Pascal Bruckner's generation is the last generation of French thinkers who get involved in public debates. "Nothing can happen without debate", says Bruckner in a long discussion with Romanian website Contributors.ro about great French intellectuals, about the angst and low spirits of the French for the past several years, about politics and Putin, about the French law against prostitution and about his last book, autobiographic novel "Un bon fils", recently published in Romanian. Bruckner remains a moralist with a high interest in politics - he spares nothing to criticize the current French president - a dauntless supporter of Europe and a thinker always ready to polemicize.
Key points in the interview - about France, Europe, Putin's Russia:
- on writing novels and essays: I usually alternate novels and essays. Now I write a novel, then an essay; but for the past several years I stopped sticking to te rule and I reached a point where I no longer know what I prefer. Novel or essay, it all becomes so difficult to write that I'm always facing a challenge. This is the first and certainly last when I write a book of confessions.
- about his antisemitic father, depicted in the book: My father was not only antisemitic, he was also a violent man, rough with my mother. His antisemitism was an aggravating circumstance. He might have been a kind, gentle, teaching antisemite. But he was hysterical, bilious. One could rather say his person was an amassment of flaws. There are many antisemitic fathers who are brutal to their wives and yell all the time. And so was my father.
- is the depiction of his father a portrait of universal extremists in post-war Western society? I don't know, but above all it is a very European portrait. It is about the generation born during the war and who is passing away now - those people are very old now. So it is not an universal portrait, because our culture is local. But it is true that by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st these people, who went through the horrors of war, who are bearing this message of hate and brutality, are still alive. Antisemitism has migrated to the Arab world, is active especially in the case of Muslims; the phenomenon is dropping in Europe, it is even forbidden, but for the Arab world it is celebrated as a victory on the state of Israel.
- on the French public's passion about issues such as Nazism, collaboration, resistance, which is less strong in Romania when it comes to collaborators of the communist regime: It is of interest in France, England, everywhere, even including the US. Maybe it will manifest in Romania as well. It's just that the memory exercise has not concluded in your country, whereas in France it started the 70's. In France, I think there is a huge gap between what we'd like to see and what reality shows us, that is why it is humiliating for the French to learn that their grandeur vanished in the war of 1914-1918 and in 1945. It's true, the family secrets revolve around issues related to the second World War, Jews, our parents and grandparents collaboration and resistance.
- (...) It's about the French-German reality, because Germany has been our major rival since 1870. After losing three wars - two wars of soldiers and an economic one - Germany is in a much better situation. That means a lot of battles lost before our Eastern neighbor - it is a thing which in France leads to all sorts of psychological, historical, political, military and economic issues and the problem of World War II creates divisions within all French families.
- on the feelings of the French about Germany: It is Germany who masters Europe, it's no longer France. In the past, we used to share power with Germany, now we are nothing. Merkel is the boss and Hollande is just a butler. He doesn't have the necessary stature to rule Europe. France is going through a time of depression and its rival is about to win, which of course awakens the old demons of the WWII and so it happens that all conflicts are seen through the lens of collaboration and resistance, notions which have begun to belong to everybody's vocabulary. France is the old world.
- on the future role of France: I have no idea what it will be, but if this fall continues France will probably have a still lesser role. (...) Recovery must start from changing the ideas of average citizens, changing the government and the president. Only then will we have changes to have stateliness in Europe, but for now we're nothing, we are the "sick man" of Europe. The French are very depressed. All intelligent French people are living the country. (...) Our country is paralyzed, brought to a standstill by bureaucracy, prejudice, hate towards money, hate towards trade. (...)
- (...) I think not only France, but the whole Europe seems to want to drop from history. Europe doesn't have a common army, doesn't have a government, nor a common president. We may say Europe will weigh less and less in world history. Only the major nations of the world, like the United States, Brazil, India, China, Israel will stand. I think that Europe is dying because of the heavy burden of history. It stood out of the circle of grand history first in 1945, then in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. Europe thinks it has no enemy, but in its blindness it doesn't see that at least to major enemies are threatening it. One is radical Islam (there are 15 to 20 million Muslims living in Europe and some of them are drawn to radical lines). The other is Putin's Russia. Putin doesn't tell us how much he hates us, despises us. He sees us as decadents, degenerates, a society sold to homosexuals and lesbians. Scandals are appearing all across Europe. See, it's not only France's disease. It's a European disease. (...)
- on the current prime minister of France: I know Manuel Valls. I think he is quite brave. He is a liberal in terms of economy, a man of order in terms of domestic security. He has a certain stiffness, his side of Catalan hidalgo, but he is perfectly aware of France's fragility. (...)
- on National Front: The National Front is the heir of the old fascist party (...) But it's not its fascist side that troubles me, but the downright ineptitude of its economic doctrine based on which they want to drop the euro, close the borders and force a return to the franc, meaning a return to 50 years ago. What troubles me about Marine Le Pen is the absolute ineptitude of her promises. She must do anything to rise to power. They're imbeciles who have adopted some left-wing ideas. In her ideological momentum, she has forgotten about the nation, the borders, the population, migration, Islam. Had the Left dealt with these issues seriously, we wouldn't be in the situation we are in now.
- do the French like Vladimir Putin? Very much, especially the Right. All nationalist adore Putin and hate America. The far Left and the far Right as well. Not necessarily for his policy, but because Putin is a man who does what he says and says what he does and is straightforward. You don't like it? To prison! You don't agree? Come! (...) Nation needs leadership, a thing Holland does not muster at all. Holland is a charismatic catastrophe - that is the best word. You burst into crying or laughing when you look at him, with shame that he is the President of France. That's what it is about, Hollande is a shame for the country. I voted him and I'm ashamed I did so. He is fun at parties, but doesn't have a President's strength.
Read full interview in Romanian here