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Activists Worldwide Mourn French Author Stéphane Hessel

Writer, human rights advocate, and French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel, whose bestselling manifesto on peaceful uprising inspired the disenchanted of Europe and the United States to organize into protest, died on the night of February 26, 2013. He was 95.

Hessel came to the worldwide recognition with the 2010 publication of his short pamphlet ”Indignez-vous!” (Time for Outrage!), which quickly became a publishing phenomenon – the work has sold some 4.5 million copies in 35 countries including China and been translated into 34 languages. The manifesto became the bedrock of global protests, including Spain's Indignants movement and the international Occupy movement.

Following the news of his death, more than 500 people paid homage to him at the Place de la Bastille in Paris. A peaceful march is planned on March 7, 2013, the day of his funeral.

A man who spoke meaningfully in simple words, Hessel sought to impart optimism to a disillusioned generation. He was the quintessential European, starting with his birth in Berlin, then his childhood in Paris, and right up to his latest European tour presenting and commenting on his book “Time for Outrage”. Hessel says that he found out what being European meant in the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he had been deported in 1944 for acts of resistance:

Cette expérience m’a ouvert politiquement. Nous étions là, solidaires, à partager un douloureux quotidien entre des milliers d’Européens. Il y avait là un brassage, une génération qui a inventé un monde nouveau dans son opposition au nazisme.

This experience was a political awakening. There were a thousand of us, fellow Europeans, sharing a very painful lot, and supporting each other. It was a melting pot, a generation whose opposition to Nazism had given rise to a new world.

He became a diplomat with the United Nations and worked for development aid, making the fight for human rights his daily struggle. But it was after his retirement in 1983 that he fought his most outstanding battles. Called upon to defend the rights of undocumented foreigners in France in the 1990s, he also gained attention for defending the right of self-determination of peoples, alongside the Sahrawi and the Palestinians. He explained his point of view [fr] to Philosophie Magazine:

J’ai le sentiment d’appartenir à l’histoire des Juifs, d’autant que la Shoah m’a touché de près. Je me suis enthousiasmé pour le sionisme et la création d’Israël. Mais je ne partage pas le repli d’une partie de la communauté juive. Je déteste l’entre-soi communautariste. Depuis 1967, je refuse la politique de colonisation et de territoires occupés par Israël. Gaza est une prison à ciel ouvert.

I feel that I am a part of Jewish history, especially having been so personally affected by the Shoah. I was enthusiastic about Zionism and the creation of Israel. But I do not share the inward-looking attitude of a certain part of the Jewish community. I abhor self-centered isolationism. Since 1967, I have rejected the settlement policy and the occupied territories of Israel. Gaza is an open-air prison.

Today this pro-Palestinian stance has earned him severe posthumous criticism from the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France [fr].

He penned “Time for Outrage!” in 2010, a 32-page pamphlet promoting non-violent uprising, which would become a source of inspiration for hundreds of thousands of activists around the world [fr]:

Aussi, appelons-nous toujours à une véritable insurrection pacifique contre les moyens de communication de masse qui ne proposent comme horizon pour notre jeunesse que la consommation de masse, le mépris des plus faibles et de la culture, l'amnésie généralisée et la compétition à outrance de tous contre tous. A ceux et celles qui feront le XXI ème siècle, nous disons avec notre affection : CRÉER, C'EST RÉSISTER. RÉSISTER C'EST CRÉER.

So, let us all commit to a truly peaceful insurrection against mass media, whose only offer to our youth is mass consumerism, contempt for the weak and for culture, widespread amnesia and merciless competition pitching everyone against everyone else. To those who are going to create the 21st century, we say, with all our affection: TO CREATE IS TO RESIST. TO RESIST IS TO CREATE.

Hessel believed that society must always push itself to be better. In December 2010, he confided to Le Monde des Religions (The World of Religions) [fr]:

Nous ne sommes nous-mêmes que lorsque nous essayons de nous dépasser, lorsque nous ne nous contentons pas de l’acquis.

We only come into our own when we seek to surpass ourselves, when we are not satisfied with what has already been achieved.

Hessel understood well the social and ideological leanings of the younger generations and the opportunities opened up by modern means of communication and information. What he saw was the possibility for the young activists to consolidate their revolt [fr]:


Je constate avec plaisir qu’au cours des dernières décennies se sont multipliés les organisations non gouvernementales, les mouvements sociaux […] qui sont agissants et performants. Il est évident que pour être efficace aujourd’hui, il faut agir en réseau, profiter de tous les moyens modernes de communication.

I am pleased to note that over the past few decades, more and more active and efficient NGOs and social movements have appeared [...] These days, it seems quite clear that in order to be efficient we need to network and make the best use of all modern means of communication.

And thus, demonstrators in France, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal throughout 2011 and 2012 began to call themselves The Indignants, or in the case of New York, Occupy Wall Street, in line with Hessel's writing. The pamphlet also found a significant place in the recent uprisings against dictatorial regimes in the Arab world.

In Syria, a project to publish the book in Arabic was yet to be completed. A volunteer group composed of Syrian writers and researchers decided to revive the idea and published the translation of Time for Outrage in Arabic on their website The Republic [ar] just days after the author's death.

