Villepin the Poet

M. Villepin


Think of the village baby.
A scene of adventure – the dream of Europe.
The eyes of marching armies fostered perplexity
that marred all its books and intellectuals
and opened their minds to the encyclopaedia of algebra
and carmine bear remembrances.
The tumult of the bears has maintained the fear.


Ladies choose a country to call symbolic,
uncertain of which temptation to desire,
the theatre of maiming, the pain,
the poets, the verses frozen,
aware of the men and women of this road,
the cradle impossible to forget: our origins.
The Mediterranean exploits of Herodotus
spread to both of the memory vaults.
The stone murmurs our common heritage.


We know the imagination of letters,
the country of hanging gardens, this
speaks to us. We are bound by its women,
children play with hope. The transparent work
without play is reported missing.
The expert should like food.
Ladies are prepared to become rich
despite the clangour of morality.


In our shelter, harm depends on a fresh chance
for decadence. We have toyed with nostalgia,
and vengeance is a blind alley.
Am I not ancient? We wish to spread
a host of luxuriant factors for play.

We need her rich experience and feelings of despair.
It intensifies the suffering.
There has never been such abomination.
Each road must be ripe for the sad future,
embracing water and the thirst for travel.


The joint will lend an ear
to the consciousness.
It would lag behind concrete,
for the sad future is embracing water
and the thirst for travel.

Act, think about the pool, these fields.
Relax: go further to the shore,
create a stimulant for our partners.
A high-level personality means breathing.
Our neighbours must be separated.

Here is M Villepin’s speech, in English. Note: It is very long.

«The Mediterranean World and the Middle East» (Cairo, 12 April 2003)

Ladies and gentlemen, How could one choose a more obvious country than Egypt to call on this part of the world’s memories and ambitions? What other more symbolic place could we choose as the meeting point between the East and the West, and to address the challenges of the future?

Egypt and France have naturally close views on all important international issues. I could experience it once again this morning during the audience which was granted to me by President Mubarak. In those troubled and worrisome times, the experience and wisdom of the Egyptian leaders are precious to us. I warmly thank the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs and its Chairman, Ambassador Mohamed Shaker, for receiving us here today with so many high-ranking characters.

The Middle East is once again facing the ordeal of war, with its attendant privations, casualties, and feelings of injustice in a region already heavily marked by suffering. France, convinced that there was an approach other than war for peacefully disarming Iraq, did everything she could to avoid it. She now hopes that, with the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, hope will very quickly flourish again. It is urgent, at a time when deep divisions, hatred, intolerance, the forces of terrorism and fundamentalism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are threatening the planet, that we should together build a peaceful world in which everyone has his rightful place and every culture is respected.

Confronted with these challenges, the world is uncertain of which path to follow. On the one hand, we have the temptation to use force, to take unilateral pre-emptive action. On the other, we have the desire for justice and discussion, based on the primacy of law and the legitimacy of international action, vested in the United Nations alone.

Today, all our concerns focus on the Middle East, the theatre of so much maiming, so much suffering. It is hard not to commiserate with the hurt and pain expressed by the modern Arab poets since Ahmed Chawki and Khalil Mutran, and resonating in the verses of Mahmoud Darwich: And the days become used to finding dead The living… or of Adonis frozen with dread:
I have seen my feet change
To a river brimming with blood

We are now well aware of the urgent need to consolidate peace in the Middle East, to plough the furrow of a new future in this soil so near to us, so vital to France and Europe, and so crucial to the world’s equilibrium. Today I address the men and women of this region. With you I should like to chart the road to freedom, explore the avenues of modernity and plumb this identity, that is the source of so much pain, as well as the cradle of so much promise.

It is impossible to forget our origins. The Mediterranean has entwined our destinies from the far-distant past. We need only remember the exploits of Alexander, or Herodotus voyaging from Greece to Mesopotamia, when culture spread to both shores of the Mediterranean. Our memory vaults among the stone remains from Alexandria to Volubilis, Ephesus to Masada, Jerash to Tipaza; the past murmurs to the present, reminding us of the diversity of our common heritage.

