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Putin’s war – VII

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

And this.

At the seven month mark of Russia’s war on Ukraine, plus a few days, one thing is quasi certain: Russia is not going to win it. Not a chance. As political scientist Olga Chyzh trenchantly asserted, Vladimir Putin will need “nothing short of a miracle to avoid a devastating defeat.” While a few hundred thousand draft-eligible men may succeed in fleeing the country, the Russian army will nonetheless be able to pressgang the quantity of human cannon-fodder it deems necessary to throw at the Ukrainians, but it won’t turn the tide of the war. This will be so as it has become clear since the exhilarating Ukrainian counter-offensive this month that Russia has a terrible army. As Ilya Lozovsky of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project aptly put it:

On the pathetic state of the Russian armed forces—and the far better state of its Ukrainian counterpart—do read the article in The Bulwark from last April (which I missed at the time) by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (Ret.), “I commanded U.S. Army Europe. Here’s what I saw in the Russian and Ukrainian armies: The two armies at war today couldn’t be more different.”

Lt. Gen. Hertling, who has been to Russia numerous times and had extensive interactions with his Russian counterparts, is highly informative on the subject. E.g., listen to his Sep. 14th Bulwark podcast discussion on “Russia’s awful army” and see his Twitter threads of Feb. 25, Sep. 21, and Sep. 27, plus his Sep. 27 Washington Post op-ed, “Putin’s recruits are heading for slaughter.”

Hertling’s WaPo op-ed concludes with this:

Which brings us back to how Putin’s 300,000 “reservists” will fare against Ukraine’s NATO-trained army. It is likely those recruits will join units that have recently been traumatized after seven months of combat and already suffer from poor morale. It won’t help that those units have recently been reinforced with prison parolees, ragtag militias from false “peoples’ republics,” and recruited guns from private armies.

The results will be predictable. Putin might continue to send unwilling Russian men to an ill-conceived and illegal invasion for which they are not trained or prepared. But it’s not warfare. It’s just more murder — this time of his own citizens.

The Russian army is terrible in so many ways, not the least in the way it treats its foot soldiers, notably in the violent hazing of conscripts, the general brutality of the Russian military experience, and disregard displayed toward its men.

One doesn’t win wars with armies like this. Thus the Russians’ heavy dependence on massive artillery barrages, reducing cities to rubble, waging mass terror campaigns against civilians, and greenlighting its soldiers to rape, loot, and pillage.

The Russian army has, in point of fact, always been awful, as we are usefully reminded by US military veteran and history buff Thomas M. Gregg, in an essay in The Cosmopolitan Globalist on the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, where the Tsar’s army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Germans. During the Great Patriotic War, when the USSR was attacked by an enemy even worse than they—in the bloodiest military campaign in the history of warfare, when the Hague and Geneva Conventions went out the window—the Red Army sent human waves of prisoners from the Gulag to clear mine fields, who were followed by waves of regular soldiers and with armed NKVD units in the rear, who were there to open fire on soldiers who tried to retreat—a practice that was initiated by the Red Army during the 1918-20 civil war (and when the loyalty of requisitioned tsarist-era officers was insured by holding their families hostage). Whether or not all this was necessary to defeat the enemy, one notes that not even the Wehrmacht treated its own men thusly when the Allies penetrated the German heartland in 1945.

And then there’s the wretchedness of public discourse in Russia, of its utter depravity, with this being an entirely representative example:

As for Putin’s psychotic rantings on going nuclear and other blood-curdling threats, these do have to be taken seriously, because he’s Putin and, as I have already asserted, Putin=Hitler, but IMHO and FWIW, it’s extremely unlikely. Putin says he’s not bluffing, except that he is. He cannot decide on one fine day to launch a tactical nuclear weapon strike out of the blue and by simply pressing a button. Such nukes have to be physically moved and with protocols followed, and with many persons involved, including generals who are in contact with their American counterparts. The Americans would know what Putin is up to well ahead of time and, as Biden has already made clear, the US response would be commensurate with the Russian action. If it looked like Putin were literally on the verge of going nuclear, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, RT Erdoğan, and even Abdelmadjid Tebboune would get on the phone with Putin and warn him not to do it. If he did it anyway, he would be abandoned by the entire planet save Aleksandr Lukashenko, Bashar al-Assad, and Kim Jong-un. And that would be for starters. IMHO and FWIW, Putin would step back from the brink, even if the Ukrainians were to liberate territory the Russians have just annexed.

Putin will also step back from the brink as he has numerous other weapons at his disposal (conventional and asymmetric) to wreak even greater death and destruction on Ukraine, as well as inflict potentially serious economic damage on Europe (the Nord Stream attack being a taste of what is likely to come). And one may be sure that Putin will do these things and then some.

The bottom line: Russia is a terrorist state that must be punished. The only possible stance of the West is that spelled out by Nicolas Tenzer in this Twitter thread.

C’est tout.

UPDATE: Two articles on different aspects of the demographic question: “The demographic impact of Russian mobilization,” posted in The Cosmopolitan Globalist, from Monique Camarra’s EuroFile; and “Why Ukraine matters to Russia: The demographic factor,” by Bruno Tertrais, posted last February on the Institut Montaigne website.

2nd UPDATE: Three articles in Foreign Affairs: “All the Tsar’s Men: Why mobilization can’t save Putin’s war,” by Lawrence Freedman (Sep. 23); “Putin’s Roulette: Sacrificing his core supporters in a race against defeat,” by Andrei Kolesnikov (Sep. 30); and “The World Putin Wants: How distortions about the past feed delusions about the future,” by Fiona Hill and Angela Stent (September-October 2022 issue).

3rd UPDATE: The National Interest has a post dated April 22 by Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, which merits reading because of the author, “Would Putin’s Russia Really Nuke Ukraine? If a nuclear strike killed 10,000 or 20,000 innocent Ukrainians, how would the United States or NATO respond?”

4th UPDATE: The Moscow Times has a must-read report (Sep. 30) by journalists Farida Rustamova and Maxim Tovkaylo, “Putin Always Chooses Escalation.” And JAMnews has a remarkable reportage (Sep. 27) on Russia’s Fourth World corruption, “‘The letter Z is on every third car’ – how a Russian traveled from Moscow to Tbilisi.”

Queen Elizabeth II, R.I.P.

Credit: BBC

She was the queen of England during my entire lifetime—and as a mid-Boomer, I’m not young—so how can I not have an R.I.P. post on her? Not being British or having ever lived in the UK, I did not have particular feelings one way or the other toward her or the royal family, and paid little attention to the scandals and tabloid stories over the years regarding members of the latter (Margaret, Charles & Diana, their sons et al). But while I never lived there, I’ve visited England some twenty-five times in my life (always staying with relatives or friends), know the history and politics, love London, and cannot imagine the place without the monarchy. If there were a referendum on abolishing the monarchy and I could vote in it, I would vote against. In this regard, I’ve been somewhat irritated by the torrent of negativity, if not invective, on social media since Thursday by non-Brits—mainly lefties, though not all—toward the queen and British monarchy, including by academics whom I otherwise respect. Qu’est-ce qu’ils en ont à foutre?

The left-wing political scientist Philippe Marlière, who teaches at University College London, had a pertinent Twitter thread yesterday that I have taken the liberty of translating into English (via DeepL; original French here):

I came to the United Kingdom with a very French and ideological view of the British monarchy: it was the absolute evil, or almost. I have since nuanced this point of view. 1/

The monarchy is not a regime I support. I am a socialist (in the generic sense of the term). Monarchy is based on notions that I reject: privilege, heredity, expensive pomp and the maintenance of a conservative order. 2/

But with time, I realized that monarchy is, from a political point of view, a regime that is certainly not worse than the French republican monarchy where an elected individual has exorbitant powers. The 5th Republic is undemocratic and dangerous. 3/

The British monarch has political powers, but they are limited. The tradition is that the monarch is politically neutral, above the fray. The power is in the government, which itself depends on parliament. 4/

Queen Elizabeth, 96, who reigned for 70 years, is a product of this conservative elite, but she has performed her role as head of state with dedication and without making waves. No one knows what the Queen’s political views are. 5/

Elizabeth II is a moral conscience who keeps quiet and lets elected politicians govern. Her role is to hold the nation and the Commonwealth together and to symbolically represent the country abroad. 6/

This is why monarchists love her, and non-monarchists (including myself) respect her and even feel a form of empathy for her action. 7/

The Queen has sometimes appeared brittle and distant (Diana), but at other times, she has found the words and gestures to bring the British people together. Her Christmas messages were surprisingly modern, inclusive and multicultural! 8/

Her successor, Charles, 73, has no such aura. Like his father, Philip, he is a gaffer and has eccentric views. He will probably try to use his little constitutional power to intervene in political debates. 9/

For this reason, he will polarize, outdo everyone and may undermine the institution of monarchy. The monarchy is indeed tolerated as long as the monarch lets the government govern and leaves the British people alone! 10/

This is why the disappearance of the Queen worries here and creates a very uncertain situation from a constitutional point of view. Charles will never be respected and loved as his mother was. 11/

Très bien.

On the question of constitutional monarchy vs. republic, European states that have the former—in addition to the UK: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden—are hardly less democratic or more inegalitarian than those that are republics. As for the cost of monarchy (constitutional)—the most valid argument against it—I learned from a commentator today that financially supporting the monarchy costs British taxpayers £88 million a year but that the monarchy yields the British treasury some £2 billion annually, via tourism and other receipts. Dont acte.

My view, not to mention knowledge, of Elizabeth and the royal family evolved after watching the Netflix series The Crown, the subject of which—if one has been living in some remote corner of the globe with no streaming or internet and has thus not heard of it—is the life and times of Elizabeth and the royals, from Elizabeth’s childhood years to (so far) the early 1990s. I’d been hearing about the series since its first season in 2016 but wasn’t much interested in it until the pandemic and successive lockdowns, when, after yet another recommendation—there was a lot of series-watching in those far-off days—I decided to check it out. And lo and behold, I binge-watched all four seasons. It is a terrific series—one of the best I’ve seen—and that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.

I’ll make just three brief comments about it. First, the acting is superb and with the change in the casting of the main characters beginning in season 3 (notably Claire Foy to Olivia Colman for Elizabeth), which is initially jarring, working well (and making obvious sense). Second, the depiction of the royals as a borderline dysfunctional family, whose members, all playing roles assigned to them, are dissatisfied with their lives, if not deeply unhappy: not being a royals-watcher, I had no idea, at least not the extent of it. They’re just people, like everyone else. Third, and above all, the series is a saga not only of the royal family but also of Great Britain and the world beyond in the latter half of the twentieth century—of a changing society and how the royals changed with it. For this alone, ‘The Crown’ is well worth watching.

There have been remarks and criticisms of historical inaccuracies here and there, though which are inevitable in a dramatization of the sort. E.g. while the queen did dance the foxtrot with Kwame Nkrumah during her 1961 state visit to Ghana, it did not arrest that country’s increasing embrace of the Soviet bloc. And though the limerick contest at the 1965 White House state dinner for Princess Margaret, hosted by LBJ, certainly didn’t happen, it’s a priceless scene nonetheless.

Season 5 will be released in November. I’ll no doubt binge watch.

Putin’s war – VI

[update below]

At the six month mark, give or take a few days, of Russia’s war on Ukraine, I am linking to a must-read article that was posted on The Atlantic website on March 26th, but which I missed at the time, “Putin is just following the manual: A utopian Russian novel predicted Putin’s war plan,” by Dina Khapaeva, director of the Russian-studies program at Georgia Tech’s School of Modern Language. The piece begins:

No one can read Vladimir Putin’s mind. But we can read the book that foretells the Russian leader’s imperialist foreign policy. Mikhail Yuriev’s 2006 utopian novel, The Third Empire: Russia as It Ought to Be, anticipates—with astonishing precision—Russia’s strategy of hybrid war and its recent military campaigns: the 2008 war with Georgia, the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the incursion into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the same year, and Russia’s current assault on Ukraine.

Yuriev’s book, like Putin’s war with Ukraine, is an expression of post-Soviet neo-medievalism, a far-right, anti-Western, and antidemocratic ideology that assigns “Russian Orthodox civilization” a dominant role over Europe and America. Yuriev, a businessman and former deputy speaker of the state Duma who died in 2019, was a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party, which envisions an essentially feudal social order overseen by a political class that rules through fear. Putin and Yuriev knew each other. The Third Empire is rumored to be popular and highly influential in the Russian leader’s circle; one Russian publication described it as “the Kremlin’s favorite book.”

I was made aware of the article from a post in Claire Berlinski’s excellent Substack site, The Cosmopolitan Globalist, in which she advised: “If you read only one article today…make it this one.” Further on, Claire remarked: “If John Mearsheimer and his coterie were aware of this book, perhaps they would have thought twice about confidently advancing the thesis that NATO’s expansion provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

N.B. It takes far less than this article to lay waste to Mearsheimer’s nonsensical Russia-apologizing arguments—the latest his dumb August 17th piece in Foreign Affairs. On the canard of NATO expansion, I highly recommend setting aside 70 minutes of your time to listen to the informative lecture by historian Mary E. Sarotte of Johns Hopkins-SAIS on her book Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate (Yale University Press, 2021), which she delivered on March 23th via Zoom (YouTube link here) to the Kyiv School of Economics.

Regarding those of the Mearsheimer bent, Anatol Lieven, who is normally smart—more so than Mearsheimer, that’s for sure—published a not-very-smart piece last week in Responsible Statecraft, the online magazine of the Quincy Institute, “Six months after Russian invasion, a bloody stalemate, a struggle for peace: The time for settlement is now — before tens of thousands more die and Ukraine has suffered still greater harm.” John Judis favorably posted the piece on his Facebook page, with this comment:

I agree with Anatol’s argument for negotiations, and would only emphasize the point more. Neither the US, nor Europe, nor Ukraine will benefit from the war’s continuation. Probably not the Russians’ either. The Biden administration should have been continually talking to the Russians, but they have made their unwillingness to do so very clear. It’s a complete dereliction of duty.

I responded:

What precisely is the Biden administration, not to mention the Ukrainians, supposed to negotiate with the Russians about? Trying to talk seriously with Vladimir Putin right now, if ever, is akin to calling for negotiations with Germany and Japan in December 1942. Anatol Lieven and those of his POV are bizarrely disconnected from reality on this. The fact is, the only thing to negotiate with the Russians, after their unconditional withdrawal (or expulsion) from territory occupied after February 24th, is the timetable for their departure from the Donbass and Crimea, after which one can talk about the size of their reparations bill ($1 trillion is a good starting point). If negotiations are to proceed on a basis other than this, please enlighten me.

After joking that “[t]here’s an assistant to the deputy job waiting for you in the National Security Council”—to which I joked back that “[i]f I could work remotely from Paris, I’d consider the offer”—Judis replied:

I don’t think the US can “negotiate” at present with the Russians except over Britney Griner, but I think they should have been talking to them all along to see if there were an opening for negotiations. Instead, after assuming the Russians would take Kiev, and then seeing they were repulsed, they indulged this fantasy that Ukraine would “win,” or at the least would knock the Russians out of the top tier of military powers. Biden called Putin a “war criminal,” they made statements that basically turned the war into the US vs. the USSR again. Macron has been much the better diplomat than Biden, but he has no power. Biden’s team is a throwback to Clinton’s initial ineffectual combination of Lake and Christopher, only worse, e.g. Afghanistan withdrawal worse than Somalia.

