Archive for the ‘France: politics 2012-16’ Category


This is an extended Tweet, i.e. no deep analysis. “Des paroles et des actes,” France 2’s periodic Thursday evening public affairs show, was devoted last night to the European elections. One+ hour of back-to-back interrogations of reps of the six major formations followed by a one-hour debate with all: Stéphane Le Foll (PS), Jean-François Copé (UMP), François Bayrou (UDI-Modem), Yannick Jadot (EELV), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FdG), and Marine Le Pen (FN). I was initially not going to watch it—other and better things to do on a Thursday evening, who needs to listen to French political hacks and their demagoguery or langue de bois for the umpteenth time, etc, etc—but couldn’t help myself. If one wants an idea as to the state of the European debate in the French political class, this is where to go. Not brilliant. Loin s’en faut. Stéphane Le Foll—who was, until two years, not a first-tier Socialist—was the best; he impressed, both on form and substance, and strove to stay focused on European issues. The écolo Yannick Janot—unknown to the grand public (and myself)—was honest and solid. François Bayrou was François Bayrou; his well-known and well-worn federalist position on Europe is compelling but will likely fall on deaf ears these days. Mélenchon was also Mélenchon (and with his trademark red necktie), but I thought he was somewhat off form, stumbling over the stupid first question lobbed at him—on why the Front de Gauche isn’t doing better in the polls—, which he should have dismissed as irrelevant and not answered; and he only mentioned in passing his formation’s European presidential candidate, Alexis Tsipras. J-F Copé’s partisan hackery was pathetic and lamentable, as was his using the occasion to beat up on President Hollande and the PS rather that speak to European issues; the UMP—which is all tied up in knots over Europe (Nicolas Sarkozy’s tribune in Le Point being the latest demonstration)—would have been well advised to send someone else—e.g. Alain Juppé or Bruno Le Maire—to represent it in such a debate. But the worst was Marine Le Pen. I don’t know how anyone can bear to listen to that grosse conne and her abject demagoguery. If, par malheur, her party ends up sending 15 or 20 MEPs to Strasbourg, France will get what it will get: ridicule and diminished influence in the halls of European institutions. As José Bové incessantly repeats, a vote for the FN in the European elections is a vote wasted, as FN MEPs, when they even bother to show up in Strasbourg or Brussels, have no interest in European issues, have no idea what they’re talking about when they do try to speak on those issues, and have zero influence.

Here is Thomas Legrand’s commentary on last night’s debate. And here’s his commentary yesterday on Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s discourse on Europe.

The reviews of Sarkozy’s Le Point tribune haven’t been too positive. E.g. Sylvie Goulard, Modem MEP and Européenne du premier plan, takes it apart here and here (at 03:20).

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Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Maxppp)

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, European Parliament, Strasbourg (Maxppp)

There has been a torrent of tributes of late to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who has announced that he will not be running for reelection to the European Parliament next month, signaling, in effect, his retirement from electoral politics. I am, needless to say, a big fan of Dany’s, adhering to his political positions 93% of the time and to his values, world-view, and spirit a full 100%. He’s great, c’est tout ce que je peux dire à son sujet (for those on the hard left who despise him—who call him a sell-out, or worse—, they can just go bugger off). Cohn-Bendit has been a fixture in the European Parliament for the past twenty years—elected with the German Die Grünen in 1994 and 2004, with Les Verts/EELV in 1999 and 2009 (his heading the French lists causing their scores to spike)—, the veritable conscience of that body, and a fierce defender of the European project. Le Monde, in an online piece on Wednesday on DCB’s two decades as MEP, linked to videos of some of his more memorable interventions in recent years during plenary sessions in Strasbourg. They’re great. As the LM piece will eventually disappear behind the paywall, here are the vids:

Dany giving his farewell speech on Wednesday.

Dany reprimanding Martin Schulz in 2010 for voting to approve the Barroso Commission—and telling him ta gueule! i.e. STFU, while he was at it (no hard feelings from Schulz, who is a good guy himself).

Dany verbally pummeling Victor Orbán in 2012 and to his face.

Dany giving President Hollande a hard time in 2013, and addressing him in the familiar form.

Dany letting Jean-Marie Le Pen have it in 2011, after the latter’s scandalous reaction to the Utoya massacre in Norway.

Dany in 2012 telling the Earl of Dartmouth—UKIP MEP—a few home truths (and in English).

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is sui generis. As I’ve already said twice, he’s great. Brussels and Strasbourg will be diminished without him.

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[update below]

Pascal Riché has an important article in Rue89 on the growing debate in France over quitting the euro and the arguments for and against, and which he advises people to familiarize themselves with—”Entraînez-vous au débat qui déchirera vos dîners dans quelques semaines” he says—, as the debate will no doubt rise to a fever pitch during the election campaign for the European Parliament (May 25th in France). Riché notes that, until recently, most French critics of the ECB’s monetary policy and the SGP nonetheless argued that the euro was a net plus for France and that exiting from it was unthinkable. The only ones arguing otherwise—that France should and must quit the euro—have been the Front National, souverainistes like Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, extreme left groupuscules, and a handful of economists (the usual suspects on this subject, e.g. Jean-Jacques Rosa, Jacques Sapir). But Riché now observes that the arguments for leaving the euro are going mainstream, noting in particular the revirement on the question by the high-profile Keynesian economist Bernard Maris, an irreducible partisan of Europe—he voted ‘oui’ in both the TEU and ECT referendums—, but who has regretfully come to the conclusion that France has no hope of increasing economic growth and lowering unemployment so long as it remains in the single currency dominated as it by Germany. I was indeed surprised to hear Maris—of whom I am a fan—make this argument last Friday in his weekly debate on France Inter with the libéral/free-market economics journalist Dominique Seux, and equally surprised to hear Seux’s tepid counter-argument, in which he conceded many of Maris’s points (listen here). And this morning on France Inter I listened to invited guest Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who argued for six minutes straight why the euro has been disastrous for the French economy and that the only salvation for France is to exit from it. Some of Dupont-Aignan’s points were exaggerated or simplistic but he is exceptionally well-spoken and his argumentation is coherent (listen here); and it will certainly be convincing to many citizens who are otherwise not right-wing Eurosceptics or nostalgics for a Gaullist golden age.

IMHO the arguments for staying in the euro are still stronger than those for leaving—the consequences of which could indeed be calamitous—but my convictions on this are becoming shaky. It is, however, clear that the single currency was an error—and that having it run according to German conditions was a double error. I cannot imagine for a second that President Hollande or any of his credible successors would ever make such a fateful decision to leave the euro. But if the euro remains overvalued and France continues to privilege deficit reduction over economic growth, then the economic and social situation in this country is going to get worse, and with political and social consequences one can only imagine.

À suivre.

UPDATE: French News Online informs me—in the comments below—that they had a story back on Feb. 7th on how “The French want out of the euro.” In other words, FNO scooped me and by a long shot. J’en prends acte.

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Simon Worou, Saint-Juliette-sur-Viaur (Photo La Dépêche.fr/DDM J.-L. P.)

Simon Worou, Saint-Juliette-sur-Viaur (Photo: La Dépêche/DDM J.-L. P.)

The France 2 news last night had a report on the newly elected mayor of Saint-Juliette-sur-Viaur (population: 577) in the Aveyron—way down in the Midi-Pyrénées—, the 43-year-old Simon Worou, who hails from Togo. This village is about as France profonde as one can get. Worou—a technicien supérieur by profession in nearby Rodez, the prefecture of the Aveyron—arrived in France in the mid ’90s to train with the French air force, landed in the village soon after, married a local girl—of farmer parents and whose grandparents had never seen a black person in their lives—, took French nationality, and—not insignificantly in that part of the country—joined the local rugby team. He encountered a fair amount of racism, as mentioned in the France 2 report (and here and here), but integrated into the life of the village and became an upstanding member of the community. And now he’s the mayor, his list winning 62% of the vote in the first round of last month’s municipal elections.

As it happens, Worou is not France’s first mayor of Togolese origin, that distinction being held by the better known Kofi Yamgnane, who was mayor of the Breton village of Saint-Coulitz (Finistère) for 12 years from 1989 and served as a junior minister in the governments of Edith Cresson and Pierre Bérégevoy (1991-93).

Somehow I have a hard time imagining a recent immigrant from, say, Ghana or Nigeria settling in a village in Kansas or Montana and being elected mayor…

Isn’t France a great country?

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Just after the June 2012 legislative elections I had a post on “deputies of diversity“: of the six new Maghrebi/Muslim/African-origin deputies elected to the National Assembly—all PS—, the first-ever to issue from post-colonial immigrant communities. One of the noteworthy stories of last month’s municipal elections—but which went absolutely, totally unreported in the national media, including in newspapers like Le Monde (in their hard copy, at least)—was the first-ever election of a mayor of Maghrebi/Muslim origin in a municipality of over 30,000 inhabitants in metropolitan France: Azzédine Taïbi, age 49 and of Algerian immigrant parents, who was elected mayor of Stains—a commune in the heart of the Seine-Saint-Denis (le neuf-trois)—on the PCF-headed Front de Gauche list. This is not an insignificant event IMO, but which the media did not bother to report—and with Taïbi and his party engaging in no publicity on it, as if the first-ever election of a mayor of Maghrebi/Muslim origin in metropolitan France were such a banal event—which it is not—as not to be worthy of particular mention (except in online only dispatches).

One should mention, for the record, the election last month of Algerian-origin Samia Ghali as mayor of Marseille’s 8th sector, though this only counts somewhat, as mayors of Marseille sectors, which group two arrondissements each, are, in effect, sub-mayors and with limited powers (like mayors of Paris arrondissements). And when it comes to “diversity” mayors, I do not count Rachida Dati, who was re-elected mayor of Paris’s upper bourgeois 7th arrondissement (Eiffel Tower, Invalides, Rodin Museum…). Pour mémoire, in the 2008 municipal elections Mme Dati was—at President Sarkozy’s instructions—parachuted into the 7th—where, needless to say, she had no roots whatever—as head of the UMP list; and as the 7th is as safe for the right/UMP as one can get, there was not a chance she was going to lose.

In smaller communes, the Muslim/Mauritanian-origin Marieme Tamata-Varin was elected mayor of Yèbles (pop. 700) in the Seine-et-Marne and fils de harki Mohand Hamoumou was re-elected mayor of Volvic (pop. 4,000), of mineral water fame, in the Puy-de-Dôme (pour l’info, the published version of Hamoumou’s doctoral thesis—his directrice de thèse having been the prominent sociologist Dominique Schnapper—was one of the first academic studies of the Harkis—and which I thought was quite good when I read it some two decades back).