We might also think of the village of Bethlehem where a Jewish baby was born, founder of Christianity and a prophet revered by the Muslims. Places like Jerusalem and Nazareth, the scene today of tragic conflict, speak to us of our common history and our particular origin. The confrontation of East and West has always been synonymous with adventure – from the dream of Andalusia under the Khalifate of Cordoba, the epic legends of Charlemagne, the fascinated discovery of “The Thousand and One Nights” by Classical Europe, the critical eye of the Persians of Montesquieu seeking self-discovery through other persons’ eyes, to the lesson of happiness penned by Voltaire through the voice of Zadig the Babylonian. Let us remember the great adventure of poetry and love songs, from Rumi to Dante or to Aragon. I also have in mind Naguib Mahfouz, who discovered the very idea of the novel in the work of Balzac and Charles Dickens.

The confrontation was also, of course, that of arms and marching armies, as when Tarik brought Islam to Europe, as when later the Crusades fostered the brutality and perplexity described by Francesco Gabrielli, as when much later again the Europeans embarked upon colonialism. I do not wish to gloss over the violence and spoliation that marred this period. However, the exemplary bravery and clear-sightedness of visionary Arab world leaders enabled the Middle East to seize the opportunity offered by this challenge.

From Egypt’s Mohamed Ali who sent the young Mohammed Rifaa Al-Tahtawi to Paris to translate all its books and absorb all its science, and Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk to Iran’s pioneers of oil autonomy, they regained their sovereignty while appropriating the West’s contributions.

The Arab intellectuals, so as to nurture the hoped-for renaissance of their countries, the Nahda, tamed the outside world and opened their minds to the fertile enrichment it provided. In his Lettre aux Français, the illustrious Emir Abdelkader proclaimed his faith in the Arab world’s rebirth through progress and culture. He succeeded in building a relationship of respect and trust with Napoleon III, who planned to form an alliance between France and an Arab kingdom headed by the Emir. France, having turned her back on conquests, realizes what she owes to the Arab and Middle Eastern heritage.

Without Averroes, would we have discovered Aristotle? Without Avicenna’s encyclopaedia of medicine, what would we have known of Galien and Hippocrates? Could the social sciences have done without someone like Ibn Khaldoun, astronomy without Abu Al Biruni, or mathematics without Al Khawarizmi?

The heritage extends beyond science and ideas. Your presence in our history is embedded in our language. Arab words like algebra, sofa, admiral and carmine bear witness to the intermingling of our worlds.

Our cultures are today inseparable from one another. France’s population includes nearly five million Muslims, two-thirds of them of Arab origin, who alter the country’s aspirations and outlook. I pay tribute to these Muslims of France who practise Islam in a spirit of authenticity, hospitality and openness. Paris is gifted with an important Arab-language press, many Arab and Muslim students, and the Institut du Monde Arabe, a matchless centre for cultural promulgation. France has spun a web of ever-closer links in a dialogue shot through with echoes and remembrances.

The illustrious Rachi, meditating on the Bible and the Talmud near Troyes away from the tumult of the Middle Ages, bears testimony to the age-old ties binding us to the Jewish people, to its often tragic history but also to its vast and varied culture.

Down the years, this people, carrying the imprint of the world’s most terrible dramas as well as of its diversity and wealth of talents, has maintained a profound relationship with a French nation wedded to the values of respect and tolerance. Our bond draws its strength from this shared past. There are ample reasons here for building new bridges and increasing the number of passageways between Europe and the Middle East. They hold out promise, providing that we do not succumb to the temptation of fear. In our interdependent world, isolation and shelter from harm are both impossible. Our future depends on our ability to live and develop together.

The Middle Eastern peoples aspire to freedom, security and justice. The growing unity of today’s world offers a fresh chance for interchange. For globalisation to be of benefit to every people and culture, it must be humane, and respectful of identities and cultures. Let us not succumb to the enervating dead-end ideologies of decadence. We Europeans have often toyed with them, to our disadvantage. But we know, after having endured so much on our own soil, that the road of nostalgia and vengeance is a blind alley. To worship a mythical Golden Age is to refuse the future. Breaking out of isolation, on the other hand, offers the best opportunity of mastering one’s own destiny.

Democracy is available to all countries, regardless of their state of development, and well beyond the so-called West. I am thinking of India and Japan. It is for each one to advance at its own pace, with respect for its traditions and peculiarities. Democracy should indeed strengthen respect for diversity.

