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Marek Halter: you don't get democracy through the barrel of a gun

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Marek Halter: you don't get democracy through the barrel of a gun

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The French writer Marek Halter is an all-round intellectual and human rights activist. From humble beginnings he escaped life in a Warsaw ghetto to settle in France with his family in 1950.

He has since climbed the social ladder and has more than a few friends in high places. Though by his own account – they hear him but do not really listen. He talks to euronews about democracy, the Middle East and talking Yiddish with Jean-Marie Lustiger.

Kirsten Ripper:
“Some years ago you wrote the book ‘I woke up in anger’. What makes you angry?”

Marek Halter:
“Oh, there is no shortage of things that make me angry but you know, there is a difference between indignation and anger. That’s why I do not agree with my friend Stéphane Hessel. You can be indignant without doing anything but when you’re angry, you act.

“We’re in France ahead of the presidential elections and nobody has put forward their vision of the world. I would love for somebody on TV to say: ‘This is how I see the world in 10 years and this is how I see France in this world in 10 years.’

“We have to learn to share in a different way. We could start by putting the world’s banks under supervision. Maybe we should shut down the financial markets? There are other ways of earning money other than just earning it off the back of other people’s money. We don’t need to do that. Maybe we should build huge libraries to replace the stock markets?”

Kirsten Ripper:
“Another bone of contention for you is the Middle East, where the situation hasn’t really improved in years.”

Marek Halter:
“It will be solved, maybe even by the end of the year.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“By the end of the year, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be solved? You’re very optimistic…”

Marek Halter:
“When you’re at the bottom of a well and you get your head up and finally, you can see the light. Well, we don’t realise, we’re already enlightened.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“Do you believe that the Palestinians can see the light?”

Marek Halter:
“I think that today Israelis and Palestinians are almost at the bottom of the well, almost, maybe not completely and when they reach the bottom… that’s when they will see the light…”

Kirsten Ripper:
“And who are the peacemakers according to you?”

Marek Halter:
“That’s a very good question because unfortunately that is what’s missing. In the whole world, in particular the Middle East, we need figures. Today, the people who lead the Palestinians and who lead the State of Israel are just not capable.

“And as for Afghanistan, it’s the end. The West will stampede and they will flee like in Vietnam or in Burma. But you don’t get democracy through the barrel of a gun.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“You have founded two universities in Russia.”

Marek Halter:
“To teach to young Russians what democracy is. Andrei Sakharov told me one day that democracy is like an orange. In Russian, it’s appelsin. But a person who has never seen an orange, won’t ask for one. So you have to explain to these young Russians, what an orange is and one day they will want an orange and that’s what happened. It was my students who were the first to take to the streets.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“Have you talked to your friend Vladimir Putin about all the young people protesting?”

Marek Halter:
“I’ve talked about it in public, I’ve said: ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, my students are on the streets and if you were to say something to them, what would that be?’ He said: ‘but Marek Halter, I would tell them that if they can protest, it’s thanks to me’.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“And you agree with him?”

Marek Halter:
“In a certain way, yes. It’s the first time in Russia, that hundreds of thousands of young people have demonstrated without any of them getting sent to Gulags.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“But there are those who were sent to prison…”

Marek Halter:
“Ah, no… no… no… the demonstrations were essentially in St Petersburg. There were neo-Nazis demonstrating as well but not one of my students was manhandled.

“Putin has impressed me at certain points, there have been little things, sometimes and I have asked him: ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, what do you know about the Jews’?

“And he told me: ‘when I was a young child, we lived in a shared apartment in St Petersburg, with a Jewish family. The father was called Salomon Abramovich – I think. Every day after work he took a huge book and read it, swinging his body. I asked him: Salomon Abramovish: what are you reading? He answered: ‘the Talmud.’ Putin said: ‘you must excuse me, Marek’. I said: ‘why’?
And he replied: ‘because it didn’t interest me’.
However he said it in a simple way, and there’s a kind of respect there for one another.

“Do you think in two years time, Putin will ask my friend Michail Prokhovov to become Prime Minister?”

Kirsten Ripper:
“Do you think Prokhorov is close to Putin?”

Marek Halter:
“I don’t know but he represents liberal democracy…”

Kirsten Ripper:
“Do you trust Prokhorov?”

Marek Halter:
“Do I trust him? You know (laughing) I don’t even trust myself!

“I have just written a book on Birobidjan. It was a Jewish republic created by Stalin in 1932-34 and it still exists. It’s the only place in the world where the official language is Yiddish. It’s my mother tongue but nobody in the world speaks it anymore.

You know, this will make you smile, the last person I had a conversation with in Yiddish – and we did it every month when we had dinner together so we didn’t forget our parents language, was the Cardinal of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger.”

Kirsten Ripper:
“He spoke Yiddish?”

Marek Halter:
“He spoke Yiddish because his parents spoke Yiddish, like mine.”

With lots of projects in the pipeline, Marek Halter is showing no signs of slowing. The subject of his next book is Khadija, the prophet Mohammed’s first wife, remaining true to his literary tradition of championing strong women.