine stupids. It was said over a dinner table by a professional woman, a clever, clever, clever woman. Hardback-educated, bespokely traveled, liberally humane, worked in the arts. I can’t remember specifically why she said it, what evidence of New World idiocy triggered the trope. Nor do I remember what the reaction was, but I don’t need to remember. It would have been a nodded and muttered agreement. Even from me. I’ve heard this cock crow so often I don’t even feel guilt for not wringing its neck.

Among the educated, enlightened, expensive middle classes of Europe, this is a received wisdom. A given. Stronger in some countries like France, less so somewhere like Germany, but overall the Old World patronizes America for being a big, dumb, fat, belligerent child. The intellectuals, the movers and the makers and the creators, the dinner-party establishments of people who count, are united in the belief—no, the knowledge—that Americans are stupid, crass, ignorant, soul-less, naïve oafs without attention, irony, or intellect. These same people will use every comforting, clever, and ingenious American invention, will demand America’s medicine, wear its clothes, eat its food, drink its drink, go to its cinema, love its music, thank God for its expertise in a hundred disciplines, and will all adore New York. More than that, more shaming and hypocritical than that, these are people who collectively owe their nations’ and their personal freedom to American intervention and protection in wars, both hot and cold. Who, whether they credit it or not, also owe their concepts of freedom, equality, and civil rights in no small part to America. Of course, they will also sign collective letters accusing America of being a Fascist, totalitarian, racist state.

Enough. Enough, enough, enough of this convivial rant, this collectively confirming bigotry. The nasty laugh of little togetherness, or Euro-liberal insecurity. It’s embarrassing, infectious, and belittling. Look at that European snapshot of America. It is so unlike the country I have known for 30 years. Not just a caricature but a travesty, an invention. Even on the most cursory observation, the intellectual European view of the New World is a homemade, Old World effigy that suits some internal purpose. The belittling, the discounting, the mocking of Americans is not about them at all. It’s about us, back here on the ancient, classical, civilized Continent. Well, how stupid can America actually be? On the international list of the world’s best universities, 14 of the top 20 are American. Four are British. Of the top 100, only 4 are French, and Heidelberg is one of 4 that creeps in for the Germans. America has won 338 Nobel Prizes. The U.K., 119. France, 59. America has more Nobel Prizes than Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia combined. Of course, Nobel Prizes aren’t everything, and America’s aren’t all for inventing Prozac or refining oil. It has 22 Peace Prizes, 12 for literature. (T. S. Eliot is shared with the Brits.)

And are Americans emotionally dim, naïve, irony-free? Do you imagine the society that produced Dorothy Parker and Lenny Bruce doesn’t understand irony? It was an American who said that political satire died when they awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger. It’s not irony that America lacks; it’s cynicism. In Europe, that arid sneer out of which nothing is grown or made is often mistaken for the creative scalpel of irony. And what about vulgarity? Americans are innately, sniggeringly vulgar. What, vulgar like Henry James or Eleanor Roosevelt or Cole Porter, or the Mormons? Again, it’s a question of definitions. What Americans value and strive for is straight talking, plain saying. They don’t go in for ambiguity or dissembling, the etiquette of hidden meaning, the skill of the socially polite lie. The French in particular confuse unadorned direct language with a lack of culture or intellectual elegance. It was Camus who sniffily said that only in America could you be a novelist without being an intellectual. There is a belief that America has no cultural depth or critical seriousness. Well, you only have to walk into an American bookshop to realize that is wildly wrong and willfully blind. What about Mark Twain, or jazz, or Abstract Expressionism?

What is so contrary about Europe’s liberal antipathy to America is that any visiting Venusian anthropologist would see with the merest cursory glance that America and Europe are far more similar than they are different. The threads of the Old World are woven into the New. America is Europe’s greatest invention. That’s not to exclude the contribution to America that has come from around the globe, but it is built out of Europe’s ideas, Europe’s understanding, aesthetic, morality, assumptions, and laws. From the way it sets a table to the chairs it sits on, to the rhythms of its poetry and the scales of its music, the meter of its aspirations and its laws, its markets, its prejudices and neuroses. The conventions and the breadth of America’s reason are European.

This isn’t a claim for ownership, or for credit. But America didn’t arrive by chance. It wasn’t a ship that lost its way. It wasn’t coincidence or happenstance. America grew tall out of the cramping ache of old Europe.

