THIERRY WOLTON   
ON RUSSIA'S PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE.
 
Having started to write about communism аt the height of the human rights movement in the USSR, Thierry Wolton these days stands as one of the leading experts in the field.

 

Unable at an early age to reconcile the lofty ideals of the communist teaching with the actual realities of life in the Soviet Union, he went from studying Soviet dissent to examining its inescapable opponent: the KGB. 

 

Persistence and sheer audacity of intellectual inquiry in time have made Wolton a top international authority both on communism and the Russian secret police. Digging deep as well as wide to understand the standoff between Russia’s free-thinkers and the state, he ended up producing unique, eye-opening material on how the Kremlin’s communist past continues to shape its current agendas — both in Russia and worldwide.

 

Wolton’s body of work  — now amounting to over 20 books and thousands of essays and press articles — has been translated into over a dozen languages.  His most recent magnum opus — a trilogy titled The World History of Communism (published by Grasset in 2015 - 2017) — quickly became one of the best contemporary reference books on the subject. 

 

In a series of conversations with Nicolas Miletitch which took place in Paris in April 2022, Thierry Wolton recalls Russian intelligentsia’s no-so-recent dissident past, explains the motivations behind Putin’s aggression, and makes predictions — as rational as they are cautious. 

Nicolas Miletitch: Does your interest in history in general — and that of the communist world in particular — stem from your family background, or was it a personal journey?

 

Thierry Wolton: There was no such influence, it really comes from my personal interest. With regard to communism, my interest was born from a feeling of revolt against injustice: the communist world is indeed the most unjust there is because individuals have no rights within it, and if they do have any, those rights are totally subject to the goodwill of the party-state and its profiteers. 

 

I have always thought that communist societies are the most unequal of those that have ever existed, because a handful of leaders have all the rights there, including the right over life and death of whoever they choose. No society in history has developed such "legal" power on such a large scale, plunging all communist countries into a permanent civil war of power against the people. This has no historical equivalent. My revolt never ceased to be fueled by these deadly characteristics.

 

N.M.: How have you become a journalist? 

 

T.W.: I studied sociology, but without enthusiasm. Neither was it of any use to me. From the age of 14 (on the occasion of the presidential election of 1965) I grew passionate about politics, and even more so about current events. At 16, I read Le Monde avidly every day. My dream back then was to have an AFP (Agence France-Presse) teleprinter at home to receive the live news stream. To a certain extent, today modern technology and access to news sites by computer have granted me my wish. 

 

That said, I never thought I would make a career in journalism. It came naturally, I would say. I introduced myself to the newspaper Libération — at the time a small far-left daily — to offer my services for free. That's how I started writing articles. A year later, I became an employee of the newspaper. I was proud to have a press card.

 

N.M.: Have you immediately began writing about Soviet affairs and Eastern Europe?

 

T.W.: Mainly, yes. As a journalist at Libération, then at radio France Internationale, then later at the weekly Le Point, I have always worked on issues of foreign policy.

 

My first by-lines for Libération, in November 1974 (a series of three articles) concerned repression in the USSR. I "covered", as we say in journalistic jargon, the news in the East, no doubt because of personal preference and political commitment, especially also because no one was doing it in the newspaper whose staff at the time barely amounted to 30 journalists. 

My colleagues were very leftist, and even if they did not like the Soviet bloc, (which they viewed as "revisionist", as Maoist China — which they preferred —  accusingly characterized it) they were uncomfortable with the Soviet realities, and preferred not to talk about them. So I was able to do what I wanted, not without sometimes causing a stir among the editorial staff, because telling the reality of socialism did not correspond with the ideal. 

 

N.M.: Which books were particularly significant to your discovery of the Soviet world and communism?

 

T.W.: A few books overwhelmed me with their strength. First, the unmissable Gulag Archipelago ‌for the exhaustiveness of the testimonies and the writing power of Solzhenitsyn, unquestionably a very great writer. 

 

Varlam Shalamov, of course, and his moving Kolyma Tales. 

 

I cried a lot reading Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman. I would like all the schoolchildren in the world to read this novel, as we did with If This is a Man by Primo Levi. 

 

When I read Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow I said to myself that after that the author could die in peace because he had done his duty to humanity.

 

I was also moved by the archival documents on the Stalin period collected by Nicolas Werth in L'Ivrogne et la marchande de fleurs (The Drunkard and the Flower Seller). 

