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Every One of Us Can Become a Churchill

By: Constantin Sigov

April 4, 2022

The Culture of Encounter in a Time of War

While the final assault on Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine is being prepared, on Wednesday, March 1, Michel Eltchaninof from the French journal Philosophie Magazine spoke by telephone with the Ukrainian philosopher Constantin Sigov, professor of philosophy and religious studies at the Mohyla Academy in Kyiv. In the interview, first published in French on Philosophie, Sigov calls on French and European people to become aware of what is at stake in the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The attack constitutes a direct threat to Europe, and it requires from Europeans, from every citizen to the president, a burst of will and courage to help massively the Ukrainian people. His words are a testimony that speaks to each of us.

Michel Eltchaninof: Where are you at the moment?

Constantin Sigov: I am with my family a few kilometers from Kyiv, in Vychgorod, on one of the lines of the imminent Russian invasion. The attacks are intensifying as I speak, both in Kyiv and in Kharkiv, the second largest city in the east. There too, there have never been so many bombings and attacks as today.

What is your state of mind right now?

We must fight. We must resist even more, and at all levels. In Ukraine, but also in Paris and Brussels.

What more can the European capitals do?

Ukraine's application to join the European Union has been received with favorable comments, but we must go further and faster. De facto, Ukraine and the European Union are already together. They are fighting a very dangerous and crazy opponent. But the sooner this accession is realized and enters into the consciousness of all Europeans, the better. This feeling of unity is indispensable, not only within our country, but in the whole of Europe. Then, this unity of Ukraine and Europe must be embodied in concrete decisions. This will give more strength and more courage to all. There is a great temptation among Western Europeans to imagine that they are safe.

Why do you think this feeling of security is wrong?

If an accident in a Ukrainian nuclear power plant occurs because of the Russian invasion, even without the decision of an atomic strike, we will have to face an ecological catastrophe tomorrow. And the majority of French people are absolutely not prepared for it. They do not imagine that they too will end up sleeping on the floor inside the subway. When I look at the discussions on French TV, I have the impression that the participants think they are living on another planet. When in fact what seemed far away a week ago is now very close to us. And tomorrow it could happen in Paris.

How can we not give in to panic?

Only concrete decisions can keep the feeling of panic at bay. I will give you an example from Ukraine: A [Russian] tank approaches a Ukrainian village. Some inhabitants offer food to the soldiers driving it. While they are being fed, one of the villagers pours sugar into the tank's fuel tank, which ruins the engine. This is a peaceful way, without Molotov cocktails, to stop the tanks. Only concrete decisions can help us overcome fear. And this is as valid in Ukraine as much as in France.

What can our leaders do?

Western leaders should for instance put pressure on Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, and explain to him that this conflict is not his war and that he should not send citizens of his country to participate in it. They just need to scare him by telling him that he will suffer the fate of Milošević, arrested and tried after the Yugoslav wars. Poland will give permission to use its airfields. Today, everyone is invited to take such measures. As for Hungary, it prevents the passage of weapons through its territory to Ukraine. If Hungary is on Putin's side, it should say so, but it cannot remain in the middle.

Many French people today are acting to help the Ukrainians...

This is very important, especially because it will push the sometimes indecisive politicians to go further. The fundamental resource today is individual and collective courage. Courage can either be strengthened or it can melt away like snow in the sun. If the general atmosphere in France is one of solidarity, politicians will be less afraid. This reminds me of the recent film Don't Look Up (Adam McKay, 2021). There are moments in history when ordinary people will meet with leaders of a country, and sometimes they can get the message across. Emmanuel Macron may then understand that he can rise to the level of a Churchill. All French people must send him this signal. This will also give the country much more strength to face other problems, economic, political, migratory. In fact, a lot depends on the French citizens!

Should we fear that Russia may use nuclear weapons?

There is today a real danger that the man in his bunker in the Kremlin, in a moment of madness, will order a nuclear strike on Kyiv. We can't exclude it, as the tanks attack Kyiv. It is just a choice of one weapon instead of another if the ground offensive is repelled. But if Vladimir Putin receives full confirmation that the nuclear powers will annihilate him if he dares to use nuclear weapons, then he will not dare to do so. But we have to be resolute: not to be afraid of a possible strike, but to understand that we are stronger, and not to give in to blackmail. Because if Kyiv is ever the victim of a nuclear strike, any European city could be in turn.

Is Vladimir Putin capable of this?

He has no brakes. He is absolutely indifferent to the lives of his own people, let alone to the lives of Ukrainians or Frenchmen. Since he considers himself surrounded by enemies, the only question he asks himself is: how to destroy more of them?

What do you think of Éric Zemmour's proposal to send Nicolas Sarkozy to negotiate with Vladimir Putin?

This is the worst possible idea, because it would be sending negotiators to the Kremlin who would accommodate Putin. It makes me think of the phrase of the theologian and resistance fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Foolishness is more dangerous than evil, because unlike the latter, it is perfectly self-satisfied and tends less to self-destruction." Today we must resist not only evil - aggression, the killing of civilians – but also foolishness.

What does it mean to be at war?

War is a very difficult job, and we realize this today. Every night we sleep on the floor in cellars. The psychological and physical pressure is extreme for everyone. But from Kharkiv to Lviv, through Kyiv and on to Paris, we have to mobilize for this effort, we have to devote all our intellectual, moral and physical strength to it. The curtain of illusion which makes us believe that all this is happening far away, can be torn apart any minute. Violence can enter every house. To prevent this from happening, we must not tire or turn away from this question.

What does this event mean in our history?

This war will either renew and strengthen France and Europe, or it will send us back to the 1930s. Either Ukraine, France, all the countries of Europe embody a new ethos, or we will end up being transformed into animals. The Kremlin’s ideologues want to convince us that vileness is always preferable to war. This is exactly what Churchill said when he said: "You have preferred shame to war. But you will receive both war and shame." If each of us, wherever we are, becomes a Churchill, then the whole of France will help its leader to become a new Churchill himself.

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