All in all, the number of conseillers municipaux of non-European immigrant origin, according to La Gazette.fr, went from 1,069 to 2,343 in this election, i.e. 6.7% of the total. That is not an insignificant increase. L’intégration est en marche.

One rising “diversity” politician of note is Karim Zéribi, an EELV MEP from Marseille, whom I’ve been hearing about off and on since the late ’90s, when he was a chevènementiste—il a mangé à presque tous les râteliers de gauche—and up-and-coming Marseillais politician of Maghrebi (Algerian) origin, though who has yet to acquire a national reputation. Two nights ago he was interviewed sur le plateau on the Europe Hebdo news magazine of LCP/Public Sénat (French C-SPAN)—watch here (I love his Midi de la France accent)—on the negotiations underway between the EU and USA over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership/Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TTIP/TAFTA), which Zéribi argues would be terrible for Europe. He was good. And quite certainly correct in his critique of the process, as there is no way that the US government (and Congress) will ever agree to such a deal if it does not enhance the position of US corporate interests, which are in contradiction with those of European consumers and states on numerous points (for more on this all-important issue, see this article by the redoubtable Lori Wallach—whom I’ve previously discussed—in the December 2013 Le Monde Diplomatique; et en français ici). One can only wish Zéribi well in his campaign against the TTIP/TAFTA in the European parliament and hope that he gains stature in the coming years.


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Beppe Grillo

Beppe Grillo

That’s the title (in English) of a good 80 minute documentary, “Populisme, l’Europe en danger,” that aired last night on ARTE’s weekly news magazine, Thema. It takes up four cases, the first—and the most disquieting, IMO— being Beppe Grillo and his Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) in Italy (which I had a post on a couple of years ago, comparing it to the 1950s Poujadist movement in France). I find the M5S disquieting in view of its electoral strength—25% in the 2012 legislative elections, and whose support is apparently holding steady in the polls—and the real problems this is posing to the Italian political system given the big bloc of seats it has in both chambers of parliament, the dictatorial manner in which Grillo runs the movement, and the manifest anti-democratic—if not downright fascistic—undercurrent in his discourse and general world-view. The parallel with Mussolini was indeed suggested toward the end of the segment.

The second report is on the French Front National, with a focus on its municipal election campaign in Forbach (Moselle), a dying industrial town in the Lorraine and which the FN, via its high-profile mayoral candidate there—the énarque and party vice-president Florian Philippot—, had high hopes of winning (but didn’t). One interesting bit of information in the segment concerns the FN’s decision not to endorse or formally participate in the big anti-gay marriage movement of last spring, despite this being supported by the near totality of its traditional voter base (and with FN voters no doubt taking part in the demos in large numbers; for my one post on the French gay marriage issue, go here). The reason: Marine Le Pen did not want to jeopardize her budding alliance with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

A report on Wilders follows the one on the FN. He and his party, the PVV—which speaks for some 10-15% of the Dutch electorate—, are a new kind of right-wing populist movement: liberal/libertarian on societal issues (notably on sexuality), economically free-market (though this is being watered down), and aiming its fire at Islam. Wilders’s Islamophobia—a neologism I don’t like but which is apt in his case—is well known and hardly needs explication, except to mention that this has enabled Wilders to avoid formally stigmatizing Muslims qua Muslims or to speak about immigration more generally. A clever sleight of hand. The ARTE report says that Wilders could eventually become prime minister, which I doubt. His latest dérapage probably hasn’t enhanced his prospects here, that’s for sure.

The final report is from Hungary, on the neo-Naziish Jobbik—which received a shocking 20.5% of the vote in last Sunday’s legislative election—and, above all, Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz, which took 44.5% (a drop of 8% from the 2010 election), though with 67% of the national assembly seats. The dérive autoritaire in Hungary has been written about extensively—e.g. see the 5-part series by Princeton University’s Kim Lane Scheppele, published in February on Paul Krugman’s blog. That the European Union has failed to take decisive action against Hungary is an absolute scandal. Then again, the reason for this inaction—as the report makes fairly clear—may have to do with the critical support offered to Orbán inside the EU’s institutions, his Fidesz being a member of the European Parliament’s current majority party, the European People’s Party (EPP), and whose other constituents include the German CDU, the French UMP, and the Spanish PP—not to mention European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s home party, the Portuguese PSD.

This underscores the importance of next month’s elections to the European Parliament, of depriving the EPP of a majority and preventing the establishment of a parliamentary group by an alliance of far right-wing populist parties led by Le Pen and Wilders.

The documentary may be viewed on ARTE’s website here through next Tuesday.

Marine Le Pen & Geert Wilders, The Hague, November 13 2013

Marine Le Pen & Geert Wilders, The Hague, November 13 2013

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France 3’s monthly magazine Histoire Immédiate had two documentaries Monday evening on François Hollande, his presidency, and French public opinion, and that are well worth the watch. Here’s the synopsis of the first one, “Que se passe-t-il dans la tête de François Hollande?,” produced and narrated by Franz-Olivier Giesbert

François Hollande est une énigme. Est-il l’homme qu’il faut à la France? Après son élection il avait annoncé que tout allait changer. Rien ne s’est passé comme prévu: le changement n’est que parcellaire et le pays continue de s’enfoncer dans la crise. Alors que la popularité du Président sombre, il garde le sourire. Pour tenter de comprendre ce qui explique cet optimisme, Franz-Olivier Giesbert part à la rencontre de ses proches et leur demande qui est vraiment cet homme que les Français ont élu. Avec eux, il passe en revue son parcours politique, sa vie privée, son action à l’Elysée et brosse un portrait inédit.

The documentary, which runs 1 hour 25 minutes, may be watched on France 3’s website here until next Monday.

And here’s the synopsis of the second reportage, “François Hollande et nous”

François Hollande bat tous les records d’impopularité pour un président sous la Ve République. Comment en est-il arrivé là? Nicolas Sarkozy s’est usé à trop gouverner, François Hollande s’use-t-il à ne pas gouverner assez? Y a-t-il une fatalité, pour un président de la République française, à revenir à un niveau de popularité égal à son score au premier tour des élections présidentielles après quelques mois d’exercice? Aujourd’hui, François Hollande est en dessous de ce seuil. Quelles catégories de population a-t-il perdues? Est-ce lié à sa personnalité ou à sa politique? Sondeurs, observateurs, politologues et spécialistes de la communication donnent leur avis.

This one (55 minutes) may be seen here, also until next Monday.

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[update below]

Voilà my reaction à chaud to Manuel Valls’s government. First, on the appointment of Valls as Prime Minister. It was a logical choice for Hollande IMO. After Sunday’s debacle there was no way he could keep Jean-Marc Ayrault at Matignon. Ayrault is a good man but is almost a carbon copy of Hollande—both politically and his persona—and had become inaudible, both with the public and within his own government. No PM in the Fifth Republic has ever seen his stature so diminished (except maybe in the case of the one her, Edith Cresson, but who was ejected by President Mitterrand after serving only nine months). The way the institutions of the Fifth Republic function, the PM is supposed to be the President of the Republic’s firewall, the one who takes the heat and hit in public opinion polls while the president pulls the strings. It’s a screwy system but that’s the way it is. But Ayrault was not fulfilling this function. François Fillon didn’t either as Nicolas Sarkozy’s PM but Fillon was far more popular than Sarko—in the Fifth Republic it’s normally supposed to be the other way around—, such that the latter couldn’t fire him, even if he wished he could. Ayrault’s polls numbers have been slightly higher than Hollande’s but were still very low. So he had to go. It’s too bad he was so unceremoniously pushed out, as, with the exception of Mme Cresson, he’s the PM who lasted the shortest period of time at Matignon before being asked to resign by the president (Chirac, as Giscard d’Estaing’s first PM, also served only two years but he voluntarily quit; he wanted out).

On replacing Ayrault, I had thought that maybe Hollande would ask Laurent Fabius, as he’s a heavyweight, the two are politically on the same page, and he’s finally shed his decades-long unpopularity with the public (the sang contaminé affair is such ancient history that it’s doubtful anyone cares about it anymore, if one even remembers or knows about it). But it was clear that Fabius was not interested in returning to Matignon. He likes the Quai d’Orsay, where he’s doing a good job in the estimation of all, and, as the elder statesman, has nothing to gain at this point in his political career by taking the thankless job of PM. On Monday morning France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand spoke of Bertrand Delanoë as a possibility, but that seemed unlikely, as his Parisian “bobo” image would likely not go over well with alienated left voters outside the Île-de-France. Martine Aubry was obviously out of the question (as she and Hollande can’t stand one another and are absolutely not on the same page when it comes to economic policy). So Valls, who was intensely lobbying for the job, was the inevitable choice. And he’s probably the best one possible for Hollande right now, as he entirely shares Hollande’s social-libéralisme—including the pacte de responsabilité—and whose personal style—outspoken, borderline in-your-face—will guarantee that he’ll be politically front and center during his tenure at Matignon. He’ll be a much stronger media presence than Hollande, which won’t be a bad thing for the latter. If Valls’s poll numbers stay high, it will likely pull up Hollande’s as well; and if the calvaire of Matignon pulls him down, that will put paid to his presidential ambitions, which won’t disappoint Hollande. Serge Soudray, an editor at the journal ContreLigne, had a good commentary yesterday praising Hollande’s decision to name Valls (h/t Art Goldhammer). One thing’s for sure, which is that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Georges Clemenceau—Valls’s role model and inspiration, and probably the most interesting politician of the Third Republic—, and particularly with the approaching centennial of World War I.

On the EELV’s refusal to participate in Valls’s government: how pathetic and immature. The écolos, who came out of the municipal elections reinforced, are going to throw it away in a sterile ni-ni position of both opposing and supporting the government, whose success they nonetheless depend on. The EELV needs the PS more than vice-versa, particularly if it wants to have even a single deputy in the National Assembly. If the PS decides not to deal with the EELV in the next legislative elections and to run candidates in every circonscription, the écolos will likely end up with nothing. As for the gauche of the PS, which cannot stand Valls—the PS left considers him to be more on the right than the left—, he’s made sure to include them in a significant way in his government. Here’s the government that was named this morning (in protocol order):

Laurent Fabius — Foreign Affairs and International Development: Obviously. He’s been doing a fine job at the Quai d’Orsay. No reason whatever to move him somewhere else.

Ségolène Royal – Ecology/Sustainable Development/Energy: It was clear that she was going to be named to a high-level ministry, though not this one—and where she will have the rank of Ministre d’Etat—, which was supposed to go to the EELV. I’m impressed with her ability to rebound politically after humiliating defeats, e.g. her score in the 2011 PS primary and the 2012 legislative election fiasco in La Rochelle (the one in which Valérie Trierweiler famously tweeted). I thought Ségo was finished politically after the last one. But she’s relentless. In point of fact, she’s very smart and has matured considerably since the 2007 presidential race. And her commentary Sunday night on the Socialists’s defeat was particularly good (watch here).