 

There are still the testimonies of Nadezhda Mandelstam — Hope Against Hope — and these lines of Anna Akhmatova which, I believe, sum up the suffering of the era, that of the Great Terror:  

 

In the awful years of Yezhov horror, I spent seventeen months standing in line in front of various prisons in Leningrad. One day someone “recognized” me. Then a woman with blue lips, who was standing behind me, and who, of course, had never heard my name, came out of the stupor which typified all of us, and whispered into my ear (everyone there spoke only in whispers): “Can you describe this?” And I said, “I can.” Then something like a fleeting smile passed over what once had been her face.”

 

(Anna Akhmatova, Instead of a Preface to Requiem, Editions de Minuit, 1966).

I would like to add, that regarding China, Tombstone by Yang Jisheng is a pitiless account on the famine of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) which caused 30 to 50 million deaths according to the sources.

 

Regarding Cuba, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag by Armando Valladares. 

 

And on Cambodia of Pol Pot — the work of Rithy Panh: Machine khmere rouge (The Khmer Rouge Machine) and The Elimination, for the books; and S21 and Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell, for the documentaries. 

 

But there would be so many other masterpieces to cite...

 

N.M.: How did you discover dissidents, those from the USSR and those from Eastern Europe? Through reading? Personal meetings?

 

T.W.: The triggering event was the Helsinki Accords, signed in August 1975. The commitment of the socialist bloc to allow people and ideas to circulate freely — as these agreements stipulated — had been taken at face value by Eastern intellectuals who demanded that those rules be respected. Dissidence had grown notably in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the USSR. 

 

I had a free hand in the newspaper to talk about these dissidents, especially to publish their texts. Libération at that time was the one French newspaper which most supported this dissidence, even if our means were ridiculous. To this day I take pride in having done this. 

 

I became very close to those dissident circles which, located in Paris, supported the fight for human rights behind the iron curtain. Through this dissidence I perfected my knowledge of the Soviet system. I owe a lot to those men and women who taught me — that's the right word — the truth about communism. 

 

I also read a lot about it. In short, in those years — 1975 to 1980 — I trained myself in what I became, without knowing, of course, what I was going to become. I think it's often like that in life.

 

N.M.: Among those you have met, which ones left the strongest impression on you?

 

T.W.: First and foremost, the woman I married, Natacha Dioujeva, a young Russian who had managed to get out of the USSR thanks to her marriage to a French journalist from AFP. She was divorced when I met her. An activist among the Russian dissidents, she introduced me to this environment, and taught me most of what I know. I owe her a lot. She sadly passed away in 1990.

 

During my travels behind the Iron Curtain, in the years 1975-1980, I did a lot of reporting in the East which also enriched me — my meetings with Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik in Poland, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia , Paul Goma in Romania, among others, made a particular impression upon me. In Paris, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Vladimir Maximov, Alexander Ginzburg in particular were also important meetings.

 

N.M.: You met Vladimir Bukovsky in Zurich in December 1976, after he had been exchanged for imprisoned Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan. What memories do you have of it?

 

T.W.: This was the scoop of my career as a young journalist! In Zurich, the press from all over the world courted Bukovsky after his exchange. As a small journalist of a small newspaper, I had a priori no chance to have access to him. But I was well-regarded by Parisian dissident circles, particularly by Natalia Gorbanevskaya, who played the role of Cerberus in Zurich to protect Bukovsky. Thanks to her I was able to spend an entire evening with him. 

 

It was very dark in his hotel room, he smoked like a firefighter (which he never stopped doing), and was talking, talking, talking to relay how the prisoners of the Vladimir prison, from which he had been extracted just a few hours earlier, have gone on a hunger strike in order to protest against their miserable conditions. I published the account of this strike in the newspaper. I don't know if it helped Vladimir's prisoners, but I was proud of my role, I had done my duty: to testify is the journalist's first duty, in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

N.M.: You have no doubt followed Bukovsky's journey in the West. You met him afterwards. Did you have an appreciation of his work in the archives in Moscow and read his books like Judgment in Moscow?

 

T.W.: I met Bukovsky several times in Paris (he was living in Great Britain after his forced exile), we were quite close thanks to my wife who was a bit like the mascot to this dissident milieu. 

 

Later, in 1993, I saw him again in Moscow, in the archives of the Central Committee where I hoped to obtain documents. He was having fun because, as a celebrity, he was being given access by the archivists to a lot of documents while I, as a foreigner, was frowned upon. It should be noted that President Boris Yeltsin had authorized Bukovsky to have access to these archives to prepare a trial against the Soviet Communist Party which, as we know, never took place. 