When I was a child, there was a lot of talk of a “brain drain”—commentators, professors, directors, politicians would worry at the seeping of gray matter across the Atlantic. Brains were being lured to California by mere money. Mere money and space, and sun, and steak, and Hollywood, and more money and opportunity and optimism and openness. People who took the dollar in exchange for their brains were unpatriotic in much the same way that tax exiles were. The unfair luring of indigenous British thought would, it was darkly said, lead to Britain falling behind, ceasing to be the pre-eminently brilliant and inventive nation that had produced the Morris Minor and the hovercraft. You may have little idea how lauded and revered Sir Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the hovercraft, was, and you may well not be aware of what a noisy, unstable waste of effort the hovercraft turned out to be, but we were very proud of it for a moment.

The underlying motif of the brain drain was that for real cleverness you needed years of careful breeding. Cold bedrooms, tinned tomatoes on toast, a temperament and a heritage that led to invention and discovery. And that was really available only in Europe and, to the greatest extent, in Britain. The brain drain was symbolic of a postwar self-pity. The handing back of Empire, the slow, Kiplingesque watch as the things you gave your life to are broken, and you have to stoop to build them up with worn-out tools. There was resentment and envy—whereas in the first half of the 20th century Britain had spent the last of Grandfather’s inherited capital, leaving it exhausted and depressed, for America the war had been the engine that geared up industry and pulled it out of the Depression, capitalizing it for a half-century of plenty. It seemed so unfair.

The real brain drain was already 300 years old. The idea of America attracted the brightest and most idealistic, and the best from all over Europe. European civilization had reached a stasis. By its own accounting, it had grown from classical Greece to become an identifiable, homogeneous place, thanks to the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity. Following the Dark Ages, there was the Renaissance and the Reformation, and then the Age of Reason, from which grew a series of ideas and discoveries, philosophies and visions, that became pre-eminent. But at the moment of their creation here comes the United States—just as Europe was reaching a point where the ideas that moved it were outgrowing the conventions and the hierarchies that governed it. Democracy, free economy, free trade, free speech, and social mobility were stifled by the vested interests and competing stresses of a crowded and class-bound continent. Migration to America may have been primarily economic, but it also created the space where the ideas that in Europe had grown too root-bound to flourish might be transplanted. Over 200 years the flame that had been lit in Athens and fanned in Rome, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Stockholm, Prague, and Vienna was passed, a spark at a time, to the New World.

In 1776 the white and indentured population of America was 2.5 million. A hundred years later it was nearly 50 million. In 1890, America overtook Britain in manufacturing output to become the biggest industrial economy in the world. No economy in the history of commerce has grown that precipitously, and this was 25 years after the most murderous, expensive, and desperate civil war. Indeed, America may have reached parity with Britain as early as 1830. Right from its inception it had faster growth than old Europe. It now accounts for a quarter of the world’s economy. It wasn’t individual brains that made this happen. It wasn’t a man with a better mousetrap. It was a million families who wanted a better mousetrap and were willing to work making mousetraps. It was banks that would finance the manufacture of better mousetraps, and it was a big nation with lots of mice.

One of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in public was to appear—against all judgment—in a debate at the Hay Literary Festival in the mid-90s, speaking in defense of the motion that American culture should be resisted. Along with me on this cretin’s errand was the historian Norman Stone. I can’t remember what I said—I’ve erased it. It had no weight or consequence. On the other side, the right side, were Adam Gopnik, from The New Yorker, and Salman Rushdie. After we’d proposed the damn motion, Rushdie leaned in to the microphone, paused for a moment, regarding the packed theater from those half-closed eyes, and said, soft and clear, “Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby, / Be-bop-a-lula, I don’t mean maybe. / Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby, / Be-bop-a-lula, I don’t mean maybe. / Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby love.”

It was the triumph of the sublime. The bookish audience burst into applause and cheered. It was all over, bar some dry coughing. America didn’t bypass or escape civilization. It did something far more profound, far cleverer: it simply changed what civilization could be. It set aside the canon of rote, the long chain letter of drawing-room, bon-mot received aesthetics. It was offered a new, neoclassical, reconditioned, reupholstered start, a second verse to an old song, and it just took a look at the view and felt the beat of this vast nation and went for the sublime.

There is in Europe another popular snobbery, about the parochialism of America, the unsophistication of its taste, the limit of its inquiry. This, we’re told, is proved by “how few Americans travel abroad.” Apparently, so we’re told, only 35 percent of Americans have passports. Whenever I hear this, I always think, My good golly gosh, really? That many? Why would you go anywhere else? There is so much of America to wonder at. So much that is the miracle of a newly minted civilization. And anyway, European kids only get passports because they all want to go to New York.