Benoît Hamon – Education/Higher Education/Research: The chef de file of the PS left-wing gets this super ministry—replacing Vincent Peillon and Geneviève Fioraso, who got the boot—, and with a million fonctionnaires under his authority, who form the PS’s core constituency but are showing signs of disaffection with the party. If the PS loses the public school teachers, it’s done for. The syndicats des enseignants will be happy. As for the necessary reform of the educational system…

Christiane Taubira — Justice/Garde des Sceaux: I thought Delanoë would be named to this and with Taubira moved elsewhere (culture maybe), partly because her bilan as Garde des Sceaux is considered mixed. But she kept it. Will wait for the analyses of this one. Perhaps it’s a message to Mme Taubira’s many detractors on the hard right—who really hate her—to go suck on it.

Michel Sapin — Finance/Public Accounts: Hollande’s longtime ally, policy wonk, and entirely on board with the pacte de responsabilité. He’ll be the interlocutor with Brussels and other European finance ministers.

Arnaud Montebourg — Economy/”Productive Recovery”/Digital Technology: This may be called the Ministère de l’Economie etc but it is, in fact, a super ministry of industry (and housed at Bercy, where Montebourg will cohabit with Sapin). It was clear that Pierre Moscovici was going to be dumped but with Montebourg kept on and in a high-profile position, not only as he’s on the left-wing of the party—whose acquiescence Valls needs—but also because he’s come to be quite appreciated by the CEOs of French industry. He’s become the business-friendly champion of Made in France. His rhetoric has evolved over the past two years. He’s now more of an asset to Hollande than a pain. And he’s well-spoken and good on television.

Marisol Touraine – Social Affairs/Health: No change.

François Rebsamen — Labor/Employment/Social Dialogue: PS heavyweight, mayor of Dijon (reelected), close to Ségolène Royal. It’s been well-known for years that he covets the Ministry of Interior but he and Valls don’t like one another, so the latter nixed that. He’ll be the one to deal with the unions as the pacte de responsabilité is implemented. Bon courage.

Jean-Yves Le Drian — Defense: No change. Hollande—with whom he is close—and Valls wanted him at Interior but he said no. He likes Defense. And he’s been good in that position.

Bernard Cazeneuve – Interior: A second-tier party figure, fabusien, considered solid and serious. Replaced Jérôme Cahuzac at Budget en catastrophe last year. His appointment to the Place Beauvau looks to be a faute de mieux for Hollande and Valls—and he almost had to be appointed to some position in the government, as otherwise he’d probably try to get his National Assembly seat back in a by-election, which he—and the PS—would most certainly lose; and the PS cannot afford to lose any seats at this point. The interior minister is usually a high media-profile figure but he’s not likely to match Valls on that score.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – Women’s Rights/Urban Policy/Youth/Sports: Increased responsibilities for a star of the last government (though one wonders what these portfolios have to do with one another). She’s won’t be government spokeswoman anymore, though (which is okay, as that just’s a langue de bois position anyway).

Marylise Lebranchu — Decentralization/Reform of the State and the Civil Service: She goes back to Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government, so has been around for a while. Is close to Martine Aubry.

Aurélie Filippetti – Culture/Communication: No change. Her record over the past two years has been mixed but it would have been tough to boot her from the government given that she won reelection in Metz (in 2nd place on the list) on Sunday.

Stéphane Le Foll — Agriculture/Food Industry/Forests + Government Spokesman: Same ministry but with enlarged attributes. Close to Hollande. He’ll be in the news a lot as the new govt spokesman.

Sylvia Pinel — Housing/”Equality of Territories”: The one PRG member of the government (Christiane Taubira merely being allied with the PRG). She was in the last one but with a low profile, i.e. one never heard about her. Her appointment here looks to be faute de mieux, as PRG chief Jean-Michel Baylet was expected to enter the government but has suddenly run into legal problems having to do with an affair involving calls for tenders from a decade ago.

George Pau-Langevin — Overseas (Departments and Territories): The obligatory minister from the DOM-TOM (she’s from Guadeloupe). And it had to be a woman, to maintain parity.

N.B. All but two of the members of the government—Royal and Rebsamen—were in the last one (and, pour mémoire, my reaction à chaud to that one is here). The Secretaries of State will be named in the coming days.

UPDATE: The Secretaries of State—which are second rank governmental posts—were announced today (April 9th):

Jean-Marie Le Guen — Relations with Parliament (under PM Manuel Valls): A former strausskahnien du premier plan. Political base is Paris’s 13th arrondissement (where I lived in the mid-late 1990s, so used to see him around; I heard him speak a couple of times in local settings and thought he was pretty smart).

Harlem Désir — European Affairs (under Laurent Fabius): Totally pathetic, unserious choice, manifestly made by Hollande and Valls to get him out of the Rue de Solférino (and where he hardly shined, c’est le moins que l’on puisse dire). He’s been a member of the European parliament since 1999, though has mainly worked there on development and globalization issues. And like many other French MEPs, he was slated for the European parliament by his party not out of a particular interest in European issues but because he failed to win a national mandate.

Fleur Pellerin — Foreign Trade/Tourism/French citizens abroad (under Fabius): New portfolios for her. She was appreciated in the last government. So good choice. FYI, she was adopted as a child from South Korea.

Annick Girardin — Development/Francophonie (under Fabius): PRG member from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

Frédéric Cuvillier – Transportation/the Sea/Fisheries (under Ségolène Royal): He had this post in the last government. Is a former mayor/deputy from Boulogne-sur-Mer, so presumably knows his portfolios.

Geneviève Fioraso — Higher Education/Research (under Benoît Hamon): Her post in the last government. University professors and research scholars—some of them, at least—absolutely do not like her.

Christian Eckert — Budget (under Michel Sapin): Became an expert in the domain as deputy in the National Assembly.

Valérie Fourneyron — Commerce/Artisanat/Consumption/Economie sociale et solidaire (under Arnaud Montebourg): New portfolios for a Secy of State in the last government.

Axelle Lemaire — Digital Technology (under Montebourg): She’s lived in London for most of the past twelve years. Was an aide to Denis MacShane in the House of Commons.

Kader Arif — Veterans/”Memory” (under Jean-Yves Le Drian): Same post as in the last government. Is a fils de harki. I’m looking forward to finding out what his “memory” responsibilities will entail.

André Vallini — Territorial Reform (under Marylise Lebranchu): An important portfolio in view of PM Valls’s announced intention to halve the number of regions and merge the departmental and regional councils. This is a big deal. Vallini is close to Hollande and whose profession is the law. He is no lightweight. Nor is he a genius. As it happens, I devoted an entire blog post to him three years back, at the height of the DSK affair. What I had to say about him was not positive, i.e. I shredded the S.O.B.

Laurence Rossignol — Family/the Elderly/”Autonomy” (under Marisol Touraine): A feminist activist. Also known as one not to have her langue dans la poche, i.e. she gives people who irritate her a piece of her mind.

Ségolène Neuville — Handicapped Persons/”Struggle against exclusion” (under Touraine): A medical doctor by profession. Has only been in politics since 2012.

Thierry Braillard — Sports (under Najat Vallaud-Belkacem): In the PRG. The only Secy of State Mme Vallaud-Belkacem will have to help her out in her “broom wagon” ministry.

For the record, President Hollande has named his BFF Jean-Pierre Jouyet as Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic, i.e. chief-of-staff of the Elysée. Jouyet, a classmate of Hollande’s in ENA’s famous promotion Voltaire, was, pour mémoire, a Secy of State for European Affairs (2007-08) under President Sarkozy—one of Sarko’s prises de guerre from the left—, during which time Hollande was PS first secretary, i.e. head of the opposition party. Jouyet was considered by Socialists to be a sort of traitor. Mais ça c’est du passé…

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[update below]

The debacle was even more monumental than expected. It was historic, worse than 1983. The left—mainly PS—lost 155 communes with a population of 9,000 and over, 49 between 30 and 100K, and 8 cities of over 100K. Those who’ve read about it elsewhere already know the story: the PS managed to save Paris (Anne Hidalgo), Lyon (Gérard Collomb), Lille (Martine Aubry), Strasbourg, and Nantes—and, thanks to a merged list with the Front de Gauche, picked up Avignon from the UMP (and fended off the FN) plus a few others—but it was the Berezina just about everywhere else. Toulouse, which the PS won in 2008, went to the UMP, along with numerous cities that have been Socialist/left bastions for decades, even a century: e.g. Limoges, Belfort, Nevers, Dunkerque, Chambéry, Amiens… The dense network of PS-run municipalities that was painstakingly built up by François Hollande during his period as party first secretary—and particularly in the western part of the country—was decimated in one fell swoop. After the 2008 elections the PS was looking to be the party of cities, the one with the strongest local base, but now the UMP/UDI have taken that mantle (and with the UDI-MoDem, led by François Bayrou in Pau, taking its share of communes, meaning that it will be a big center-right player in the coming years). Even the PS victories in the large aforementioned cities have to be relativized, as the intercommunal governing structures that have been established over the years, and particularly since the 1990s—and which will progressively supplant the communes themselves in local decision-making—, will also pass to the right. So even though Martine Aubry won reelection in Lille she was not happy last night, as the UMP took nearby Roubaix and Tourcoing, meaning that she will lose the presidency of the Lille Métropole Communauté Urbaine, which is almost as important to her as being mayor of her city. As for the future Métropole du Grand Paris, the UMP (Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet?) may have enough votes to control it when that time comes (January 2016).

On this score, the results in the famous ‘red belt’ around Paris were also calamitous for the left (PCF and PS), which, entre autres, lost the communes in the neuf-trois I mentioned in my post last week: Bobigny, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Le Blanc-Mesnil, Livry-Gargan, Saint-Ouen, and Villepinte. By my count the PCF only has six communes left in the Seine-Saint-Denis. And to the list of setbacks one may add Villejuif in the Val-de-Marne, which has been Communist since the 1920s but was taken by the UMP, whose list, in a merger contre nature, included a local EELV fed up with the eternal PCF rule over the town; among the renegade Villejuifois écolos was the gauchiste economist Alain Lipietz (he and the others have been suspended from the EELV for their transgression). My (Algerian origin) in-laws there are no doubt content with the outcome (I’ll have to call them this week), BTW, as their property taxes will most certainly not be raised by the new UMP-led administration.