 

Bukovsky was having fun because he had brought with him a scanner which allowed him to copy documents without the archivists understanding what he was doing. (This technique was very rare at that time, and even less so in Russia in its state of full chaos). In short, he was fooling them, as he confided to me during this meeting of ours. 

 

All these clandestine scans provided the material for his remarkable book Judgment in Moscow, published in 1995. The last time I met Bukovsky was in Sighet, Romania, where he had come to give a lecture at the Memorial for the Victims Communism, an exceptional place of memory in Europe, which I also frequented a lot from 2000 to 2010. 

N.M.: What do Soviet dissidents represent to you, what legacy do you think they have left behind? Is their experience, the memory of their struggle, still valid today? 

 

T.W.: This period coincided with the beginning of my career, so I have nostalgia for it. I have always had great admiration for those men and women who risked, behind the iron curtain, their freedom and sometimes even their lives to defend their convictions, “their freedom and ours” as they used to say. I felt it was my moral duty to support them, if possible to help them. 

 

Today, this admiration is intact because when you think about it, their undermining work, which sometimes seemed so futile in the face of the Soviet mastodon, well, this work ended up getting the better of the mastodon! In this fight of David against Goliath, it is still David who had won. So yes, this dissidence was crucial for the history of the 20th century even if the memory of this fight is fading nowadays. I have great admiration for those who today stand up against Putin. I tell myself that they too will prevail in the end.

 

N.M.: In the spring of 1992 you went to Moscow and discovered that the archives were opening up. You got a chance to work in the archives at that time. What were you looking for and what did you find?

 

I was working at the time on the preparation of a book on a Soviet spy network which, before the Second World War, had penetrated the French political elites, in particular the milieu of the Radical Party which played an important role under the Third Republic. When I came to Moscow, I naively believed that the KGB archives were going to be opened to me. I even went to the headquarters of the service, at the Lubyanka, where I was kindly received by an officer who made me understand that I had nothing to hope for from them. 

 

In fact, the archives of the KGB and the GRU have never been opened, except at the beginning, for the descendants of the victims of those how had been repressed during Stalinist repression, so that they could have access to the files of their parents. Subsequently, these archives have also been closed. Despite this failure and thanks to the complicity of a former GRU officer, who laster became a friend, I was able to obtain some important documents which I present in the book in question, Le grand recrutement (The Great Recruitment), published in 1993. 

N.M.: Your book Le KGB en France (The KGB in France) has opened many people's eyes to the reality of Soviet espionage in France. What revelations in your book caused a shock? In your opinion, is the FSB today as effective and active as the KGB during the Cold War?

 

T.W.: This book, published in 1986, was successful because I revealed for the first time to the world the existence of a mole within Directorate T (scientific and technological espionage) of the KGB — an officer working for the French services. Thanks to the revelations of “Farrewell” (code name of the spy, real name Vetrov) Western countries were able to know the extent of the looting to which the KGB has been engaged in during these years of "détente". 

 

When I published these revelations, Vetrov had already been unmasked and then executed. More than 200 KGB spies have been expelled around the world thanks to the documents delivered by Vetrov. 

 

Now, does today's FSB have the qualities of yesterday's KGB, I don't know because I stopped taking a close interest in these espionage cases to devote myself more to the history of communism. 

 

I simply note that the blunders that have come out in recent years have been the work of the GRU, military espionage which, in the time of the Soviet Union, had a better reputation — seriousness, efficiency — than the KGB. We can therefore think that if the GRU makes more mistakes than before, the FSB probably makes more too, without us knowing about it. 

 

As, on the other hand, Putin's Russia is less frightening to the West than the USSR  was in its time, it is undoubtedly easier for the FSB to manipulate a certain number of Westerners. The invasion of Ukraine has nevertheless opened the eyes of the naive, and one hopes that Russian spies will now find it more difficult to recruit.

N.M.: We remember the blindness of some intellectuals in the West to communism which lasted many years. Are we witnessing a similar phenomenon with Putin?

 

T.W.: No, it is not the same thing, although there is a relationship between the two types of blindness, that of yesterday and today. In the days of the USSR, it was the communist ideology that made people deaf and blind. The hope that utopia held, prevented us from seeing the reality of socialism. Moreover, there were communist parties which relayed Moscow's propaganda all over the world, and therefore masked this socialist reality. This is no longer the case today. 

