Philippe Forest




Somewhere, someone has suddenly been the victim of something he’s been left to the mercy of for months now.

Something at the same time so insane-senseless and incongruous that we cannot understand nor imagine what exactly this is about or what is going on.

Something we cannot stare away from without being ashamed.

Because closing our eyes would mean approving those actions taking place somewhere, and of which we would then become accomplice. Everyone is aware of that. This is the reason why we are gathered here tonight. To testify. Hoping such an act could be useful in its own way. That it would not completely be in vain. And, as modest as it seems and whatever the results it will give, it is not to little purpose because it speaks the truth.


I am saying : someone. Because it could be you or me or someone else. But this « someone » is not « anyone ». He has a name. And we have to make this name heard of because everything is already conspiring in order to silence it, to forget it, to cover it under the sand or the ash of silence. An astonishing silence, as we say. We are somewhat surprised of how hard it seems to break it, to crack it in order to make its necessary sound of protest heard.

This « someone » is named : Yoann Barbereau. I don’t have more right than one another to speak of him. Let us say : a friend. A friend I have known for a long time. More than some and less than others. Having came across him and known him for years. Here and elsewhere. In Nantes or in Irkoutsk. But I would hate to talk about me when This is about Him.

In fact, it does not really matter. Whether we know him a little or much more, everyone knows enough about him to not have any doubts about him, and to not even for a second pay special belief to the extravagant fiction presenting him like a criminal, almost like a monster.
It could make us laugh if it was not that sinister.


Somewhere, this man, this friend, whose name I will tell again : Yoann Barbereau, has fallen prey to what appears to be a rough though terrible frame-up.

Maybe that could have happened everywhere. Anywhere. And the saddest thing is that might be the case. But it happens to have occured in Irkoutsk, in Siberia. And this is necessarily a reminder. A reminder to anyone who has read Dostoievski. Even if the world has changed, as we are told. On a new Russia’s margins which, under this aspect, seems so similar to the ancient one. Overthere where we have, for a long time, relegated into cells and detention centres people we knew for sure would not be asked about and defended. Naively, one could not imagine how long Ivan Denissovitch‘s day was and that it perpetuated like this.

Because we lack information which would enable us to dispel the obscurity in which this case has rolled in. I do not wish to engage in too much political considerations. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if he had been incarcerated in such conditions as those current ones but for an open ideological purpose, Yoann Barbereau could have counted on more support, support he cruelly lacks today. Some have skillfully arranged to deprive him of his means to defend his cause, incriminating him on some sexual perversion motive where it is so hard to find allies. Before, we would pretext insanity for people we wanted to throw in jail. Today, we call them pedophiles. This is enough to discourage anyone who would like to help them. But who is really fooled by such rhetoric ?


Something has happened.

I do not know anymore how to refer to it.

It looks like a nightmare, a poor novel.

Before, we used to call it a miscarriage of justice. But the very notion of miscarriage of justice implies that justice still exists, that its malfunctions are unfortunate and accidental, and that it is capable of correcting those occasionnal mistakes, everything eventually falling back into place. We can only wish, for the sake of Yoann Barbereau, that his trial would take this turn. Nevertheless, we have to admit that the turn of events doesn’t encourage optimism.

The arbitrary, that strikes everytime one is arrested, imprisoned, taken to court or condemned, has humiliated and deprived of its rights someone and that without regard for any principles. Moreover, in this given case, the arbitrary has been particularly difficult to fight against because its logic or intentions are impossible to perceive.

Yoann Barbereau is a victim. But of what, of whom ? What is the purpose for this ordeal that has been forced upon him ? The most plausible : in a politically favourable context, a malicious conspiracy has triggered the start of a monstruous policital and judicial engine that now runs out of control and demands the compulsory and exemplary condemnation of an innocent.


To conclude, I do not forget that Yoann Barbereau was in Irkoutsk to serve with professionalism and passion the french language, litterature and culture. Russia, was once a country where one would pay attention to french philosophy and the lessons that ensued from it. This, was at the time of Voltaire, Diderot and a few others : writers that were themselves fighting against an arbitrary they had been victims of, an arbitrary they condemned everytime it hit an innocent. This was called the Enlightenment. You would think this was a story from a past that no longer exists. Not really since the arbitrary from today is the same as the one from yesterday and it now descends upon a man whose fate concerns and involves each and everyone of us.

Philippe FOREST

Philippe Forest (born 1962) is a French author and professor of literature. He has been awarded the First Novel Prix Femina (1997) and the Prix Décembre (2004), and his works have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. He has taught at several Universities, including Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Saint-Andrews, and the University of Nantes.

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