Local taxes were a big issue in this election and across the board. They’ve gone up significantly and just about everywhere, in communes run by the right as well as the left. E.g. in my very right-wing banlieue, the taxe d’habitation has increased by at least 25%—maybe even more (I’d have to do the calculation)—since the 2008 election, and which was one of the factors in the defeat of the incumbent mayor (UDI/ex-UMP) at the hands of his erstwhile (UMP) associate-turned-rival. The ras-le-bol over inexorably rising local taxes will be a big challenge to all the new mayors, as they try to maintain local services plus deal with already high municipal indebtedness.

As for the Front National, it won 11 communes. If one hasn’t yet seen the list, go here, here, or here. Notable FN victories include Marseille’s 7th sector, with a population of 150K—it will be interesting to see how the new FN mayor, Stéphane Ravier, gets along with the neighboring 8th sector mayor, la très forte en gueule Algerian-origin Samia Ghali (the only PS tête de liste to win a Marseille sector yesterday)—; Hayange in the Moselle, a dying industrial town and site of ArcelorMittal’s recently shuttered steel blast furnaces that President Hollande promised to save but could not—and whose FN mayor-elect, Fabien Engelmann, is a former trade unionist (in the formerly Communist-run CGT, from which he was expelled for joining the FN)—; and Mantes-la-Ville in the Île-de-France (Yvelines), whose FN list squeaked through to victory due to the (incomprehensible and inexcusable) inability of the two rival left lists (PS and divers gauche) to merge between the two rounds—and, irony of ironies, the mayoral candidate of one having been physically manhandled by Jean-Marie Le Pen in an infamous incident in 1997.

But it wasn’t a slam dunk for the FN yesterday, as party heavyweights Florian Philippot and Louis Aliot (Marine LP’s current S.O.) failed to win Forbach and Perpignan respectively, and Gilbert Collard bit the dust in Saint-Gilles. And it needs to be reiterated that Robert Ménard’s victorious list in Béziers was only supported by the FN, with a number of its conseillers municipaux-elect—including Ménard himself—not being FN members.


Marine Le Pen and other FN leaders swear that they’ve learned from the fiasco of the FN’s local government experience in the 1995-2002 period—notably in Toulon, Vitrolles, and Marignane—, which was marked by incompetence, amateurism, and corruption—not to mention initiatives such as serving pork dishes only in school cafeterias catering to Muslim students—, and won’t repeat the mistakes. Frontiste communes will, it is promised, be governed more responsibly and professionally this time. On verra. One of the first issues the mayor-elect in Fréjus, 26-year-old David Rachline, will have to deal with is the project—currently underway—to build a mosque in the commune. One would assume that FN mayors, echoing the rhetoric of Marine LP, will take a hard-line against expressions and manifestations of “communautarisme,” a neologism that, translated into American, refers to the asserting of ethnic identities by persons of post-colonial immigrant roots, i.e. from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and which the dominant French ethos—shared by right and left alike—considers to be a bad thing (but only when it involves communities hailing from the African continent; no one cares if it’s the Portuguese, Armenians, or even Vietnamese or Chinese who do it). The younger generations from these communities are more educated, organized, and assertive in expressing ethnic identities nowadays than in the past, so if FN mairies try to pick a fight with them, a fight they will get.

In an analysis of the elections last night, Art Goldhammer wondered if the real political problem in France is less the failings of François Hollande—or of Nicolas Sarkozy before him—than of the French presidency itself, of its seeming omnipotence and the outsized expectations this generates, and that inevitably leads to disappointments on the part of the electorate. Art is absolutely right on this. As he points out, the constitution of the Fifth Republic was tailor-made for one man, Charles de Gaulle, a larger than life historical figure who returned to power at a time of grave national crisis—the Algerian war—and when France needed a strong executive who could assert primacy over the legislative branch of government (and also a seditiously-inclined military). But that historical moment is gone and not only is there no one with the stature of de Gaulle—il n’y a plus de grands hommes—but there is no justification nowadays for an advanced democracy to concentrate so much power (hors cohabitation) in the hands of the executive. It worked more or less for François Mitterrand, though he was saved by the first cohabitation, which paved the way for his reelection, and with his interminable second term ending in failure. Jacques Chirac’s presidency was a failure from almost the get go (and with him winning reelection on a silver platter thanks to the accident of the 21 avril). And the bilan of Sarkozy’s presidency—and now Hollande’s—requires no elaboration. In the case of Sarkozy and Hollande, plus Chirac during his brain-dead second term, the perversity of the omnipotent presidency has been aggravated by the quinquennat and the accident of the electoral calendar, in which the presidential and legislative elections happen one month apart, and with the legislative following the presidential—a sequencing that was decided in a law passed by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government after the 2000 referendum and was supported by the UDF (but not Chirac’s RPR). What this did was permanently hitch the fortunes of the National Assembly—elected in the wake in the presidential election, axiomatically giving the newly elected president a majority—to the President of the Republic, thus rendering it even more powerless vis-à-vis the executive. The latter calls all the shots. The problem is institutional, not linked to the personality of whoever happens to be the chief resident in the Elysée palace. So in view of the omnipotence of the President of the Republic and the expectations of the French people that he will solve all the problems—and at a time when France, which has no control over its own currency, has less power on the European and world stage than ever, and with an increasingly uncompetitive economy—, it is inevitable that his poll ratings will plummet almost as soon as he takes office and his party massacred in intermediate elections.

The next elections—after May’s European—are the regionals, in March 2015. The PS controls 21 of 22 regions in metropolitan France. Anyone want to take bets on how many they’ll be left with after that one?

ADDENDUM: The abstention rate yesterday was 38%, which is historically high for a municipal election. But the turnout was nonetheless higher than for other types of elections, notably the European. And way higher than one would ever see in an off year election in the US. If the upcoming American midterm elections could attain such a turnout, the outcome would be very different than the one we’re likely to get (and less favorable to the Republicans). Just sayin’.

UPDATE: Rue89’s Pascal Riché explains—with a certain dose of mauvaise foi, he admits—why yesterday’s result was, in fact, a setback for the Front National. Not a bad analysis, actually.

plantu le_monde 30032014

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There’s almost no question about it: the Socialists are going to get massacred. They could lose as many as 100 communes with a population of 10K or more. The PS’s dense network of local elected officials will be decimated. Whatever governmental remaniement President Hollande cooks up next week will be bien dérisoire in the face of such a monumental setback. Socialist voters are so demoralized and exasperated with their president—it is nigh impossible to find anyone on the left these days who will stand up for Monsieur Hollande—that they will most certainly repeat last Sunday’s performance and stay away in droves from the polls.

The UMP will do very well, of course, but all eyes will be on Marine Le Pen’s Front National, which, according to the above map, has a good shot at picking up seven communes—with Béziers and Forbach all but certain—, in addition to Hénin-Beaumont and Orange (whose mayor, Jacques Bompard—re-elected last Sunday with 60%—, quit the FN a decade ago but is no less a facho than when he first won the town in 1995). But the FN and its extreme right allies could, in fact, win as many as 20 municipalities, including several that the map forgot to include: Beaucaire (Gard), Bollène (Vaucluse)—whose incumbent mayor, Marie-Claude Bompard, is not formally FN but is politically identical to her husband in nearby Orange—, Brignoles (Var), Cluses (Haute-Savoie), Cogolin (Var), Hayange (Moselle), Le Luc (Var), Le Pontet (Vaucluse), L’Hôpital (Moselle), Marseille’s 7th sector, Tarascon (Bouches-de-Rhône), Villeneuve-sur-Lot (Lot-et-Garonne), and Villers-Cotterêts (Aisne). To these one may add Villeneuve-Saint-George in the suburban Parisian Val-de-Marne (and near where I live), where the 2nd place divers droite list—which had been endorsed by the UMP and UDI—merged with the 3rd place FN against the PCF-led incumbents. If the FN wins most of these, it will be a political earthquake equivalent to the PS’s débâcle annoncée. It does appear, though, that Avignon will be spared the FN, with the fusion of the PS and Front de Gauche lists there.

For an idea of what may lie in store for communes under FN rule, see this Rue89 enquête from two months ago, on Jacques Bompard’s reign in Orange, “Orange, 20 ans d’extrême droite: «Les cœurs se sont fermés».” Persons of Maghrebi and African immigrant origin—and particularly those who live in public housing—will wish they lived somewhere else.

And on Hénin-Beaumont’s new frontiste mayor, Steeve Briois, see this one by Claude Askolovitch in Rue89, “Quand Steeve Briois, 15 ans, jubilait dans un bus rempli d’immigrés,” in which Askolovitch reproduces a passage from his (excellent) 1999 book Voyage au bout de la France: Le Front National tel qu’il est, recounting his experience of following Briois, then a teenage FN activist, around the declining industrial towns of the Pas-de-Calais. Briois, who hails from the couches populaires, developed a youthful antipathy toward his generational contemporaries of Maghreb origin, i.e. the punk was a racist from the get go. Now people do grow up and evolve in their ways of thinking. Or they don’t.

Also in Rue89 is this very interesting reportage of the FN’s campaign in Marseille’s 7th sector (13th-14th arrondissements), “La tentation du FN à Marseille: «Il faut bien leur faire peur»,” which may yield it victory tomorrow. One learns, entre autres, that a certain number of Maghrebi voters, driven by opposition to the gay marriage law or simply because they are totally fed up, voted FN. What is clear is that the FN simply does not strike fear in the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the electorate, including voters of immigrant origin who would normally have reason to fear it.

One will have noted that the majority of communes that the FN stands to win are in the southeast. On the regional cleavage in the FN vote, geographer Laurent Chalard, whom I linked to in my previous post on the election, had a good op-ed in Le Monde earlier this week on “Les failles stratégiques du Front national,” in which he discussed the contradictions at the heart of Marine Le Pen’s and the FN’s discourse as they strive to address constituencies with fundamentally divergent revindications: the FN’s traditional middle class/petit bourgeois base in the southeast, which is opposed to state intervention, taxes, and Parisian bureaucrats; and working class voters in the northeast, who fear globalization and favor state intervention in the economy to protect their jobs or restore them. How the FN manages this contradiction—and if the mainstream parties of the left and right can exploit it to undermine the frontistes—will have a significant impact on the party’s fortunes in the coming period.

As I did last Sunday, I’ll be working a bureau de vote all day tomorrow as an assesseur titulaire in my commune (where the local right-wing is tearing itself apart in a fratricidal war, as it always does in local elections). À suivre.

ADDENDUM: The blog 500 Signatures: French Politics & Elections Blog of political scientists Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi is closely tracking the FN’s electoral progress, and with lots of data and statistical analyses.

