Les abeilles grises
The most famous Russian-speaking Ukrainian novelist gives us a glimpse into daily life during an absurd war and those subjected to it, featuring as its central character a beekeeper, a retired safety inspector of the Donbass coal mines. He and Pashka are the last two inhabitants of a tiny village in the Donetsk region who have not yet fled the fighting. As we have come to expect from Andrey Kurkov, the tail is told with a skilful blend of irony, humour, dreams, realism and surrealism, never losing the great empathy he has for all the characters. In this war, dressed as a clash between separatists and the Ukrainian army (Putin has not yet launched his “special operation”), Kurkov shows us the solidarity that begets survival and gives a human face even to the cruellest enemy, even including a Russian sniper who ends up, despite everything, in 1000 pieces like a jigsaw puzzle, the victim of a war that makes sense only to those who invented it.
Tired of life in a village with no electricity and shells whizzing overhead, Sergeyich decides in the spring to take his bees to more peaceful lands. “Without the bees, he would not have gone anywhere, he would have taken pity on Pashka, he would not have left him all on his own. But the bees don’t understand that the country is at war! The bees cannot go from peace to war and from war to peace like humans can. The bees can fly all they want, they could never cover more than 5 km and, therefore, they had nothing to do but the essential task to which they were destined by God and nature: making honey. This was why he was on the road, this was why he was transporting them. He was taking them to a place of calm, where the air gradually became full of the sweet fragrance of wildflowers, where the symphony of these flowers would soon be supported by the fragrance of cherry trees, apple trees, apricots trees and acacias”.
Kurkov takes us on a journey with Sergeyich to Zaporizhzhia, one of so many places whose names have become familiar to us a year after the Russian invasion, before entering the territory of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014 in another very special, but no less illegal operation. Moving to occupied territory allows the author to refresh our memories as to the fate of the unfortunate Tatars. On the way, Sergeyich and his bees have many adventures, in all senses of the word, as well as misadventures, before returning home. A most enjoyable novel, full of tenderness and written with all the skill of a great storyteller. (Olivier Jehin)
Andrey Kurkov. We reviewed the translation into French from the Russian (Ukraine) by Paul Lequesne. Les abeilles grises. Liana Levi. ISBN: 979-1-0349-0510-2. 399 pages. €23,00
The Rebirth of Europe after the War
The 219th work in the Red Books collection of the Jean Monnet Foundation is devoted to the gestation of the idea of European integration within resistance movements in Europe and, more particularly, in France. It is the results of collaboration between Foundation and the Presse fédéraliste and contains many archive documents. The work enjoyed the support of the Erasmus + programme of the European Commission.
Robert Belot, Professor of Contemporary History at the University Jean Monnet (Saint-Etienne), starts his introduction by arguing that “the hatred felt by modern Europhobes for the European construct and the idea of Europe is fuelled by a faulty and untimely rereading of history” which, by disregarding the role of Resistance figures such as Henri Fresnay, reduce its history to a manipulation by the US government and a “liberal conspiracy”. This viewpoint is not new, the author stresses, pointing out that it was given much traction by the French Communists following the Second World War, before being relaunched more recently by the far right and national-populist movements.
The work devotes much space to the French Resistance fighter Henri Fresnay and those who influenced him, starting with Berty Albrecht and René Capitant, or who worked with him to propagate the idea of federalism. Belot highlights Fresnay’s pioneering nature, referring to the content of a letter written by Fresnay to General De Gaulle on 8 November 1942, in which he stresses the need, once the war was over, to treat Germany on an equal footing with the other nations in a “well-designed European Union”. In his view, such a union was the best way to avoid further wars; after all, nobody could imagine California declaring war on Wisconsin, Fresnay argued, going on to add that this union presupposed “unity in foreign policy, the creation of a European army and no longer national armies”. Although this is not yet the case, Fresnay’s other major proposal did come about later on, in the form of the ECSC. In his letter, indeed, he argues that state control of heavy industry “would prohibit not only Germany but any other nation from becoming a danger to other nations”. It was not until 1943 in Algiers that Jean Monnet would propose something similar, well before the Americans and the Cold War, Belot notes. It was also Fresnay who orchestrated meetings, in 1942 and then 1943, of a collaboration with other European resistance movements, including the Italian anti-fascists Ignazio Silone, Ernesto Rossi and Altiero Spinelli. In autumn 1943, these pockets of resistance to Nazism and fascism began to prepare a conference of federalists. In autumn 1944, a brochure was published entitled “L’Europe fédéraliste : de la résistance à l’unité européenne” by the Provisional Committee for the European Federation, instigated by Jean-Marie Soutou and Altiero Spinelli. It was this Committee’s ambition to convince “Europeans of all nations, of all parties who had fought for freedom to create a European democracy”. The first international conference of the European federalists was held in Paris from 22 to 25 March 1945, two months before Germany surrendered.