Let us embark on a new age in our history. In all places where identities knock together and meet, they can assume their negative belligerent aspect, with one defining itself against the other. But they also everywhere yearn to reach out, experience the winds of change, open up horizons of hope and freedom. A difficult path has to be trodden between tradition and modernity, past and future, technicity and culture. It requires an endless effort at conciliation, tolerance, education and togetherness. This is true not only at the personal but also at the national level. I dare to believe that freedom and exchange will open the gateway to a rediscovery of identity. Am I not right in thinking that the traditions of the Arab-Muslim world include an ancient practice of consulting the people? We wish to provide encouragement to the countries that have opted for democracy and we hope that this movement will spread. We mean to revive what De Gaulle called the all-time pact between France and the world’s freedom. The values of human rights and democracy are alone capable of rallying all peoples and creating union against the forces of division. In the course of their history, the Arab world and the Middle East have engendered a host of innovators, reformers, men of religion and enlightened leaders, from Lebanon’s Emir Fakhr el Dîn to Morocco’s King Mohamed V. Today still, their legacy forms a basis and provides inspiration for a new Nahda. The Middle East, in this new world of ours, has tremendous assets at its disposal: an enthusiastic young population, eager to learn, a storehouse of energy and hope; a treasure of ancient but still living wisdom for restoring faith when times are hard; a luxuriant culture extending from erudite literature to popular music. All these factors for outreach will come into play when the moment arrives. Algeria’s fervour during President Chirac’s recent State visit conveyed a fine message of hope for the future, transcending the wounds of the past.

My purpose is to bring you a message of trust, France’s trust in the wisdom and spirit of responsibility of the Arab and Muslim peoples. Modernity and the Arab world, progress and Islam are in no way incompatible. When over a billion Muslims quietly live out their faith, how can we imagine for a second that Islam is of itself a source of intolerance? We cannot brook any weakness where terrorism is concerned. For centuries, France has been upholding principles that are violated by any form of fanaticism. It is for us to proclaim our values and defend our convictions. Only respect and tolerance can curb hatred and violence. Let us together reject the over-simplifications of a world blinded by fear. Fundamentalism is the product of a failed encounter between two worlds. It feeds on injustice, not religion. It takes hold on the crippled egos of all those, in the West as in the East, who do not find their place in society, suffer as outcasts, and react with feelings of hatred. Entire populations today feel left out, cut off from the march of the world. We need to establish new ties with peoples of every race and culture. My wish is to oppose intolerance and fanaticism by reaching out to all those who have confidence in mankind.

In order to go forward, a response must first be found for people’s desire for freedom. People throughout the world want a hand in their own destiny. The international community is now united in support for this form of progress. There are no longer on the one side those who wish to act, and on the other side the rest; the problem now is the best way to act. Can the path to liberty be dictated or imposed from outside? Our conviction is rather that liberty must finds its nourishment in these peoples’ culture, history, tradition and ambition. Naturally, the international community bears a responsibility for backing this demand, while respecting each individual’s identity. France here means to remain true to herself, strong in her ideals and convictions, rich with her experience and long-time ties with this region of the Middle East, with Asia and with Africa. We have reflected on the lessons from our past and gauged the complexity that action must constantly cope with. If we are to progress, we must then find the path to peace and stability in the region. In the Middle East and beyond, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fuels every kind of tension. It troubles our societies everywhere. No country can ignore this crisis, born out of the reciprocal rejection of two peoples during forty years and maintained by the failure of the various peace processes, which no country can ignore. The deadlock exacerbates the feelings of anger and injustice, frustration and despair. It intensifies the suffering and serves finally as an excuse for international terrorism. Since the Intifada resumed in September 2000, the gulf has widened. In the reoccupied Palestinian Territories, the crackdown has been harsh, and the impoverishment tragic. Indiscriminate terrorism has seriously shaken the partisans of peace in Israel. Yet, on either side, civil society continues, despite the deprivation and fear, to place hope in the future. There has never been such unanimous agreement concerning the broad lines of a settlement. UNSCR 1397, reasserting UNSCRs 242 and 338, lays down the principle of two States living side by side in security. In Beirut in March 2002, the Arab world, at the instigation of Saudi Prince Abdallah, solemnly pledged to normalize its relations with Israel once the occupation ceased, thus following the path opened by Egypt with the 1978 Camp David accords. Israel, like all lawful sovereign States, has a right to security and recognition by her neighbours. She knows that France will never countenance a threat to or a questioning of her existence, recognised by the United Nations on behalf of the international community following the Nazi abomination. The Palestinians, too, have a right to a sovereign, viable and democratic State. France was among the first to claim this for them twenty years ago. The Palestinians, victims of what their collective memory recalls as the Nakba, the disaster, have become a homeless people. Let us shed our false illusions – on the one hand, that of a victory through the Intifada and terrorism; on the other, that of a victory through military might. What does the future hold for the Palestinians? Can anyone believe that, after having endured so much, they will simply give up? They will remain in the land that is theirs. What does the future hold for the Israelis? Without peace, will the State of Israel ever obtain the legitimate security of which she dreams?

