"We are in the middle of World War III, but Western leaders are denying reality, as in the time of Hitler"

Wednesday, 10 April 2024 — , European Pravda, Paris-Kyiv

Philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the committed friends of Ukraine in the French intellectual and political elite. As an intellectual and writer, Lévy has influenced several recent French presidents, including the current head of state, Emmanuel Macron.

Moreover, he is no stranger to politics and sometimes actively promotes positions that are important for France.

Lévy is a profound, sincere and long-time supporter of Ukraine. He has spent a lot of time here since the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022, admitting that he has lost count of the number of trips he’s made and the amount of time he’s spent in Ukraine. Several months of filming the Ukrainian Armed Forces in action on the front lines have resulted in three documentaries being released in France.

When we talked to Bernard-Henri Lévy, the focus was on politics rather than filmmaking as we discussed the historic decisions Macron has made – and not just on the possible deployment of French troops to Ukraine. 


"We have to give nothing to Putin"

We know that you support Ukraine, but what about the French people?

I would say there is real sympathy for Ukraine in public opinion, but there is also an ideological battle in my country because you also have some pro-Russian people.

The extreme right and the extreme left are pro-Putin. They believe some of the lies and the fake news from Russia. (Watch our interview to find out more about the complexities of public opinion in France: Macron is changing NATO’s stance on Ukraine. Bernard-Henri Lévy)

I think the real majority of the French people endorse Ukraine’s cause and support the cause of the truth.

I'm happy to say that President Macron definitely belongs to that majority. That’s clear from his initiatives on Ukraine [such as the creation of the "coalition of the determined"]. But how did that happen?

It's a very important move. Don't underestimate it, by the way.

The last statements are a significant move for France, and it was brave to do that.

France is pro-Ukraine, that's true. But France was not prepared to the extent of the support which was recently expressed by Macron.

To be 100% with Ukraine, to be ready for any hypothesis, to stop with the American ways of expressing things with no co-belligerency, not authorising Ukraine to use the weapons for this or for that, delivering some weapons but being sure that they will not be targeted at Russia.

Macron decided to bypass all of that and to express real, strong, strategic support.

You mean that Ukraine can use the weapons provided by France to target even military targets in Russia?

I cannot speak in the place of the officials. What I can tell you is that the support now is total.

You know, in France we have a formula about President Macron, en même temps.

It means one side and the other side.

"En même temps" is a saying that literally translates from French as "at the same time..", but it also means "not everything is so clear". Back in 2017, when he was running for president, Macron often used the phrase "en même temps" in his public appearances, indicating that things are not as they seem because there are other arguments. Since then, this expression has become associated with Macron and has become a hallmark of his political style.

There is no en même temps now about Ukraine.

One of the things Macron says is that one day, French troops could end up in Ukraine.

They could, yes.

My president said that France considers that this war – your war – is our war.  That it is a common war. That you, Ukrainians, are fighting not only for your motherland, but really for Europe as itself. And that we, French people, have to be ready for any hypothesis.

In my opinion as an observer, the French president was brave to take this position, because he was not sure he would be supported by French public opinion.

Don't forget that we are the country of the Munich Agreements.

In 1938, England and France were the two godfathers of the Munich Agreement [with Hitler – ed.].

This is a very strong and deep stream in public opinion. The Munich spirit is not dead in France at all.

And President Macron decided to go against that – meaning that when you have a dictator like Putin, if you give a little to him, it's okay. Maybe you will appease the beast. If you feed the beast a little, maybe he will keep calm. This is the Munich spirit!

President Macron is among those who have understood that you have to give nothing to the beast.

If you give a little, the beast will always want more.

"Everyone in France will be talking about Ukraine till June"

But do French politicians and citizens realise that the war is not just a war somewhere in the east of Ukraine, but a war that could really harm France?

As always, it’s half and half. French people did not realise that at all even in 2022 – only a few of them.

Before these statements of President Macron, there was an unclear consciousness that this war could concern us directly. Not many felt really threatened by Russia.

One of the virtues of the position of President Macron is that suddenly it became clear.

France is opening its eyes right now.

The French press has done a great job, television has done a good job. TV channels like TF1 have always broadcast news about the war in Ukraine. You have some people (like Bernard-Henri Lévy himself – ed.) who made some films about Ukraine, etc.

But a real awareness has been reached since this clear position of President Macron.

We have European elections in a few weeks.

The common idea is that these French elections have nothing to do with foreign policy, that people in advanced democracies only care about welfare.

Suddenly Macron decided to have his party going into battle on the topic of Ukraine, on the topic of European security.

I have never seen that!

30 years ago, during the war in Sarajevo, we had to make huge efforts – the intellectuals and so on – to have the question of the war in Sarajevo penetrate a little in the campaign. It was so hard! We had to present a list. We had to be candidates ourselves in order to oblige the big parties to endorse the question.

In the European elections of 1994, Lévy announced that he and several like-minded writers and intellectuals had decided to stand for election to the European Parliament, creating a pre-election list called Europe Begins at Sarajevo. Their campaign was based on explaining that the war in the Balkans was of utmost importance for the European continent. This enabled the debate on this war to be brought to the national level. A few days before the elections, however, Lévy withdrew his candidacy, explaining that he had achieved his goal. The list suffered defeat in the elections to the European Parliament, gaining 1.56% of the vote.

This time Macron really put it at the centre of the table.

Everyone will be discussing Ukraine till June. That's it!