My riposte:

Biden gratuitously trash talking Putin was indeed not helpful but so long as he continues to flood Ukraine with the weapons it needs, I’ll say he’s doing the right thing. On talking to the Russians, about what apart from drawing red lines and advising them against issuing threats on going nuclear? And Macron’s diplomacy: what did his time-wasting meetings and phone calls with Putin accomplish other than pissing off the Ukrainians and EU frontline states, provoking ridicule in the Russian media, and making him look ineffectual at home in France?

I assume one read or heard late last month about Vogue magazine’s cover story on Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska and the brouhaha that followed, including the inevitable Twitter storm. An insidious son of a bitch artist and educator named Adam Broomberg posted this ill-tempered reaction on his Facebook page:

This is everything that is wrong with the world and how dangerously photography can intersect with it. The idea of a conflict zone as a backdrop for an @annieleibovitz shoot for @voguemagazine is vile. Posing the “First Lady” against a destroyed airplane in which people presumably died. Depicting a politician as an iconic hero without any nuanced understanding of their function and complicity in this 155 day old brutal war. A superficial glossy depiction of a hero in the Hollywood mould. The whole way this conflict has been covered (from the hierarchy of empathy we witnessed in the way white refugees were embraced) to the “cowboy and Indian” genre analysis of the actual conflict. Somehow deep down I think these pictures confirm our need for for a binary understanding of the world as good and evil, for an outdated model of male heroes with their female enablers. All the while the faceless and for now nameless youth die daily. Don’t get me wrong I’m not in any way supporting Putin but this shoot feeds into all the toxic heteronormative patriarchal ideas that make war inevitable.

Editor and writer Idrees Ahmad struck back with this excellent response, also on Facebook:

I’ve seen more than a few sharing posts like [Adam Broomberg’s], so I feel compelled to speak.

The “professor” whose post has gone viral is one of the many tankies, Trumpists and edgelords more outraged by a photoshoot than by the wholesale destruction of Ukraine by an invading force. He finds these pictures “vile” because he believes they don’t acknowledge Zelenskyy’s “function and complicity” in the invasion of his own country. (What?) He is also troubled by the moral clarity with which most people have denounced Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. More interestingly, he ends by suggesting that while Putin is bad, wars are really caused by “toxic heteronormative patriarchal ideas” represented by photos like these. (What?!?)

Now to the pictures. These are part of a photoshoot Annie Leibowitz did of Ukraine’s first family for a story about Olena Zelenska’s courage. If you have any doubts about the Zelenskyy’s courage, read Simon Shuster’s detailed report in Time magazine about the first days of the invasion, when a forty-mile long Russian invasion force was at the gates of Kyiv and western intelligence had warned Zelenskyy that an assassination team had been dispatched to take him out. But the Zelenskyy’s—both husband and wife—defied their own advisors and resisted pressure from foreign allies asking them to flee. They stayed in Kyiv, and remained at the presidential palace. The symbolism was important. Zelenskyy understood the devastating effect his flight would have on the country’s morale. Since then, Zelenskyy has made repeated forays to the frontlines to boost morale and show gratitude.

People are blaming the Zelenskyy’s for doing photoshoots while the country is burning. What they don’t get is that it is precisely Zelenskyy’s media strategy that has kept Ukraine from dropping off news coverage. Audiences in the west find it hard enough to maintain their interest in conflicts their countries are directly involved; to most of them Ukraine is a remote place. And attention is of the essence for Ukraine, whose military resources are limited, unlike Russia’s. Zelenskyy has been translating that attention into tangible military support. He has excellent military leaders handling the war; his role is to ensure they have the means to resist a superior invading force. For this he has used every available avenue to lobby for support. He has kept world attention from flagging. Through his personal courage and a clever media strategy, he has turned what everyone had predicted would be a quick rout into a disaster even bigger than Afghanistan for Russian forces.

So there is nothing—I repeat, nothing—wrong with these photos. And yes, Zelenskyy and his wife have set an example of leadership that should be celebrated.

Excellent, like I said.

UPDATE: The Portside website—whose subtitle is “Material of Interest to People on the Left”—has a partial response to the comment below by my friend Pythéas Frog (not his actual name, bien entendu), “How will the war end? A precise answer requires precise questions,” by Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based Marxist theoretician and sociologist, and who was a political dissident during the Soviet era.

Le communautarisme

[mis à jour ci-dessous]

Ce week-end je parlais politique avec un vieux ami, ici à Paris, qui est un partisan intransigeant du modèle républicain français et de la laïcité de combat, ce qui donne lieu depuis longtemps à des échanges animés entre nous. Au cours de notre discussion, il s’est inévitablement lancé dans une dénonciation du communautarisme, qu’il considère, comme tous les Français qui utilisent ce terme, comme un fléau, voire un danger pour la République, et qui l’obsède, de son propre aveu. Il a été assez surpris lorsque je lui ai appris que le terme ‘communautarisme’ – néologisme omniprésent dans le discours politique et journalistique mais dénué de valeur scientifique – n’existait pratiquement pas dans la langue française avant les années 90, et qu’on ne le trouve pas dans mon exemplaire du Petit Robert acheté en 1996. Il a été tout aussi surpris quand je lui ai dit que le mot ‘communautarisme’ ne se traduit pas en anglais : il n’y a pas d’équivalent en anglais, ni dans aucune autre langue à ma connaissance. C’est une notion uniquement française, et purement idéologique.

J’ai dit à mon ami que je lui enverrais quelques liens sur la question, que j’ai posté dans une mise à jour d’un post de AWAV il y a six ans, sur l’hystérie du burkini. Voilà :

Le 24 septembre 2016, Sylvain Bourmeau, de France Culture, a eu une excellente discussion d’une demi-heure avec le sociologue Fabrice Dhume-Sonzogni, intitulée “Le communautarisme, cette chimère toxique,” dans l’émission ‘La suite dans les idées’ de France Culture qu’il anime. Le résumé : “Au terme d’une longue enquête, le sociologue Fabrice Dhume montre comment le mot épouvantail ‘communautarisme’ n’est précisément que cela : un épouvantail planté au milieu de notre espace public.” C’était la première fois que j’entendais un tel argument en France sur la notion bidon de ‘communautarisme’ – un mot de code pour les expressions identitaires ethno-confessionnelles des musulmans (il n’est jamais appliqué à aucune autre ‘communauté’ en France issue de l’immigration) – et Dhume-Sonzogni disait presque exactement ce que j’ai dit depuis que ce néologisme a pris son essor dans le discours public français dans les années 90. Écoutez-le ici.

L’occasion de l’entretien avec France Culture était la publication du livre de Dhume-Sonzogni, Communautarisme : Enquête sur une chimère du nationalisme français, préfacé par Eric Fassin. Si on ne peut pas lire le livre, voir l’article de Dhume-Sonzogni, “L’émergence d’une figure obsessionnelle : comment le ‘communautarisme’ a envahi les discours médiatico-politiques français,” sur le site académique TERRA-HN (juillet 2013).

Voir également l’excellente recension (31 octobre 2016) du livre de Dhume-Sonzogni par Philippe Blanchet, qui enseigne la sociolinguistique à l’Université Rennes 2 et est membre de la Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, “‘Communautarisme’: attention aux retours de manivelle !,” sur son blog de Mediapart.

À lire aussi est le post du blogueur Ossman Zamime, “Vous avez dit ‘communautarisme’?,” dans Mediapart (6 mars 2016).

Bonne lecture !

MISE À JOUR: J’ai parlé du communautarisme dans un article que j’ai publié en 1997 dans Third World Quarterly, “On Islam in the West and Muslims in France: views from the Hexagon,” qui peut être téléchargé ici. En le relisant, je réécrirais quelques passages ici et là, mais je pense que l’essai tient bien la route 25 ans plus tard.

[update below]

I was invited by the London Review of Books to write a 1,000 word post on the election results for the LRB blog, which, after the usual editing, went up this evening under the title “Unpresidented.”

As I was limited in how much I could write—perhaps thankfully so—I couldn’t develop certain points or say everything I wanted to, notably in mentioning some of the deputies—newly elected or reelected—who will be entering the National Assembly. In the post, I wrote that “despite Mélenchon’s caudillo-like domination of his party, [La France Insoumise] has several high-profile, media savvy personalities, who will be an outspoken opposition force in the Palais Bourbon.” For those interested in the French left and intrigued by the NUPES, they are: Manuel Bompard (JLM’s anointed successor to his Marseille constituency), Adrien Quatannens (JLM’s protégé, age 32 but looks younger, and who, à la Olivier Besancenot, talks as fast as a rocket), Sophia Chikirou (JLM’s Significant Other, who spent a few months in the US in 2016 following the Bernie Sanders campaign), Danièle Obono (Franco-Gabonese, longtime gauchiste militant, and lightening rod for the Valeurs Actuelles and Printemps Républicain crowd), Eric Coquerel (JLM right-hand man), Raquel Garrido (Franco-Chilean, lawyer by training, with a well-known in-your-face style), Alexis Corbière (Raquel G.’s trash-talking spouse; an LFI heavyweight), Clémentine Autain (my personal pick for LFI presidential candidate in 2027), Mathilde Panot (president of the LFI group in the National Assembly), and Manon Aubry (who heads the LFI group in the European Parliament). I’ve been particularly impressed with LFI rising star Clémence Guetté, who coordinated Mélenchon’s presidential program (with which I am rather less impressed).

And then there’s the loudmouth François Ruffin, whom I normally can’t stand but developed a certain respect for after seeing his 2021 co-directed documentary Debout les femmes! (Those Who Care), which follows his parliamentary road trip, as it were, with REM deputy Bruno Bonnell—an entrepreneur prior to 2017—as they investigated the working conditions of overworked, low-paid, female domestic care providers, and which led to the two successfully sponsoring legislation to increase their pay and improve those conditions. An inspiring film about two parliamentarians from opposite sides of the aisle (or hemicycle)—radical left and libéral centrist—collaborating in a good cause, and coming to like one another in the process.

À propos, how can one not feel pleasure and satisfaction by the victory of the NUPES-LFI’s Rachel Keke, the first-ever cleaning person elected to the French National Assembly.

It’s too bad that boulanger Stéphane Ravacley (NUPES-EELV), who staged a hunger strike to stop the deportation of his Guinean apprentice, didn’t win his race; likewise with Nicolas Cadène (also NUPES-EELV), a proponent—one of the few these days—of a liberal, tolerant conception of laïcité. It was nice, however, that Aurélien Taché (NUPES-Divers Gauche, ex-REM), also a strong proponent of laïcité apaisée, was reelected. And how very nice it was to see Jean-Michel Blanquer and Manuel Valls bite the dust in the 1st round!

Nice as well was the election of the NUPES-EELV’s Julien Bayou and Sandrine Rousseau, the latter for, entre autres, defeating the macroniste incumbent, who headed the pro-China lobby in the AN. As for the PS, of its 31 deputies (of which 27 NUPES) elected on Sunday, the only ones with any name recognition outside their constituencies are Olivier Faure (who has reinforced his position as party first-secretary), Boris Vallaud, and Jérôme Guedj (who happily sent Amélie de Montchalin packing). The rebuilding of the PS will take some time.

One macroniste I was content to see win (vs. a NUPES-LFI) is Clément Beaune, the ministre délégué for Europe in the Élisabeth Borne government. His May 6th tribune in Le Monde rubbishing Mélenchon’s nonsense on Europe was much appreciated, as was his refusal to equate the NUPES with the extreme right RN (whose 89 deputies I will have something to say about later). Too bad there aren’t more in his camp like him.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Voilà an interesting data-driven analysis of Sunday’s vote:

IPSOS projection 17 June 2022

Two days to go, after which there will be no more elections in France until 2024 (European parliament) and then 2026 (municipal). As the results of last Sunday’s 1st round have been ably analyzed for Anglophone readers by Arthur Goldhammer here and here, and, in a rather sour take, by John Lichfield here, I don’t have to do so myself. One piece on the election that has been receiving attention, as it was published as a guest essay in The New York Times, is by the Marseille-based, decidedly left-leaning American journalist Cole Stangler, who informed readers that “Something extraordinary is happening in France,” that extraordinary something being the Jean-Luc Mélenchon-led NUPES, on which I opined in my post last week. Just about every reaction I’ve seen to the essay on social media has been a gushing thumbs up to Stangler’s enthusiastic assessment of the NUPES, including by a journalist-writer friend here in Paris, to whom I sent my own reaction in a private message. Quoting myself:

Hi M—. Commenting on your reaction to Cole Stangler’s op-ed, he’s smart and well-informed, and I’m in general sympathy with his views, but he’s wildly over-optimistic as to the prospects for the Nupes and simply wrong on many points. If the Nupes wins a majority of seats and Mélenchon is appointed PM – neither of which will happen, but assuming they do – this would be terrible, indeed disastrous, for France, Europe, and ultimately for the left. The Nupes’ economic program is, pace Thomas Piketty & Co, pie-in-the-sky, i.e. it’s nuts, and JLM’s views on geopolitics are unacceptable. A French PM who is not fully committed to materially supporting Ukraine against Russia – and reiterating France’s commitment to NATO – is not in anyone’s interest apart from that of Vladimir Putin. A Macron-Mélenchon cohabitation is totally impossible. I hope the Nupes does well on Sunday and it’s nice to see Macron knocked off his Jupiterian pedestal, but I’m nonetheless hoping that the Ensemble coalition wins a narrow majority. The last thing France and Europe need at this economic and geopolitical conjuncture is instability at the summit of the French state.

The NUPES’ economic program has been endorsed by over 300 economists—mostly left-wing Keynesians, including, as alluded to above, Thomas Piketty, Julia Cagé, Gabriel Zucman, and Dominique Méda, whom I normally hold in high regard. Normally. I’m not so sure about this one, though. The NUPES program has been negatively evaluated—severely so—by the libéral Institut Montaigne, which is normal, but also by Terra Nova—a think tank that has been close to the Socialist party—in a report authored by a 1990s economic adviser to President Mitterrand (for a two-minute commentary on the Terra Nova report by the libéral economic journalist Dominique Seux, go here).

Alexander Hurst, a Paris-based American journalist, trenchantly commented on the NUPES program, as spelled out in the above affiche, on Twitter:

If this were the US, where government spending is 46% of GDP, I’d say, ok sure. “Price caps” and “everyone gets more money!” is insanity in a country where gov share of GDP is already 62.5%. Hope y’all are into massive shortages of everything and unemployment like ya never seen.

This is fantasy land. There is no way to finance that much additional spending unless you have massive growth. And you won’t get massive growth inside a single market with mobility of people and capital by restricting prices and hiking corporate taxes, you’ll get big unemployment.

Which is obviously why LFI is Frexit-sans-le-dire.

And if you think THAT’S a good idea, well…

On his dynamic and informative Facebook page, Guillaume Duval, former editor-in-chief of the left-wing Keynesian Alternatives Économiques, likewise reacted to the NUPES affiche (translated by Deepl and edited by me):

(…) I would like to tell my FB friends that, for my part, I do not believe at all that the NUPES coming across as a Santa Claus and making all kinds of promises is appropriate for the period or is of a nature to increase the credibility of the left and its ability to become a majority in the country.

Between the ecological crisis and the war in Ukraine, all French people know that times are bound to get tougher and that we will have to be very selective and targeted in terms of public action.

The kind of display we see on the affiche is, in my opinion, likely to be interpreted by the French people either as the fact that the NUPES is out of touch [à côté de la plaque] and lives in an alternative reality, or that it takes them for fools [se fout de leur gueule] and that once elected it will, as usual, adopt a completely different policy than the one put forward during the campaign. And in both cases the result will be negative for the left…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

A few comments.