Peace now is an imperative. International law must be applied. We wish to settle this conflict together, with an insistence on justice and responsibility. It is essential therefore to provide each camp with all the needed guarantees, taking into consideration the fears and concerns, in order to build a common future for all the region’s inhabitants. Europe, the United Nations, the United States and Russia have joined together in the Quartet, whose road map sets out the main stages in the process. Let us step by step make the necessary choices together. Stage one: prepare the bases of an agreement. The Quartet’s road map must be rapidly communicated to both parties and published. Now that Abu Mazen has been named Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli cabinet has been installed, the conditions are ripe. The roadmap must be implemented by all sides without delay, the goal being a Palestinian State by 2005. Stage two: stop the spiral of violence. Israelis and Palestinians must publicly reassert their choice of negotiation and peace, beginning with a joint truce declaration. This calming gesture will rekindle hope in all those who live in fear each day. France would, with other partners, be ready to participate by a presence on the ground. Why could not the two peoples directly express their will by mandating their governments to make peace within the prospect of a two-State coexistence? Why not lend an ear to the voters, who in a referendum could confirm the choice for peace and restore hope to the collective consciousness? Stage three: ensure the conditions for peace. The Palestine public services should be in a position to assume their responsibilities. In this task, they should benefit from the international community’s backing, if necessary. In exploring the possibilities for efficient technical support, France would like thought to be given, open-mindedly and without prejudice, to an international presence that would take up position with the consent of the parties without encroaching on their sovereign responsibilities. Stage four: opening the paths to peace. France proposes hosting in Paris, after stage one of the Quartet’s roadmap, an international conference for defining the framework needed for concluding, with the backing of the international community, an honourable peace. Stage five: proclamation of the Palestinian State. It would correspond to the end of phase two of the Quartet’s roadmap. Our wish is that at this stage the Palestinian State, within provisional borders, should become a reality. We are ready to draw all the diplomatic consequences should implementation of the Quartet’s plan lag behind schedule. These steps signpost the itinerary set out by the Quartet and its roadmap. We feel it is necessary to confirm the choice of will by concrete acts, for the hopes raised must not be dashed once again. Each partner must display its unflinching determination.

Let us not delude ourselves. The search for a solution requires mobilisation on everyone’s part. On the Israeli side, it is clear for all to see: security can be achieved only through peace, but peace will require tough concessions to be made. But despite the tragic events, the person on the other side must be accepted. Let us heed Amos Oz: what we have done is sad and bitter, as sad and bitter as what our enemies have done to us. On the Palestinian side, renunciation of violence, which offers no way out, is more necessary than ever. The Palestinian Authority must be able to speak in the name of its people. Lastly, all the Arab countries must accept Israel as one of the region’s States; they must fully recognise this neighbour country by affording her guarantees of security and building normal peaceful relations with her. We believe in the vision of a Middle East at peace. It is essential to security and, without security, no future is possible. It is the expectation of all your peoples. The world stands in need of a Middle East capable of making itself heard on the international stage and lending its hand in meeting the great common challenge of the future. Peace must be comprehensive, embracing Syria and the Lebanon as well. Is the Israeli presence on the Golan Heights still justified for security reasons? The matter of water and Lake Tiberiade should be the subject of a fair agreement consonant with the practices recognised under international law in this field. Lebanon, for her part, will recover her full independence and complete sovereignty within the framework of a comprehensive peace. While not forgetting those who have suffered and died, let us put a stop to the violence which ravages human lives and perpetuates the thirst for revenge. Israeli and Palestinian children should be able to return to school without fear of being cut down along the way. Their parents should be able to go to work free from terror. The economy should pick up again. Men and women should be able to journey and travel freely. Human and cultural relations should be resumed between these neighbouring countries that have shared so much pain. We must dissipate the fear and anxiety that have suffocated the two populations for many long months.

