Bulgarian born philosopher Tzvetan Todorov began his career in the 1960s as a literary theorist. After his move to France in 1963 he developed his interest in human science and became a champion of the intellectual movement known as Structuralism. He has published more than 30 books including the celebrated “Fear of Barbarians” and now he has been awarded the prestigious Asturias Social Sciences prize. euronews caught up with him in Paris.
euronews: “You were born in Bulgaria but for the last 45 years you have lived in France and written your books in French – do you feel this is exceptional?”
Tzvetan Todorov: “ I don’t feel it’s exceptional because actually there are very many individuals who change country. I would say that there is an advantage to it, that is, one can stand back a little and look at things as an outsider… normally we take in our beliefs and traditions with our mother’s milk and what we learn at school, it’s normal, it’s natural.
But with being able to move around one can look at ourselves through the eyes of another and it allows us to detach oneself from any illusions. I think that the European Union has created the best conditions for carrying out this ideal.”
euronews: “In your books you support idea of “puissance tranquille”, which translates into “peaceful power”, something which you say the European Union should embody – what do you mean ?”
Tzvetan Todorov: “I am not at all a pacifist, I do not reject the use of military force. The European Union is protected by NATO which is dominated by the US government. If we wish for Europe to have its own foreign policy it needs to have a separate military command. I call that the “power tranquille”, meaning it does not have to invade foreign countries but should be able to defend against an attack using conventional weapons or against any terrorist act.”
euronews: “You were against the NATO bombardment of the former Yugoslavia saying that instead of the bombs Europe and the United States should have invested.
Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence – how does that sit with you?”
Tzvetan Todorov: “It seems to me that Kosovo has developed into a problem of how now to change the situation, one way or another, in so far as Kosovo is recognised as a state by a number of European countries, but is at the same time small and weak. It is a non-stop drain, first on the UN and now on the European Union. I do not think the EU’s objective is to support tiny pockets on non-states. I think that Martti Ahtisaari, who was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, tried to make the best of the situation. I would say that once the bombardments took place, it had become clear that these two populations could not continue to live within the framework of a single state. Probably it will, one day, be necessary to recognise the rights of the Kosovan Serbs to join up with Serbia… ironically according to the same principles of the ethnic cleansing the bombing was supposed to stop.”
euronews: “You write that Turkey could join the European Union, because it’s a secular state which could join a secular union, whereas Russia could not, because it is too large in size and population. How far do you think the borders of the enlarged union should go?”
Tzvetan Todorov: “I cannot imagine the European Union as a Union open on all sides – I think that would be a different set-up of nations which is not the object of the European project. And indeed, Russia which extends from Smolensk to Vladivostok is much too large for one to imagine it eventually being in the European Union, although the Russian culture is deeply impregnated with Western European cultures. However Turkey poses a problem to the extent that if it belonged to the European Union, the European border would be linked with Iran, Iraq and Syria. I think these states have regimes and populations much too different from those of the European Union to envisage bringing them closer. I would say that what is in the real interest of Europe is to have good neighbours, and the best neighbours are states which, at the same time are close to Europe but not part of it.”
euronews: “In your most recent work “The Fear of Barbarians” is the fear of something that threatens to make us all barbarians – this notion of the clash of civilisations, is it simply superficial or harmful?”
Tzvetan Todorov: “The concept of the “clash of civilisations” is not understandable on any logical or scientific level because civilisations do not correspond to these blocks or impenetrable entities. The clashes don’t take place between civilisations but between states and ‘ groups of states. The conflicts today are not of a religious nature like some say, but of a political one . It’s not a problem of Islam, rather there are problems with a certain number of countries, but then again not with others. Take this example: Today’s two theocratic countries are Iran and Saudi Arabia , one is the worst enemy of the US, the other its best friend. Lastly, it’s “Fear of Barbarians” because it’s through fear that the most unacceptable actions are carried out – if these threats exist in the abstract they are not real. Nothing justifies the systematic torture under army protection, which occurs within military bases, including the bases of NATO, where European soldiers risk their lives so that torture can continue…”