First, on the 1st round’s record-breaking low turnout rate for a legislative election (47.5%), which has provoked much commentary (and over-analyzing) by pundits and pro forma hand-wringing by politicians, though which was predicted and expected—and seriously, why would it be otherwise? Turnout in these elections has been steadily declining since the 1997 élections anticipées (68%), and accelerating since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002. It is, in point of fact, not reasonable to call voters to the polls four times over a ten week period and expect them to maintain a high level of interest and mobilization—and particularly to elect deputies most voters have barely heard of, if at all, and to a weak parliamentary body the election to which is a mere afterthought to the all-important presidential race that preceded it. If the powers-that-be in France want to increase voter turnout, they could at minimum do away with the quinquennat (for a non-renewable sextennat) and constitutionally proscribe the holding of presidential and legislative elections within a six month period. Adopting proportional representation for at least half the seats in the assembly would also be in order.

Second, it has been asserted by numerous pundits and politicos over the past five days that the NUPES, which won 25.7% of the vote, underperformed not only the left’s collective presidential total (31.9%) but also the total tally of votes for the left in the calamitous 2017 legislatives (28.3%); so, ergo, the NUPES’ score does not signify that the left is on the rebound. This is not right, for the simple reason that there were many candidates from small non-NUPES formations that are on the left or perceived as being so. If the votes of divers gauche (PS dissidents, PRG), divers écologiste, and extrême gauche are added to the NUPES score, the total left tally reaches 33.2%. The left is still weak compared to what it was a decade ago (43.8% and 48.7% in the 2012 presidential and legislative 1st rounds, respectively) but the decline has been reversed.

Third, a ridiculous polemic has been initiated this week by panicked macronistes and others on the right—and echoed by media pundits, including some who should know better—that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has long been tagged as a member of the gauche radicale—situating him to the left of his erstwhile PS comrades of the gauche réformiste—is, in fact, way out there on the extrême gauche, along with Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguiller & Co. A mirror image of the Le Pens and FN on the extrême droite: anti-republican and infréquentable. This is poppycock. The extrême gauche in France has consisted exclusively of Trotskyist and now extinct Maoist sects to the left of the Communist Party—which has never carried the extreme left label BTW—that do not seek to elect candidates to office or seriously participate in the institutions of “bourgeois democracy,” and whose principal historical inspiration is the Bolshevik Revolution—the early actions of which included the shuttering of parliament and establishment of a one-party state. This is rather clearly in contradiction with fundamental republican principles, thus placing the extrême gauche beyond the republican pale. None of this applies to JLM, who, after a few years in his 20s as a Trot—a rite of passage for young French lefties of his generation—joined the PS and became an acolyte of François Mitterrand, citing Jaurès far more than Marx and the French Revolution far more than the Russian. And his La France Insoumise has actively participated in the work of both the National Assembly and European parliament—quite unlike deputies of the FN/RN to the two bodies. Case closed.

I have a few more points to make—on the Ensemble alliance, the FN/RN’s score and prospects (which are unfortunately good), and a few interesting NUPES candidates—which I’ll maybe add as updates.

À suivre.

This legislative election campaign has been, as Arthur Goldhammer aptly put it, the strangest in recent memory, or at least the most surprising. Since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002, the coincidence of the presidential and legislative elections, and the fateful decision by the gauche plurielle government of the time to flip the electoral calendar—so that the election to the National Assembly would follow the presidential (by five weeks; this time by seven)—the newly elected (or reelected) president of the Republic has been all but guaranteed a legislative majority—and with his power vis-à-vis the parliament reinforced in the process. The alignment of the electoral calendars, and with the presidential coming first, has thus rendered legislative elections—which had previously been rather important—an afterthought in the wake of the all-important presidential contest. And, it may be added, with the newly elected National Assembly even more subservient to the executive than in the past.

It was assumed after Emmanuel Macron’s landslide reelection on April 24th—due far more to a vote against his opponent than an affirmative vote for him—that his centrist/center-right electoral coalition, called Ensemble!, would win an easy victory in the June legislatives. There has never been the slightest threat from the extreme right in this sort of election—the Front National winning all of 2 seats (of 577) in the 2012 legislatives and 8 in 2017—and all the less so this time as Marine Le Pen, who is feuding with Éric Zemmour, rejected any electoral pact with EZ’s Reconquête. And with the failure of Valérie Pécresse’s candidacy, there would be no serious challenge from Les Républicains. As for the fragmented left, La France Insoumise, despite Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 22% on April 10th, could not realistically hope to win significantly more than the 17 seats it did in 2017 were it to contest the legislatives solo; and in the absence an electoral pact, the PS, EELV, and PCF risked failing to win the 15 seats required to form a parliamentary group, if not being wiped out altogether. That Macron’s electoral pole—headed by the vaporous entity he founded that passes for a political party—was banking on a comfortable victory without seriously campaigning, or proposing any sort of program to the electorate spelling out what it wished to do over next five years, laid bare, among many other things, the perversities of the quinquennat and France’s electoral system.

Mélenchon’s masterstroke in forging the NUPES and incessantly proclaiming that it aimed to win an outright majority—and that Macron, henceforth in a cohabitation, would have no choice but to appoint JLM prime minister—has, needless to say, upended the scenario. Not too many predicted in the aftermath of the presidential election that the parties of the left would go into the legislatives united behind single candidates—and with polls predicting that the left could win up to 200 seats, if not more—or that the left would suddenly occupy center stage in the media’s political coverage. After endless months in 2021 and into this year of Zemmour and the extreme right dominating the media’s attention, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the left and its issues, whatever one thinks of them, back in play. The left has finally gotten its act together, as it were.

Left-leaning France-based Anglosphere observers, e.g. the smart journalists Harrison Stetler and Cole Stangler, have been gushing over the NUPES and its prospects. C’est normal. Loosely quoting the excellent analysis of the NUPES by the UK-based political scientist Philippe Marlière in AOC (also posted in Mediapart), JLM, a powerful orator well-known to all, led a vigorous, inspired presidential campaign, in which he provided a detailed political program easily accessible to voters, made ingenious use of new technologies, and demonstrated, as in previous campaigns, an exceptional ability to rally crowds and generate enthusiasm (matched in the campaign only by Éric Zemmour). For this, he was rewarded with 22% of the vote on April 10th, compared to the cumulative 8.7% of the subsequent three left candidates (whose parties are now part of NUPES). In short, if it weren’t for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French left would simply be out of the picture on the national level.

All this being said, I cannot entirely partake in the lefty enthusiasm over NUPES, precisely because of JLM, a personality for whom my dim views are longstanding and well-known to AWAV readers. In his essay, Philippe Marlière took care to mention JLM’s “erratic temperament” and “disqualifying positions,” particularly in the geopolitical domain. For many moderate left voters, myself included, the latter is the ultimate deal-breaker when it comes to casting a ballot for JLM or other LFI candidates. A few points about NUPES and my skepticism as to its longevity.

First, the NUPES—which, it must be emphasized, is an electoral pact and nothing more—was negotiated in a mere 13 days and under duress for the parties sitting across the table from JLM and his LFI acolytes. Compare this to previous left alliances—1936 Popular Front, 1972 Common Program, 1997 Gauche plurielle—which were negotiated over a much longer period of time and in a more consensual atmosphere. The NUPES is, in effect, a shotgun marriage between reformist and radical left parties that are deeply divided on fundamental issues.

Second, on negotiating under duress, the PS, EELV, and PCF had no choice but to deal with JLM on his terms and accept his final proposals—which, for the PS, were quite humiliating, notably accepting that it would be allotted a mere 70 constituencies (30 or so deemed to be winnable), with no PS candidate thus present in over 500. How far the once venerable French Socialist party has fallen. But Olivier Faure & Co had to swallow their pride and take the deal, as without it, the PS would be sending far fewer than 30 deputies to the newly-elected National Assembly.

Third, the ability of the PS, EELV, and PCF to form their own parliamentary groups is key to the NUPES deal, and all are likely to cross the threshold for this. Once the groups are constituted, LFI will have no leverage over the other NUPES constituents or any way to impose discipline—and all the less so as JLM, who is not running for reelection, will not be present in the Palais Bourbon.

Prediction: the NUPES, like most shotgun marriages, will not live a long life. It won’t last to the next election. EELV and a reconstituted PS will rebuild, perhaps in alliance, and as their combined electoral potential is as great as that of LFI—and particularly a post-Mélenchon one—they will inevitably assert their independence.

There is much more to say about this, of course. I’ll continue with it after tomorrow’s results.

Putin’s war – V

An old stateside friend and faithful AWAV fan has been asking me when I’m going to have another post on Russia-Ukraine, as it’s been over two months since the last one. I would have had more were it not for the election season in France, which will thankfully conclude in eleven days, as I have remained riveted to the unfolding events—and with my outrage at Russia’s Hitlerian dictator as tenacious as ever. So in response to my friend, I will offer links to a selection of pertinent articles and Twitter threads I have archived.

A couple of comments. First, on asserting that Vladimir Putin = Hitler, I do not exaggerate. There is no reductio ad Hitlerum here. Sure, Putin may not (yet) have embarked on an outright genocidal campaign in the part of Ukraine that Russia has conquered—though some will argue that he indeed has, or is close to it—but everything else about him and his action–not to mention that of the barbarian hordes that is a.k.a. the Russian army—is pure post-1938 Third Reich. Second, there seems to be no limit to Putin’s evilness. When he is not pulverizing whole cities into rubble, sending the barbarian hordes to rape, loot, and pillage, and creating one of the world’s gravest refugee crises in 75 years—or, rather, while he is doing these things—he is brandishing the specter of worldwide famine in choking off Ukraine’s farms and agricultural exports. Russia’s holding Ukrainian grain hostage—or outright stealing it—is being widely reported (and is a lead story in France today). Le Monde’s grand reporter Luc Bronner had a lengthy must-read report last month, “War in Ukraine: storm warning in the world’s breadbasket,” in which we (or at least I) came to understand the centrality of Ukraine in feeding part of the world’s growing population. This passage is noteworthy:

The crisis is major because the crops produced and sold by Ukrainians in recent years have continued to grow. In ten years, the volume of exported grain has tripled. In 2021, this represented 12% of the world market for wheat, 16% for corn, 18% for barley, 20% for rapeseed and 50% for sunflower. “In a decade, Ukraine has made the greatest progress in agricultural yields in the history of mankind,” notes Romain Desthieux, former head of MAS Seeds in the country, one of the key players in the European seed market.

Everything was in place for the spiral of food dependence on Ukraine to grow. “Last year we produced 106 million tons of grain, the largest harvest in our history. Of this volume, we estimated that 70 million tons would be exported,” explains Nykolay Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association (UGA), a powerful lobby for the sector. The main destinations for Ukrainian wheat include Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan. Among the most dependent are Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen – countries that are already fragile.

These raw figures tell the story of the extraordinary transformation of a Soviet economy into an ultra-performing agriculture, three quarters of which is internationally oriented, served by the quality of the land, a favorable climate and the geography – millions of hectares on almost entirely flat terrain. Taking advantage of the fluidity of the capitalist system, investors from all over the world have been attracted by the profitability of Ukrainian agriculture.

And then there’s this:

That Vladimir Putin, who without doubt found Ukraine’s agricultural success—and consequent economic power—to be absolutely intolerable, would seek to wreck this: this alone qualifies him as the worst war criminal of our era.

No “off-ramps” for Putin, no taking care not to “humiliate” him, no arrogantly telling Ukrainian leaders that they “will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.” Putin must lose this war. And Ukraine must win it.

The problem in Russia of course goes beyond Putin. That country is going to need a serious de-Nazification campaign at some point down the road. On n’en est pas là.

Project Syndicate has a must-read interview with Adam Michnik, who epitomizes Poland’s liberal spirit and has met Putin several times, on “Putin’s historic blunder.”

Also a must-read is an interview with Greg Yudin in the website Analyse & Kritik, “A fascist regime looms in Russia.” It begins:

Greg Yudin is a philosopher and sociologist at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, he anticipated quite exactly what would happen, in an article for Open Democracy. Greg Yudin is still in Moscow; he was hospitalized by security forces during a protest in the days after the war began. Yudin has long warned against Putin’s aggressive claim to power, which makes a military confrontation with NATO increasingly likely. In the interview, he describes the power mechanisms by which Putin’s system is based, the rapid transformation of Russian society into a pre-fascist order and the prospects for the anti-war movement.

Here are a few Twitter threads I deemed worthy of saving (click on the name):

Maxim Eristavi, co-founder of the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadkse International, offers an 84 tweet thread on the grim history of #RussianColonialism.

Emma Burrows, a TV news producer formerly based in Moscow, “travelled 8 hours out of Moscow, almost to Belarus, to a tiny village to interview the parents of a 22-yr old Russian soldier killed in Ukraine…[which] helps explain Putin’s Russia & the power that comes from controlling information.”

Volodymyr Yermolenko—Ukrainian philosopher, analyst & journalist, and chief editor at Ukraine World—attempts “to understand why Russians hate and dehumanize Ukrainians so much, which is a way to understand one of the major causes of this war.”

Valeriia Voshchevska of Amnesty International says: “Russian colonialism in action right now in 2022 in occupied #Ukraine. Yes, it’s happening right now. Russian colonialism is not just a thing of the past. Today, Russia is engaging in colonial practices in occupied Ukraine. Here’s what’s been happening.”

Stas Olenchenko, founder and writer at Ukraine Explainers, says: “The language context of Ukraine can be a tricky topic for any outsider. In this long and personal thread, I’ll illustrate the relationship between Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine using my family’s history. I’m a bilingual Ukrainian raised in a Russian-speaking family in Kyiv.”

Mart Kuldkepp, Estonian professor of history at University College London, “would like to make some critical points about blind spots that frequently prevent us from correctly assessing the nature and likely outcomes of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

Tom Nichols says that “[i]n forty years of studying #Russia the thing I always struggled to get my arms around is that this remarkable and immense nation, a source of cultural and scientific genius, is also so riven by ignorance and insecurity that it is incapable of living in peace with the world.”

À suivre.

I’ve been in Berlin for the past week and generally away from the laptop, thus the absence of AWAV’s take on Emmanuel Macron’s appointment of Élisabeth Borne to Matignon and the subsequent announcement of her government—all the picks being Macron’s, of course. The most noteworthy, indeed astonishing, one—I let out a loud “wow!” when I learned of it—was that of Pap Ndiaye as Minister of Education, which is a pretty important ministry in the French government—the minister having a million or so (heavily unionized) fonctionnaires under her/his tutelary authority, plus responsibility for some 13 million schoolchildren and students. Pap Ndiaye is well known to all those of a social scientific/humanities academic and/or left-wing bent, as a brilliant academic specialist of race in France, but also in the United States, and as director since March 2021 of the Museum of the History of Immigration (for which he was profiled in The New York Times here). He is also, from a political standpoint, the polar 180° opposite from his predecessor, the decidedly rightist Jean-Michel Blanquer, who served the full five years of Macron’s first term—making him the longest serving education minister since literally the 1860s—who will be best remembered for having embarked on a maniacal campaign—for which he enjoyed the wholehearted support of Macron and the entire political class save part of the left—against “wokisme,” “islamo-gauchisme,” the inevitable “communautarisme” and other nefarious ideologies from the Anglo-Saxon world seen to pose an existential threat to the French educational system, if not to France tout court—and this while the educational system is in the midst of major crises (low salaries, declining standards, inequalities among schools, an impending shortage of teachers, to name just a few). Blanquer even went so far as to sponsor an academic-sounding conference on “wokismeat the Sorbonne this past January.

