A prophet spoke at the UNESCO in Paris this week, though he joked that having lived for 90 years, he had written thirty pages and found he had been turned into ‘a rock star’.

Stephane Hessel, born in Germany in the year of the Russian revolution, is 95 years old. Anti-Nazi Resistance fighter, concentration camp survivor, diplomat and writer, he was 93 when he wrote a political essay of 13 pages, which grew into a booklet of only thirty pages, called Indignez–vous! In English this means ‘Be Indignant’ while the English language translation has been published under the title ‘Time for Outrage’. Between October and December 2010 it sold more than 600,000 copies. It has since sold a million copies in France alone and has been translated into 30 languages, selling 3.5 million copies worldwide.

The left leaning newspaper Liberation, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, says the booklet “crystallizes the spirit of the time”. The conservative National Post of Canada says it created “the sort of stir…Emile Zola did when he published J’accuse!” The liberal US periodical The Nation says the text “anticipated the spirit of subsequent student demonstrations in France and Britain as it did a wave of revolt that is challenging dictatorship in the Middle East”. Calling it ‘the Handbook of the Revolution’, TIME.com opined that “Hessel himself is playing the role of instigator and analyst of the rolling wave of protest movements cropping up around the globe”.

In 2011, he was named one of the world’s top thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine.

After Hessel’s booklet, the term ‘indignant’ has become a catchphrase of the nonviolent global movements of resistance against the burdens of the economic crisis which have eroded the welfare and living standards of the people and are widely perceived as un-shared or unfairly shared, and unjust. The Spanish movement which occupied Madrid last year called itself ‘los Indignados’ and the Cuban Minister of Higher Education, the youngest member of ruling Communist party’s Political bureau, opened his address to the high level segment of the UNESCO General Conference of 2011, with the sentence “all over the world the people are indignant about the crisis caused and the burdens imposed by the oligarchic financial system of global capitalism.”

Stephane Hessel was invited to speak at UNESCO by the Working Group on the ‘Culture of Peace’ (a thematic slogan of a former Director General of UNESCO, Frederico Mayor). The meeting chaired by Mohamed El Zahaby, the Permanent Delegate of Egypt who is also the chair of the Non-Aligned (NAM) group at UNESCO, was on the topic ‘Indignez-Vous, An Essential Step towards a World of Peace’.

Stephane Hessel’s father, a German-Jewish writer (who worked with the iconic Marxist intellectual Walter Benjamin on the first German translation of Marcel Proust), and his mother (a Prussian beauty), were the models for the characters in the novel, and later, the famous movie directed by the legendary Francois Truffaut, Jules et Jim.

Stephane Hessel graduated from the University of Paris’ elite Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS), joined the French army, was a prisoner of war of the Nazis, escaped from prison and joined the French Resistance led by General Charles de Gaulle, indignant at the collaboration with the Nazis that France’s Marshal Petain engaged in having declared the so-called New Order which replaced the great universalist slogans of the French revolution – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity–with ‘work, family and nation’. Hessel was 23 years old.

As a Resistance fighter he was parachuted into France, captured and tortured by the Germans and incarcerated in the notorious concentration camp Buchenwald. He escaped while being transferred to Bergen-Belsen camp.

He became a diplomat after WW II and at age 31, helped to draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, working with Eleanor Roosevelt. At the meeting in Paris on Feb 21st, Stephane Hessel noted that the Declaration was the first official international document to use the term ‘universal’ in its title.

He has been awarded the Council of Europe’s North-South prize in 2004, the Legion of Honour –the highest honour of France–in 2006, and the UNESCO/Bilbao prize for ‘the promotion of a culture of Human Rights’ in 2008.

A strong supporter of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Hessel, of Jewish origin, is renowned for his defence of Palestinians under the Occupation, his opposition to the Gaza war of 2008 and his solidarity with the Israeli movement for peace through dialogue. His wife is the author of a pamphlet entitled ‘Gaza, I Write Your Name’ (in a deliberate echo of the poet Paul Eluard’s famous ‘Liberty, I Write Your Name’). In his remarks at UNESCO on Feb 21st he stridently exclaimed ‘Bravo!’ and clapped in salute to UNESCO’s admission last year of Palestine as a full member, despite the strong objections of the USA.