Do you personally believe that Russia would not hesitate to attack NATO countries?

I believe that Russia will hesitate more now.

Russia – like all dictatorships – is strong when we are weak. It advances when we withdraw.

When you are firm, when you are stiff, when you are steady, when you stand in your boots – dictatorships hesitate.

And I would say that there is less chance now of an escalation by Putin.

Putin has said various times that he would not stop with Ukraine. He said that at the Valdai conference a few times.

All his propagandists, his supporters, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they were ready for any escalation, there was no red line for them, and that NATO was not a red line.

If you are a Frenchman, you hear that.

So the question is whether you decide to hear what you hear, or you decide not to hear what you hear.

I'm afraid that even in France, the majority of people tend to pretend they don't hear. People subconsciously want to ignore the danger.

You are completely right.

This is what people like me have been fighting against for more than two years. We are trying to convince people to listen, to pay attention to what Putin says.

We have been hugely helped by the statement of President Macron.

Suddenly, people realise.

"Ukraine sets us an example"

You speak not only to ordinary people, but also to intellectuals and politicians from different countries. Is there an understanding in Europe that the approach of 'helping Ukraine for as long as it takes' means 'delaying victory for as long as possible'?"

There are two phrases that I cannot hear any longer.

The first is "as long as it takes".  It makes me crazy – mad – to hear that!

The second is "incremental support".

These words I cannot hear any longer, knowing the front line as I know it, having some camaraderie, some brotherhood as I have with the Ukrainian people.

Something has moved in Europe.

I'm not chauvinistic. I don't say that because it is France. If it was Scholtz, I would say the same. If it was the Spanish Prime Minister, I would be as happy.

It happens that it is France. France has changed the game for the other European countries too. Because Macron took a sort of leadership.

Again, it was not evident at the beginning when he took this stance: he could have been rebuffed by his colleagues. We did not know.

Finally, it turns out that he was right. It turns out that European countries, more and more, one after the other, are aligning themselves with the French position.

I would like to add a third saying that makes me crazy: "Escalation could lead to World War III." Have you heard that?

Of course, of course.

You will hear it more and more from the US leadership because of the presidential elections with a candidate who has a really good chance of being elected, who is completely in the hand of Putin.

I am speaking of Donald Trump.

It's possible that the Biden miracle may end – the careful miracle with his "incremental help" and "as long as it takes", etc. But nevertheless, with the prospect of Trump, the next month may be very difficult in America.

What about World War III? What is your position?

We are in it. We are in the middle of World War III.

World War III is this!

We are in the middle of it, with Russia, with Iran, with China, with North Korea, with Israel and Hamas endorsed by Putin, with the great alliance between radical Islamism and Russian Orthodoxy.

Everything has already been set in motion. We are in the middle of this war.

What is the reason why Western politicians repeat again and again that we want to avoid World War III, while I think that they have to realise that it's already here. What drives them to dismiss it?

The Munich spirit!

In 1938, 1939, until the beginning of 1940, the European leaders were denying the reality.

The denial of reality is a very common behaviour in mankind, and probably especially in the Western world.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for Ukraine for the coming month?

Taking the territories back.

I think that’s for a longer period.

I'm not sure.

This is one thing which I keep repeating over and over since my first movie. If we decide with the West to give support – not in an incremental way, but all that is needed – this war can be finished rather quickly.

I'm not a bad witness of the courage of Ukrainian soldiers, and of the pathetic state of the Russian army.

I filmed some Russian prisoners of war who had been taken by your army. I debriefed them.

I have some idea of the state of demoralisation, of the mental collapse of the Russian army – and probably of Russian society in general, because the army is a rather good image of the rest.

I have a precise idea, conversely, of the bravery, of the steadiness of the Ukrainian people.

Even though I can read sometimes in the European press about fatigue, I believe that there is much less fatigue in the Ukrainian trenches in Chasiv Yar today than in France or in Germany.

So, if we gave the necessary help, I think the war could be much less long. The victory would come much more quickly than you seem to expect.

In Ukraine, we are very well aware that this is not just Putin's war, but Russians' war, because it’s not only Putin who is fighting against Ukrainians. Do you think that Europeans, French people, understand that as well?

No, probably not enough.

Europeans have a tendency to put everything on Putin's head, to neglect the huge support which he has, to neglect the penetration of the Putin ideology in the depth of Russian society, or the opposite, how the Russian society feeds the state apparatus.

European people probably neglect and underestimate that.

You can hear people saying a lot in France: "Okay, Putin is one thing, the Russian people is another one." You hear that a lot, which is, of course, an absurdity.

Or that athletes are just athletes and should not be blamed for Russia’s policy.

Yes, I hear all this bullshit.

What is sometimes difficult to understand is the nature of authoritarian or totalitarian states.

The real dictatorship is never one man imposing his will on passive people. There is a real dialectic and inter-reaction between the people and the leader.

They feed each other, they nourish each other.

What can Ukrainians do to change the situation, both in these terms and in terms of supporting Ukraine’s full victory?

Continue what you are doing.

First of all, of course, fighting, at the highest price, which is the blood of your sons.

But not only that.

Setting an example!

What impresses me on all my trips to Ukraine is how you embody European values in Ukraine. When I say that you set an example, that's exactly what I mean.


Interview by Sergiy Sydorenko,

Video editing by Volodymyr Oliinyk

Translation by Daria Meshcheriakova

European Pravda, Paris-Kyiv

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