As for what the apparent Anglo-Saxon-inspired ideologies in question are, the sharp, definitely woke Paris-based American journalist Cole Stangler nailed it.

He could have added that if you believe that racism is a problem in France and you’re white, that makes you a “wokiste.”

Macron’s appointing Ndiaye to succeed Blanquer is, as political scientist Frédéric Sawicki tweeted, akin to him hypothetically replacing Bruno Le Maire at Bercy with Thomas Piketty. As for Macron’s motivations, certain pundits have speculated that he’s reconnecting with the American-style political liberalism of his 2017 campaign, which he forgot about once elected. Others see an opportunistic triangulation to the left in view of the upcoming legislative elections and the unexpected challenge posed by the Jean-Luc Mélenchon-led NUPES (which I will weigh in on next month, before the election). It has been reported that Macron’s Africa policy advisers told him that naming Ndiaye to a high-profile ministerial post could help repair France’s presently damaged standing in its former African colonies—where an effective anti-French Russian propaganda campaign has been at work.

Whatever the case, Ndiaye’s appointment has caused a collective freak-out on the hard and extreme-right—with Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour, and Bolloré media talking heads leading the charge—but also the Printemps Républicain crowd and other extreme centrists. Jean-Michel Aphatie captured the reaction well.

Ndiaye gave The Brookings Institution’s annual Raymond Aron Lecture last June 24th, titled “Black Lives Matter and the antiracist movement in France,” which may be watched on YouTube here. As it was moderated by my friend Camille Busette—the director of Brookings’ Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative—I made sure to watch it live on Zoom. A very good lecture and discussion.

From 2008, here’s a 12-minute interview with Ndiaye on France 24’s English service, on the occasion of the publication of his best-known book, La Condition noire: Essai sur une minorité française (which Ndiaye’s detractors have certainly not read, even if they say they have).

Edwy Plenel links to a few videos of Ndiaye here.

For the record, another interesting Macron/Borne appointment is that of the Franco-Lebanese Rima Abdul-Malak as Minister of Culture. As she has not been a public personality, I didn’t know a thing about her but she was apparently greatly appreciated in the world of culture as a cultural adviser at the Élysée and, before that, at the Paris city hall (she has also been the French cultural attaché in New York). The leftist political scientist Philippe Marlière, for one, gives her the thumbs up.

Dont acte.

Macron’s empty shell

That’s the title of a commentary on the French election that I was invited to publish on the London Review of Books blog, which may be read here. I was given a 1,200 word limit, which was then cut to 1,000 and edited, so here’s the original version if one wishes to read that:

There was a general sigh of relief, in France and further afield, on Sunday at 8:00 PM CET, when Emmanuel Macron was projected to win the 2nd round of the French presidential election. The polls in the final week of the campaign all showed Macron opening up a 10 to 14-point lead over Marine Le Pen – and particularly after last Wednesday’s debate, which Macron was widely seen to have gotten the better of – but genuine worry had settled in during the latter half of March, and among hard-headed analysts as well as the inveterate hand-wringers, that Le Pen could very possibly win. With the shock over the Ukraine invasion, and consequent boost in Macron’s popularity, wearing off, Macron’s many deficiencies – programmatically and as a politician – came into sharper focus. These, plus Le Pen’s effective, under-the-radar campaigning in la France profonde and successful years-long strategy of ‘de-demonizing’ her image and that of her renamed extreme-rightwing party, the Rassemblement National (RN), caused the polls to suddenly tighten, to the point where Le Pen looked to be in striking distance of 50 percent. In this, it should be said, she was backhandedly aided by the candidacy of the even more extreme-rightwing Éric Zemmour, who made her look almost moderate by comparison.

The catastrophe of a Le Pen victory – for the future of liberal democracy in France, and for Europe and the world – need not be expounded upon here. Suffice to say that the mere possibility that it could come to pass was enough to strike terror into the hearts of millions of Frenchmen and women. So regardless of how one feels about Macron, his landslide 17-point victory – wider than what any poll had projected – was cause for satisfaction, as it signified that the RN is nowhere near striking distance of 50 percent in a national election, but also that more than enough voters of the left, whose antipathy toward Macron is strong to virulent, know to hold their noses in the voting booth and do the right thing to block the extreme-right.

In this, it was readily apparent on the evening of the April 10th first round that the election would hinge on the voters of the radical leftwing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who reached 22 percent in a late surge of mostly moderate, strategically-minded left voters defecting from other leftwing candidates (all of whom finished under 5 percent) – with Mélenchon thereby coming close to overtaking Le Pen for the second place slot in the runoff. The vote utile almost paid off. In the 2017 election, 50 to 60 percent of Mélenchon’s voters transferred to Macron in the 2nd round, with all but a handful of the rest abstaining or nullifying their ballots. But after five years of the despised, right-lurching, neoliberal Macron, and who has given the left the middle finger on so many occasions, it was clear that the Mélenchon vote transfers would be less favorable to Macron this time, and particularly as the anti-system, protest voting portion of the Mélenchon electorate was ready to cast ballots for Le Pen (as for Mélenchon himself, he made no recommendation apart from exhorting his supporters not to give a single vote to Le Pen).

The transfers were finally more than sufficient for Macron, who received 42 percent of the Mélenchon vote according to the IPSOS polling institute, with 41 percent invalidating their ballots and 17 percent voting for Le Pen. And then there were the even stronger transfers from other candidates, notably the ecologist Yannick Jadot and Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains.  Macron’s landslide victory thus needs to be relativized, as fully 48 percent of those who voted for him, so reveals the Harris Interactive poll, did so to prevent Le Pen from acceding to the presidency, not out of any support for Macron – and which he acknowledged in his Sunday night victory speech at the Eiffel tower. Taking into account the 28 percent abstention rate – the second highest in the history of the Fifth Republic for a second round of a presidential election – Macron won but 38.5 percent of registered voters; only Georges Pompidou in 1969 was elected with less.

In fairness to Macron, it should be noted that while up to a third of the electorate – and across the political spectrum – strongly disapproves of his performance in office – or just of him as a person; which is to say, they loathe him – his overall poll numbers have not been bad compared to his recent predecessors. Except for a several month stretch in 2018-19, during the Gilets Jaunes movement, when his approval rating dropped below 30 percent, Macron’s positive poll numbers have been in the mid-30s to the mid-40s, making him a more popular president than François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy were during their mandates, or Jacques Chirac during his interminable second term. Macron does have a base of those who appreciate him, principally among older, middle-class, centrist and centre-right voters. And if up to half of those who voted for him did so to block Le Pen, 43 percent of Le Pen voters, according to the Harris Interactive poll, sought above all to prevent a second Macron term. The notion that 40 percent of the French electorate is now given over to radical rightwing populism is simply not true. Le Pen’s voters are not a French equivalent of the fanaticized Trumpist base of the US Republican Party.

France’s election season is not over, as legislative elections are scheduled for June 12th and 19th. Since the advent of the presidential five-year term (quinquennat) in 2002 and with legislative elections, in a coincidence of the electoral calendar, following in the wake of the presidential election, the legislatives have almost been an afterthought, with the voters reflexively granting a majority to the party of the newly elected president. Among the consequences of the quinquennat and electoral calendar have been a significant increase in the power of the president and the effective transformation of the National Assembly into a rubber stamp for the president and his hand-picked prime minister, the latter dutifully following instructions from the former.

This scenario, which has played out according to script in the last four presidential elections, may not be repeated this time. First, Macron is the first president to be elected to a second term since the two-term limit entered into the constitution in 2008. Macron will thus be a lame duck – a novelty for a French president – which will axiomatically lessen his authority over his prime minister. Second, it is not a foregone conclusion that Macron’s empty shell of a party, La République en Marche, and its centrist allies will gain a majority of legislative seats. There is a collective desire by the disparate parties of the left, who are in survival mode, to field single candidacies in each constituency. If the imperious Mélenchon can contain his hegemonic impulses, it just may happen. Likewise on the extreme right: if Le Pen can overcome her personal ire toward Zemmour, the RN and Zemmour’s new party, Reconquête!, may field single candidacies as well. If all this comes to pass, Macron may well be deprived of a majority in the National Assembly come June 19th. The legislative elections are going to be interesting.

Arthur Goldhammer has a post-election commentary in Tocqueville 21, “L’Alternance Impossible,” as does Philippe Marlière in the NYT, “France Is Still in Trouble.”

I’ve been dreading this weekend for the past month—with the apocalyptic scenario of a Marine Le Pen victory looming large—but am now dreading tomorrow’s 8 PM projected winner a little less (which is not to say that I won’t be wringing my hands during the countdown). Emmanuel Macron has maintained a solid lead in the post debate polls, averaging out to 12 points (56-44), which, if confirmed, means landslide. Now polls do misfire, as we’ve seen on several recent occasions, e.g. in the 2020 US presidential election, when the average of the final polls had Biden leading Trump by a comfortable 8% at 538.com and 6.8% at RCP, but with Biden winning the popular vote by a narrower 4.4% (and with Trump thus coming perilously close to winning the electoral college). But while it ain’t over till it’s over, it would be truly unprecedented for the polls to be collectively off by 12 points. C’est du jamais vu. And French polls are pretty good on the whole, e.g. the polls in the final week of the 2007 run-off between Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal got the result almost exactly right, and likewise in 2012 with Sarkozy and François Hollande (the mean of the final polls showing a 52.75% Hollande victory and with him winning with 51.65%); as for 2017, the result was such a blowout that the polls were almost beside the point..

But Macron sure doesn’t deserve it, as I have underscored on numerous occasions, and the sentiment of which is shared by so many, as the NYT’s excellent Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut reported this week on “[The] Problem for Macron in France’s Election: ‘The Hatred He Arouses’.” The hatred of Macron is real—akin to the Sarkozy hate on the left in the 2007-12 period (and the hatred—entirely comprehensible and justified—that we all felt for Trump)—which Arthur Goldhammer, in a typically first-rate election eve commentary on the Tocqueville 21 site, acknowledges but considers a little over the top. Peut-être. A lot of us, comme moi, will be holding our noses in the isoloir tomorrow.

My crap shoot prediction FWIW:

Macron: 54%
Le Pen: 46%
Blank/nullified ballots: 10%
Participation rate: 72%

N.B. I will likely be publishing my post-election analysis on another platform, which may not appear until Tuesday.

By Maria Katasonova

I’ve been worried about the 2nd round outcome for the past month, as anyone who follows AWAV knows, but am a little less so at the moment, as all but one of the polls taken over the past week show Emmanuel Macron widening his lead over Marine Le Pen. E.g. the Ipsos poll released today shows Macron leading by 15 points, with decisive numbers of 1st round Mélenchon and Pécresse voters moving to Macron to block MLP (see below). Mme Le Pen could still win, of course—and the latest Odoxa poll shows a close race—but barring a dramatic shift over the next two days, it would be a shocker at this point.

Last night’s debate won’t change matters. For all the build-up and anticipation of high drama, the 2 hour and 50 minute debate was sort of anti-climactic. The pundit consensus beforehand had it that as MLP could hardly outdo her calamitous performance in the 2017 debate—the worst ever in French history—and which cost her many votes in the 2nd round, that it was unlikely that she would outright “lose” this one, as she would necessarily be better prepared and on her best behavior. Greater risk was seen for Macron, that his preternatural arrogance would inevitably get the better of him, reminding fence-sitting voters of why they can’t stand the man and maybe decide that they just don’t want him in the Elysée for another five years. As predicted, MLP was indeed better prepared this time, having done her homework—under the supervision of a secretive group of hard right-leaning énarques and other high-level types—and memorized statistics. And, as expected, she remained generally calm and collected throughout. No trash-talking or vituperative attacks as in 2017. But while she tried her best to sound wonkish—which is taken seriously in France; even ordinary folk given over to populism want the leader of the nation to at least give the impression of being smart—no one can out-argue the Inspecteur de finance Emmanuel Macron when it comes to policy wonkishness—even if he sometimes has to fake it himself (and which does happen). So in the exchanges on the cost of living (the nº 1 issue for the French public), pension reform, the health care system (which is in a bad state), the competitiveness of the French economy, the environment, and other issues involving spending money, Macron inevitably got the better of Le Pen, and particularly in highlighting the contradictions, incoherency, inanity, and/or pie-in-the-sky character of so many of her proposals. She was, in short, out of her depth.

Despite the length of the debate, most of the issues were treated only superficially, particularly those that make Le Pen and her party so dangerous, e.g. in the exchange on Russia, in which MLP reiterated her condemnation of the Russian invasion and support for the Ukrainian people, though also her opposition to sanctions on Russian hydrocarbons and saying nothing about supplying Ukraine with the military means to fight the invaders. Macron riposted with reminders of her party’s delegation to the European Parliament having voted against the EU’s resolutions on Ukraine and, more specifically, of her erstwhile, across-the-board support of Vladimir Putin and the loan her party had contracted with a bank controlled by the Kremlin. Macron was good on this—as he was on insisting that MLP’s positions on Europe would necessarily lead to France leaving the EU—but missed an opportunity to brandish the specter of a Le Pen presidency reorienting French foreign policy away from the Atlantic alliance and toward one with Putin’s Russia (once the war in Ukraine is over and a “peace treaty” is signed, so MLP assures, as if that’s at all in the realm of the possible in the foreseeable future and with bygones being bygones).

The immigration issue—or, rather, non-issue, as there is no objective reason why it should be one—also got short shrift, which is too bad, as it is this that crystallizes the extreme-right’s demagoguery and racism, not to mention abject ignorance and outright stupidity. Macron was at his best in the exchange on the voile—the hijab, including the simple headscarf worn by pious Muslim women—which Le Pen wants to entirely ban from public space, informing her that France would be the only country in the entire world to enact such a measure, that it is so manifestly unconstitutional, a flagrant violation of religious freedom, thoroughly unenforceable, and would lead to “civil war” (on this Macron misspoke, as what he surely had in mind was mass civil disobedience). Macron could have added, for good measure, that such a ban would majorly complicate France’s relations with states that have Muslim citizens, beginning with the Islamic world itself (one imagines the specter of Saudi or Emirati women on the Champs-Elysées being fined by the police and asked to remove their headscarves).

As for Macron’s demeanor, the prevailing view, at least so far as I could see in scrolling through Twitter during the debate, was that he was indeed arrogant and disdainful toward Le Pen. Even veteran journalist John Lichfield aligned with this sentiment, writing in The Post that “[t]he great surprise — to me at any rate — was that Macron was so aggressive, even angry…constantly interrupt[ing] the far-Right leader, to the point of being irritating…attack[ing] Le Pen from the first minute [and coming] over as petulant.” How perceptions differ, as I didn’t see it this way at all. Sure, Macron often had a mocking look when listening to Mme Le Pen’s elucubrations—how can one not?—but I don’t think he overdid it. And I would say that his comportment was spirited and pugnacious rather than angry. Whatever the case, he clearly got the job done, with an instant post-debate poll showing 59% finding his performance convincing to 39% for MLP.

For a more detailed run-down on the debate, see Art Goldhammer’s piece in The New Republic. See as well Jon Henley’s analysis in The Guardian, “Election debate marks normalisation of far-right politics in France,” and the post-debate take on Twitter by the Eurasia Group’s smart Europe Managing Director, Mujtaba Rahman.

Note this year’s poster. No name. Either she assumes that we all know who she is (which we indeed do) or deems it prudent not to remind people that she is named Le Pen.