Despite their differences, Gaullists and communists shared the same conception of national sovereignty and foreign policy. They blocked the emergence of a truly Federalist policy and a policy of rapprochement with Germany, Belot writes, adding: “the relationship to post-war Europe introduced a new dividing line and line of confrontation. The federalists regrouped outside institutional politics and created important movements that very often, however, ignored the complexity of political life and geopolitical reality; they did not want to see the indifference of the ‘masses’ to Europe”.
“Fresnay’s commitment is interesting in that it allows us to examine the question of the immediate failure of the plan of the non-Communist Resistance to establish an integrated Europe at the end of the war and, in general, the reticence of people to think ‘European’. But beyond that, and this concerns to the present day, it allows us to better highlight the anti-historical nature of today’s anti-Europeanist theses, which thrive on myths, plots, lies, manipulation, and, above all, ignorance or, rather, a lack of awareness”, Belot writes, adding: “Monnet was not the only person who wanted to make Europe: during the Cold War, Federalist movements did not wait for the shackles of the CIA to promote the idea of a united Europe. In 1935, Fresnay became aware of the threat posed by nazism to democratic Europe and decided to engage to participate in a war of ‘civilisation’. His fight in the Resistance bore witness to this unyielding patriotism, ready to sacrifice everything in order not to suffer humiliation. But it was in this sacrifice and this suffering where he would find the resources need to think world of tomorrow and imagine a reconciled, peaceful Europe, the Europe we are lucky to know today”.
Robert Belot concludes by pointing out that the “Federalist ‘Grand Soir’ did not take place. Europe was ‘built’ differently via other means, in a different context. But this idealism, based on values tested by commitment to life and death, had not been in vain: it had constituted a horizon of expectation that made it possible to enlighten those who wanted to change the course of European history. Only the resolute pragmatism of Jean Monnet could advance the idea of Europe. While not all Resistance fighters were Europeanists, the Resistance fighters represented by Fresnay, as Elie Barnavi and Kryztof Pomian would write, ‘served as a link between the Europeanists of the inter-war period and those of after the Victory’: they had kept the flame of another Europe alight during the dark nights of Hitlerism, and their federalist commitment after the war helped develop European consciousness and maintain a duty of collaborative governance between nation-states that, little by little, has become a reality”. (O. J.)
Robert Belot. The Rebirth of Europe after the War – Hopes, divisions and failure among the French Resistance (1942-1947). Jean Monnet Foundation. The Red Books, 2022. ISSN: 1661-8955. 285 pages. The full text of the work is available free of charge from the website of the Foundation: https://jean-monnet.ch. Hard copies of the work may be ordered at a cost of 20 CHF in Switzerland and 35 CHF outside, including postage, from the foundation (+41 21 692 20 90 / email@example.com).
Pour le fédéralisme
Edition 194 of the federalist review contains an interview with historian Antonella Braga, who has just added her signature to the introduction of the work bringing together “L’Europe de demain” and other texts by European federalist Ernesto Rossi, which will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of our “Kiosk”.
In it, historian Robert Belot contribute an article on the suicide, 80 years ago on 22 February 1942, of Stefan Zweig and his wife. The other great European “had 60 years and an immense task behind him”, but “hope had deserted him”, the author writes (our translation throughout). Before referring to Zweig’s biography of Erasmus, he stresses that a few days before his death, the great writer had lamented the fact that his “spiritual fatherland, Europe, [had] destroyed itself”. “The year 2022 almost completely overlooked this anniversary, even though it helps us to appreciate the progress that has been made to date for this Europe to be reborn”, Belot adds.
Also worthy of mention is an article by Pierre Klein, president of the citizens’ initiative of Alsace, vilifying French-style centralism, which is by its very nature a major hindrance to the pursuit of European federal integration. “Centralism and Jacobinism cost us, the French, dearly in terms of losses of creativity and financial losses, and is a major contributor to the fact that France has the world’s highest level of public spending compared to GDP, though this is not reflected in the world’s highest level of collective well-being”, observes the author, who criticises the following in particular: (1) the way in which two multi-layered administrations are placed one on top of the other, (2) major Parisianism (giving the example of the Ministry for Culture, which spends 139 euros for every person living in the Paris region, as opposed to 15 euros for everyone living outside it), (3) “a multiplication of rules that is reaching its peak”, with “around 120,000 new legislative or regulatory articles in two decades”. The neglects to mention the many arbitrary administrative decisions made without taking account of local specifics and requirements, as testified to by so-called medical deserts, rising social inequality and increasing numbers of unsafe or even no-go areas. Pierre Klein makes the case for “proper regionalisation” so as to “bring efficiency and dynamism back to managing the common good”. Well, anyone can dream … (O. J.)
Jean-François Richard (edited by). Pour le fédéralisme – Fédéchoses (available in French only). Presse fédéraliste (http://www.pressefederaliste.eu ). No. 194, September 2022. ISNN: 0336-3856. 57 pages. €5,00