 

On the other hand, Putin took advantage — in part — of yesterday's blindness: for a long time we refused to see what character he really was because there were remnants of the notion of a communist “paradise” in people's minds that protected him. Moreover, the martially-minded Putin, the one who promised to kill the terrorists “even in the toilets,” this Putin pleased a number of Westerners who think that the democracies are too weak vis-à-vis Islamism. 

 

Putin also presented himself as a defender of the values of the West, which pleased all those who are concerned about the evolution of our societies, especially in mores. I use the past tense deliberately, because here again the war waged against Ukraine has changed the situation: it makes it more difficult to admire Putin. Let us have no illusions, however: there will always be men on this earth who prefer dictatorship to democracy, war to peace, the State and its order to freedom of human beings, so there will always be Putins who make people happy and are admired.

 

N.M.: You have spent years writing Histoire mondiale du communisme (A World History of Communism). Do the roots of putinism come from the Soviet Union and Russian communism? 

 

T.W.: Putinism has its roots, not all of them, in the history of the Soviet Union. First of all, Putin's career in the service of the KGB, that is to say, let us remember, an all-powerful political police force, inevitably left traces and Soviet reflexes in him: brutality, insensitivity, authoritarianism. The KGB had all the rights. Putin’s way of governing is its legacy. Like any staunch communist, Putin was a national communist. 

Nationalism has always served as a back-up ideology to communism, a spare wheel, if you prefer, to continue to mobilize the peoples who saw clearly that the promised communist paradise was a sham. All the communist parties in the world, whether they were in power or not, played on the nationalist fiber to compensate for the bankruptcy of Marxism-Leninism, its promises, its illusions. 

 

Orphaned by communism, Putin retained the mental structures of a nationalist. As proof, he hates Lenin whose internationalism he thinks has ruined Russia, accusing him of having preferred to pursue his dreams of world revolution rather than seeking to consolidate the country. 

 

On the other hand, Stalin is a nationalist hero in his eyes. For Putin, the Great Patriotic War ensured the prestige of the USSR in the 20th century, and therefore of Russia. Hence his constant references to this war, hence his delirium regarding the “denazification” of Ukraine as if his thoughts have stopped at 1941-45.

 

N.M.: Regarding the war in Ukraine, how do you see things evolving? For Ukraine and for Russia?

 

T.W.: There is a danger that Putin, having failed in his dreams to conquer Ukraine, will go all out by using prohibited weapons — chemical or nuclear — which could derail this still local conflict. 

 

It is possible, on the other hand, that this war will last for a long time, due to the formidable resistance of the Ukrainians, and that the East of the country will become a simmering ulcer, which will always be in danger of erupting, and therefore of presenting a long-term threat to the rest of Europe, and even to the world. 

 

Putin has shifted to a gear from which he himself does not know how to get out. The danger of all wars is that while we know how they begin, we do not know in advance how they end. 

 

I am pessimistic: for the Ukrainians in the first place, who are going to have to face a ferocious enemy for a long time; for the Europeans because the peace that we have known since 1945 has been shattered; and, finally, for the world because there are many countries which want to take their revenge on the West. These can, because of this war, unite to put an end to the democracies. I'm not saying they will win — I even think the opposite — but what state will this planet and humanity be in next? This is what is worrying and dramatic.

 

N.M.: Does the invasion of Ukraine mark a major historic shift in international relations? 

 

T.W.: There was much talk after the fall of the USSR of an end of history. But we are rather witnessing a return to history with scenes of war that we’d hoped to never see again. It is clear that the date of February 24, 2022 marks a turning point in international relations. There is a danger that the false peace we had known since the Second World War — false peace because there has never been a day without war since on the planet — that this false peace will morph into а real war. 

 

Let's not forget that communist China dreams of taking over the leadership of this world. It won't succeed, that's for sure, but it intends to. The Chinese authorities have studied in detail the fall of the USSR, and they will not repeat the same errors. They won't give an inch on ideology, power, the omnipotent Communist Party: in short, on everything that makes a communist system. If in the years to come China’s situation deteriorates — it is already the case if we study its current evolution — then communist power will not hesitate to gamble (like Putin in Ukraine) to avoid the collapse. They could then choose war. And they will then have both war and collapse, to paraphrase Churchill. 

 

To sum up, we are not done with communism as we had believed in 1991, because all of these are the consequences.

 

N.M.: What do you think the future holds for Putin?