There are nine days to go to the 2nd round and with the polls taken over the past four days (ten of them) showing Emmanuel Macron with a 6 to 12 point lead over Marine Le Pen. I am not reassured, though, and continue to fear the worst for April 24th. Mme Le Pen could absolutely win. And just about everyone with whom I’ve communicated on the matter this week thinks likewise. E.g. an American student of mine from a dozen years ago, who lives in Paris and works in the private sector, wrote this to me yesterday:

Honestly, after having lived in the US (specifically Washington DC) through Trump’s election and presidency, I’m terrified of [Marine Le Pen’s] election. I’m grasping at straws trying to imagine ways her coming to power in the French presidential system won’t be as bad as I fear. As the 2nd round gets into full swing I find myself incredibly frustrated watching Macron. I have been disappointed with his move to the right over the past 3 years but am outright angry at his campaigning. The man is a terrible politician. Proposing a raise to the retirement age mere weeks before the election and literally stating his desire to emmerder les non-vaccinés right before the re-election campaign began was the epitome of arrogance and outright stupidity. He is a terrible salesman only making Madame Le Pen look like a woman with the common touch. Granted, she has come a long way moderating her form (not her substance) and benefitted from Zemmour to look moderate and centrist in comparison. I’m terrified speaking to my French colleagues and neighbors that she’ll be elected. I’m praying Mélenchon outright endorses Macron but know better than to hold my breath.

I entirely share his sentiments. As for Mélenchon, he will make his announcement for the 2nd round tomorrow, following the consultation with his base. If his base surprises France and Navarre and recommends a vote for Macron, I will eat my hat. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, Macron will need votes from a sizable number of those who voted JLM, otherwise he’s toast—as is France. À propos, Cole Stangler has an anxiety-inducing report in The Nation today on the present state of mind of the Mélenchon electorate, “‘He Just Shat All over Us’: Why Macron’s ‘Republican Front’ Is Fraying.” The lede: “Macron aims to rally voters against far-right Marine Le Pen, but alienated parts of the coalition he needs to win may sit on the sidelines.” This passage merits quoting:

Another important source of anti-Macron sentiment is the public sector workforce. From health care and transportation to education and welfare, French public services play a fundamental role in many residents’ lives. While the country has largely avoided the type of direct privatizations that transformed the UK from the 1980s onward, French governments of various political stripes have progressively sought to keep funding in check in addition to introducing management techniques that come from the private sector. These pressures have intensified over the last several years, and it’s left many employed by the state feeling resentful toward the cabinet members and executive decision-makers who manage their work lives.

That includes people like Gabriel Lattanzio, a 37-year-old English teacher at a public high school in Les Lilas [a Paris banlieue]. He said he would never vote Le Pen—his first political experience was organizing high school classmates to protest Marine Le Pen’s father after he made it to the second round of the 2002 election, and he voted for Mélenchon in the first round this year. He also backed Macron in the 2017 runoff, but he’s not sure what he’ll do next Sunday.

Over the last few years, he said his job has gotten harder and harder. Covid has been an unforeseen challenge; his school has grappled with gang violence; and he’s been forced to take on new responsibilities—all without significant pay hikes and under an education minister who he said fails to recognize teachers’ hard work: “Our hierarchy’s authoritarianism and the repeated declarations describing teachers as incapable or lazy carry a lot of weight, as does [the fact that] high schools have been transformed by a lack of funding.”

Lattanzio speaks English fluently, has studied in the United States, and keeps an eye on American politics. He told me comparisons to Bernie Sanders supporters sucking it up and voting against Donald Trump fail to appreciate the nature of Macron—both in terms of his economic program and conservative social policies. “He’s no Biden,” Lattanzio said. “He’s like Thatcher. And it’s hard to vote for Thatcher.”

Anglo-American editorialists and commentators (The Economist, WSJ et al) have been imperiously lecturing the French for over thirty years that what they need is a “Margaret Thatcher.” Well, France finally got its “Margaret Thatcher” and here we are, with a Le Pen in striking distance of 50%—and the presidency of the French Republic.

Mélenchon voters would be well-advised to heed the words of the très gauchiste, anti-Macron amateur journalist and social media influencer Taha Bouhafs:

In the unthinkable event that Mme Le Pen crosses the 50% threshold on the 24th, 1st round JLM voters who did not heed Taha Bouhafs’s plea will forever suffer opprobrium (from me at least), but the primary responsible party will be the millions of Frenchmen and women who cast their ballots for MLP. On these voters, who numbered 8 million last Sunday, I revisited a post I wrote ten years ago, between the two rounds of the 2012 presidential election, titled “Marine’s voters,” which was prompted at the time by an exceptional half-hour reportage on France 2 I had seen the day before, on the increasing support for the Front National in exurban/rural France. Everything I wrote in the post—plus the reportage, to which I linked—is relevant today, so please do check it out.

On precisely this subject, of the FN/RN vote in exurban/rural France, John Lichfield has a must-read article (April 9) in UnHerd on the Calvados village where he has lived for the past 24 years, “How Marine Le Pen conquered Normandy: Rural France faces an existential crisis.” Lichfield’s account is similar to my 2012 post and the France 2 reportage. (FYI, the 1st round tally in Lichfield’s village was Macron 30%, Le Pen 24, Mélenchon 16).

I had my own interaction with a Le Pen voter recently, which is worth recounting, as I think her story is not atypical. Before I tell it, I need to preface it with a mention of Cluster 17, an opinion research laboratory and polling operation founded and directed by a political scientist at the University of Montpellier, which divides the French electorate into 16 opinion “clusters,” not all of which can be easily situated on a left-right axis. To find out what cluster one belongs to, one answers a questionnaire (of 33 questions), which then yields the result, and with a detailed description of the sociology of the cluster, its opinion system, where it’s situated in the left-right spectrum, attitudes of those in the cluster towards the Gilets Jaunes, its electoral orientation, and its stakes in the 2022 presidential election. The algorithm is sophisticated and with everyone I know who’s taken the test, as it were, saying that the cluster in which they are situated is entirely accurate (not surprisingly, I’m in cluster 2: Les sociaux-démocrates). The satisfaction rate is 100%.

So the Sunday before last, an in-law, whom I’ve known for thirty years but hadn’t seen since last summer, came for lunch. She’s in her mid 70s, was an office secretary during her working years, and lives in a middle-class banlieue (near her grown children, who are doing well for themselves). She is what I would call a low information but highly opinionated voter, who doesn’t read newspapers or follow the news closely (her preferred radio station is Radio Classique) but will pipe off on any issue of the day if asked. I’ve never really discussed partisan politics with her, though do remember that she voted for Trotskyist pasionaria Arlette Laguiller in 1995 and 2002, as she liked her spirit and verve. N.B. I’ve always seen my in-law as leaning somewhat to the right; she’s absolutely not on the left and certainly has no idea what Trotskyism is. So I invited her into my study and asked if I could administer the Cluster 17, with me reading out the questions and entering her responses, to which she agreed. Her cluster: Les Éclectiques. In other words, she’s all over the place, with some positions on the left, others (more in fact) on the right. In the final question, which asks where one situates oneself on the left-right axis, her response: centrist. When I read to her the detailed description of the Éclectique cluster, she said it accurately described her.

I then asked whom she was voting for. The 1st round: Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière (Arlette’s successor). Bon, d’accord. And the 2nd round? As she doesn’t like Macron, she would be voting for Marine Le Pen, no problem, as in past elections. I was a little surprised, needless to say, as I had no idea. Her reason: there are too many Arabs in France—even though she’s half Arab (Algerian) herself, lived in Algeria for 15-20 years, and whose ex-husband is Algerian (Kabyle). But while she’s opposed to Arabs “invading” France and wants tough border controls, she’s all for France welcoming refugees (and not just Ukrainians). Eclectic. When I told her that Marine Le Pen hadn’t changed an iota and was still on the extreme right, her response: “Really?! You think so?!” (Ah bon?! Tu crois?!). Low information. I mentioned Eric Zemmour, to which she reacted: “He’s an extremist!” On that, she’s well-informed.

There are many Le Pen voters like my in-law, who hold contradictory views, are not well-informed, don’t process information in the same way as we (or at least I) do, but while they have their prejudices, cannot be labeled as political extremists. Many are open to changing their minds—I think I’ll be able to persuade my in-law to flip from MLP to voting blanc—but those who work on them generally have to be people they trust. And the people they trust tend to think the way they do. There’s a big reservoir of votes out there for Marine Le Pen.

[update below]

A lot of people, myself included, were breathing a sigh of relief with the first projections at 8 PM yesterday, showing Emmanuel Macron finishing in first place by up to five points. I, for one, was fearing a tight finish, with Marine Le Pen a point or two behind Macron, or possibly even overtaking him, the psychological shock of which would have been huge and augured ill for the 2nd round. The sense of relief was brief, though (more on which below). The final polls did accurately project the order of finish of the top three candidates and were largely on the mark with Macron’s score, but otherwise the outcome was full of surprises, which were not at all hinted at in the late polls, not to mention those taken one or two months ago. Jean-Luc Mélenchon finishing a hair below 22% was anticipated by no one, probably not even JLM himself. In a post last December 4th, I confidently asserted that “JLM will not repeat his feat of 2017 (19% in the 1st round), not a chance…” Silly me—and to be making such predictions months ahead of an election (which I will never ever do again). Eric Zemmour majorly underperforming at 7% was another surprise, as was, above all, the stunning collapse of Valérie Pécresse, who finished below 5%—which absolutely no one saw coming—meaning that her campaign expenses will not be reimbursed by the state. What a humiliation for the dominant political party of the French right of the past sixty years.

These three, plus Le Pen, were beneficiaries, or victims, of the vote utile, of a sizeable number of voters deciding in the final days to vote strategically. So many voters of the left who were undecided or leaning toward Yannick Jadot, Fabien Roussel, and even Anne Hidalgo (there were surely a few), but wanting above all for a candidate of the left to qualify for the 2nd round—and knock out MLP while they were at it—shifted to JLM. I was well aware of the movement to Mélenchon last week in talking to friends and family (and the movement was particularly pronounced among those under age 35). Whatever qualms one may have had about JLM—and many of his late-deciding voters indeed have some—were secondary to the imperative of the left making it to the 2nd round for a face-off with Macron. And he nearly pulled it off. If JLM hadn’t dissed his erstwhile Communist Party allies over the past several years, thereby leading them to run their own candidate, he would have most certainly pulled it off.

The disappointing scores of Jadot and Roussel were due to the vote utile for Mélenchon. As for Zemmour’s underperformance, he was a victim of the vote utile for MLP. Likewise with Pécresse, some of whose supporters likely defected to MLP, with others to Macron.

One surprise of yesterday’s vote, which I have read or heard no mention of by commentators or analysts, is the total tally of left-wing votes. In the 1st round of the 2012 presidential election, the total vote of the left (led by François Hollande) was 44%, but which dropped to 27.5% in 2017 (for the four candidates of the left), with over half of Hollande’s 2012 voters going to Macron. In the course of this campaign, the polls consistently had the cumulative scores of left candidates at 25% max. But the tally for the left in yesterday’s vote is a pleasantly unexpected 32%. I will await the analyses of where these votes came from.

The relief at 8 PM yesterday over Macron’s good score dissipated with IFOP’s instant 2nd round poll, showing Macron winning in a 51-49 cliffhanger. Other polls have the margin a little wider but the fact is, the race over the next two weeks is going to be hard-fought, and while Macron remains the favorite, Le Pen could still win. Macron is not out of the woods. Unlike in 2017, MLP enjoys a “reserve” of votes that will go to her: from Zemmour (7%) and hard-rightist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (2.1%), both of whom have endorsed her, to which one may add the surprising 3.2% of oddball candidate Jean Lassalle, who has announced that he will vote blanc but whose voters were mainly Gilets Jaunes types or other rural folk who are certainly more inclined to go for Le Pen than Macron. Le Pen will also get at least some of Pécresse’s voters.

As for Macron’s “reserves” of votes, they are considerably less significant than in 2017. The great majority of those who voted for Jadot, Roussel, and Hidalgo (8.5%)—who have all called on voters to block Le Pen—will cast 2nd round ballots for Macron. Some of Pécresse’s voters, maybe a majority, will do likewise (she has announced that she’s voting Macron, as have other top LR personalities, though with a few saying they’ll abstain).

That leaves Mélenchon and his voters as the kingmakers who will decide the election. He thundered four times last night that “not a single vote must go to Le Pen,” but that, like in 2017, he will consult his base, via a procedure on his website, on whether or not to vote Macron, vote blanc, or abstain. In view of the hatred for Macron on the radical left, it will most certainly not be the first option. Polls on what JLM voters will do on April 24th yield varying results, but with all showing a plurality abstaining or voting blanc, followed by a vote for Macron, and then a vote for Le Pen (well behind in all but one poll so far).

Macron will have his work cut out for him in trying to make nice with JLM’s voters. As I was quoted in an article in The Independent today:

“I don’t know what Macron can offer the left at this point because he has spent five years alienating them,” said Arun Kapil, who teaches politics and history at the Catholic University of Paris. “He’s made it very clear he doesn’t care about them and he doesn’t need them and doesn’t know how to talk to them.”

And:

“It’s all going to come down to Melenchon’s voters,” said Mr Kapil, who runs a blog on French politics. “That’s how the election is going to be decided. Melenchon voters are faced with a choice of Macron, whom they can’t stand, and Le Pen, whom they hate even more.”

Next week’s debate will be decisive. It’s going to be a stressful two weeks.

Arthur Goldhammer weighs in on the subject in The New Republic today, “In French Election, It’s Macron vs. Le Pen in a Showdown for Mélenchon’s Voters.” The lede: “The candidate of the left said vote against Le Pen. But he didn’t say vote for Macron. And his voters will probably decide this.”

Also see “A Panel Response: What to Take Away from the First Round of the French Elections?,” on the Tocqueville 21 blog.

UPDATE: Ipsos research director Mathieu Gallard has posted this great visual on Twitter.

[update below]

I traditionally have an election eve post—for French and American presidential elections—in which I offer my prediction (and my track record over the past thirty years has been pretty good overall). But no prediction this time, as I have no idea what the final numbers will be—up to a third of likely voters are still undecided, so the pollsters say, or could change their mind at the last minute—or the abstention rate, which could equal the 2002 historic high of 29%. The numbers in the IPSOS poll above are probably more or less what we’ll see tomorrow night. Barring a truly unexpected coup de théâtre, it is nigh certain that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will go through to square off in the April 24th 2nd round, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s late climb in the polls falling short of Le Pen’s even bigger climb. Every election 1st round has a surprise, of a candidate over or underperforming her/his final poll numbers. If there’s a surprise this time, it may be Le Pen finishing ahead of Macron. That would really not be good, so let’s hope not.

I wrote at the end of yesterday’s post that I would link to several good articles in English that have appeared over the past week or so. Voilà:

Arthur Goldhammer has a typically first-rate piece in The New Republic, with which I entirely agree, “Yes, Be Worried: Marine Le Pen Could Finally Come to Power in France.”

John Lichfield, the best Anglophone journalist reporting on France, in The Guardian: “Get ready for a scary fortnight in French politics: a Le Pen presidency really is possible.”

Elisabeth Zerofsky, who has reported extensively on illiberal right-wing populism in Europe (particularly France) and the US, has a very good article in The New York Times Magazine, “France’s Far Right Turn: A rising nationalist faction has grown its coalition by appealing to Catholic identity and anti-immigrant sentiment — and reshaped the country’s race for president.”

