Honoring Stéphane Hessel

To create is to resist, to resist is to create.


Stéphane Hessel, writer, resistance fighter, co-author of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and inspiration behind Occupy movement, dies at 95. As the French president, François Hollande, said of Hessel, he was "a huge figure whose exceptional life was devoted to the defence of human dignity"."It was in pursuit of his values that he engaged in the resistance," he added, concluding: "He leaves us a lesson, which is to never accept any injustice." In honoring his legacy, and lesson, we are re-publishing this piece on Stéphane Hessel's work, below.

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Last year I came across a small booklet in my local book store. At just 37 pages long, I purchased the English translation of Indignez-vous (Time for outrage) by Stephane Hessel. It didn’t take me long to read it but the impact lasted a lot longer than the 37 pages.

A year after buying a copy Indignez-vous, France voted Sarkozy out of office and opted for a socialist direction in the form of François Hollande. On election night I went back to that little but fierce booklet and read it again as the results came in on TV.

Stephane Hessel is a 94 year old resistance veteran. He wrote his essay in order to resurrect the resistance sprit of modern youth not only in France but across Europe. In the French presidential election the majority of French youth backed a socialist candidate and perhaps this is a sign that the resistance sprit has indeed emerged once again in France. While Occupy movements sprung up across the world in 2011 and the Arab spring brought democracy to some parts of the Middle East, the sobering fact is that a resistance society did not become a reality in 2011 but on a warm night in May 2012 when France gave the left something to hope for.

The result in the French presidential election was watched carefully from Ireland. The harsh austerity measures imposed on the Irish have been part of the bail out conditions when Ireland applied for financial aid. Sarkozy had been viewed in Ireland not as a friend but as an agitator of the stern economic conditions imposed on the nation. Reading Indez-vous once again on the night of the French election results while sitting in front of my TV at home in Ireland, several sentences in the booklet sprung out at me:

“Social rights are under attack,” Hessel wrote and how right he was. Across Europe social rights are ebbing away to make way for austerity changes. “The power of money which the resistance fought so hard against has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now.” Hessel paints a picture how capitalism has become an ultra-modern dangerous machine, one which drove Ireland into the arms of the IMF. The resistance veteran tells the youth to “take over, keep going, get angry!” The youth did get angry and they showed it with their votes they cast on May 6th. Hessel informs us that “with outrage comes political involvement” and he also goes on to say: “to the young, I say, look around you and you will find things that vindicate your outrage.” Hessel speaks as a voice from a generation which stood up against what was wrong and fought for what was right. Concluding his brief yet impactful booklet, he writes: “to you who will create the 21st century we say with affection, to create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

On May 31st the Irish will go to the polls to vote in a referendum on the EU fiscal treaty, whether to accept or reject it. It is the same fiscal treaty François Hollande does not agree with. One of his election promises was to change the fiscal treaty and if he stays true to that then it begs the question, is it even worth while for the Irish to vote on this treaty?

The Irish government is calling for a yes vote while left wing opponents are on the no side. The Irish government have opted to use bully tactics as a means to achieving a yes vote. The Irish finance minister was asked recently by the media why the Irish public should accept the fiscal treaty and he responded with threats that the budget he will deliver in the Winter will be a hard one if the people don’t vote yes.

Voters in Ireland are angry with the economic mess which the last government created and the current government have no intention of cleaning up. Each day in Ireland brings with it a new tax and jails are becoming over crowded with those unable to pay. The health sector is in utter disarray, schools are losing teachers, police stations are closing down, no action has been taken against the bankers and corrupt politicians who squandered what little wealth the country had and several charges and levies are being heaped upon the public in order to pay off the debts of toxic banks such as the now defunct Anglo Irish bank. The EU fiscal treaty essentially gives much more power for the EU to get involved in the budgets of debtor states such as Ireland and without doubt that means more austerity for a country already paralyzed with cruel austerity measures.

France has rejected ‘Merkozy’ along with austerity and have chosen a man who has vowed to renegotiate a treaty which is deeply unpopular in France and one which the Irish are now voting to accept or reject. Hollande doesn’t want to scrap the treaty instead he wants to change it in order to curb austerity and encourage growth. It all sounds so very pleasing, especially to the Irish but actually achieving it is another thing. The treaty sits on unstable foundations and with Hollande’s election it is on seriously shaky ground. If the Irish vote no to the fiscal treaty then it could ultimately crumble and will have to be redesigned.

There is a momentum building across Europe with the election of a socialist candidate to the highest office in France, one which is extremely influential in the Euro zone. That momentum is one which was outlined in Hessel’s handbook of revolution Indignez-vous. “To create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

Lily Murphy is 25 and comes from Cork city, Ireland. She is a B.A graduate from University College Cork. Lily is an occasional writer and full time thinker, [email protected]