Indignez-vous: a time for outrage, by Stéphane Hessel

by Jerome Roos on May 29, 2011

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How a tiny book by a 93-year old French war veteran helped inspire a European youth uprising.

The past two weeks have seen an historic and unprecedented wave of civic protest bursting through Europe. A veritable popular uprising appears to be in the making, largely led by a ‘lost generation’ of outraged youths.

Fascinatingly, however, the 20-somethings who have taken to the streets of Spain, Greece and countless other countries, have found their inspiration in a little book written by a man four times their senior.

As a Buchenwald survivor and a French resistance fighter during WWII, Stéphane Hessel had been faced with, outraged by, and had struggled against his fair share of injustice in life.

Afterwards, as a co-drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he also experienced the triumph of our inclusive democracy over divisive fascism, and the power of personal outrage in transforming indifference into engagement, crisis into solutions, and, indeed, war into peace.

So when last year, at the noble age of 93, Hessel told his fellow Frenchmen that it was ‘time for outrage’ once again, it certainly made an impact. The first edition of his 30-page pamphlet, Indignez-vous!, quietly published by a humble local publishing house, instantly sold all of its 6,000 copies.

Within months, the booklet was a best-seller in France, selling over 1.5 million copies and being translated into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Basque, Slovenian, Dutch, German, Korean and English. Today, it has become nothing less than a manifesto for peaceful uprising for a generation of outraged Europeans.

For Hessel, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the treatment of illegal immigrants, the restrictions on the freedom of the press, the political influence of the financial sector, the ideological assault on the welfare state, the overwhelming environmental crisis, and the oppression of the Palestinian people all call for a sense of personal outrage similar to the one that he experienced when he joined the resistance against the Nazis during the war.

« Le motif de la résistance, » writes Hessel, « c’est indignation. » Therefore, “we, veterans of the Resistance movements and the Free French Forces, we call upon the younger generations to revive, to pass on, the heritage of the Resistance and its ideas. We tell them: take over, indignez-vous! Get angry! Our political, economic and intellectual leaders and society as a whole should not stand down, nor let themselves be impressed by the present international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is threatening our peace and democracy.”

For someone who fought the Nazi oppressor and survived one of its most notorious concentration camps (Hessel only escaped Buchenwald after swapping identity with a deceased friend), it must be crystal clear that « l’indifférence, c’est le pire des attitudes, » or that indifference is the worst of possible attitudes. His words, therefore, should not be taken lightly.

Agitating against this predominant attitude of indifference, Hessel calls on the younger generation to engage itself with the resistance against the dictatorship of financial capital and to struggle for a better world in which everyone has equal opportunities and the right to flourish on an ecologically vibrant planet. Calling for an « insurrection pacifique, » Hessel urges the youth to embrace at once the spirit of resistance and a commitment to non-violence.

Now it appears that the youth of Europe have answered Hessel’s call. Exactly two weeks ago, on May 15th, tens of thousands of Spaniards — calling themselves ‘los indignados‘ — took to the streets in a mass protest demanding real democracy now. And then, the unexpected happened: the 15-M movement transformed itself into a full-blown non-violent youth uprising. Spain’s major city squares have now been occupied for two weeks straight.

In a matter of days, protests spread throughout Europe (videos of 20+ cities here). When the Spanish protesters called on their brothers and sisters in Greece to wake up and embrace the pacifist insurrection, tens of thousands of Greeks, calling themselves the ‘indignants at Syntagma‘ heeded the call and took to Parliament square for the fourth consecutive day, unfolding a giant Spanish banner reading: “We are awake! What time is it? Time for them to go now!”

Amazingly, the international media have been conspicuously absent throughout this continental youth uprising. Foreseeing this, Hessel used the last paragraph of his book to call for a ”genuine pacifist insurrection against the means of mass communication that propose as a horizon for the youth only mass consumption, the contempt of the weakest and of culture, general amnesia, and excessive competition of all against all.”

And so we, the network generation, are heeding that call too, as we spread the European Revolution through social media. Visits to this blog have skyrocketed in the past week as people in Spain, Greece and throughout the world are desperately looking for the information that the mainstream media are categorically refusing to provide. Social media will never start a revolution, but our followers will definitely be the ones to bear witness to it.