To rebuild and restore trust: that is the great challenge for the Middle East. The region’s internal struggles over the past century were the expression, first and foremost, of a general mistrust as regards the neighbouring countries’ intentions. Lack of trust is what hampered peace efforts in the Western Sahara, Iraq and Iran, and still blocks a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Renewed trust would enable regional integration to proceed. Europe, although scarred by centuries of war, has managed to follow the road of peace and common interests. Our once-torn continent, strengthened by an unprecedented degree of prosperity, settles its disputes through dialogue and responsibility-sharing. Why should the Middle East, increasingly split by its divisions, not also adopt the same peace and development approach? Your region’s political or economic organisations, from the Arab League, the Arab Maghreb Union to the Gulf States Cooperation Council, have already made numerous efforts in this direction. The pursuit and intensification of these efforts would act as a powerful incentive to economic development, stability and social modernisation. Has not the time also come to think about regional collective security systems? It is a well-known fact that security is a precondition for investment and growth. In 2000, international investment amounted to $1,270 billion. Only 0.5 % of this total went to the Arab world and the Middle East. The region does not sufficiently benefit from the major world economic and financial flows. Let us pool our energies to reverse this trend. Let us renew cooperation between Europe and the region in every field: education and vocational training, familiarisation with modern production and communication techniques, and infrastructure enhancement. The rule of law, good governance, and an independent judiciary are basic ingredients in efficient and balanced development, of benefit to all. In all these fields, we must not relax our efforts; we must go ever further.

A great deal has been accomplished since 1995 when the Euro-Mediterranean process, aimed at establishing a wide-ranging partnership between Europe and the Mediterranean South, was launched in Barcelona, largely at the instigation of France. In the space of seven years, over EUR 12 billion have been made available to the South shore partners in highly varied sectors of activity. The aim of all these projects is development and modernisation. Europe has taken action, like the partner States.

Nearly all have signed or are in the process of signing association agreements with the European Union. These agreements create strong practical bonds among us. European competition is a stimulant opening up new markets for the business and industry of the associated countries. Government must in every case be able to lend its backing to these efforts. We intend to provide all those interested with the methods and techniques tried and tested in our countries. For that reason, I suggest that each of the twenty-seven partners should designate a high-level personality to study ways and means for breathing life into the Barcelona process so as to achieve closer association of our South shore neighbours with the European Union.

The Middle East’s future must be built around a common challenge, that of peace. This holds true for the Near East; it holds true for Iraq. We observe the region’s community of spirit – grief and pain cannot be separated. Iraq today is going through massive upheavals. It is a great challenge for this country, for the Arab world and for the whole international community. We all know what Baghdad represents in the history and the imagination of the Arab world as the heir to the thousand-year-old Mesopotamian civilisations, the capital of the Abassic empire and the centre of Arab science and letters for centuries.

This is indeed the country of Harun Al Rashid, where Callimacus first experienced the wonder of seeing the hanging gardens of Babylon. All this affects us, all this speaks to us. We are bound by the future of Iraq. But first and foremost, of course, we are bound by the future of the Arab world as a whole. We must, however, address the emergency of the situation. My thoughts are for the country’s civilian population, its women, children and men mowed down by the war. Right now, humanitarian action must mobilise everyone’s efforts. Once the terrible period of war is over, Iraq will have to be made secure. Responsibility for this will lie primarily with the coalition countries. Then will come the time for reconstruction – economic, certainly, but above all political.