A video posted on YouTube on February 27, 2013 honors Hessel, combining readings of his appeals to the younger generation in English, French, and German with footage of demonstrations all over Europe:

In Spain, some have wrongly labeled Hessel as the “father” of the 15-M movement, where his book has lent a name, notoriety, and media coverage to activists going under the name of “Los Indignados“. Juan-Luis Sanchez commented [es] on the connection between Hessel and the 15-M movement:

La aportación más importante de Hessel al 15-M fue la de transmitir, con su edad y trayectoria política, un tipo de credibilidad que los grandes medios necesitaban para poder hablar de las movilizaciones en calle sin sentir que daban voz a lo que caricaturizaban como un latido antisistema. [...] Su palabra, “indignación“, fue un regalo: un ejemplo perfecto para la nada y el todo a la vez. Para esa militancia inclusiva que usaba términos que no dejaran a nadie fuera.

Stephane Hessel's main contribution to the 15-M movement is that, due to his age and political career he has conferred a necessary credibility to mainstream media, so that they may speak of citizen mobilization without having the impression of giving voice to what they caricature as being a wave of anti-system sentiments [...] the word “indignation” was a gift : a perfect example of everything and nothing all in one, for this all-inclusive activism using expressions that leave nobody out on the cold.

The German online magazine diesseits.de called Hessel the “ideological father” of global protest in a headline [de]:

Der 95-jährige Stéphane Hessel war der ideologische Vater der demokratischen Aufstände weltweit. Von Arabellion bis Occupy Wallstreet kamen die Menschen seiner Aufforderung nach Entrüstung und Einmischung

At 95, Stephane Hessel was the ideological father of the pro-democratic rebellion that shook the world. From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, people have answered his call for insurgence and commitment to a cause.

Hommage des Indignés à Marseille- Photo anonyme partagée sur facebook Par millions rendons hommage à Stéphane Hessel

Homage of the Indignants in Marseille. Photo shared on the Facebook page One million to pay hommage to Stéphane Hessel

ALL JUX wrote on his blog [fr]:

Stéphane Hessel a réveillé l'esprit critique, le sens humain et la raison. Il a encore su initier le mouvement d'indignation politique qui se répand sur les continents en publiant un tout petit livre par le nombre de ses pages mais d'une puissance sans mesure par la portée de ses propos.

Stéphane Hessel has awakened critical awareness, human sense, and reason. He has also implemented a worldwide movement of political indignation by publishing a book: a very small book, going by the number of pages, but containing powerful comments of immeasurable impact.

Portuguese blogger Helena Araujo described why youth should listen to Hessel in her blog 2 dedos de conversa [pt]:

Indignez-vous! Engagez-vous! – é a consciência do século XX que nos fala, a voz de um homem livre que atravessou o pior e o melhor que o século passado nos legou”

Get Angry! Get Involved! – the conscience of the 20th century is talking to us, the voice of a free man who has lived through the best and the worst of what the last century has bequeathed us.

Rassemblement en mémoire de Stéphane Hessel à Bastille (Paris) le 27/02/2013- Photo de Célia Bonnin pour Par millions rendons hommage à Stéphane Hessel

Gathering in memoriam of Stéphane Hessel at Bastille (Paris) on 27/02/2013- Photo by Célia Bonnin for the facebok pageOne million to pay hommage to Stéphane Hessel

On the Facebook page Par millions rendons hommage à Stéphane Hessel [fr] (One Million Pay Homage to Stéphane Hessel), Rüdiger Bender expressed his gratitude:

Wir denken voller Dankbarkeit an Stéphane Hessel …dankbar für ein Leben exemplarischer Menschlichkeit und tapferen Engagements für die unantastbare und gleiche Würde aller Menschen … dankbar für seine Fragen und Anstöße und noch mehr für seine Ermutigung für uns und sein Vorschußvertrauen auf uns: dem gilt es nun gerecht zu werden.

We owe a debt of recognition to Stéphane Hessel…recognition for a life of exemplary humanity and courageous commitments in favor of the inviolable and equal dignity of all human beings…recognition for his questioning and motivation and even more so for his encouragement and trust in us:  it is now up to us to rise to the challenge.

On the Facebook page en Hommage à Stéphane Hessel [fr], Sweekitt Carlson exclaimed:

Un résistant est mort, pas la Résistance!

A resistance fighter is dead, but Resistance is not!

A petition requests his entering in the Pantheon in Paris [fr] (where distinguished dead French citizens are kept):

Nous souhaitons ardemment que la pédagogie civique et la mémoire collective témoigne de l’importance de l’esprit de résistance. Parce qu’avec Stéphane Hessel, c’est une vie consacrée à l’intérêt général et au service d’une certaine idée de la France qu’il s’agit d’honorer.

We fervently hope that our civic awareness and collective memory bear witness to the importance of the spirit of resistance. Because in the case of Stéphane Hessel, it means honoring a life devoted to the well-being of all and in the service of a certain idea of France.

[This text was written with the help of contributions by Pauline Ratzé, Paula Goes, Katrin Zinoun and Thalia Rhame.]

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