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Geographer Laurent Chalard, who teaches at the Université Paris-IV Sorbonne, has an analysis in Figaro Vox of the significant drop in support for the PS last Sunday from voters of immigrant origin. The abstention rates in communes with concentrations of Maghrebis and Africans reached record levels, notably in the Seine-Saint-Denis (a.k.a. le neuf-trois), Paris’s 18th-19th-20th arrondissements, Marseille’s 8th sector (les quartiers nord), and Lyon’s eastern banlieues, and with Socialist-led lists taking a disproportionate hit. Voter participation rates have always been lower than average for these populations and for structural reasons, which Chalard mentions: a voting-age population that is both disproportionately younger and less educated, and with lower levels of political mobilization via intermediate groups or the parties themselves. The latter point I can attest to from personal observation: in my mostly middle/upper middle class banlieue, the only parties/candidates who actively solicit votes in the one cité in town are from the Front de Gauche. The others don’t bother, deeming that there are few votes to be had there—which is the case with the right—or, as with the Socialists and écolos, because they’re not comfortable with ethnic-style campaigning and don’t have a populist economic message to compensate for that, so leave the cités to other parties of the left.

A second factor identified by Chalard for the high abstention rate is the government’s policies and discourse on questions de société, i.e. on issues having to do with social mores, notably gay marriage. Voters of Maghrebi and African origin may be on the left when it comes to the economy but are culturally conservative; thus the opposition by Muslim personalities and groups to the mariage pour tous law last year and the disproportionate hysteria in the banlieues over the so-called “théorie du genre” during that preposterous episode early last month. Chalard’s hypothesis is plausible but I’m dubious. It’s still the economy, stupid, and with the immigrant-origin communities—which are inadequately socialized politically and alienated from the system as it is—affected by unemployment even more than the rest of French society.

Mediapart has had two enquêtes over the past two days on the disaffection of immigrant-origin voters in the current election cycle and their defiance toward the Socialists, one on the Seine-Saint-Denis, the other from Marseille.

The Socialists’s adversaries in the Seine-Saint-Denis are not only the right—UMP and UDI (the FN is not a factor in the department)—but also the PCF/Front de Gauche. The PS, which made big gains in the department in the 2008 elections and at the expense of the Communists, had high hopes of knocking off the latter in several communes but suffered a setback on Sunday, notably in Montreuil—where National Assembly deputy and rising star Razzy Hammadi was eliminated from the 2nd round and with a humiliating fifth place finish—, Saint-Denis—the PCF’s last remaining municipality of over 100K inhabitants, which it has been running almost continuously since the 1920s—, Saint-Ouen, and Villetaneuse, and with Aubervilliers and Bagnolet in the balance. And the UMP/UDI have a strong chance of taking Bobigny—the neuf-trois prefecture and longtime PCF bastion, the loss of which to the right would be hugely symbolic—, Aulnay-sous-Bois—whose très droitier UMP tête de liste, Bruno Beschizza, is a former police officer—, Le Blanc Mesnil—which has been PCF since the 1930s—, Livry-Gargan, and Villepinte.

As for Bobigny, the UDI mayoral candidate, Stéphane di Paoli, seems to be running a smart campaign, at least judging from his list of candidates to the city council, which includes a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf and who is prominently displayed in the campaign’s main poster. And it’s getting publicity outside the commune, as one may see in this dispatch in the high-profile Franco-Islamic website Oumma.com. The video of the exchange between the communist militant and young veiled woman is worth the watch. The latter manifestly understands the meaning of French laïcité more than does the former. If I were a Balbynien, I’d likely vote for Monsieur di Paoli.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a post of mine on “the Muslim vote” in the 2012 presidential election, which one poll had at 93% for François Hollande (far more a rejection of Sarkozy than an affirmative vote for Hollande). In the Seine-Saint-Denis, Hollande received 65% in the 2nd round against Sarko (N.B. not everyone in the neuf-trois is of post-colonial immigrant-origin or from the couches populaires; there are plenty of regular “white” Frenchmen and women out there).

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This is not quite an instant analysis and I don’t have much to say about yesterday’s vote that isn’t being said by everyone else, which is that it was a disastrous result for the Socialists—worse than anyone expected or that was projected in polls—, an excellent one for the Front National, and not at all bad for the UMP, and with the backdrop a record abstention rate for this kind of election (39%), reflecting a demobilization of the Socialist party’s base. PS voters disproportionately stayed home—and one needs to specify that it was indeed PS voters, as the other constituents of the left, i.e. the écolos and Front de Gauche, did well where they ran separate lists. The Socialists are not even trying to spin the result. Patrick Menucci, the PS mayoral candidate in Marseille—who finished in third place (behind the FN) with a paltry 21% citywide, a calamitous score that absolutely no one anticipated—, bravely insisted on France Inter this morning that he could make up his 17 point deficit with Jean-Claude Gaudin but one doubts anyone believes this (including Menucci himself). In my own very right-wing banlieue, where I manned a polling station yesterday (photo below) as an assesseur-titulaire (for the PS-EELV-MRC-PRG-MUP list), the total score of the two left lists was 18%, compared with 21% in both the 2008 and 2001 municipal elections (and with François Hollande receiving 40% in the 2nd round of the 2012 presidential).

Two comments. First, on the FN’s result. It was certainly very good for the frontistes but is, objectively speaking, not that big of a deal. So the FN’s secretary-general Steeve Briois won a narrow outright victory (50.3%) last night in Hénin-Beaumont, a depressed industrial town of 25,000 souls in which the party has been investing political resources for years and that Marine Le Pen won with 55% in the 2012 legislative election (losing the larger constituency by a hair). It’s about time the FN won that sorry place. As for Béziers, where the FN-supported Robert Ménard will most certainly be elected mayor next Sunday, it should be specified that he is not an FN member and doesn’t even issue from the extreme right. He was a founder of the civil libertarian Reporters sans Frontières in the 1980s, hung out more with leftists than rightists back then, and was engaged with bona fide, mostly left-wing Algerian democrats who opposed both the military-backed regime and Islamists as that country descended into internecine bloodletting in the 1990s (a product of Ménard’s then support of Algerian democrats was this book). Ménard—whom I don’t know personally but used to see around—was/is a flamboyant, bloviating self-promoter—and, IMO, an insufferable jerk (e.g. the kind who incessantly talks very loudly into his mobile phone in public)—who has found a new outlet for his flamboyant, bloviating self-promotion in Marine Le Pen and the hard right of the political spectrum. It will be most interesting to see how he and his frontiste associates run a city of 71K inhabitants, a third of whom live with less than €1000/month. Likewise with Gilbert Collard, the near certain mayor-to-be of Saint-Gilles, likewise a self-promoter extraordinaire and whose political parcours spans the far right to the far left and everything in between (as I noted two years ago here). The FN managing a handful of municipalities—as many as ten and possibly including Perpignan (but please, not Avignon)—would be a good thing IMO, as Marine LP & Co will finally have some concrete political responsibilities and a bilan to defend. For a party whose national electoral support has been in the teens for the past three decades, it is only normal that it should have at least a few elected officials in executive positions. But again, the number of communes it will be running will only be a drop in the bucket: less than one percent of municipalities with a population of over 10,000. And that will be as good as it gets for the FN.

Second comment. The PS may be able to limit the damage next Sunday via at least a partial mobilization of its electorate. Maybe. In Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who very unexpectedly finished behind Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet citywide, will still likely win next Sunday (as merged PS-EELV lists in the 4th, 9th, 12th, and 14th arrondissements will be en ballotage favorable, and may even take the 5th arrondissement if the right’s warring lists there don’t merge; we’ll know after tomorrow night’s deadline for merging and reconstituting lists). Martine Aubry in Lille, Gérard Collomb in Lyon, and Jean-Marc Ayrault’s successor in Nantes will also win, despite sharp fall-offs in the PS vote yesterday. And Toulouse and Strasbourg look doable. So it ain’t over till it’s over.

But whatever happens next Sunday the municipal elections will still have constituted a big setback for the PS and President Hollande, meaning that there will be a governmental remaniement sooner rather than later and most certainly with a new prime minister. As for what good that will do and if it will change anyone’s fortunes, allez savoir… RDV la dimanche prochaine.

Arun, March 23 2014

Arun manning the ballot box, March 23 2014

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quai dorsay

Voilà two French comedies that came out last fall and which have been nominated for several César awards. Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Quai d’Orsay’ (English title: The French Minister) is the better one. It’s the cinematic adaptation of a two-volume hardcover comic book by a young aide to Dominique de Villepin during his stint as Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-04; I assume everyone knows that the Quai d’Orsay is the French foreign ministry), in which he recounts with humor the ambiance at the Quai during Villepin’s period and the experience of working with him. I haven’t yet read the comic series (don’t feel like plunking down €32 for it) but have been assured by several persons that it’s very funny. As for the film, it’s hilarious. I was laughing from the get go and right up to the end (and wasn’t alone among the audience; trailer is here). Thierry Lhermitte plays Villepin—who goes by Alexandre Taillard de Worms in the film—and Raphaël Personnaz the young énarque aide and speechwriter, named Arthur Vlaminck. Lhermitte depicts Villepin to a tee (though plays down the well-known trash-talking, umbrageous side of his personality). He may exaggerate a little, but only a little.

Villepin was/is a man of considerable talent and boundless energy, churning out books of poetry, biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte (his idol), and pontifications on the state of the world and humanity, all while working what was no doubt more than a 40-hour a week job. But he was/is—at least to “Anglo-Saxons” comme moi—a preposterous, almost absurd figure. What struck one about him, as I wrote in a post two years ago, was his almost comical grandiloquence. When Villepin speaks—whether in a formal speech or television interview—one is bombarded with a torrent of verbiage. He takes three minutes to say what could be said in one (in this he is not out of the ordinary in France, though pushes it to the outer limits). His pomposity is on another level. The word in French is ampoulé. But after cutting through the verbiage one realizes that he has said little to nothing significant or profound, if he has said anything at all. Lhermitte brings all this out in the film and to great comic effect. And though Villepin is never designated by name, much of what the film recounts did indeed happen—the luncheon scene with the Nobel laureate in literature (played by Jane Birkin) is priceless—, and with Bruno Le Maire, DDV’s right-hand man of the time, making a momentary clin d’œil appearance. And the film ends with the UNSC speech of February 14 2003, when Villepin, speaking for France, said no to the impending US invasion of Iraq—and which (rightly) made him a hero the world over.

As for the acting Césars, Niels Arestrup, who plays the minister’s chief-of-staff, is a nominee for Best Supporting Actor and Julie Gayet for Best Supporting Actress. Arestrup put in a perfectly fine performance but it’s not overly exceptional. As for Mme Gayet, she appears for all of three or four minutes in the film (I had hard time even remembering who her character was). Now she does happen to be President Hollande’s new companion, though I’m sure that had nothing whatever to do with the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma’s nominating her for the award… Just a coincidence, bien évidemment… But what’s particularly noteworthy is that Lhermitte was not nominated for Best Actor, even though he was the perfect actor for the role and put in a great performance. But then, M. de Villepin, a culture maven, does have numerous friends in the cinematic milieu and though I have not read anything as to his reaction to the film, it is possible, in view of his umbrageousness, that he only moderately appreciated it. CQFD.