 

T.W.: For the good of the humanity we must hope that he disappears as soon as possible from the international arena: this is the only future I wish for us. I am not saying that those who will succeed him will be better, but at least this will allow us to reshuffle the cards and, who knows, return to the status quo ante. I doubt it, but let us hope.

 

 

 

 

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Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, Antoni Macierewicz, Jacek Kuron. PAP /CTK. 

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Histoire mondiale du communisme, tome 1: Les bourreaux.

(The World Hisotry of Communism, vol. 1: The Executioners).

by Thierry Wolton.

 

Grasset, 2015.

 

ISBN: 978-2246732211.

Pages: 1136.   

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Histoire mondiale du communisme, tome 2: Les victimes.

(The World History of Communism, vol. 2: The Victims).

by Thierry Wolton.

Grasset, 2015.

ISBN: 978-2246804246.

 

Pages: 1136.

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Histoire mondiale du communisme, tome 3: Les complices. 

(The World History of Communism, vol. 3: The Accomplices).

by Thierry Wolton.

Grasset, 2017.

ISBN: 978-2246811497.

Pages: 1184. 

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An article by Thierry Wolton on repression of dissent in the USSR in the July 9, 1976 issue of Libération. 

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The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a three-volume non-fiction account of the system of Soviet forced labor camps from 1918 to 1956. Written between 1958 and 1968, it was first published in 1973, and translated into English and French the following year.

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Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov is a collection of short stories of the 17 years spent by the author in the Soviet Gulag, which he began writing after Stalin's death in 1953. Serving both as a biographical record and a historical document of the era, Kolyma Tales is a testimony to the inhumane conditions of Stalin's slave camps.

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Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman is a novel about a former prisoner of the Gulag, who, having been released after 30 years in the Soviet camps, finds it hard to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar society. Personal stories — including those of snitches, collectivization participants, and conformists — intertwine to weave a tapestry of Soviet life.  

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If This Is a Man is a memoir by Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, first published in 1947.

It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during World War II, and his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp (Monowitz) from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945. The book is considered a classic worldwide. 

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The Harvest of Sorrow is a 1986 book by British historian Robert Conquest written with the assistance of historian James Mace, a junior fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. The book deals with the collectivization of agriculture in 1929-1931 in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR under Stalin's direction and the Soviet famine of 1932-1933 and Holodomor.

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Culture et pouvoir communiste, l'autre face de "Paris-Moscou" (Culture and Communist Power, the Other Side of "Paris-Moscou") by Natacha Dioujeva and Thierry Wolton presents a critique of the Paris-Moscow exhibition organized by the Ministry of Culture of the USSR and The George Pompidou Center in Paris in 1979.  

Thierry Wolton's feature about the Vladimir Prison hunger strike in the December 23, 1976 issue of Libération. 

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Judgement in Moscow 

by Vladimir Bukovsky is based on top-secret documents the author had copied in the Soviet Communist Party archives in the early 1990s and examines the links of the Soviet establishment to the Western press and political parties.In the author's analysis, Russia's failure to prosecute the Soviet regime plunged it into a repetitive loop of delusion and unaccountability.

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The Romanian language edition of Thierry Wolton's book Red-Brown, which analyses communism and nazism in their historical perspective, published by the Fundatia Academia Civica in Sighet in 2001.

ISBN: 97382114084.

Pages: 410. 

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Le grand recrutement

(The Great Recruitment

by Thierry Wolton.

Grasset, 1991.

 

ISBN: 978-2246448211.

Pages: 397. 

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La France sous influence: Paris-Moscou, 30 ans de relations secrètes

(France Under Influence: Paris-Moscow, 30 Years of Secret Relations)

by Thierry Wolton.

 

Grasset, 1997.

ISBN: 978-2246484813.

Pages: 506. 

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Le KGB en France

(The KGB in France)

by Thierry Wolton.

 

Grasset, 1986.

ISBN: 978-2724231175.

Pages: 310. 

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Le KGB au pouvoir: le système Poutine. 

(The KGB in Power: the Putin System).

by Thierry Wolton.

Buchet Chastel, 2008.

ISBN: 9782283022887.

Pages: 240. 

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Ivrogne et la marchande de fleurs (The Drunkard and the Flower Seller) by Nicolas Werth details the history of Stalin's order of July 30, 1937 which called for secret elimination of "counter-revolutionary elements" and which set, region by region, quotas for arrests and convictions. The police demanded quota overruns which resulted in 750,000 dead in 16 months.

