Philosophers charge into Bosnia fray

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The Independent Online
WITH manicured hands pushing back flowing locks and accusing fingers pointed at their detractors, French intellectuals have propelled the war in Bosnia to the centre of the domestic political debate.

It is in the tradition of that occasion 96 years ago when the flowers of French thought fought for a cause as Alfred Dreyfus was tried for treason.

Then the battle was played out with elegant and devastating phrases in the press. Now the 'J'accuse' of Bernard-Henri Levy, the inspiration behind the 'Europe Starts at Sarajevo' list in next month's European elections, is transmitted into every home via televised debates.

The Sarajevo list, mooted publicly for the first time only two weeks ago, was among 23 lists presented at the Interior Ministry on Friday. By yesterday morning it had been approved. It is headed by Leon Schwartzenberg, a cancer specialist who was briefly a Socialist government minister in 1988.

Mr Levy had said his candidates would not register if the established political parties demonstrated the right commitment to Bosnia. This involves, in his view, arming the Bosnian Muslims.

Elections for France's 87 members of the European Parliament are by proportional representation for national lists. Any list with 5 per cent or more of the total vote is assured of deputies. The Sarajevo list was credited with 7.5 per cent in a poll in Le Parisien yesterday. A poll in Le Point weekly gave it 12 per cent.

Professor Schwartzenberg's list seems certain of winning some seats on 12 June and this will probably be at a cost to Michel Rocard's Socialist Party. Le Parisien's poll gave Mr Rocard a disastrous 14 per cent.

Mr Rocard was roundly attacked by members of his own party for saying he would be willing to consider lifting the UN arms embargo on Bosnia.

Bernard-Henri Levy - 14th on his list and therefore unlikely to be elected - first came to notice in the mid-1970s as one of the 'nouveaux philosophes' (new philosophers) who, using Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago as their justification, challenged the French left's sycophantic respect of Soviet communism.

Now 45 Mr Levy remains the best-known of the group. Over the past two years, he has made Bosnia and Sarajevo his cause. As he set up his list, he made a swingeing attack on President Mitterrand for his policies on Bosnia and said the politicians had been preparing 'fuddy-duddy, pre-presidential elections' to test their popularity in Mr Mitterrand's last year.

Politicians of all stripes were quick to react. They said France, with 7,000 soldiers in the UN force in former Yugoslavia, had been anything but complacent. Humanitarian flights to Sarajevo were resumed two years ago after a visit there by Mr Mitterrand.

A significant number of French intellectuals, mostly on the left, feel that Mr Levy's battle is misplaced.

Alain Finkielkraut chose not to join the list, arguing that intellectuals should not take up direct political combat. The Sarajevo list, he said, was 'scandalously personalised' and had 'itself become the political event in place of Bosnia'.

Regis Debray, who fought alongside Che Guevara in Bolivia before becoming an adviser to Mr Mitterrand, said last week that he found little to admire in a movement which was prepared 'to fight in Paris down to the last Bosnian'.

(Photograph omitted)