À propos of all this, Le Monde’s weekend magazine dated January 12 2013 had a cover article on Villepin’s post-political career—as he’s pretty much out of politics now—as a globetrotting homme d’affaires: “Un businessman nommé Villepin.” He’s founded a consulting firm, Villepin International—which has two employees: him and a secretary—, on whose account he travels the world for his numerous high-powered clients, who seem to be particularly well represented in the Arabian peninsula (he has long-standing ties to Qatar and is bosom buddies with anyone who counts for anything there). His declared consulting income is €29,000/month, which is probably peanuts compared to what Henry Kissinger makes with his business but is not insignificant in France. In reading the article, though, one comes away with no idea of what Villepin actually does to earn his money. There is no clue. It’s a mystery. When he comes out with his next volume of poetry or tome on Napoleon, we’ll probably have an idea, at least of how he spends his time.

The other comedy that came out last fall was ‘9 mois ferme’ (English title: 9 Month Stretch), directed by Albert Dupontel, which was a box office hit (almost two million tickets sold) and received top reviews in the Paris press—and has been nominated for six Césars, including Best Film, Best Actress (Sandrine Kiberlain), and Best Actor (Albert Dupontel). As the pic was said to be riotously funny, I decided to see it. In brief, Kiberlain plays a 40ish pète-sec, workaholic magistrate, who has no family, no male companion, is not interested in having fun, and lives only for her work and professional ambitions. But on New Year’s Eve she gets shitfaced drunk, which can happen, and, four months later, learns in a routine doctor’s visit that she’s exactly four months pregnant. With no idea of how it could have possibly happened, she discovers in her personal enquête that the deed—of which she has no recollection—was committed on that fateful New Year’s Eve and with a lowlife, loutish multirecidivist (the Dupontel character) whom she is currently investigating for a heinous crime of which he has been accused. So the movie is of that and what happens between her and him. It has its comic moments and with zany characters—the acting is good, no dispute about that—, and pokes fun at the corps judiciare (French judges and prosecutors), but I can’t say I was bowled over throughout. A few chuckles here and there but no sustained belly laughs. But that’s me. When it comes to comedy, I’m hard to please. Also, the whole premise of the story is just a tad implausible. THR’s review is here, trailer is here.


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Charlie Hebdo nº 1125, 08-01-2014

Charlie Hebdo nº 1125, 08-01-2014

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

The BBC World Service has a good 23 minute report, “Dieudonné: France’s most dangerous comedian?,” broadcast yesterday and that is well worth the listen (h/t Art Goldhammer). Reporter Helen Grady highlights Dieudonné’s fans, and particularly those from post-colonial and DOM-TOM minorities, who manifestly have far fewer problems with Marine Le Pen and the Front National than they do with their fellow Jewish citizens (as if Jews, collectively speaking, ever did anything to any member of these minorities; or to anyone in France for that matter). This is disturbing, to say the least. One may hypothesize that Dieudonné’s rapprochement with the extreme right—initiated a decade ago—has given the green light to his numerous fans from the aforementioned minorities to do likewise, and that his in-your-face antisemitism has likewise libéré la parole for his fans on this. Insofar as this is the case, maybe there is a Dieudonné affaire after all…

If anti-Semites are publicly rearing their heads in France—thanks to the Internet—they are in the US as well, of course. In looking for stuff on Internet I came across this mini-screed from 2012 by the conspiracy theorist, onetime University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer, and Richard Falk pal Kevin Barrett, “NY Times blasts French ‘truth terrorist’ Dieudonné.” No comment.

On a higher intellectual note, Jean Baubérot, the well-known sociologist-historian of religion in France—and whose perspectives on laïcité à la française I entirely share—, has a post on “Antisémitisme et racisme” on his Mediapart blog.

UPDATE: To get an idea of Dieudonné’s humor—and what makes his fans laugh—take a look at this skit on “the deported Jew” (subtitles in English). Ça se passe de commentaire. It is being reported in the French media today (March 11th) that the lawsuit of the owners of the Théâtre de la Main d’Or to have Dieudonné’s lease cancelled will be adjudicated on April 29th. One can only hope the owners will win. The sooner the S.O.B. is put out of business, the better.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà an article in Le Point (July 1st), “Dieudonné, un pas de plus dans l’abjection.” The lede: Le Point.fr est allé voir ‘La Bête immonde’, son nouveau spectacle. Devant un public conquis, le comédien a déversé sa haine sur les Juifs. Affligeant.

3rd UPDATE: Canal+ broadcast a 52-minute “Enquête sur le réseau Dieudonné” on June 30th, that may be viewed here.

4th UPDATE: The Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (district court) has postponed—and for at least the fourth time—a ruling on the lawsuit to have Dieudonné’s Théâtre de la Main d’Or lease cancelled (September 23rd). A definitive decision looks to have been, as they say, renvoyé aux calendes grecques.

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Twitter @Lauren_Provost: Vu dans le cortège #JourDeColere

Twitter @Lauren_Provost: Vu dans le cortège #JourDeColere

[update below] [2nd update below]

Thomas Legrand had an excellent commentary on yesterday’s ‘Jour de colère’ in his political editorial on France Inter this morning. He absolutely, totally nails it. One may listen to or read the editorial here. For those who are too lazy to don’t feel like opening the link, here’s the whole thing

Jour de colère : la manif “travail famille patrie”

C’était une manifestation, non pas d’exaspération envers une politique mais envers une personne, François Hollande. Pour ce qu’il représente pour eux, l’anti-France ! Pourtant on ne peut pas vraiment dire que François Hollande soit l’incarnation de la gauche “couteau entre les dents”. Ni que ses discours soient imprégnés d’idéologie sectaire, que son propos soit particulièrement “clivant”…  Une autre partie de la population, beaucoup plus large, aurait même tendance à lui reprocher le contraire : sa mollesse, son absence de leadership ! Alors que leur a-t-il fait pour les mettre dans cet état là ? Le mariage pour tous ? Trop d’impôts ? La promotion des congés paternité qui “assexueraient” notre société ? Non, ces éléments avancés comme autant d’attaques invivables contre notre civilisation, ne sont, en réalité rien au regard d’un seul élément, toujours le même quand la gauche est au pouvoir : l’illégitimité. La gauche héritière de la Révolution française, la gauche régicide est toujours illégitime pour une petite partie de la droite la plus réactionnaire. Cette partie de la droite, depuis la Libération et les révélations de ses trahisons pendant la guerre, se taisait, se terrait dans quelques recoins de Versailles, dans l’ouest parisien, dans de vieilles familles du grand ouest, dans quelques belles demeures de province et églises intégristes… Mais bon, il ne faut pas non plus surestimer le potentiel révolutionnaire du Vésinet.

C’est vraiment une France très minoritaire que vous décrivez là !

Oui on l’avait vue ressurgir auprès de Jean-Marie Le Pen, avant que Marine Le Pen ne républicanise la façade du FN. Cette droite n’est pas le gros du bataillon de la droite politique UMP, ni même du Front National. C’est un petit noyau réactionnaire qui a trouvé, à l’occasion de la contestation du mariage pour tous, une caisse de résonance. Internet a fait le lien entre toutes les miettes vieille France éparpillées et qui avaient l’impression -avant de se voir les uns les autres- de n’être que la trace d’un monde qui s’en va. En réalité ils le sont mais l’amplificateur d’internet et la coagulation (momentanée) de leurs préoccupations avec celles d’une population beaucoup plus large et beaucoup plus modérée, au moment de la manif pour tous, ou des bonnets rouges, leur fait croire qu’une forme de restauration est possible. Il existe à gauche aussi une petite frange, héritière des sans-culottes, et qui considère que tout ce qui est de droite est fasciste ! Chacun des deux camps, droite et gauche ne peut se permettre de couper tout à fait les ponts avec ces deux franges qui regroupent tous ceux qui n’ont pas accepté, soit que la révolution ait eu lieu, soit qu’elle n’ait pas été assez loin. Il est quand même étonnant, après avoir vu les fleurs de Lys et les quenelles hier qu’un responsable de l’UMP comme Luc Chatel dise “comprendre les manifestants”. Car il s’agissait bien d’une manifestation factieuse. “Travail, famille, patrie” ! Que cette droite légitimiste soit rejointe par l’extrême gauche antisémite et populiste de Dieudonné et d’Alain Soral, et nous avons le cocktail anti républicain de la révolution nationale de la collaboration. La manif pour tous du printemps denier a engendré un petit monstre… Plus ridicule qu’effrayant… à l’image de Béatrice Bourges, martyre de la dictature Hollandiste et qui a décidé de faire une grève de la faim jusqu’à la démission de François Hollande ! Il faudrait prévenir la chef du printemps français que si le ridicule ne tue pas, la privation de nourriture : si !

On the bit about the “illegitimacy” of the left in power in the eyes of the hard right: I mentioned this in my post w/pics yesterday and made the parallel with the GOP right-wing in the US, which does not accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s victories (but didn’t with Bill Clinton’s either; and no doubt wouldn’t have with Gore or Kerry if they had been elected). If Rush Limbaugh’s ditto heads were transformed into Frenchmen and transported to Paris, a certain number would have found themselves in yesterday’s demo, c’est sûr.

This half-minute video of the ‘Jour de colère’ pretty much sums up the general Weltanshauung of the marchers. And then there’s this one

UPDATE: Le Monde journalists Abel Mestre and Caroline Monnot have a must-read post on their ‘Droite(s) extrême(s)’ blog—and that seconds Thomas Legrand’s analysis above—on “La défaite politique de «Jour de colère».”

2nd UPDATE: Yesterday’s Le Petit Journal (Canal+) had a report on the Jour de colère, showing its journalists being aggressed and manhandled by demonstrators. (January 28)

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The Day of Anger, this afternoon in Paris. It was the biggest demonstration of the French hard and extreme right since the anti-gay marriage movement of last spring. The organizers of the demo did not reveal their identity, though it seems to have been a recently formed network of far rightists called Printemps français (French Spring; how original…). A multitude of groups—though no political parties—from that end of the political spectrum signed on to the march—including Dieudonné and his sidekick Alain Soral’s Egalité et Réconciliation—and which was well publicized on the websites of the réacosphère and fachosphère.  Here’s the manifesto of the march from its website (my translation)

The Day of Anger is the expression of a collective awareness of civil society vis-à-vis the deleterious action of a government that is pulling us into the abyss. As France is sinking into mass unemployment, is losing its sovereignty by the day, the hopelessness of its citizens is increasing, families are being destroyed, and its historic values are being trampled on, our duty as enlightened citizens obligates us to rise to the occasion and react to a president who insists that he will not deviate an inch from the course he has embarked upon.