Speaking at the UNESCO, Hessel  identified as the three main problems facing the world today, the growing gap between the very rich on the one hand and poor and less rich on the other; the dangerous destruction of the ecology of the planet; and the threat of terrorism. He urged rapid reform as the best solution to all these threats.

Responding to my intervention as Ambassador of Sri Lanka during the discussion, Stephane Hessel set out three interlocking theses as observations:

“We are pleased to hear from that beautiful island, Sri Lanka, which has until recently, and for so long, experienced such great violence; violence originating from the various components of the country.

What is vital is that there must be no return to violence. This can be achieved only through the convergence and dialogue of non-violent youth movements of all the component communities.

Of course, the real guarantee of peace lies in the sphere of education, and as long as education does not promote the values of peace rooted in mutual comprehension, it will accentuate the adversarial element between the components and create the climate in which violence may return.”   

Hessel said that he had followed up his path-breaking booklet ‘Indignez-vous!’ with a sequel, bearing the injunction Engage-vous! (‘Be Engaged’ or simply, ‘Engage!’), co-authored with Edgar Morin, a well-known French philosopher associated with UNESCO. He defined a true intellectual as “one who engages himself with an objective greater than himself; a human objective for progress”. In his slim booklet Hessel reiterates his guiding goal as the establishment of “a true social and economic democracy”. He spoke with enthusiasm about a global colloquium which he hoped to organise, bringing together all of the non-violent resistance movements of ‘the indignant ones’.

When asked by a participant at the seminar for his prognostication concerning the current period of global crisis and instability, he said: “People will increasingly refuse to accept the unacceptable”.  And then, the 95 year old Stephane Hessel skipped nimbly out of the UNESCO hall with the agility and zest of a frolicsome teenager, announcing that he had to give an interview to a radio station.

  • Mary

    “People will increasingly refuse to accept the unacceptable”:

    Arab Springs and other springs will take a long time to reach the shores of an island before teargas, watercannons, family rule, paid ”graduates” and ”riot” squads enfeeble the people.

  • GypayOwl

    DJ, you have no moral or ethical capability to understand or write about this great man. [Edited out]

    • Please refrain from personal attacks and engage on the issues brought up in the article. Thank you.

  • Ananthi Selvasivam

    And again more propaganda from Dayan Jayatillake !!

    The Rajapakse regime’s”diplomats” who are in fact self-serving political opportunists such as Dayan Jayatillake epitomizes the cynical use of the post-colonial critical discourse of “victim hood” during colonial times to justify post-colonial majoritarian racism against minorities – Christians and Tamils in Lanka – while sounding politically correct.

    “Diplomat” Dayan Jayatillake is skilfully playing the “victim” abroad while Rajapaksa Government brutalizing minorities, the opposition and free press, at “home” in Sri Lanka! After all it is the Rajapakse regime’s sovereign right to suppress opposition, killed minorities, get rich through ugly corruption !

    While wining and dinning in Paris as Ambassador Jayatilleke pretends that he and Lanka are still oppressed by Europe and US (60 years after independence and 30 years of bloody civil war organized by “native” politicians and their henchman in Lanka), in order to defend and justify a racist, corrupt, intellectually and morally bankrupt regime that continues oppressing the people it claims to have liberated.

    Post-colonial Lanka is a story of how the narrative of post-colonial victimhood becomes a legitimacy strategy to occupy and kill the opposition and an excuse to militarize a country.

  • DAS

    Hessel appears to be not well informed,or, misinformed about sri lanka.
    He is unaware that recently two youth of a non violent youth movement ‘disappeared’ in the north while propagating their ideas.
    He speaks about education.
    He is unaware that only in sri lanka,university entrants are taught by the military for six weeks before commencing studies.
    And, that a professor ‘escaped’ abroad to avoid “jail without bail” for having exposed election mapractises.
    He is unaware that people are compelled to “accept the unacceptable” by a military regime, in order to survive.

