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The Mission of a Grenzmann: Tribute to Benoît Lechat

On a sunny terrace on the borders of the river Oder, which flows between Germany and Poland, a small group of activists, journalists and politicians from different European countries decided in the late summer of 2011 to start a new magazine that would contribute to building a European public space and at the same time empower the green movement. The real architect of this project was its future and first editor-in-chief, the journalist and philosopher Benoît Lechat, who died much too young at the beginning of this year.

Benoit_memorial

According to Benoit, more than 30 years after their emergence, Green parties and movements were coming closer to a decisive tipping point of their short history. In the concept note for the Green European Journal in 2011 Benoît wrote:

“If the Greens want to be able to implement the reforms that will transform the European economies in an ecological way, give a new impulse to European democracy, their actions should not only be efficient, they should also rely on common European visions and be supported by a broader social base. The current crisis obliges the Greens to accelerate.”   

On the frontier

Benoît was the right person to create a platform which would help the Greens to accelerate. As a journalist he signed his first political article on Europe in the Belgian magazine La Revue Nouvelle in 1993 as Simon Grenzmann. He explains this name in his article in this issue of the Journal, which he originally wrote for the Dutch magazine de Helling: “I wanted to stand on the frontier, to open up as much as possible to the other, to cross different perspectives, take the risk of encounter, without hoping for conflicts to disappear through the elimination of differences, and to attempt, even though I do not like the rather saintly aspect of this formulation, to make a richness out of differences.”

The editorial board of the Green European Journal, under the guidance of Benoît Lechat, practised this attitude of “systematically placing ourselves on the frontier”.

While working on this project of interconnecting our languages and cultures, we became friends. I shared with Benoît a love for the German language and history, which we vehemently discussed on many occasions, especially when we made together a special edition of de Helling and the Green European Journal titled “Europe one hundred years after the First World War”. We liked to speak Dutch among ourselves during the international conferences of the Green movement where English was the main language, not only to be able to comment more privately as journalists on the behaviour of the politicians present, but also out of our firm belief that European exchange must always be plurilinguistic. Benoît’s language, coloured by a Belgian social Catholicism and a libertarian philosophy, collided regularly with mine, shaped in Dutch Protestantism and contextual theology. The pleasure of debate and encounter accompanied us to different European places.

Ardent

The core of Benoît’s legacy lies, as I believe, in his acceptance of the otherness of the other. This implies finding ways to give space to cultures, attitudes and opinions which are out of your own reach and understanding, without becoming a relativist. His fascination for the “world of the other” made him into both an ardent journalist and a tireless debater, while being at the same time a caring and delightful friend. His existence as a Grenzmann was a personal attitude as well as a political mission. It’s like in a famous poem of the Dutch poet Remco Campert, which shows how major changes are connected to very little gestures:

Asking yourself a question
that’s how resistance starts

and then asking that question to someone else

In times when Europe is mostly defined by the language of financial and economic categories, Benoît’s project of creating a European public space where languages, traditions and political visions can be sharpened by way of exchanging stories and experiences is more needed than ever.

To continue this “Grenzmann-mission”, the Green European Journal will have to ask questions. To find the right ones for this moment in time, we will have to reach out even more to other political and social movements. Since the future of Europe depends on the interconnectedness of all European citizens, the Green European Journal and its board should continue to be a living platform were questions are asked and new stories are invented.


 

Verzet begint niet met grote woorden
maar met kleine daden
zoals storm met zacht geritsel in de tuin
of de kat die de kolder in zijn kop krijgt

zoals brede rivieren
met een kleine bron
verscholen in het woud
zoals een vuurzee
met dezelfde lucifer
die een sigaret aansteekt
zoals liefde met een blik
een aanraking iets dat je opvalt in een stem

jezelf een vraag stellen
daarmee begint verzet
en dan die vraag aan een ander stellen

 

Remco Campert

 

Résister ne commence pas avec de grands mots
mais avec de petits actes
comme une tempête avec un bruissement léger dans le jardin
Ou le chat qui délire

comme des vastes rivières
avec une petite source
nichée dans la forêt
comme une fournaise
avec la même allumette
qui allume une cigarette
comme l’amour avec un regard
un frôlement, quelque chose qu’on entend dans une voix

se poser une question
avec cela commence la résistance
Et puis poser cette question à un autre.

 

Remco Campert

 

 

Resistance does not start with big words
but with small deeds

like a storm with a soft rustle in the garden
and the cat going crazy

like broad rivers

with a tiny source
hidden in the woods

like a firestorm
with the same match
that lights a cigarette

like love with a glance
a touch something you hear in a voice

asking yourself a question
that’s how resistance starts

and then asking that question to someone else

 

Remco Campert

 

Date Published

07/09/2015

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