Will the Cannes Festival be the framework for a new settling of accounts in the media world? And, if it is, how can a magazine dedicated to international political analysis be interested?

The Cannes International Film Festival was inaugurated on May 11. This year, the jury is presided over by Bosnian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, a two-time winner of the event. However, this baroque producer has two important media adversaries in France: Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard Henry Lévy. They both are known for their positions in the cultural and in the political fields and they both count on important media outlets to spread their opinions. But their analyses are a recurrent reflection of the policies of Sharon and Bush or, at least, a support of the issue of the clash of civilizations.

Most likely, these two men will take the opportunity to attack their old adversary and it will be interesting to see what media outlets they use for that purpose. These media are, in effect, the same that tomorrow will support, in one way or another, an attack against Iran, Syria or any other designated adversary. Watching the controversy that will probably take place will allow us to calculate the influence of both analysts and the repercussion of the thesis they defend.

The origin of the controversy: the war in Yugoslavia

The conflict among Emir Kusturica, Bernard Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut began with the division of Yugoslavia. The three men assumed positions that were irreconcilable.
Since 1991, Alain Finkielkraut stood beside the Croatian nationalists and became the main spokesperson of the separatists in France. [1]. In 1992 he wrote a book entitled Comment peut-on être croate? in which he defends the small nations that he presents as guarantors of freedom. He then became a defender of the peoples’ historic roots and religious and community divisions: «If I had not been a Jew myself, maybe I wouldn’t have insisted so much in the defense of Croatia. But, as Péguy remarkably said in “Notre jeunesse”: the more remote our past may be, the more we have to defend it to keep it pure » [2]. Bernard Henri Lévy, for his part, defended the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and became the spokesman of the Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic. [3] Although his commitment came later than Finkielkraut’s, its media repercussion was more important; he wrote a book about Bosnia-Herzegovina [4]; he made a documentary for television [5] and another for the big screen [6]. He also dedicated many of his editorials in Le Point to Bosnia-Herzegovina; he temporarily elaborated a “Sarajevo” list for the European elections of 1994 in France and he organized Alija Izetbegovic’s tours around Europe. Unlike Alain Finkielkraut, he did not defend nationalism but he praised the existence in Izetbegovic’s Bosnia of a Republican ideal, of a multiethnic “small Yugoslavia”, while he presented the Serbians as a people guilty of trying to commit genocide.

Although the reasoning of each men has different foundations, their political action in this field is similar. Both intellectuals defend lifting the embargo of arms for separatist movements; they present their adversaries as Fascists or like modern followers of the Munich Pact and attack the “Serbiophilia” of French institutions. They popularize the Manichaeist image of the Croats and democratic Bosnian Muslims in front of a Serbian Fascism. In order to achieve their goal, they do not hesitate to clean the field they chose to defend from any Fascist reference. In that sense, Bernard Henri Lévy consciously forgets the pro-Nazi and military collaborator past of Izetbegovic during World war II while, at the same time, he issues calls in favor of a Bosnia solely inhabited by Muslims. On the contrary, he presents Izetbegovic as the “Bosnian De Gaulle” and, along with Massud, as a model of “moderate Islam”. Alain Finkielkraut, for his part, assumes the defense of former Croatian Archbishop Monsignor Stepinac [7], in spite of his pro-Nazi positions and his support of the Ustachi regime of Ante Pavelic [8].

For his part, Emir Kusturica had a completely different approach to the problem. Born in Sarajevo in 1954 in the heart of a “Muslim” Bosnian family, although they were agnostic and supporters of Tito (his father used to work in the Ministry of Information of Bosnia-Herzegovina), Kusturica always regarded himself as a Yugoslavian. He denounced Croatian nationalists and Slovenian separatists whom he openly described as ideological descendents of the Nazi collaborators. On many occasions, he has suggested the responsibility of foreign powers in the fragmentation of his country. That is why he wrote, in 1992, in Le Monde: “In Europe, the conflict between Muslims and Serbians from Bosnia is not authentic; it has been fabricated; it has emerged from the rubble of the fallen empires that left their ashes behind them. It has been fueled by nationalist movements without any reason; it is YOUR fire, it is YOU who should put it out.» [9]