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Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam is a memoir of her life with her husband, poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in 1938 in a transit camp to the GULAG. Of the book the critic Clive James wrote, "Hope Against Hope puts her at the centre of the liberal resistance under the Soviet Union. A masterpiece of prose as well as a model of biographical narrative and social analysis."

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Requiem is an elegy by Anna Akhmatova about suffering of the people during the Great Purge. It was written between 1935 and 1961, and she carried it with her, as she worked and lived in towns and cities across the Soviet Union. It was absent from her collected works, but finally appeared in Russian in Munich in 1963, and has not been published in the USSR until 1987. 

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Against All Hope is Armando Valladares' account of over 20 years in Fidel Castro's infamous Isla de Pinos prison. Arrested in 1960 for being opposed to communism, Valladares was released in 1982. While in prison, he suffered endless violence and inhumane living conditions. He survived by prayer and by writing poetry.

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Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine by Yang Jisheng is based on documents from restricted archives which the author had access to as a journalist. Having spent 20 years collecting the material for the book, the author was denied permission to publish on the mainland and published in Hong Kong in 2008.

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The Elimination is an autobiography detailing the author's experience under the Khmer Roouge dictatorship. Rithy Panh was 13 when the Khmer Rouge expelled his family from Phnom Penh in 1975. In the months and years that followed, his entire family was executed, starved, or worked todeath.30 years later he questions one of the men responsible for the genocide.

The International Centre for Studies of Communism in Sighet, Romania, was founded in 1993 by Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan. Created and administered by the Civic Academy Foundation, it is an institute of research, museography and education. 

N.M.: How important for the French voters, do you think, are the links between Putin and Marine Le Pen? 

 

T.W.: I am not convinced that this has an influence on the voters’ choice. Those who are against Le Pen, believe that she is “held” by the Kremlin. And those who are pro-Le Pen, believe that she is not. Besides, Putin's Russia does not need the National Rally to exert influence over the French political life. There exists in this country an old Bonapartist temptation which makes us love strong leaders, especially if they proclaim the moral "values" of the West, which Putin does. Part of the national right appreciate this as such. 

 

On the left, too, there is a Putinian tropism which stems both from nostalgia for the USSR (as is the case on the far left), from a favorable feeling toward Russia, the heiress of this past, and from its anti-capitalist posture — especially anti-imperialist — which the Russian dictator would incarnate. 

 

The war in Ukraine called into question these postures. Or, rather, it put them on hold because these tendencies are anchored in the mentality of each and every person, and are just asking to be returned.

 

N.M.: If these links are not very important, then it is understandable why she could be such a popular candidate. But if this theme is considered important, does this mean that many French people do not see Le Pen as a threat?

 

T.W.: The popularity of Le Pen, exalted by these elections, follows from her rhetoric: she talks about what people want to hear, about their problems. For this large segment of the population, she is in no way a threat. On the contrary, she embodies hope. If one notices it, this doesn’t mean that one approves of it. She is close to people's concerns, whereas the political class is often distant from the people, which is, additionally, a recurring reproach we hear from voters in democracies. 

 

It is striking that Le Pen's electorate is made up — above all — of the active people, those who have a job, but who earn a poor living, while Macron capitalizes on the young and the retired. So, we can say that Le Pen is the spokesperson for active France, and Macron — for free France. 

 

More generally, everywhere in the world, public opinion is calling for more order — international polls attest to this. So those who embody authority, who claim to want to restore it, have the wind in their sails. We see it in Western and Eastern Europe where the extreme parties are powerful, we see it in the United States with the rise of republican ideas, we see it in Latin America where the dirigiste left has made considerable progress in the recent years. 

 

The main, but not the only, cause of this demand for order is obviously due to the uncertainties that accompany the economic changes of the world — from industrial to digital; and in governance — from national space to globalization.

Translated from the French by Alissa Ordabai.

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Nicolas Miletitch served as the Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent in Moscow from 1978 to 1981 before having been expelled by the Soviet authorities, and led AFP as its Editor-in-Chief from 2006 to 2009. He personally carried many key dissident texts and documents to the West and is the author of two highly acclaimed documentaries on human rights in Russia: L'Histoire Secrète de l'Archipel du Goulag (The Secret History of the Gulag Archipelago) and "За успех нашего безнадежного дела" (To the Success of Our Hopeless Battle). His book Trafics et crimes dans les Balkans about the organized crime in the Balkans has been published by Presses Universitaires de France in 1998.