We demand a radical change, basing ourselves on a “coagulation” of all our angers.

We crystallize the totality of these disappointments, of these fears, and these frustrations into a day of anger. A contemporary Dies Irae, which will definitively bring an end to these policies inherited from [preceding governments].

Until now the government has been counting on a fragmentation of contestations, so as to better isolate and heap contempt on them. It is time to unite our forces around common issues that bring us together.

We all have at least one reason to be angry at this government, among them:

Does not listen to the people
Fleeces the taxpayers
Starves our farmers
Does away with our army
Frees delinquents from prison
Confuses our children
Perverts our educational system
Diminishes our liberties
Murders our identity
Destroys our families

Employers, employees, unemployed, retirees, the self-employed, students and their parents, taxpayers and citizens, elected officials and simple citizens, we say NO to the current policies and direction taken by an irresponsible and incompetent elite.

The reasons for our anger:

The diminishing of the army
The power of finance
Soft on crime
Educational dogmas
Corruption and dishonesty
The deplorable image of France abroad
Fleecing the taxpayers
Incompetence of the government
Erratic foreign policy
Atlantist vassaldom [i.e. submission to the United States]
Destruction of the family
Mismanagement in government

It is time to draw up a new List of Grievances and convoke the Estates-General and a Sovereign Assembly [N.B. language from the French Revolution]. It is time to bring liberty back to France!

Run-of-the-mill hard right neo-Poujadism. The nascent French Tea Party. As it looked to be a significant event, I decided to check it out. The march started at the Bastille and with the Place Vauban below Invalides the destination point. I caught it at Montparnasse, toward 4 PM. The weather today was terrible: steady drizzle, blustery, mid 40s (7°C). A lousy day for a demo. And to take photos. But there was a big turnout: the police said 17,000, the organizers 160,000. It was somewhere in between but closer to the police figure. Here are some of the pics I took.


The call for President Hollande to resign (but why exactly?) was the watchword.




Many placards railing on against high taxes. And there were even a couple denouncing the Sécu (national health insurance and pensions). That’s new.


It’s a middle-class crowd. The majority no doubt vote for the Front National (though which was not present in any way, shape, or form). There were no politicians or parties.


The French are angry. Can’t argue with that.


The placard of Hollande with the pink strip over his eyes reads: Dégage! (from the Tunisian uprising against Ben Ali three years ago; French far-rightists borrowing slogans from Arabs…).


Placards and slogans against gay marriage were numerous. Catholic traditionalists were dominant in this stretch of the march.



Palestinian flag. The only foreign flag in the demo. Hmmm, I wonder why?….


Un renois et un rebeu. La France de toutes les couleurs…

Whoever said blacks and Arabs can’t be reactionary too?…


Against gay marriage.


A pineapple: a clin d’œil to Dieudonné. One of the contingents of young men was singing his ‘Shoah nanas’, mocking the Holocaust. Another group chanted: “Shoah, Shoah, hahaha.” Yes, how funny…  😐



CRS riot police at the entrance to Rue de Rennes. Young men chanted anti-police slogans and made gestures as they passed.


The banner says something about abortion and the French state being Nazi…



A lot of my pics were blurry, unfortunately. This man’s t-shirt reads ‘Hollande is not our president’. Tea Party GOPers in the US feel similarly about Obama. Interesting how the hard right, whatever the country, rejects the legitimacy of elections when the left wins…


No to a Change of People and Civilization. This comes from the well-known pro-FN writer Renaud Camus’s “Appel,” sounding the alarm over the apparent dissolution of the French people and French civilization through immigration and Islamization.


Angry Catholics.


Doing Dieudonné’s “quenelle.” I saw several, all from white punks (except for this guy).


Several groups of young demonstrators—all “white” French, BTW—wore balaclavas, as if they were ready to face off against the police. And they did at the end of the march, as the TV news reported.

This is the first far-right event I’ve attended where I didn’t feel entirely reassured for my safety. A lot of the young men—manifestly hardcore Dieudo fans—looked the kind who like to pick fights.


Young men from “visible minorities.” They were a minority in the demo but they were there. Fachos of a feather…


Against Europe. No to dismantling France and the Republic. Nice to know they’re for the Republic…



The younger marchers where disproportionately male but young women were present. Pourquoi pas?


Cathos tradis en colère contre quelque chose…


A rare Islamic headscarf.

There was a gap in the march, the weather was terrible, so I decided to leave. But more contingents arrived, all with their pet peeves and slogans. If it were a nicer day I would have accompanied the demo to the end. La prochaine fois…

Here are reports in Slate.fr (from ten days ago), Mediapart, and Rue89.

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It’s official. They’ve broken up. Or, rather, he dumped her. Repudiated her. Formally and officially. I haven’t posted on French politics in the past couple of weeks, which doesn’t mean I haven’t been following it closely—both this affair and the (objectively more important) announcements in regard to economic policy. In addition to following current events closely I’ve been talking to the various people I know in the Socialist party (the base and pols at the local level; I presently have no one in the national leadership in my mobile phone carnet) or who are close to it. I’ll come back to the (objectively more important) policy stuff in a subsequent post but first this.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this affair is disastrous for François Hollande and his image. Couples break up all the time, of course—that’s life—, but the circumstances surrounding this one—such as we’ve learned via the presse people (i.e. gossip magazines) over the past couple of weeks (and notably Closer, whose scoops have been confirmed officieusement by those close to Hollande)—leave a particularly bad taste. As it turns out, Hollande has been carrying on with Julie Gayet for some two years now, in what apparently is a real relationship with sentiments. Which means the thing started sometime in 2011 or early 2012, i.e. before the presidential election. During the campaign Valérie Trierweiler was presented as his cohabiting companion—his serious S.O.—and after the victory she assumed the position of première dame, with office in the Elysée, staff, etc. All this while François was seeing Julie on the side—and on numerous occasions, slipping out of the Elysée (on scooters, etc) for their trysts. And Valérie knew nothing about it. She apparently had no inkling. As I and many others have wondered, WTF was François thinking?! Did he really believe that he, as Président de la République in the second decade of the 21st century, could get away with such behavior without the presse people and Internet not learning about it and then making hay? and not to mention the mainstream elite media, which may be striving to keep the focus on the (objectively more important) domains of economic, social, foreign, etc policy but, in this day and age, can no longer pretend that a crisis in the Président de la République’s conjugal life is a taboo subject and off limits, particularly when everyone else is talking about it…

What leaves a bad taste here is that François has humiliated Valérie and in a very big and public way. He has shown himself to be a cad. A total jerk (and I’m using gentle words here; my language could be much stronger). Contrast this with Nicolas Sarkozy and his turbulent—and very public—romantic life in the months following his election victory in 2007. In his case, it was his wife (Cécilia) who left him. He did everything he could to keep her but she was the one who wanted out (and she had another man). Taking up with Carla Bruni only a few months after and the way he displayed it publicly—’Carla, c’est du sérieux’, etc—was unseemly to many—and particularly older conservatives—and made him look like he was debasing the office of the President of the Republic—which he was—, but at least he really was sérieux about Carla. Say what one will about Sarkozy—and I was no fan of his, loin s’en faut—but he is nice to women and did/does not humiliate them, and certainly not in public (e.g. politically speaking, he felt he had to separate himself from Rachida Dati and Rama Yade, but he cut these two headstrong women a lot of slack—more than he did their male counterparts—and did not diminish them when they were finally removed from their ministerial posts). Jacques Chirac: he was a chaud lapin, as was well-known, but was also a gentleman and who respected cultural codes and conventions; and while Bernadette may have privately suffered on account her husband’s dalliances, she was not humiliated publicly (and she remains the most popular and respected première dame of the Fifth Republic). François Mitterrand likewise: he was a grand séducteur and with a secret second family but had an arrangement with Danielle, who led her own life (and no doubt in every respect). Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was a typical male of his social class and rank, an upstanding family man with mistress(es) on the side. As for Georges Pompidou and, above all, Charles de Gaulle, these were upright, conservative men of their generation; and de Gaulle was apparently shocked at accounts of John F. Kennedy’s libertinage; so much for clichés of philandering Frenchmen and puritanical Americans. And if one goes outre-Atlantique, Bill Clinton may have been a horndog but everything that was revealed about him during his presidency in this domain (Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky…) was about sex tout court—no sentiments—and was displayed in the public square by his political enemies for all to see. Bill tried to keep his private life discreet—and his indiscretions were, in fact, no big deal at all—and never humiliated Hillary. If Hillary was humiliated during the Lewinsky business, it was on account of Kenneth Starr and his henchmen in Congress and the media, not her husband.

A friend—who’s a retired haut fonctionnaire—explained the situation to me the other day: in the French bourgeoisie it is accepted that men will have an affair or mistress and this is okay, so long as he is discreet about it (bourgeois men nowadays do divorce their wives and marry their mistresses, but this is a relatively new phenomenon, of the current generations). He does not leave his wife (and mother of his children) and does not publicly expose her to the situation. And she may well have a lover herself but that’s okay too, as long as the marriage remains intact and social conventions are respected. The problem with Hollande here, according to my friend, is that he did not respect the conventions and codes of his class (indeed society). He lived with Ségolène Royal—also from the bourgeoisie—for 25 years and had four children with her, but they did not marry, even when she publicly made it clear (in 2006) that she was ready and willing. Their relationship ended when François took up with Valérie but he wouldn’t marry her either. And now he’s moved on to someone else—and while President of the Republic to boot. Culturally speaking, this does not fly, not for a man of his standing and who occupies the office that he does.

Hollande’s penchant for strong-willed women with strong, independent personalities could speak in his favor but still… The man, to those who don’t know him, looks like he has a problem with women. His inscrutable personality has been remarked upon by many, including his son, but now people will be making negative judgments about it. Every last woman with whom I have discussed the affair—from their early 20s to the troisième âge, plus those I’ve listened to/heard in the media—has been severe in her judgment of him as a man. President Hollande has discredited himself in the eyes of many women on the left (don’t even talk about those on the right). And this despite the fact that Valérie Trierweiler herself has not had a positive public image (despite her sizable following on Twitter—more than any politician apart from Hollande and Sarkozy—she is widely disliked; I have yet to hear any woman speak favorably of her; and she has few friends or allies in the Socialist party or Hollande’s entourage). And for her repudiation-to-be, announced by communiqué as she was set to visit India with a humanitarian organization: this is doubly humiliating.

