Three hundred people, maybe four hundred, it was not an immeasurable crowd but still. At the Place de la Bastille, it was the first time, on Sunday 12 June, that the new Russians of Paris gathered against the war in Ukraine, and similar meetings were held on the same day in thirty-five cities in twenty other countries. “Victory for Ukraine, freedom for Russia!” was the chant, and Bernard Guetta opened the rally thus:

“For the past three months, I often see myself in my dreams haranguing passers-by in Pushkin Square, as the dissidents and the opposition did in the 1980s.

I hear myself stressing that I am speaking to them like a European to other Europeans, because we are all Europeans, and I tell them first of all that the fate of contemporary Russia is not so unusual, since it lost its Empire in the same century, the 20th century, as the French, the British or, just before it, the Portuguese.

I then tell them that no leader of any of these former empires has ever been foolish enough to want to reintegrate territories that have become independent countries because what is done cannot be undone any more than history can be rewritten.

I thus tell them that the British or the French were neither ruined nor erased from the world by the loss of their Empire and that their relations today have remained strong and even intimate with their former possessions because a shared culture and history create bonds that are much deeper than the brutality of domination.

And then I tell them, still in my dream, still on Pushkin Square, that no one wants to invade Russia or annex a single one of its villages; that no one, no one has plotted the end of its Empire except itself by freeing itself from communism; that no one wants to surround it and that if Mr. Putin had not aggressed Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainians would not have turned to the Atlantic Alliance for protection when they had so far massively refused to get closer to it.

I also tell them that it was their parents and grandparents, and they themselves too, if they are over 50, who had preferred the Yeltsinian break rather than the Gorbachevian evolutionism and that everything that followed, the social savagery, the brutal disintegration of a centuries-old Empire and the large-scale theft that was the privatisations, was thus the fruit of their collective mistake, of a bad Russian choice and not of a foreign plan to weaken Russia.

And now, in France and no longer in Russia, on the Bastille Square and no longer on Pushkin Square, I would like to say to you: Do not be ashamed! Do not believe that your people would be more passive than any other, and more naturally resigned to dictatorship, because no people revolts until a hope of change arises, however slight it may be. Occupied France had not entered the Resistance before victory changed sides. The war in Ukraine is only three months old. It is already a long hell for the Ukrainians, but for the Russians it is only the beginning of a distant changeover, and it is up to you to open up the horizon by going to Pushkin Square, not the real one, you couldn’t go there, but the new one, the virtual one, the one on the screens, to tell your fellow citizens that the destiny of contemporary Russia…

You know the rest. I am not going to repeat everything, but you should be aware that Vladimir Putin is a man from another century, exhausted and without a future, whereas in Russia, the time for freedom is coming, because after absolutism, communism and Putinism, the Russians aspire to it and History, at last, owes it to them.

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