This approach could not please the two French intellectuals specially because it came from an internationally renowned artist and, consequently, had certain repercussion. Likewise, the positions of both men had offended the filmmaker who responded aggressively. After several thrusts, the conflict really exploded when Kusturica won his second Golden Palm [10] with the film Underground, which is a baroque tribute and funereal dream to the late Yugoslavia. The producer ends his film with these words: « It will be with pain, sadness and joy that we will remember our country when we tell our children stories than begin, like those fairytale stories, with: once upon a time there was a country...».

Alain Finkielkraut with the ambassador of Croatia in France

Alain Finkielkraut was the first to react to that Golden Palm in Le Monde, accusing the jury of the festival of rewarding a Pan-Serbian nationalist propagandist. [11]. Kusturica responded in the same newspaper a few months later, on October 26, 1995, parodying the excesses of the philosopher [12]. Shortly afterwards, Finkielkraut counterattacked in Libération. Forced to admit that he had not watched the movie before he publish his criticism in Le Monde, he tried to justify himself saying that it was an urgent necessity: « The traitor thus took the palm of martyrdom: that offensive and stupid falsification had to be denounced immediately. That is what I did.» [13]. What the public opinion knew of this duel was that Finkielkraut had criticized a film he had not watched. Actually, a satirical movie was made taking this not so much stimulating anecdote as the starting point [14].

This exchange relegated the BHL-Kusturica confrontation to a second level. More subtle, Bernard Henri Lévy regularly insisted in his Bloc-Notes in the fact that he would not judge the film until he had watched it, portraying the Bosnian film maker as a Fascist author. [15]. BHL did not denied this opinión alter having watched the film, as he then compared Kusturica with Céline: a racist genius [16].

Emir Kusturica

_ Hurt by this controversy, Emir Kusturica expressed his intentions of leaving the film industry but three years later he resumed his work as movie maker with Chat Noir, Chat blanc. His comeback would be characterized by a new attack against Bernard Henri Lévy affirming that after having watched the movie film Le Jour et la nuit, made by his rival, he decided to return to the movie making industry because he could not leave it in the hands of such incompetent people.
These old grudges could be revived during the Cannes Festival. In that case, we should see if the media networks will mobilize.

Media Networks

Bernard Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut exist, above all, because of their ability to use mass media to communicate their opinions. Despite the fact that they are career philosophers and that they introduce themselves as such, neither of them graduated from a university or created philosophical concepts that may transcend. Their legitimacy comes from their media omnipresence and their ability to mobilize mass media around their positions, no matter what the consequences may be.

However, the media networks of each of them change and evolve with time. It is difficult to know the situation of their relationship with a specific media outlet, editor or chief editor.

The networks of Bernard Henri Lévy have been the subject of several recent works that have allowed knowing his friends and contacts in the press. Among the books published about the “greatest French intellectual”, there is the work of Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, le B.A. BA du BHL [17], which provides the best existing information in this respect. The authors analyze what for them represents a perfect example of the good use of the networks: the repercussion of the film by BHL, Le jour y la nuit [18].

Even before its exhibition, the film gave rise to a large number of articles and it occupied the first pages of Paris Match [19], of the Figaro Magazine [20], of the Point [21] and of L’Évènement du Jeudi [22]. Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de La Porte commented that, at that time, BHL was linked to Roger Théron, owner of Paris Match, whom he defended in the issue of the pictures of Mitterrand in his deathbed and who is a friend of Jean-Luc Lagardère (whose funeral speech he would pronounce) and who is also owner of the Paris Match. The authors believed that the leaders of the L’Évènemente du jeudi could have made a good publicity for the exhibition of the film and thus captivate Lagardère while they waited for the economic recovery of the weekly. The newspaper would use its first page to announce the film presenting a shooting card, an interview with the director, another with Maurice Jarre, author of the original soundtrack and publishing a “In Favor/Against”. The part “In favor” was guaranteed by Yann Moix, Grasset author (where Lévy was an editor since 1973) who, consequently, was part of the shooting cast of Podium in the magazine la règle du jeu of BHL.