In a similar vein is Harrison Stetler’s ‘Letter from France’ in Commonweal, “Catholics for Zemmour.”

Also by Harrison Stetler is a guest essay in The New York Times, “The Man at the Center of the French Election Isn’t Even on the Ballot.”

That man is, of course, Vincent Bolloré, whom Harrison Stetler discusses with the brilliant economist Julia Cagé in an interview in Jacobin, “Far-Right Media Tycoons Are Poisoning French Democracy.”

Claire Berlinski, qui n’y va pas de main morte, expresses her dim view in Politico of French Russophilia, “Macron Just Can’t Quit Putin, But His Opponents Are Worse.”

Writing in UnHerd, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet makes pertinent observations on “The resurrection of Marine Le Pen,” justly asserting that “Macron has enabled her remarkable comeback.”

À demain.

UPDATE: These visuals impeccably situate the candidates according to their economic/social and cultural views. From a tribune in Le Monde dated April 7th, by political scientists Bruno Cautrès, Vincent Martigny, Sylvie Strudel, and Thomas Vitiello:

A week ago I expressed anxiousness over the state of the race and the very real possibility that Marine Le Pen could win on April 24th. Today I rate the chances of that at 50-50. Almost all the polls now have a maximum six-point spread between Emmanuel Macron and MLP, with one earlier this week showing a bone-chilling three-point squeaker for Macron. And the momentum—the Big Mo’—is clearly with Mme Le Pen, as given the way election campaigns work in France, there is little that can stop it at this stage. If this campaign were happening à l’américaine—with American-style practices—the Macron camp would be flooding the airwaves with negative ads attacking Le Pen for her manifold weaknesses, extremist positions, and the dangers of her acceding to the presidency of the French Republic, particularly at this grave moment for Europe and the world (e.g. informing voters that if the Putin-friendly Le Pen is elected on April 24th, she will immediately assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union to the end of June, and for voters to meditate on this). And Macron surrogates and other politicos and commentators would be sounding the alarm in the media. But this is not possible in France, as campaign advertising on television is heavily regulated (a good thing) and with no tradition of negative attack ads (not a good thing), and now that we are in the official campaign period, the law mandating strict equality of coverage on television and radio for all presidential candidates—there are twelve—has kicked in, meaning that oddball Jean Lassalle and the laid-back post-Trotskyist Philippe Poutou, both polling in the very low single digits and with no manifest wish to actually be elected president of the Republic, are entitled to as much mention on TV, including in prime time, as are Macron and Le Pen. I had a whole AWAV post exactly ten years ago railing on against this ridiculous French law, which, in effect, deprives the electorate of serious debate and examination of issues in the final stretch of the campaign, and at precisely the moment when many voters are beginning to tune in. So Macron’s hands are tied in trying to stem the Le Pen surge, a surge that he and his campaign clearly did not anticipate.

Not that Macron would necessarily know how to effectively respond even if he had all the time in the world. His deficient political skills are continually laid bare, most lately in his refusal to participate in 1st round televised debates, arguing that, in addition to Ukraine and his other presidential responsibilities, the deck would be stacked against him in having to respond to the attacks of the eleven other candidates but in exactly the same allotted time as each of them. His reasoning is not entirely without merit, except that to the median voter in the Meurthe-et-Moselle or Tarn-et-Garonne, it just looks like he’s dodging debate. So instead of appearing on France 2’s two-hour campaign special on Tuesday evening and in the presence of five other candidates—though they didn’t debate one another—the Macron campaign supplied France 2 with footage from his Paris rally last Saturday—his only such campaign event—to use up his allotted temps de parole.

I attended the rally, which was held at the Paris La Défense Arena in Nanterre (a half kilometer past La Grande Arche), the largest domed stadium in Europe, with some 30,000 Macron fans in attendance. Very much a CSP+ crowd: educated, professional (or soon to be for the younger ones), well-off. La France qui va bien—the France that is doing well for itself—and that is not afflicted with cultural resentments or identity crises. Macron’s base. Les premiers de cordée. All the top macronistes were there on the stage—Edouard Philippe, Jean Castex, François Bayrou, Christophe Castaner, Manuel Valls et al—but none of them took the microphone. There were no warm-up speakers. Just Macron, who spoke for 2 hours and 10 minutes (with six teleprompters), which is long for one who is not only merely okay as an orator but doesn’t have anything really compelling to say. Much of the speech consisted of a laundry list of his presidency’s accomplishments, mostly small bore stuff that no one likely remembered five minutes later, or of promises to tackle problems in his second term but that have loomed or festered for years, such as the many crises in the health care system, to which one wanted to ask where he was on these issues in the three years before the pandemic hit. I spent much of the speech scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, only half paying attention. There was regular applause but little of it thunderous. A contrast with Macron’s 2017 Paris rally. At one point he said “il faut travailler plus…” I was waiting for him to finish the phrase with “pour gagner plus” but he didn’t (had he done so, his poll numbers would have surely tanked several points). Tepid applause. Telling people they’ll have to work more if he’s reelected: a sure-fire way to fire up the base and win votes while he’s at it!! He got better in the latter part of the speech, particularly when talking about Europe. One of the very few positive reasons—if not the only one—to vote for Macron in the 1st round.

But if Macron is finding himself in a fragile position vis-à-vis the extreme right-wing Marine Le Pen, perhaps he should look in the mirror to understand why. He is, as Mediapart’s Ellen Salvi put it, trying to put out the flames that he himself stoked. During the 2017 campaign, Macron ran as a liberal in both senses of the term: economic (more market oriented) and political (in the way Americans understand it), with the latter leading him to adopt a progressive-sounding rhetoric on immigration, laïcité, the legalization of cannabis, and other such societal issues. But there was no positive action on any of these once he was elected and two years into his quinquennat—after the country had been rocked with social contestation over the reform of the Code du Travail and then the Gilets Jaunes, and with the battle over pension reform looming—somehow decided, comme ça, that the French public was less concerned about economic and social issues than “regalian” ones—the “four Is”: immigration, insécurité, Islam, identity—and that these would drive upcoming election campaigns. And so he did a 180°, lurching to the right not only in his rhetoric and legislative action on civil liberties and the “four Is” but also in symbolic gestures and signals, e.g. publicly palling around with dyed-in-the-wool réac Philippe de Villiers, spending 45-minutes on the phone with Eric Zemmour and then soliciting his perspectives on immigration, exchanging textos with the Fox News-like CNews star host Pascal Praud, granting interviews on immigration and identity to the hard-rightist weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles (a cross between National Review and Breitbart), et on en passe. The French hard right, as with its Trumpian kindred spirits outre-Atlantique, has been waging a full-throttled culture war—against something called “wokeisme” and “islamo-gauchisme“—and with Macron eagerly jumping on the bandwagon.

Macron’s rhetoric and action since 2017 on economic, social, and “regalian” issues have made him, in the words of sociologist-historian Pierre Rosanvallon, “the central figure on the French right.” There is nothing in Macron’s rhetoric today that recalls his roots—albeit shallow—in the Socialist party or youthful support of Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the longtime chef de file of the PS’s left flank before quitting the party in the 1990s. (For the record, Chevènement, now into his 80s and retired from politics, has declared his support for Macron and rejected the notion that he is on the right). Macron has manifestly decided that he does not need to appeal to voters of the left, that he has maintained his hold over 2012 François Hollande voters who defected to him in 2017—who are either content with Macron or feel, not unreasonably, that there is no credible alternative to him—and that a sufficient number of left voters who are hostile to him will nonetheless hold their noses and cast his ballot in the 2nd round to block Marine Le Pen. A risky assumption, if not a dangerous one.

As for the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been climbing in the polls but, at 17%, is six or seven points behind Le Pen, who has been climbing even more. Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler has a good article in Foreign Policy arguing that “A Mélenchon vs. Macron runoff would be good for France,” but it looks most unlikely at this point that JLM will be able to overtake MLP to qualify for the April 24th 2nd round. JLM held his Paris rally on March 20th at the Place de la République, filling the square with some 30,000 supporters, which was almost identical to his march-rally in 2017. I thought he put on a strong show back then but found him unpleasant this time (or more unpleasant than usual). It was a diatribe, with JLM haranguing the crowd for an hour (a short speech for him). He had some good words on Ukraine and Russia at the beginning, but which, for some of us at least, cannot efface his fervent apologizing for Putin over the years. If it weren’t for his international stances, neo-Bonapartism, and insufferable public persona, JLM would have a strong chance of making it to the 2nd round.

He would also have a better chance if he hadn’t alienated the Communist party, which supported his candidacy in 2012 and 2017. So the PCF decided to run its own candidate this time, its new secretary-general Fabien Roussel. The last PCF candidate, in 2007, receiving a mere 1.9% of the vote, Roussel’s prospects of improving on that were objectively not promising but, thanks to his sunny persona and ‘happy days await us’ (Les jours heureux) campaign slogan—plus his reconnecting with the Communists’ working class patriotic tradition (admired by Eric Zemmour himself)—he has thwarted predictions in rising to 4% in the polls (though is now dropping, as strategically-minded left voters shift to Mélenchon). Intrigued, I decided to check out Roussel’s March 10th rally at the Cirque d’Hiver, attended by some 4,000 (half inside, the rest outside watching on the big screen) mostly older longtime PCF voters. Roussel didn’t disappoint. His speech was great, and with some good lines, e.g. on Russia and Ukraine:

And this one:

How can one not like Fabien Roussel? If I had to choose between him and Mélenchon, the choice would be clear.

Likewise with Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, whom I’ve taken a liking to of late. I paid no attention to his (irrelevant) candidacy in 2012 or 2017 but decided to give it a look this time. As his afternoon rally at the Cirque d’Hiver last Saturday was at the same time as Macron’s, I missed it, so caught up with it online, watching his entire speech. He’s a worthy successor to Olivier Besancenot, whom I saw for the first time in person at a small NPA event in Ivry-sur-Seine on March 19th; as usual, he was fast as a rocket. Back to Poutou, I like his non-dogmatic, décontracté style, e.g. here:

If I were a 19-year-old college student and with the political convictions I had at that age, I would very possibly join the NPA. The other extreme-left candidate, Nathalie Arthaud of the Uber-Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière, is another matter. These are the Salafists of Trotskyism, the hardest of hard-liners, whose discourse has not changed an iota in their seven-decade existence. Their perennial presidential candidate, the pasionaria Arlette Laguiller, crossed the 5% threshold in the 1995 and 2002 elections, attracting votes from those who had no idea what Trotskyism was but liked her persona (as the auntie who has some zany ideas but whom we adore). Arthaud, who is on her third run—and will finish with 0.5%, as the previous two times—is not so charismatic but is every bit as dogmatic. I went to her rally last Sunday at the Zénith, with some 3,000 true believers in attendance. I applauded once, when she called for welcoming Ukrainian and all other refugees with open arms. Bien évidemment.

If it hadn’t been for the irruption of Eric Zemmour last fall, who dominated media attention for months, and the race on the far right, one of the big stories of this campaign would be the breathtaking collapse of the Socialist party and its candidate, Anne Hidalgo, who has been stable in the polls at a humiliating 2%. This for the dominant party of the left from 1978 to 2017, and which ten years ago had it all: the presidency, National Assembly, Senate, regional assemblies (21 of 22), mayors of cities. The PS maintains a presence, albeit reduced, at the regional and local levels, but nationally it barely exists. The descente aux enfers was set in motion at the outset of the presidency of François Hollande—who bears responsibility for the disaster—culminating in the failure of Benoît Hamon’s candidacy in 2017, when almost four-fifths of Hollande’s 2012 voters defected to Macron or Mélenchon. The fiasco of Hollande’s presidency merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it here—maybe I’ll take it up when I write the PS’s obituary—but suffice to say that it primarily had to do with Hollande’s governing style, the betrayal felt by the PS’s left flank at the social-liberal turn in economic policy (which Hollande had not announced during the 2012 campaign), and the rightist lurch on regalian issues. The PS was more deeply divided than it had ever been. More generally, the Socialists had no clear idea of what they stood for and with no coherent message to voters or argument as to why one should vote for them.

They also lacked a credible candidate for 2022. Once Bernard Cazeneuve made it clear that he wasn’t interested, that left Hidalgo as the only PS personality with any stature, though as mayor of Paris she wasn’t too well known in the rest of France. Hidalgo knew when she announced her candidacy in September that she had no chance of reaching the 2nd round in ’22. Her calculation was that the ecologists, whose primary was happening that month, would, as is their wont, select a radical left or otherwise flaky candidate who wouldn’t encroach on the PS’s potential electorate; that Mélenchon, whose La France Insoumise bit the dust in the 2019 European, 2020 municipal, and 2021 regional elections, would plunge into the single digits himself; and that she, Hidalgo, could outperform him, thereby emerging as the nº 1 candidate of the left in ’22 and, with Mélenchon retiring from politics, lead the left going forward to 2027. Not a totally crazy scenario, except that Yannick Jadot, the most moderate écolo candidate, unexpectedly won the aforementioned primary—and who would thus occupy the same social democratic space as Hidalgo—and JLM consistently led the left-wing pack in the polls from the outset. The notion that Hidalgo could better Hamon’s 6.3% in 2017 was illusory. And then there was the absurd episode of Christiane Taubira’s ephemeral candidacy and the half-baked Primaire Populaire, which only made the left look more pathetic. (In January I had a contradictory exchange on Facebook with a former colleague over the Primaire Populaire, which may be consulted here).

As for Jadot, he’s the candidate I’m voting for, as his social democratic convictions align with mine, as do his positions on my litmus test issues: immigration (the 2015 Angela Merkel attitude), laïcité (la loi de 1905 et que la loi de 1905), legalization of cannabis (just do it), and Russia/Ukraine (arms for the latter and no compromising with the former). I naturally went to Jadot’s March 27th rally at the Zénith, with some 4,000 in attendance. He delivered an excellent speech, on both form and substance. As for the attendees, who were of all ages, this is the France with which I most identify. If Jadot reaches 6% on Sunday, that will be good. Less than 5% will be a disappointment.

Several very good articles in English on France and the election have appeared in the past few days. I’ll link to them tomorrow.

Ten days to go and I’m feeling unsettled, indeed anxious. Since this campaign began—whenever one wants to date that—it has been a foregone conclusion that Emmanuel Macron would win a second term on April 24th, easily defeating Marine Le Pen, and certainly Eric Zemmour if he somehow made it to the 2nd round. There was a Valérie Pécresse boomlet after she unexpectedly won the LR primary in December—and with her looking to pose a serious threat to Macron if she overtook Marine LP and Zemmour to qualify for the run-off—but that was short-lived. And with Macron’s poll numbers spiking after Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine, his re-election looked to be a done deal. On March 14th I did an hour-and-fifteen-minute phone interview on the election with the Paris correspondent of the Australian newspaper The Age, and of the ten words of mine that made it into the article that appeared five days later was me asserting that “Macron’s gonna win this thing.” When I saw that line I winced, as I would have said no such thing had I been interviewed at that moment.

