Dogs and chameleons

One of recently elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s main campaign themes was what he termed betrayal by the left-wing generation of May 68. However, French media reports suggest that, in what would be a striking gesture, he has decided to appoint Bernard Kouchner, an icon of the 68 movement, as foreign minister. A display of political opportunism? Perhaps. But, surely, not from Sarkozy. Kouchner began his political career in the Communist party, which he left in 1966. In the events of May 68 he played a leading role in the sit-in demonstrations. Kouchner went on to found the humanitarian groups Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), heralding a broader shift from social struggle to humanitarian activity and from political parties to non-governmental organizations. But under the skin of the humanitarian doctor, the heart of a militant revolutionary still beats. In 1987 Kouchner forecast the dogma of humanitarian intervention. When the dogma was applied in Serbia, Kouchner was rewarded with the post of UN administrator for Kosovo. With no less fervor, he backed Washington’s Iraq campaign. Deep down, Kouchner remained a pure socialist. Prompted by a sense of political duty, he abandoned the noble universe of the NGOs to serve as minister in Socialist governments. A familiar face on television panels, he offered his support to Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal – but it was not without criticism. Some will say that the left is a vehicle that can take you anywhere, as long as you get off in time. Others will recall the aphorism that the third world war will be fought between leftists and former leftists. In his elegant office on the Left Bank of the Seine, Kouchner will simply shrug off all that: «The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.»