Bernard Henri Levy
Film maker

As to Le Point, Lévy worked as writer of editorials, he was a co-writer of the film with Jean-Paul Enthoven (advisor in the editing direction of the weekly) while the movie critic of the newspaper, Pierre Billard, wrote the press dossier of the film.

These first pages would include travel records of Françoise Giroud in Le Nouvel Observateur [23], of producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier in le Figaro Magazine [24], of the host of Channel + Karl Zéro [25] in le Journal du dimanche [26]. As to Bernard-Henri Lévy himself, he published two in L’Express [27] and in Télé 7 jours. These two newspapers belong to the group Hachette of Jean-Luc Lagardère, also owner of Éditions Grasset. In television, the propaganda campaign was also significant [28]. The FNAC of multi-millionaire François Pinault, of whom he is a friend, was be the co-producer of the film and it carried out a promotional campaign usually reserved for big concerts for the concept of sale of tickets.

When the film was exhibited, the critics were very bad and some friends spoke of a “conspiracy” against the film maker.

This study shows the magnitude of the means used by Bernard Henry Lévy thanks to his personal friends in the political and media circles, [29], to his exchange of good procedures, (the «Bloc Note» of Point is the occasion to praise or to attack the work of other authors or journalists) or to his personal position (his post as editor in Grasset which allowed him to publish or not certain journalists or writers [30]; he is also a member of the supervision council of the German-French Chain Arte). However, these relations may vary although there is a group of loyal dailies in recent years. Le Point, owned by François Pinault, is the first of them. It has historic links with Grasset, as BHL wrote there since 1998. Le Monde is also a support since a long time ago, particularly since 1994 when the team Colombani-Plenel-Minc took its helm.

The author signed 13 works between 1998 and 2000 and, taking into account the place of the newspaper among the French elites, it played an essential role in the process of re-legitimization of the intellectual after the failure of Le Jour et la Nuit. On the other hand, As Jean-Marie Colombani directed the program La rumeur du Monde in France Culture, and the former director, Edwy Plenel, Le Monde des idées in the channel LCI, the proximity with this newspaper allowed him to have a great repercussion in the intelligentsia. Bernard Henri Lévy took advantage of this mechanism and he published his book Qui a tué Daniel Pearl ? [31].

The networks of Alain Finkielkraut, less important, have not been the subject of recent studies. Let us point out that he frequently visited the Foundation Saint-Simon [32] and that he has a weekly program in France Culture, Répliques.

Between 1987 and 2003, Alain Finkielkraut signed, usually alone and sometimes with other authors, 81 articles in the French national press. [33]. However, today he seems more oriented to audiovisual means. He has not signed any other article in the press since 2003. However, he has become a regular guest of television sets. [34].

These networks regularly serve these two men to validate the policies of Israel and Washington. Thus, they both participate in the spreading of Zionist and Atlantist matters among the French public opinion.

Spreading Atlantism

Bernard Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut have also worked together in the creation of the Institute of Levinasian Studies of Jerusalem, although their interventions or works frequently coincide.

_Both authors have played a significant role in the defense of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is a recurrent topic in the case of Alain Finkielkraut, who has always legitimized the actions of Tsahal against Palestinian populations [35].
As usual, Bernard Henri Lévy has been more subtle than his colleague but the opinion he defends is practically the same. He even intervened in the celebrations around the signing of the Geneva Initiative between Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo to offer the interpretation that was most favorable to Israel, alleging that the Palestinians had formally resigned their right to return while this complex issue is explained very carefully for the whole world in eight pages of the agreement signed.