  • Some of us in this country have been “Indignant” for a very long time, regarding the erosion of democracy in SL and the thuggish rule of one family with the help of it’s acolytes, and armed forces that they now use as their own private army.

    The vast majority who have been in a “Patriotic Slumber” for some time are starting to wake up from their slumber and are gradually starting to become “Indignant” with what the one family dictatorship has been doing to this country.

    Only time will tell whether this majority will become “Indignant” enough to kick this one family government out of power like what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

  • Dilkusha Joseph

    Thanks for the thumb nail sketch of Stephane Hessel. Hadn’t heard or read about him before. Must go and read up and aquaint myself with his writings. Still a thinker at 93, what an inspiration!

  • Patriot

    I only hope that if intervention by the UN results in an outcome that is favorable to the Tamil people (all indications are that it will), this does not result in another round of July 83 style violence against Tamils living in Colombo.

    After so many years of strife, if the Tamil people (through the UW) finally win a settlement that they are happy with, I hope at least some of the leaders of this country will have the maturity to do what they should have done 60 years ago: Shake their hands, congratulate them, wish them well, and go their separate ways into the sunset.

  • Ethirveerasingam

    Amb DJ,
    Thank you for sharing what this great human’s “three interlocking theses, definition of an intellectual and his statement that “People will increasingly refuse to accept the unacceptable.”
    I hope everyone in Sri Lanka will benefit for these words of wisdom.

  • James Chance

    What an odd article – is Dayan sending a coded message of support for the growing popular protest against the Rajapaksas? If not, what’s the point? Mr. Hessel’s comments on Sri Lanka are rather anodyne – cliches based on limited knowledge. They certainly don’t speak to the burning issues of impunity and the steady dismantling of democracy that the Rajapaksa bros are pursuing. So what’s the point?

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      The point, Mr Chance, is that Stephane Hessel, who knows exactly what’s going on in the world, focused in his brief remarks, precisely on what needs to be done in Sri Lanka and by Sri Lankans.

      Hey Sri Lankan, ‘domestic aides’ jumped ship from the staff of Ambassadors Senaka Bandaranaike, Chitranganie Wageeswara and Lionel Fernando, all while they served in Paris ( infact they took off from this same residence). So, your highly cerebral point is…:))

      PresiDunce Bean….not like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, or Hessel would have said so. SL citizens did it once, remember, in 1977? But that depends on a credible Opposition, does it not…especially when it is choice of personalities as leader, at a PRESIDENTIAL election.

      ‘GypayOwl’, do try convincing Stephane Hessel of that…at 95, he’s good judge of character:))

  • The article says: “Responding to Hon’ble Ambassador of Sri Lanka during the discussion,prophet (Stephane Hessel) set out three interlocking theses as observations:” The Hon’ble Ambassador has not mentioned anything about his intervention. Can he publish the tape.
    I agree with DAS. The date on which the prophet said this is not given but i want to find out whether he also mentoned about the 2 Home Based
    assistants missing from the Ambassodor’s Residency from 18th instant.

  • The world is paying the price dearly for its inaction to takcle unaccountability for the death of at least 40,000 civilians, caused by the armed forces of Government of Sri Lanka(GOSL).

    If SL was acted upon firmly and timeously, the Human Rights violations and murders in Syria could have been averted.

    At present, there is a resolution in the UNHRC to bring about accountability in SL. But, SL is determined again to confront, counter and “wage war” against it, to delay justice and prolong the repression and agony of Tamil people.

    In the past, SL has been polluting vulnerable countries by justifying its crime against humanity and unaccountability through its “crime justifying expressions” in the UNHRC.

    The present delegation from SL comprising 32 persons, include individuals who are alleged to have committed war crimes and Tamil civilian killings. Obviously, they are not credible but are sent to “wage war” in the UNHRC.

    The UNHRC must decide to expel such persons from its deliberations in a manner similar to the expulsion of Shavendra De Silva of SL from a UN group, a few days ago, for alleged war crimes.

