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On 27 February 2013 a flame went out. One of the great political and social thinkers of our time, Stephane Frederic Hessel, died at the age of 95. I only found out about Hessel’s passing a week after his departure from this world. I had been spending some time in rural West Cork, out of reach from the internet and what news I received was of a local nature. When I got back home to the city I read about Hessel’s death in an obituary online and it saddened me.
Hessel enjoyed a long life, from his birth in Berlin to his final breath in Paris. I discovered Hessel through one of his last works “Indignez-Vous!” (Time For Outrage), an English translation of which I picked up in a book shop a few years ago.
The small book holds a large punch and it came to life from a fiery speech Hessel gave in 2008 commemorating the French resistance. I purchased the 37 page book during a time when the occupy movement was emerging out of social networks and onto the streets, the Arab spring was spreading across the middle east, the Sarkozy presidency was coming to an end and Greece was in the throes of social and economic upheaval.
“Indignez-Vous” the short yet fierce little book showed the resilient spirit of Hessel who penned the work at the age of 92. The resistance veteran strived to resurrect the resistance sprit for this generation not only in France but across Europe and even further a field.
The occupy movement emerged with the hope of great change but within a year it was a movement easily quenched. The Arab spring brought democracy to many parts of the middle east such as Egypt but as soon as despots were deposed the revolution essentially devoured its children. In France the age of president bling, otherwise known as president Sarkozy, gave way for the age of President Holland, a socialist leader who has won praise for his support of gay rights but has been demonised for austerity measures. Meanwhile the Greeks still continue to bear the brunt of a harsh economic depression. While one step to a greater social change can occur it almost always results in two steps back. The resilient nature of Hessel and those of his generation of resistance fighters is a missing element for today’s socially oppressed.
“Indignez-Vous” warned us of how social rights can fall victim to harsh economic changes. Hessel painted the capitalist machine as the agitator of such harshness, The power of money which the resistance fought so hard against has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now.
Hessel used “Indignez-Vous” to call the youth out against the social oppression that a recession brings. The small book was his last great call on the current generation to take over, keep going, get angry! Indeed the youth took over when they occupied Wall street, indeed this generation kept going as the Arab spring spread like wild fire and indeed the modern voter got angry when they dumped Sarkozy from office but now it seems that compromise has been accepted by many of today’s generation, a compromise Hessel never accepted in his own youth. He came from a generation that stood up against the wrongs done against social freedoms and human rights and Hessel calls on the modern youth to follow suit and keep the flame lit, to you who will create the 21st century, he writes in “Indignez-vous” we say with affection, to create is to resist, to resist is to create.
Across Europe the austere way of living is creating a harsh reality especially in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. In my own country Ireland the recession seems never ending. It feels like each and every waking day brings with it a new tax while the health sector crumbles under inadequate and badly managed hospitals. Schools are losing teachers and police stations are closing down at an extraordinary rate just as crime levels rise dramatically and Mass emigration along with a worrying rise in suicide paint the grim picture of Ireland in the 21st century.
Hessel’s legacy is a great one, his freedom fighting spirit, his handbook of social revolution “Indignez-Vous!” and his over all fantastically inspiring life. Stephane Hessel lived life long and rebellious, it is just a pity he hasn’t lived it just a bit longer to see this generation through these hard times but his words remain with us as a legacy of a permanent revolution.
To create is to resist, to resist is to create.
Lily Murphy comes from Cork city, Ireland. She holds a B.A degree from University College Cork and contributes to magazines such as New Politics and 4Q among some others.