As to the war of Iraq, Alain Finkielkraut spoke strongly in favor of it, criticizing the “European impotence” in front of the “dictator Saddam Hussein”. Also in this topic, Bernard Henri Lévy had a more ambiguous position, contradicting himself about his support or not of the conflict to end up saying that he opposed the war for tactical reasons and minimizing the crime it represented. On August 16th, 2002, Bernard Henri Lévy was clear: «Attacking Saddam Hussein? Yes, of course. It will not be here where we will defend that murderer of Kurds and Shiites, that terrorist, that suicidal megalomaniac, that mad man, that Nero of “actionism” of whom the Massud had already told me in 1998 that he had bacteriological and chemical weapons of mass destruction that were only lacking reliable carriers. In any case, this attack will be a tragic error if it is not preceded by two decisive operations. First, a diplomatic operation that, like before the Gulf War, assures neutrality to the United States, even the logistic and tactical support of one of several moderate Arab states. Second, a political action that, like in Afghanistan, may strengthen the internal opposition, the possible replacement, the alternative, that is, the Iraqi equivalent of the Alliance of the North without which the Taliban would still be ruling in Kabul.» » [36]. No word was strong enough to denounce Iraq. However, this call to war disappeared two months later: «I still think that Iraq is a decoy. I still think that by going to war against Iraq, America would be choosing the wrong target.» » [37] To affirm that “I still think” in these circumstances is scathing. Then, the author describes the war in Iraq as a “morally fair” war, but as “a political error” [38] and his main concern is the anti-Americanism that the war creates [39].

As to the future colonial adventures of the Bush administration, let us say that Alain Finkielkraut is a member of the Committee in Support of Iranian Students [40] and he is also a signatory, along with Bernard Henri Lévy, of a call in favor of the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon [41]. Both men had also defended the “Orange” Revolution in Ukraine.

However, they both stand out for their spreading of the “Clash of Civilizations” among the French society.

_In his book Qui a tué Daniel Pearl ?, “novel-research” that mixes field pseudo-research and literary invention (he explains what crossed Daniel Pearl’s mind before he was decapitated, thus making a dead man talk), Bernard Henri Lévy presents an essentialist interpretation of Islam. He opposes a modern and westernized Islam to a threatening and fundamentalist Islam, thus legitimizing the thesis of a world Islamic conspiracy. He affirms in this “research” that the journalist of Wall Street Journal Daniel Pearl, murdered in 2002 in Karachi, was killed by the Pakistani secret services because he was investigating about the links between the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence) and Al Qaeda and a possible sale of nuclear weapons by Pakistan to the organization of Bin Laden. This version was rejected by the editorial office of Daniel Pearl’s newspaper and by the father of the journalist. In addition, many factual elements of the investigation are, in the best of cases, questionable according to a counter-investigation made by William Dalrymple in the New York Review of Book [42]. However, most of the French press praised the work presenting it as something that had to be read.

This book is not an isolated work. In several articles and editorials, BHL tries to present an Arab opinion that groups fanatics and which is convenient to defeat militarily [43].

Even more serious, this opinion was developed in an official report requested by the president of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac and the then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to the media intellectual in 2002. According to an anonymous member of the office of Hubert Védrine, then French Foreign Minister, quoted by Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte [44], this report had been requested to the author so that he would stop to criticize the French activity in Afghanistan. The former member of the Foreign Affairs Ministry confided the authors: «You have to mix with that little world that has the power to cause damage and unrest. It is necessary to be careful because the press has a natural inclination for this kind of speeches. We are forced to be tolerant with them». Thus, thanks to his networks, Lévy was entrusted with the writing of an official document and his opinions were granted a complementary legitimacy.

Later, he stood out in the attacks against Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan. The latter was accused of anti-Semitism, of having a double speech and of being linked to the financing of Al Qaeda. [45].

For his part, Alain Finkielkraut was consulted by the Commission of Social, Family and Cultural Relations of the National Assembly during a round table discussion about laicism in schools, organized on May 22nd, 2003. A supporter of the prohibition of the veil in schools, he regularly takes sides against French citizens of Arab origin living in France. Thus, he declared that France did not participate in the Bush administration’s war in Iraq to clam down this sector of the population. It is these same French citizens of Arab origin who would be presented as the cause of the “new anti-Semitism” » [46] in France [47] and even of “an anti-White racism” [48], an expression reserved in other times only for the National Front.