The fact is, Macron does not have this thing locked up. He remains the favorite but there is a very real possibility that Marine Le Pen—his very likely April 24th opponent—could win, as one may see in yesterday’s Elabe poll above. We’ve never seen a mere five point spread between Macron and MLP—and the poll is not an outlier, as IFOP is presently showing a 53-47 EM-MLP 2nd round outcome. Smart commentators are sounding the alarm, e.g. Thomas Legrand—one of the two best political analysts in the French broadcast media—who matter-of-factly observed in his France Inter editorial on Tuesday that “Marine Le Pen can win this presidential election,” and with this Tuesday’s segment of France 5’s (excellent) late evening talk show ‘C ce soir’—which will surely be terminated in the nightmarish event that Mme Le Pen comes to power (as France Inter likely will too, BTW)—taking up the theme, “2022: the year of the extreme right’s victory?” And now the other best political analyst, Jean-Michel Aphatie, has titled his LCI commentary this evening, “yes, Le Pen can win.”

There has been a change in the race over the past two weeks, as Ukraine has settled in as a routine daily news story and with the media now focusing primarily on the election campaign. Through most of the winter, Le Pen, Zemmour, and Pécresse were all bunched together in the mid-high teens in the polls, with any of them a plausible second-place finisher on April 10th. But then Zemmour started to drop into the low teens and was followed by Pécresse, who has run a truly bad campaign, adopting the far right, lepeniste rhetoric on the “four I” issues (immigration, identity, insécurité, Islam), which is what the LR base wants to hear, while striving to stave off defections by moderately conservative LR voters—not to mention high-profile LR politicos—to Macron, who is now firmly anchored on the center-right. The impossible triangulation. I attended Pécresse’s February 13th rally at the Zénith (I was in the overflow hall nearby), which was already seen as her make-or-break moment; and she broke it. It was a dud, on both form (amateurish production values) and substance (again, the impossible triangulation, and by one who is not a great orator to begin with). She’ll be lucky to finish in fourth place on April 10th.

As for Zemmour, if I were conspiracy theory-minded I would wonder if his candidacy weren’t a ruse to make Marine Le Pen look moderate, as that is precisely what he has done. His pathological rhetoric on the “four Is” is so virulent and extreme that it makes even Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National of the 1990s—when the FN was at its most demonized—look almost moderate by comparison. In the political history of modern France, Zemmour is simply off the map on these issues for a candidate with his notoriety and ability to pull in the crowds (30 to 40,000 at the Trocadéro last Sunday). And as the most Putinophile of the Russia-supporting/apologizing candidates, his poll numbers took a hit with the Russian invasion and his initial objection to France welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Even hardcore Zemmour fans don’t have a problem with refugees or migrants if they’re white and Christian. Until the third week of February I was opining that with Macron reelected and Le Pen and Pécresse having bitten the dust, Zemmour would be well-placed to reconstitute the extreme and hard right—”la droite nationale“—into a bloc and assume its leadership going forward to 2027. I’m less confident in that prediction now.

Marine Le Pen no longer has to worry about being overtaken by Zemmour or Pécresse. There is a consensus across the board that she has led a smart, effective campaign and largely succeeded in “dedemonizing” herself and her renamed Rassemblement National. With Zemmour the lightening rod on the issue, Marine has downplayed immigration, even taking pains to repeat that while she is opposed to “Islamism,” she has nothing against Islam as a religion, whereas Zemmour incessantly equates the two. And in appropriating the RN’s more middle class/bourgeois voters—and adopting an economically libéral (smaller state, lower taxes) rhetoric as a consequence—Zemmour has done MLP a favor of sorts in enabling her to focus her message on the couches populaires, i.e. the middling and working classes (and former Gilets Jaunes among them), notably on the cost of living issue—by far the nº 1 for French voters at the moment—and promise active state intervention to protect her voters’—actual and potential—standard of living at a time of rising inflation and now war in Europe. She has been accused by more than one of sounding like a leftist, and with Zemmour calling her an “economic socialist,” though which will hardly discourage his bourgeois libéral supporters from voting for her against Macron in the 2nd round—but which may well encourage a sizable number of Macron-hating Jean-Luc Mélenchon voters to also go for her on April 24th. As for MLP’s longtime Putinophilia, she’s been avoiding the subject, hoping that it will go down the memory hole, and her supporters don’t care in any case.

Marine LP has also succeeded in softening her personal image, posting photos on Instagram of her with her cats, showing her emotional side, and even tearing up on live television when speaking of her father. De quoi faire pleurer dans les chaumières. And, as it happens, she attracts the second highest level of “sympathie” among the twelve presidential candidates in the latest Ipsos presidential baromètre (Macron is first; poor Anne Hidalgo is dead last).

If Marine Le Pen is closing the gap with Emmanuel Macron, it is also due to the latter’s campaign, or absence of one. With Ukraine and France’s presidency of the Council of the European Union as an alibi, Macron has kept his campaigning to a minimum, adopting much the same posture as President de Gaulle did in the 1965 presidential election. Jupiter above the fray. But Macron is no de Gaulle, loin s’en faut, and rather lacks the charismatic hold that the latter had over a large number of Frenchmen and women. He also lacks a political party worthy of the name—to call La République en Marche an empty shell would be an understatement—or surrogates who are not second-rate hacks (e.g. Christophe Castaner, Richard Ferrand). And then there’s Macron’s congenital arrogance and seeming inability to connect with “ordinary people,” or lording it over them when he tries to, which one sees time and again when he goes out to meet les vrais gens. One of the questions asked in the Ipsos presidential poll is if the candidate “understands the problems of people like yourself.” Macron is at 27%, with Marine LP topping it at 46%.

As for a rationale for his reelection, Macron has yet to provide one, though profiting from his post-Ukraine spike in the polls—and assuming that reelection was in the bag—he suddenly pulled socially regressive measures out of a hat, notably raising the retirement age to 65 and suggesting that a work requirement might be introduced for beneficiaries of the RSA. His overall economic record hasn’t been too bad, it should be said—though my friend Guillaume Duval would beg to differ—and unemployment has indeed fallen. Fortunately for Macron, most people have forgotten the inept management of the Coronavirus pandemic during its first year.

A new, potentially crippling scandal for Macron has erupted over the past week, involving the McKinsey consulting firm. Not a good moment for an affaire d’État.

The one thing that could save us from a potentially calamitous Macron-Le Pen face-off is an admittedly unlikely, though not impossible, late surge into second place by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose polling numbers have been inching upwards into the mid teens. My detestation of JLM is well known, though I have been hoping for him to overtake MLP, to both spare us the dreaded rematch—and the dangers that that involves—and offer the electorate a real left-right debate, which Macron does not at all want to have, as not only is JLM a redoubtable debater but Macron would be forced to clearly situate himself on the right. No more en même temps. Macron would win reelection handily—personally speaking, I would certainly vote blanc or nul in such a contest—but at least the left would go into the June legislative elections in a stronger position.

The moderate left candidates Yannick Jadot (ecologist) and Anne Hidalgo (PS) absolutely do not want Mélenchon to make it to the 2nd round, though, as not only do they despise him but argue that such an outcome, regardless of the inevitable Mélenchon defeat, would accord him and his party, La France Insoumise, the leading role in the post-election rebuilding of the left. Guillaume Duval, who, comme moi, will be voting for Jadot on April 10th, concurs with this view, further contending that a landslide Macron victory would comfort the latter in his neoliberal agenda. Perhaps. I’ll have more to say about the candidates of the left next week.

Back to Marine Le Pen. It cannot be emphasized enough that despite her largely successful public “dedemonization” and softer, friendlier image, she has fundamentally not changed. On the “four I” issues, Europe, Russia/Putin, and just about everything else, she and her party are fundamentally no different from what they were five or ten years ago. Marine Le Pen and the RN remain on the extreme right. A Le Pen victory on April 24th would be an unmitigated disaster for France and Europe. I will spell out why after April 10th.

Putin’s war – IV

[update below]

Everyone has seen the images of Mariupol. Watching this drone film reminded me of one I posted of Homs, in Syria, six years ago. While the regime of Bashar al-Assad played its part in the destruction of that city, it was primarily the œuvre of Russian aerial bombing.

And then there was Aleppo, of course. If you want to watch footage of Russian bombers at work there, targeting apartment buildings and hospitals, the powerful documentary For Sama is a must. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Deliberately bombing civilians and strafing hospitals is not a recent Russian military innovation, as one reads in these pages of a book on the 1939-40 Soviet invasion of Finland.

PBS’s Frontline had a report last week, Putin’s Road to War, which aired on ARTE the other day as Poutine, l’équation guerrière. The story it recounts will be familiar to those who have seen their share of documentaries on the Russian dictator, though is worth an hour of one’s time. Particularly worth one’s time IMO is Frontline’s 45-minute interview—excerpted in the report—with the excellent Julia Ioffe, which may be watched here.

Another excellent analyst of Russia—and Eastern Europe more generally—and whom I’ll read anything by, is the Vienna-based Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, who is interviewed in Spiegel International, “‘Putin lives in historic analogies and metaphors’.”

For those who have any interest in what is being said these days on the American left, New York magazine’s Eric Levitz—by whom, like I.Krastev, I’ll read anything—has a useful run-down, “The left has half-baked answers on Ukraine.” Hardly a surprise.

Campists and wishy-washy gauchistes would do well to read and ponder UK-based Polish journalist Zosia Brom’s scathing, salutary requisitoire, “Fuck leftist westplaining.”

As for the other side of the political spectrum, check out the enquête in New Lines Magazine by journalists Holger Roonemaa, Martin Laine, and Michael Weiss, “Russia backs Europe’s far right: Emails and documents show just how closely Italian, French, German and Austrian politicians coordinate with Moscow.”

Journalist Tom Stevenson has a lengthy report from Ukraine in the April 7th issue of the LRB, “Things fall from the sky.” In the current March 24th issue he has a review essay, “First recourse for rebels,” in which he writes about the unique nature of US sanctions and their evolution into the “weapon of first resort” in American foreign policy.

The question of sanctions is a tricky one, as I am pretty consistently opposed to them, for the simple reason that they rarely advance their objective, which is to change regime behavior, if not to bring down the sanctioned regime altogether. It is now a commonplace to observe that comprehensive economic sanctions achieve little apart from immiserating the population at large while perversely reinforcing the rouge regime. And it stands to reason that it will be likewise with Russia, however much the war criminal Putin and his gangster regime need to be punished.

On the matter of Russia sanctions, I was looking through the smart website Eurointelligence—directed by the smart and invariably interesting Wolfgang Münchau—whose content is usually paywalled but wasn’t today. Münchau is what in French is called an empêcheur de tourner en rond: a party-pooper who disabuses the wishful thinking of people like myself (e.g. on Brexit’s inevitability after the referendum). Here are a couple of his recent cold shower posts on Russia sanctions.

9 March 2022

De-westernising Russia: the politics

Yesterday’s news was that MacDonalds, a totem of US culture, will temporarily close its restaurants in Russia. Visa and Mastercard already left, as did many western fashion brands Russians got so used to. Foreign correspondents left. Outside Russia, western companies will think twice before doing business with Russia today. Russians are encouraged to settle their debt with western creditors in much-depreciated roubles, a quid-pro-quo response to the central bank freeze of Russian reserves. What if the war in Ukraine, as painful and violent as it is, is only the catalyst for a much bigger operation: the de-westernisation of the Russian society?

The war in Ukraine is not only fought militarily. Vladimir Putin was justifying the invasion, which is officially called a special military operation, as a denazification exercise. The rouble payback encouragement is reminiscent of what Hjalmar Schacht, Adolf Hitler’s central banker did with reparations payments. There are eerie parallels with the pre-world war two era. We may ridicule this now, but the Nazi invocation has a psychological impact that could soon grow to have its own life. It taps into old resentments and memories, and fosters a war mentality. It prepares people for the sacrifices that are necessary to emerge victorious out of this.

Our sanctions may help Putin spin this narrative further. Russia can survive, and even thrive, isolated from the west. Economically, politically and socially, it has enough resources to do so in the long run. Our sanctions allows Putin to sever the links with our economies and seek new alliances. It allowed him to impose emergency laws at home, and to purge the opposition. He already controls most of the information flow and the narratives of the war. Most Russians are unaware that a war is already happening in Ukraine and that Russia is the aggressor. The media portrays the military operation as a response to Ukrainian and western aggression.

In his endeavour to increase Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin will demand from his people that they stand united behind him. Already there are 700 university directors, even from renowned universities, pledging allegiance to Putin’s so-called military operation in Ukraine. This will go down all the way through every sector: military, media, business and academia. We are reminded of the coup against Recep Tayip Erdogan in 2016, which was used as a pretext to purge opponents and Nato-friendly personnel in the military and universities. We would not be astonished if Putin’s regime has similar lists.

Increasing the sphere of influence internally and externally is what Putin is after. We may think that our sanctions and boycotts will hurt him as he stands isolated from the west. But it strengthens his power with all those who are on his side. Syria is already in his debt and supports him politically and physically, including with soldiers for urban warfare. Then there are historic allies such as Cuba and South Africa. There is Venezuela. And there is China, which is looking at how to play this new economic opportunity to its advantage. Then there is India calibrating a neutral position, while Israel and Turkey are both eager to mediate in this war. Autocrats in the Middle East are on stand by mode. Then there are tactical moves like the one in Saudi Arabia, which refused the US request to increase its oil production, securing higher oil prices that comes to benefit Russia. What unites those autocratic leaders in the Middle East/North Africa region is an anti-US sentiment and a desire to end or at least curtail US dominance.

The image of power Putin portrays to the world is one that endures sacrifices to reach its long term goal. And this in stark contrast to the squeamishness of the west, where every bump in the road is cushioned with a recovery or resilience fund from governments, and where neighbouring European countries fret about whether they will be next in line for Russian aggression. We will see only much later how this image of power can be maintained by action. And how this mix of threats and seduction works on other nations. But there is no doubt that it will stand in sharp contrast to the narratives of the west.

Identity building is what he is after, and his legacy in the history book. This is what Samuel Ramani, an expert on Russian foreign policy at St Anthony’s college in Oxford, identified as the main driver behind Putin’s invasion in Ukraine. A long-term goal that justifies short-term sacrifices. The war in Ukraine allows Putin to showcase Moscow’s control over its sphere of influence, willingness to combat socially accepted threats, and feeds into popular conceptions of Russian strength, says Ramani. Different to similar moves in the past, Putin appeals to his core supporters, and not the broader public. If this is what Putin is after, it will not be sanctions or diplomacy of the west that will change his mind. Only a rift inside Russian elites that threatens his regime could bring him to recalibrate, even if only temporarily.

And this:

17 March 2022

Seen and unseen economic consequences

Russia may only be the size of the combined Belgian and Dutch economies, but what complacent GDP comparisons always underestimate are the network effects. Remember that Creditanstalt and Lehman Brothers were not particularly large banks before they set off global financial crises.

We have already noted that Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s largest exporters of wheat, on which the Middle East and Africa have become reliant. Egypt gets 80% of its wheat from the two countries. We saw a report in the BBC yesterday that the famous English national dish of fish and chips is now becoming more scarce, and more expensive, because Russia has been one of the biggest exporters of white fish. Our supply chain networks in the late stage of globalisation have become so interwoven that our economies were not resilient to a pandemic and a minor war.

Perhaps even worse are the yet-unseen effects of the sanctions. Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of chemicals used in fertilisers. The disappearance of Russian chemicals from global markets could have severe implications for world harvests. We are already hearing of farmers in Europe not willing to grow their fields because of exploding fertiliser costs.

The IMF weighed in yesterday with a warning about three effects: the first is another round of price increases for energy and foods. The second is a supply shock for the global economy, and especially for poorer countries; and the third is a regional shock for economies in Ukraine’s immediate neighbourhood.