The United Nations must play a central role, because only the UN can provide tomorrow’s Iraqi authorities with the necessary legitimacy and mobilise the entire international community. Also because, when confronted with Iraq’s ordeal, we must be extremely demanding in terms of lucidity, efficacy and solidarity. Those are the notions which will continually govern France’s position. The Iraqi people, which has experienced nothing but war and oppression for over thirty years, needs to live lastingly at peace with itself and its neighbours. Let us be careful always to put this great people’s need for respect, pride, honour and hope on the agenda for Iraq’s reconstruction. With the international community, and the Arab League, let us look to the future. We have three top priorities: First: as soon as circumstances permit, to set up sovereign, independent and stable national institutions, respectful of human rights and exclusively concerned with the situation of all Iraqis. This legal and institutional reform should be entrusted to the Iraqis themselves. It is necessary therefore to preserve Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity and enable the country to regain control over the whole of its territory. Second: to determine the terms for a peaceful cohabitation of the entire population. Iraqis, in all their diversity of origin and belief, should be represented by sovereign institutions. The return of the inhabitants of Iraqi Kurdistan within the national entity must go hand-in-hand with the definition of a suitable status of autonomy.

The new authorities in Baghdad must therefore ensure freedom of worship for all Iraqis, whatever their religious persuasion, affording them both respect and security. Third: it will be essential to assist the Iraqi authorities in quickly improving the whole population’s economic situation. All of Iraq’s resources will have to be mobilised for the country’s development and reconstruction, for the benefit of the Iraqi people. More particularly, it is important that Iraq’s oil wealth should, under a transparent system, benefit all Iraqis.

How can these objectives be achieved? First, we must together investigate and devise arrangements to avoid debt and war damage reparations compromising the country’s development. Next, we shall work together to reinsert Iraq into her regional environment and into the international community. All of Iraq’s neighbours without exception will have a role to play in this reconciliation. It is important that the Iraqi authorities should rapidly demonstrate their willingness to restore peaceful relations with these States, in a spirit of openness, transparency and reconciliation. The truth will have to be sought and revealed concerning war prisoners and those reported missing in action from the past twenty years. The region’s peoples and the international community need to mobilise so that a united, sovereign, dignified, free and modern Iraq can again come to light.

A new regional security system should be founded on measures of trust and non-aggression, incorporating, for example, the project for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone advocated by Egypt and mentioned in UNSCR 687. France and Europe would be ready there again to supply such a project with their expert knowledge. I am conscious of the strong sentiments of dismay, humiliation and injustice felt by the Arab world today, and of how much solidarity Egypt expresses for these populations. I should like to think, however, that the Iraqis, with the aid of the international community and the United Nations, will use this ordeal as an opportunity to recover their freedom and full sovereignty. I should like to believe that, despite everything, this new crisis will supply each one of us with additional food for thought and dialogue on the themes of collective responsibility, reconciliation and peace.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Middle East is the theatre of crises and strife. Yet the peoples who are so torn asunder today should not lose hope. The international community is more than ever prepared to throw itself into the task. We cannot tolerate tragedies that continue to bring grief to entire populations. The Middle East can become an incredibly rich tapestry of peoples and cultures, a positive image of the common destiny that increasingly binds together all human beings and all their histories. This note of hope rests on support of civil societies that make up all the region’s countries. Today still, these societies, notwithstanding animosities and hardships, continue to maintain close peace-inspired links among one another. My wish is that these gazes which head for the future should not be disregarded by history.

I also make an appeal for vigilance as regards the rising tide of violence and frustration which can help breed hate, intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism. I want to state here, as it is said in our country, when President Chirac calls for fighting relentlessly against all acts liable to threaten the respect for persons, belongings or religious symbols or their security. I wish to confirm firmly that France chooses the camp of loyalty: loyalty towards the peoples with which she has shared bonds of mutual friendship for so many years; loyalty towards herself, and to the spirit of the Enlightenment and Human Rights.

France chooses to be demanding, convinced as she is that, despite the clangour of arms, there is an emergency to be dealt with and an opportunity to grasp. France wishes to take the side, as she always has done, of freedom and justice, democracy and respect for international morality. It is urgent to determine a path, and offer a response to the peoples worry. A whole region yearns for hope; its peoples yearn for life. Let us rally together to build a world worthy of our joint aspirations – a world based on peace and mutual respect.