Bernard Henri Levy

As a perfect illustration of the approach defended by both authors, the weekly Le Point in his last edition (May 12, 2005) includes in its pages a debate in which Alain Finkielkraut again denounces the “new anti-Semitism” and the “anti-White racism” of the French-Arab population while Bernard Henri Lévy, in his Bloc-Note denounces the clash between Pakistan and Al Qaeda [49].

Make your bet

In the probable future maneuvers against Emir Kusturica, we do not know who will say what or which media will be used. The alliances in the Parisian cultural and media world change too much to make any predictions. However, for the average citizen, watching these alliances offers precious information about future media campaigns that, certainly, will influence their lives much more than a worldly quarrel. That is what is interesting of watching the confrontation that is approaching.

[1Alain Finkielkraut signed or he is the cosignatory of 12 out of 30 articles compiled by the Croatian embassy about the French intellectuals’ support of the Croatian independence

[2Alain Finkielkraut, Comment peut-on être croate? Gallimard, Paris, 1992. p. 51-52

[3Itzetbegovic, although as a young man he supported the Nazi Reich, surprisingly he became an idol for the Israelis. Then, he became a friend of Richard Perle.

[4Le Lys et la cendre, journal d’un écrivain en temps de guerre en Bosnie, Grassy, 1996

[5Un jour dans la mort de Sarajevo, 1992

[6Bosna!, 1994

[7«Mgr Stepinac et les deux douleurs de l’Europe », Le Monde, October 7, 1998

[9«Europe, ma ville flambe!», Le Monde, April 24, 1992.

[10He won a first one in 1984ç5 with th efilm Papa est en voyage d’affaire

[11«What Kusturica put into music and images is the same speech the assassins use to convince themselves and others that hey act in self-defense for having to face an almighty enemy. This filmmaker, of whom they say has no measure, has thus exploited the suffering of Sarajevo while he takes again the stereotyped arguments of those who cause hunger in that territory and its besiegers. He has portrayed a martyr Bosnia when he refuses to call himself a Bosnian and gets mad when someone dares to call Slobodan Milosevic a fascist or to describe the Serbians as aggressors.

By living the Golden Palm to Underground, the jury of Cannes thought it was recognizing the merits of a creator with a prolix imagination. In fact, they honored a servile and pretentious illustrator who uses criminal clichés, and extolled the rock, post-modern, messy, fashionable, Americanized version - shot in Belgrade - of the much-trumpeted and false Serbian propaganda. Not even the devil himself could have conceived such a cruel offense to Bosnia, or such epilogue, so grotesque to western incompetence and frivolity»; Alain Finkielkraut, «L’imposture Kusturica», Le Monde, June 2, 1995

[12«Mon imposture», Le Monde, October 26, 1995

[13«La propagande onirique d’Émir Kusturica», Libération, October 30, 1995

[14« Rien sur Robert », by Pascal Bonitzer, 1999 with Patrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain and Michel Piccoli

[17Édition La Découverte, 2004

[18« Le cas d’école du film de BHL, le jour y la nuit », op. cit., p. 92.

[19January 30- February 5, 1997

[201°-February 7, 1997

[211°-February 7, 1997

[22February 13-19, 1997

[23June 20, 1996

[24February 1st, 1996

[25also an actor in the movie

[26February 15, 1996

[27February 13, 1996

[28Alain Delon (main actor of the film) appeared on February 2, 1996, in the program 7/7 of TF1. On February 9th, Bernard Henri Lévy was the guest of 19/20 of France 3. Minutes later, Arielle Dombasle (main actress of the film and film and partner of the director) presented herself in France 2 in Déjà le retour. On Tuesday 11th, Bernard Henri Lévy was the guest in Nulle part ailleurs in Channel +. That same night, Arielle Dombasle participated in France 2 in the Cercle de minuit. The following morning, Bernard Henri Lévy presented himself in France Inter before appearing again, several days later, in France 3 in the program Ligne de mire.

[29The setting-up of the networks can begin early. Since his preparatory studies for the contest of the Superior Normal School in Louis-le-Grand, he had teammates like Alexandre Adler (journalist in France Culture and in Le Figaro), Olivier Cohen (chief editor in Seuil), Roger-Pol Droit (journalist of Le Monde), and Jean-Marie Guéhenno (deputy secretary general of the United Nations). At that time he also met Alain Minc who studied superior Mathematics in the same school.