Finally, there appears to be hope again. Not the hope of electoral sloganeering, but the genuine hope that this movement can restore power to the people. Towards the end of his own life, Hessel cites his great inspiration, Jean-Paul Sartre, who, in his last interview just three weeks before his death, famously said that “hope has always been one of the dominant forces of revolutions and insurrections, and I still retain hope as my design for the future.”

« Créer, c’est résister. Résister, c’est créer. »

To create is to resist. To resist is to create.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Yo May 29, 2011 at 18:58

Thanks a lot for this post Jérôme.


tj July 6, 2011 at 15:52

It always surprised me from the USA that the European Union was so much about wrapping cheese in plastic . The European Union was so modest in its aims and so not-grandiose…. that it was not recognizing that it was “grand” and revolutionary, more a perfection of the enlightenment, not just about cheese packaging ..

So now there is some peaceful revolt happening due to financial disaster.

In the USA there is no revolt or anything, total apathy really.

One thing Europe and the USA share is the operating principle of the governing class. that is from the American comedian W.C. Fields “Never give a sucker an even break”

This is why I find Mr. Hessel so refreshing.


Jimmy July 18, 2011 at 00:23

I commend the spirit shown by the people of Greece and Spain and other nations. I am Irish and I feel guilty and must apologise. However, the thing about the Irish is it is difficult to make them mad but when this happens they will be with you all the way. This will be soon. Today i7/07/11, the newspaper said that the November budget will take away free television licences and free electrical units and reduce the rent supplements of the elderly driving them over the bridge to poverty. As well as this the hospitals are overbudget for this year to the tune of 200 million euro meaning the hospitals will have to close for the last two months of the year. This will be enough to drive the Irish to join you if they have not done so earlier on your beautiful quest. My apologies for the moment but we will soon be with you against these financial and political murderers. Thank you for your great work. I check your emails daily and tell the Greek people I am so proud of them especially the volunteer organisers such as Maria that you mentioned in some of your uplifting articles. Thank you again. Jimmy


ANTHONY-JOHN CANTA August 13, 2011 at 22:39

With keen interest of the recent up-rising in England I happened upon a YouTube video of Jerome Roos, leading me to your website Do you know the definition of litmus test? If not it is as follows: a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive. Based on the definition of litmus test I proceeded to search your website for ‘gay marriage’ and response, “Sorry no response.” I then typed in ‘gay rights’, and again response, “Sorry no response.” So then I typed in ‘civil rights’ and got, ‘Happy 93rd birthday Madiba, and long live the struggle!’ by Jerome Roos. By the way, in the title of the written piece Madiba is spelled wrong. It should be spelled, Mandela. And then all the other articles involved mostly white people not people of color. Okay. Now I’m a little concerned. Jerome is being interviewed regarding the recent rioting in England, and being presented as a voice of reason in light of the rioting. I don’t think so. If your website doesn’t even have an ounce of information regarding gay rights as regards to social justice you do fail the litmus test of legitimacy of purpose in seeking any means of social justice. Look, there is a genocide going on in Iraq of the sexual minority. Most of the world news organizations know this yet do noting to raise issue about it. The catholic leadership in Rome knows of the genocide in Iraq and condones it because if they oppose it that would “legitimizes homosexuality.” Oh, God forbid!!! And what about the poor innocent children in Africa dying of starvation due to stupid fucking ass politics? If the lazy ass people of England want a purpose to riot, riot for the starving children of Africa and the sexual minority of Iraq being executed simply for whom they are. My mother’s side of the family has history in England in the name of Sir William Clark Skipwith. I’ve never been to England and based on the recent rioting I don’t think I ever want to visit.
In closing, I hope you become more inclusive of gays as relates to the issue of social justice.
Tony C.


josiane Baxter-Mommen November 5, 2011 at 19:28

My father Andre Elis Mommen was capture while trying to bomb a bridge with the french resistance and was capture and sent to Buchenwald, he died of his experiments at the camp, I wonder if any one still alive would remember him.
Thank you.

Josiane Mommen -Baxter


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