    Such action will keep the UNHRC clean on Human Rights standards and prevent any adulterative influences from SL to produce situations as in Syria.

  • kusum

    ”Responding to my intervention…” and ”We are pleased to hear…” ??

    New wave of abductions and dead bodies in Sri Lanka – http://groundviews.org/2012/02/26/new-wave-of-abductions-and-dead-bodies-in-sri-lanka/

    ”But that truth cannot excuse human rights violations that currently afflict the nation as a whole; or for that matter obscure the looming threat of the cultural and political colonisation of the north by the Sinhala Buddhist majority” – Biased and Prejudiced Collection on Sri Lanka, Gananath Obesekere, Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, 28 January 2012, http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/8355#comment-46611

    • kusum

      Stephane informed by New Humanity ??

  • luxmy

    Dear Ambassador

    Please note: ”the real guarantee of peace lies in the sphere of education”

    You have then a duty to report the following to the Sri Lankan President and to UNESCO:

    1.i.Friday Forum deeply concerned about leadership training, Jayantha Dhanapala and Professor Savitri Goonesekere, 10 June 2011: ‘’This programme has been introduced by the Ministry of Higher Education in a military environment under the leadership of the Ministry of Defence….. The curriculum of the training programme obtained by the Friday Forum after some effort reveals extremely problematic aspects. No mention is made of the authority responsible for the curriculum but a prominent photograph of the Defence Secretary on the cover of the study guide suggests authorship by the *Defence establishment. …. What is more problematic is the content of the module on history and national heritage. …. “National heritage” focuses exclusively on prominent cultural symbols of the majority Sinhala community with none from other communities. …. On the whole the curriculum seems to discourage tolerance for viewpoint difference, and sensitivities for the pluralism and diversity of our country. …. ‘’ – http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/1190

    (*Secretariat of NGOs has been brought under the Ministry of Defence over from Ministry of Social Services in mid-2010)

    ii. Leadership training for the principals of Sri Lanka government schools too, 26 May 2011: Secretary of Sri Lanka Ministry of Education H.M. Gunasekara revealed today the plans of giving a similar leadership training program to the principals of public schools as given to the university students. The official said addressing a function held today at Isipathana College in Colombo that 1,000 principals will be trained at Rantambe Army Training Center soon….’’ – http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2011/5/67273.html

    2. Why education matters for global security, Irina Bokova(Director General, UNESCO) 1 March 2011: ‘’ Education must rise on the agenda of peace building. We know the wrong type of education can fuel conflict. The use of education systems to foster hatred has contributed to the underlying causes of conflicts, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka, but also in Guatemala and Sudan’’ – http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Home/5680782-182/story.csp

  • kusum

    “People will increasingly refuse to accept the unacceptable” is forcibly postponed:

    LIVE AMMUNITION AND CITIZEN ENEMIES – http://groundviews.org/2012/02/17/live-ammunition-and-citizen-enemies/

    Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka: Internment, Rehabilitation, and Surrenderees in the Prison System – http://groundviews.org/2012/02/14/arbitrary-detention-in-sri-lanka-internment-rehabilitation-and-surrenderees-in-the-prison-system/

    Judicial Intervention to Control Lawful Rallies: Subverting democratic rights – http://groundviews.org/2012/02/12/judicial-intervention-to-control-lawful-rallies-subverting-democratic-rights/


  • puniselva

    ”Of course, the real guarantee of peace lies in the sphere of education, and as long as education does not promote the values of peace rooted in mutual comprehension, it will accentuate the adversarial element between the components and create the climate in which violence may return.”

    Dayan, you responded to the call:
    ”Sri Lanka needs A UNESCO supervised revision of school text books by a panel of internationally renowned Sri Lankan scholars so as to minimize prejudice against communities and ‘build the defences of peace in the minds
    of men’.” – The Lalith Weeratunga Presentation, Dayan Jayatilleka, 28 January 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/01/28/the-lalith-weeratunga-presentation/

    Any further development?