[30Among the authors published there are Nicolas Sarkozy, who published a biography of George Mandel in the prestigious publishing house

[31Bernard-Henri Lévy was in the front page of Le Monde des livres on April 25, 2004; the following day he was the guest of La rumeur du Monde at 12:45 in France Culture an of Le Monde des idées at 7:10 in LCI

[32cf. La face cachée de la Fondation Saint-Simon, by Denis Boneau, Voltaire, February 10, 2004

[33This count was made by Mathias Reymond, « Les prédications d’Alain Finkielkraut (2) : « Mes opinions sur papier journal » », Acrimed, January 12, 2005. The article gives and account of 61 articles in Le Monde, 11 in Libération, 5 in Le Figaro, 2 in Le Point, one in La Croix and one in L’Express.

[34He is a regular guest of Serge Moati, in the program Ripostes (November 2, 2003, May 30, 2004, November 7, 2004 and December 19, 2004), of Guillaume Durand in the program Campus (October 12, 2003 and October 14, 2004), of Franz-Olivier Giesbert in Cultures et dépendances (March 13, 2002, September 10, 2003, December 10, 2003, May 4, 2005). Source Acrimed, article cited, updated by us

[35«Israel’s only choice is to try to eliminate terrorism on its own. The fact that there is no military solution does not mean that a military reaction should be termed as illegitimate. [...] You can not terrorize people and ask them to comply with the Geneva convention» La Croix, (April 17, 2002)

[36The Bloc-Note of Bernard Henry Lévy, Le Point, August 16, 2002

[37The Bloc-Note ofe Bernard Henry Lévy, Le Point, October 25, 2002 (It is not an out of context quote; those who know the disjointed style of the Bloc-Notes of BHL in Le Point also know that he can write an idea of this type between two ideas that are not related to the topic. The excerpt that we quote is not based on any other idea, contrary to his justification of the war in August).

[38The Bloc-Note of Bernard Henry Lévy, Le Point, February 14, 2003

[39« Chirac et Villepin auront-ils le courage de désavouer l’antiaméricanisme qui déferle ?, The Bloc-Note of Bernard Henry Lévy, Le Point, April 18, 2003

[40Les bonnes raisons d’intervenir en Iran, Voltaire, February 12, 2004

[41« Vive la Révolution du Cèdre », Le Figaro, March 14, 2005, that was analyzed in Tribunes Libres Internationales, Voltaire, March 15, 2005

[42« Murder in Karachi », December 4, 2003. This text was translated to the French by Monde diplomatique as part of a dossier that challenged the thesis of the author: «« Romanquête » ou mauvaise enquête », dossier made Ander the direction of Serge Halimi, December 11, 2003.

[43«The Talibans were not only defeated; they were defeated without opposing any resistance. They were defeated in a shameful and dishonorable way;

And the image of these battered combatants that had been surrounded by an aura of prestige in the Arab streets from Damascus to Tunisia, the image of these Saladins that many thought could bring America to their knees and that, after the first shot, they ran off in all directions, left those who identified with them astonished. », taken from Ce que nous avons appris depuis le 11 septembre, by Bernard-Henri Lévy, Le Monde, December 21, 2001.

[44Le B.A. BA du BHL, op. cit., p. 119

[45« L’autre visage de Tariq Ramadan », Le Monde, November 1, 2003. Analyzed in Tribunes Libres Internationales n°223, November 3, 2003.

[46cf. « Daniel Pipes, expert de la haine », Voltaire, May 5, 2004

[47« Not only criminals bring the Middle East conflict to France: the elite is, once more, involved with the masses. .», Alain Finkielkraut, L’Arche, May-June 2002

[48That is the thesis he defended in front of Tariq Ramadan in the television program Culture et dépendance in France 3, on May 4, 2005.

[49Weird thing, this editorial was retaken the following day by Los Angeles Times: «Pakistan’s Chips in a Shady Game», Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2005.