The IMF also picked up on an issue we have been highlighting in the past few days: the financial fallout from western sanctions. It sees a potential shift in the international economic order in the long run, as international payment systems become fragmented and member states rethink where they hold their national reserves. After the west froze Russia’s foreign reserves, other countries will consider whether their reserves are safe too.

So we are dealing with a short term shock and a long-term shift. We are not sure that those who imposed the economic sanctions thought this through.

In Münchau’s vein, the latest column by the FT’s Edward Luce likewise rains on the parade: “The west is rash to assume the world is on its side over Ukraine: It runs the risk of mistaking a local consensus on Russian aggression for a global one.”

Parting company with somber assessments à la Münchau and Luce is a Pollyannaish March 10th column by Francis Fukuyama on the American Purpose website, “Preparing for defeat,” which is to say, it’s Russia that should be preparing for this. Fukuyama may have misfired on the end of history but let’s hope he’s right on this one.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic (March 28) says “Don’t let up now: The West must do what it takes to help Ukraine prevail.” Right.

Anne Applebaum, also in The Atlantic (March 22), asserts that “Ukraine must win: Ukrainians and the world’s democratic powers must work toward the only acceptable endgame.” Tout à fait.

Author and journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk, writing from Kyiv in The Washington Post (March 24), informs readers that “Ukrainians don’t see Russia’s war crimes as an invitation to negotiate.”

In this vein, Benjamin Wittes has a Twitter thread (March 29) in which he explains why he finds it “really maddening when Westerners speak about a ‘negotiated’ solution to the Ukraine war.”

Seriously, how can fruitful negotiations be carried out with such a bad faith actor as Vladimir Putin?

The Évian Accords + 60

Today is the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire in Algeria mandated in the Évian Accords signed the day before by the French government and the Algerian FLN’s Tunis-based provisional government, formally ending the 7½-year Algerian war of independence and setting the heretofore crown jewel of the French colonial empire on the road to independence 15 weeks later. To mark the occasion, University of Virginia emeritus professor William B. Quandt—a top political science specialist of Algeria since the 1960s—has gathered several short essays and interviews on the Accords, plus links to other resources, and posted them together on the Just World Educational website. Great initiative.

Cambridge University historian Arthur Asseraf has a nice Twitter thread on the Accords. And France Inter had a nice interview on the subject with CNRS historian Malika Rahal, who has just published a major work on Algeria in 1962. If you have a half hour to spare, France 24 English had a debate yesterday, “Algeria 60 years on,” with academic specialists Todd Shepard and Meryem Belkaïd, former French diplomat André de Bussy, and filmmaker-journalist Dorothée Myriam Kellou.

If it grabs you to set aside a few hours and delve into the history of the Algerian war, a five-part 1984 documentary that first aired on Britain’s Channel 4 is available on YouTube: episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5. I watched it on VHS some three decades back and remember it being very good, so recommended it recently to Adam Shatz, who knows the subject and is presently immersed in it for a book he’s writing. After binge-watching all five episodes, he pronounced the documentary to be “truly great.” And if Adam says that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.

Putin’s war – III

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

A presidential election is happening in France in three-and-a-half weeks—which is to say, the campaign is now in the home stretch—but one would hardly know it from the daily news coverage, dominated as it is by Ukraine and the actions of Russia’s Hitlerian dictator. E.g. my favorite public affairs talk shows, the excellent C ce soir and C dans l’air (both on France 5), have devoted exactly one segment each to domestic French politics over the past three weeks. We’ve been hearing more about Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy than any of the French presidential candidates apart from Emmanuel Macron—and even then—and for good reason obviously.

The Ukraine war has had another consequence for the French presidential campaign, which is to make a Macron victory in the second round—which was already an overwhelming likelihood—a quasi certainty. Marine Le Pen, as it looks today, is the favorite to face off against Macron on April 24th—though a late surge into second place by Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not an impossibility (and personally speaking, I’m hoping for this)—thereby offering French voters the rematch that no one wants, though this time of a candidate of the right—which is objectively where Macron is now situated—versus extreme right, and with Macron winning, though with a narrower margin than in 2017. There will thus be no veritable debate over the really important issues facing France—as Marine LP is not capable of this—and only negative choices for so many voters (I will, along with millions, be holding my nose in casting my ballot for him in the second round).

I had intended to spend this month and next entirely focused on France but, thanks to Vladimir Putin, that plan went out the window. I will indeed have posts on the election but, for now, my attention is mainly on the lands of the former USSR. So instead of going to a movie last Saturday night, I opted to watch Putin’s entire hour-and-a-half speech broadcast (in two parts) on February 21st and 24th (here and here), which was, in effect, his declaration of war on Ukraine—and on the West. If you want to know how the man thinks—and why we are headed for, at the very best, a Cold War far more frigid than the last one—then do take the time to watch the speech (if you can’t bring yourself to do that, you may read the analyses by the NYT’s Max Fisher here and here). There is, to say the least, no possibility of compromise, let alone peaceful coexistence, with Putin and his regime. For the first time in my life, I can say that we—democratically-minded persons with a liberal sensibility—have a truly dangerous enemy in power in a truly powerful state.

If one seeks further insight into Mr. Putin’s Weltanschauung, take ten minutes to listen to this 2016 BBC interview with Aleksandr Dugin, who has been called “Putin’s favorite philosopher” and even “Putin’s brain.” If one is not familiar with Dugin—and one really should be, as he’s a pretty important and influential intellectual and thinker, and not just in Russia (Eric Zemmour and Stephen Bannon are certainly fans)—here are a few articles and papers from the websites of Stanford University’s The Europe Center, the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center, The Conversation, and The Jewish Chronicle. Pure unadulterated fascism.

If you have an hour to spare and want to be both informed and entertained, watch the 2019 debate between Dugin and Bernard-Henri Lévy. Talk about a clash of diametrically opposed world-views. Never have I had such warm sentiments for BHL.

Must-listen podcast discussions from the past week: Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and Fiona Hill, all with Ezra Klein; and Stephen Kotkin with David Remnick. Also, from a couple of weeks ago, the conversation with Yuval Noah Harari, Timothy Snyder, and Anne Applebaum. You will learn things listening to any one of these.

For those out there who are still flogging the dead horse of NATO expansion—of insisting that this was at the origin of Putin’s action—political scientists Maria Popova and Oxana Shevel (of McGill and Tufts, respectively) drive the nail into the coffin with a piece cross-posted in Just Security and Slate, “Putin’s war was never actually about NATO expansion.” One notes that the leading insister of the NATO canard, the overrated John Mearsheimer, is doubling down, as is his wont, on his insistence, witnessed by his guest essay in The Economist, which is but an updated version of his now famous 2015 lecture on the subject, which has been watched by millions (I was personally unimpressed). Much more interesting than anything the U of Chicago IR realist has to say is Adam Tooze’s piece in the New Statesman, “John Mearsheimer and the dark origins of realism.”

Those of the Mearsheimer bent—plus many who are not—are advocating formal neutrality for Ukraine, akin to that of Finland during the Cold War. On what “Finlandization” actually meant for the Finns was the subject of a full-page tribune in Le Monde dated March 7th by the Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen, “‘Pour la Russie, l’idéal serait de finlandiser toute l’Europe, et pas seulement l’Ukraine’” (For Russia, the ideal would be to Finlandize all of Europe, not just Ukraine). Here’s the beginning (in English via Google Translate—the French version itself being a translation from Finnish—and edited by me):

In the 1970s, when Swedish television broadcast One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, based on the novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962), Finland cut off the transmitters in the Aland archipelago so that citizens could not watch this film, which was forbidden in our country. Indeed, our cinematographic committee had refused the authorization visa to this drama which spoke of the penal camps of the USSR. Reason: “anti-Sovietism”.

The Gulag Archipelago [published in 1973] was to suffer the same fate. The president and the prime minister opposed its publication, and the Finnish publishing house of the Nobel laureate obediently acquiesced. To circumvent censorship, the first part of the text was published in Sweden. Distribution was not easy in Finland, where the book was banned from libraries and bookstores.

A few years later, my Estonian mother arrived in Finland by marriage and I was born in a country which had retained its independence, but where “Finlandization” exercised its influence everywhere. This concept invented in West Germany means submission to the will of the powerful neighbor, Finland being then the only Western country held so severely in the iron fist of the USSR.

The influence concerned not only foreign policy but also defense, the economy, the media, art and science. It was undesirable for academic research to poke its nose into a Soviet economy in a catastrophic state, and it was best to avoid topics considered anti-Soviet so as not to jeopardize career prospects. When the customs directorate found that Soviet tuna contained three times more mercury than the authorized limit, it was decided that the rapporteur had interpreted the value “too theoretically”. Similarly, the maritime affairs directorate changed its regulations when the Teboil company, owned by the USSR, put on sale boats that did not pass safety tests.

Our textbooks made us believe that Estonia had joined the happy Soviet family of its own free will, because the educational system followed the historiographical line of the USSR. All of this was based on the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance signed in 1948 between the Soviet Union and Finland, and our education directorate was no exception. While the problems affecting the United States had their place in geography books, no negative adjective was ever associated with the Soviet Union.

But it was in the cultural sector that the USSR received unconditional praise. The armistice of 1944 guaranteeing the free activity of the communists, their ideology had no difficulty in spreading in the artistic and educational spheres. Actors who did not sing in unison with the communist line did not land roles.

In Estonia, all this is difficult to imagine: there, under the Soviet occupation, citizens had no choice but to live under dictatorial laws. Finland, on the other hand, was an independent western democracy where leaders were freely elected. Moreover, Finlandization did not need laws: activities contrary to the ambient climate were stifled spontaneously, without any censorship or sanction on the part of the authorities. (…)

If neutrality for Ukraine means this, it won’t fly. Not a chance if Ukraine remains a sovereign state.

The March 2022 issue of Esprit has an excellent article by Jean-François Bouthors, “La vraie nature de l’humiliation russe.” It begins (again, via Google Translate, with a little more editing):

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, all commentaries are in agreement in condemning Vladimir Putin. But an unfortunate refrain persists, which is that of the humiliation of Russia by the West and of NATO provocations against it. It is continually repeated by those who had already opposed the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the secessionist rebellion in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk; and we can see today how insufficient these sanctions were. This rhetoric of humiliation is not only repeated today by the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen and Thierry Mariani, by Éric Zemmour, who saw Putin as a true political genius, as by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but it has also been for the past eight years by a part of the French political class, including Philippe de Villiers, François Fillon – who cashed in on it, as it were, by working for big Russian hydrocarbon companies until the war triggered by Putin rendered his position untenable – and, last but not least, Hubert Védrine, who has nonetheless been well-placed to know the veritable situation.

That the Russians have experienced geopolitical and national trauma is obvious. While they were convinced of being the geopolitical equal of the United States, they started to witness the loss of the satellite countries of Central Europe, beginning with the birth of the first free trade union in the entire Eastern bloc, Solidarność, in August 1980. The attempt to quash this peaceful uprising of the Polish population by the imposition of martial law by General Jaruzelski in December 1981 quickly showed its limits. There was no longer any question of Moscow crushing the aspiration of the Poles to regain control of their destiny, as it had done in Budapest in 1956 and in Prague in 1968.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to initiate reforms (perestroika), of which the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 had just shown the dramatic necessity – something that the highest Soviet authorities had been aware of since 1983, by the report by sociologist Tatiana Zaslavskaïa commissioned by Yuri Andropov, when the latter was the boss of the KGB – created a domino effect. While in Russia, an “independent” press opened sensitive files and, in the streets and even on television, people began to speak freely, encouraged by the policy of glasnost, the Central European regimes wavered. A roundtable organized in Poland with the dissident opposition led to the holding of elections, which, while not entirely democratic, could not prevent an electoral landslide and the constitution of a government dominated by activists of Solidarność. In the aftermath, Hungary opened a breach in the Iron Curtain, which was to destabilize the hardline East German regime of Erich Honecker, from which his compatriots fled en masse until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Czechoslovakia fell, then Romania, and so on.

Mikhail Gorbachev and a part of the KGB were not for nothing in this unraveling: for the Soviet leader, it was a matter of weakening the political opposition to his reforms. But his manifest weakness simultaneously nourished other desires, even other appetites. In the Soviet Republics there were hints of autonomy and even independence in the Baltic countries, in Georgia, in Ukraine, in the Caucasus, in Moldova… A painful past came to the fore and sought freedom from the tutelage of Moscow, i.e. from the tutelary authority that was held, in practice, essentially by Russians. In Russia itself, through the figure of Boris Yeltsin, there also arose an aspiration to not simply be Soviets, but to rediscover an older identity. The result was the Belovej agreement (Treaty of Minsk), after the failure of the putsch of August 1991, an agreement concluded on December 8, 1991, between the presidents of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian republics: Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislaw Shuchkievich proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and effectively deposed Mikhail Gorbachev.

In eleven years, the Soviet empire had come apart. It was sinking on its own. The power of the “great Soviet nation”, whose propaganda had never ceased to sing its glories until the end of the 1980s, was reduced to nothing. No shot had been fired, except by Soviet soldiers against Soviet citizens in Republics which had expressed an aspiration to independence… Westerners had almost nothing to do with it and, to tell the truth, they could hardly believe their eyes. They themselves were destabilized by the immediate consequences, as we saw with François Mitterrand regarding the reunification of Germany. (…)

If Russia has felt humiliated as a nation over the past three decades, she only has to look in the mirror.

There have been a number of reports on how Russians are being informed—or, rather, disinformed—by their media (see in particular the podcast with Masha Gessen on this). And then there’s Russian propaganda aimed at foreigners. À propos, the NYT has a report dated March 12th, “What it was like to work for Russian state television: Until RT America ended abruptly, life as a journalist there was ‘actually so normal.'” As it happens, the deputy editor in chief of RT, who is cited in the piece, was a student of mine in 2003, during her semester abroad in Paris (she was a sophomore at George Washington University, majoring in international affairs and economics). She’s bicultural Russian-American—born in Moscow, emigrated to the US at a young age with one of her parents—and was a delightful young woman and very smart (she got an A in the course). We liked one another (her professor evaluation of me was stellar, which I know), reconnecting several years later on Facebook, exchanging comments and friendly, if sometimes contradictory, messages there and on AWAV (as she was in Moscow and at RT). She accepted criticism of Russia but then at one point, in 2014, got very upset at one of my more virulent anti-Russian AWAV posts and the communication ceased. I regretted that but it was probably inevitable. One thing I remember her saying in 2003 was that she thought that democracy and capitalism were great for America but not for Russia, as they weren’t compatible with the Russian mentality. I note that she maintains her fine (apolitical) WordPress blog, Home & Away, which may be found toward the end of the blogroll. Great pics of Moscow.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani of the left-leaning Novara Media YouTube channel have a useful 30-minute explainer (March 13) on “The Azov Battalion & Ukraine’s Far Right.” On the general subject, do read Cathy Young in The Bulwark (February 18), “Smear and loathing: A close look at accusations of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.”

2nd UPDATE: Another explainer on the Azov battalion is offered by the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties (March 4), “Euromaidan SOS: honest answers to the most common questions about AZOV in the West.”

3rd UPDATE: Another article by Cathy Young (April 13), in The Bulwark, and a useful one, is on “What really happened in Ukraine in 2014—and since then: A close look at the lies and distortions from Russia apologists and propagandists about the roots of the Ukraine war.”

4th UPDATE: Yet another article by Cathy Young in The Bulwark (April 27): “The bizarre Russian prophet rumored to have Putin’s ear: Aleksandr Dugin hates America and is obsessed with Nazis, the occult, and the end times.”

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