I obviously have no idea what the political fallout of this will be but it cannot be good for Hollande. This is the last thing he—or France—needs at this moment, with his announcement of a bold but problematic shift in economic policy, and for which he will need all the public support he can muster. This thing may blow over with time but I doubt it, particularly as Valérie is not likely to fade from public life (as did Cécilia Sarkozy, who remarried and moved to New York). Looking ahead to 2017, I just don’t see how Hollande can credibly run for reelection.

I will say that I’m glad this isn’t Britain or the US, with the media circus that would have ensued. The French media has handled the affair as it should have, with a sort of division of labor: the elite press focusing on policy and relegating the personal business to the inside pages—and with highbrow debates on the changing boundaries of public and private life—and leaving scoops and speculation on Valérie and Julie to the weekly news and gossip magazines (France thankfully does not have British-style tabloids). And the TV talk shows—those I’ve seen—have made it a big story but not to the detriment of others.

À suivre.

nº1127, 22-01-2014

nº1127, 22-01-2014

nº1126, 15-01-2014

nº1126, 15-01-2014

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That’s the title of an op-ed in today’s NYT by University of Houston historian and France specialist Robert Zaretsky, who makes mention of François Hollande’s latest personal problems as yet another milestone in the diminishing stature of the French President of the Republic. I don’t have anything in particular to say about Zaretsky’s piece except for this bit (and which inspires the title of the op-ed)

The Gaullist Republic was as much a cultural as a political fact, but French culture and politics have changed dramatically. Given the persistent calls for a Sixth Republic, one that enhances Parliament’s powers, is it possible that the Gaullist Republic has outlived its purpose?

A couple of points. First, the calls for a Sixth Republic have come exclusively from the left (and have abated in recent years). Junking the current system and moving to a 6ème République was a slogan of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 2012 presidential campaign but it wasn’t clear—to me, at least—what he had in mind by it (and I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to delve into his campaign literature to try to find out). In the 1990s and early ’00s, some on the left (e.g. Jack Lang, Olivier Duhamel) argued for a Sixth Republic that would, in effect, restore the parliamentary regime of the Third and Fourth Republics. Others (notably Jean-Pierre Chevènement) advocated a Sixth Republic that would replace the current hybrid presidential-parliamentary system with a full-fledged American-style presidential one (involving, entre autres, an abolition of the post of prime minister and a clear separation of the executive and legislative pouvoirs). The ideas here were worthy but were of interest only to a handful of politicians, jurists, and political scientists (e.g. me), who like to read and think about institutions and process. Average citizens—even informed ones, who follow current events—are, for their part, neither knowledgeable about nor interested in such matters. They don’t care, regardless of what polls may say (e.g. the apparent overwhelming support—as indicated in polls, though which did not measure intensity of feeling on the question—for reducing the presidential seven-year term to five; but when the referendum on this was organized in 2000—by President Chirac, who didn’t like the idea at all but was in a cohabitation with the left, which decided to make an issue of the quinquennat—, the participation rate barely hit 30%). So a majority party has nothing whatever to gain politically by proposing a change in the constitutional order, particularly as the party, almost by definition, benefits from the existing one.  And the existing constitutional order—here, the Fifth Republic—has rock solid support on the right—those who venerate Charles de Gaulle are hardly going to jettison his principal œuvre—but also in the moderate left (for the anecdote, in 2002 or thereabouts I argued for a Sixth Republic with a PS activist who was also an énarque at the Cour des Comptes, who defended the constitution of the Fifth Republic as having endowed France with strong institutions and political stability). And it does not stand to reason that a president would approve of an initiative that could only result in a substantial reduction of his office’s powers.

Secondly, new constitutions in France have almost never been adopted by the regime that is to be replaced. Since 1789 France has had 15 constitutional orders, all but one of which (1791) came about following a popular uprising that overthrew a king (or reduced him to a figurehead, as in 1789), a coup d’Etat (or something approaching one), or a defeat in war. In the case of the current constitution, it was the product of a quasi coup in May 1958, when the top generals—based in Algeria—demanded the return of de Gaulle, obliging the political leadership in Paris to accede to the latter’s demand to rule by decree while a new constitution was being drawn up. None of the three aforementioned scenarios is in the offing these days, needless to say. So there is not going to be a Sixth Republic. It’s just not going to happen.

BTW, President Sarkozy initiated a major revision of the constitution in 2008, which amended almost half its articles. Some of the revisions increased the powers of the National Assembly and democratized access to the constitutional council. But I’ll wager that the great majority of Frenchmen and women couldn’t tell you a thing about this, if they’re even aware it happened…

On Hollande and his current issues, including personal, I’ll say something about this in the next day or two.

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[update below]

Art Goldhammer has a blog post on the news that Valérie Trierweiler—François Hollande’s companion—has been hospitalized since Friday—when François’s liaison with actress Julie Gayet was revealed in the gossip magazine Closer—, for a “gros coup de blues” (i.e. a bout of depression). And the story is leading the news this evening, on the radio and press web sites. Art is dismayed

Suddenly, Hollande’s amorous escapades are no longer a joking matter. It’s hard to see how this can do the president any good. Even the Sarkozy soap opera never descended to such tragic depths. In a quasi-royal presidential system like the French, the health of the body politic itself suffers when the president is damaged to such a degree. I shake my head in sadness.

I entirely agree. I’m getting a little impatient with this French reflex—from politicians, the media, intellectuals, etc—of invoking “le respect de la vie privée” blah blah at revelations of this sort. Now I do adhere to this reflex most of the time, but we’re talking about the President of the Republic here. When the leader of the French nation two-times his Significant Other in this day and age—and rides motorcycles to his rendez-vous galants in broad daylight—, and when this is certain to be revealed sooner or later in the presse people and on countless web sites, it is not a minor matter. It just seems so stupid and reckless. It should not lead to his resignation, of course, but it’s unseemly. It diminishes the man, particularly with his companion in the hospital as a consequence. Hollande recently announced a significant change of course—in his political/economic thinking, at least—in a social-libéral direction and with a major press conference coming up on Tuesday, which he presumably hopes will focus on this. But now everyone’s talking about Julie and Valérie. Quel gâchis.

UPDATE: Oy vey. Mediapart has a scoop—translated into English—on “President Hollande’s secret visits to meet actress; flat linked to ‘organised crime’.”


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Nº 662, 23-02-2005

Nº 662, 23-02-2005

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

He was the headline on the national news Thursday night, a major story again last night, and was on the front pages of almost all the national newspapers in France yesterday. It is quite amazing that the latest Dieudonné non-Affair—and, objectively speaking, there is no affair, as he hasn’t done anything at the present time to provoke one—has been going on for over two weeks now, that it continues to be a big news story. Which is not to say that it is devoid of interest. The Dieudonné brouhaha has indeed raised some issues—and disquieting ones, notably in regard to his enthusiastic fan base—and provoked what looks to be a real debate over free speech in France and the limits to this (of which more on below). A few points.

First, Dieudonné is not just a comedian. He is a quasi political actor and has been since the 1990s. Pour mémoire, he was an independent candidate in the 1997 legislative elections, in the Dreux constituency—a Front National terre de prédilection since the early ’80s and where Dieudo has his main residence—, obtaining a not insignificant 8% of the vote. His campaign—this before he became an anti-Semite (an open one, at least)—was aimed at the FN’s Marie-France Stirbois—who was Dreux’s National Assembly deputy in the 1989-93 period (she took 61% of the vote in the 1989 by-election there)—and attracted sympathy from the left (all sorts of lefties—e.g. Jack Lang, Marie-George Buffet, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, SOS-Racisme—came to Dreux in the late ’90s to support Dieudo in his ongoing bagarre with Mme Stirbois and the local FN; this several years before he became best buddies with Jean-Marie Le Pen and other frontistes). Dieudonné announced his candidacy in the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections—which went nowhere, of course, as he had no ability to round up the necessary 500 signatures—, was in the second position on the “Euro-Palestine” list in the Île-de-France in the 2004 European elections—when his antisemitism had begun to rear its head—, and headed the “Liste Antisioniste” (i.e. anti-Zionist) in the ÎdF in the 2009 European elections (poster below)—his antisemitism now in full throttle—, and with the list including the well-known Jew haters Yahia Gouasmi, Alain Soral—Dieudo’s main sidekick these days—, and Ginette Hess-Skandrani.

Some numbers: In the 2004 election, the “Euro-Palestine” list won 4% of the vote in the Seine-Saint-Denis (the neuf-trois), spiking at 6 to 8% in La Courneuve, Bobigny, Villepinte, and Clichy-sous-Bois (and obtaining 11% in Garges-lès-Gonesse in the Val d’Oise). The 2009 “Antisioniste” list took a modest 3% in its (relative) stronghold of the Seine-Saint-Denis, winning 4 to 5% in a dozen, heavily immigrant-origin populated communes across the ÎdF. The point here: Dieudonné has a political audience—and notably among the younger generation of visible minorities—that is independent of his specific stand-up comic acts. So when the French state views him as more than a simple entertainer, it is not without reason. Which is not to say that the state’s current actions against him are justified.

Which leads to the second point. The latest Dieudonné (non-)affair is purely the doing of Manuel Valls. If it weren’t for Valls and his grandstanding acharnement against Dieudonné—to have the latter’s shows banned—, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The latest thing blew three weeks ago, when it was reported that Dieudo, in his current stand-up act, was making bad taste Judeophobic jokes about France Inter’s morning news host Patrick Cohen (whom I listen to daily, pour l’info). And this was followed by Nicolas Anelka’s “quenelle” on December 28th, after scoring a goal for his current West Bromwich club—the 11th he’s played for in his turbulent career—against West Ham. No particular reason to be shocked, as Anelka—a trash-talking Muslim convert hailing from an ill-reputed cité in a particularly tough Paris banlieue—said that he’s a friend of Dieudonné’s and did it for his friend (N.B. the “quenelle” is not an inverted Nazi salute; Dieudonné came up with it in the late ’90s; it’s simply a bras d’honneur—an “up yours”—at “the system,” and a gesture of solidarity with Dieudonné and his spiel: which, in view of Dieudo’s obsessive, in-your-face antisemitism, signifies that the quenelle may be rightly interpreted as adhesion to his world-view and pet hatreds). Valls’s gratuitous campaign to silence Dieudonné is of a piece with the most intolerant, liberticide reflexes of the French left. “Pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté”… How many times have I heard that over the years and decades from French lefties (and coming from a man—Saint-Just—who went to the guillotine…)….

Even those who support hate speech laws such as the Loi Gayssot—which, being a First Amendment purist, I do not—and think these alone should suffice in this matter, have been critical of Valls’s liberty-undermining demarche and regret that he’s playing into Dieudonné’s hands, e.g. the prominent political scientist and former PS MEP Olivier Duhamel, Albert Herszkowicz of Memorial 98, Maître Eolas (animateur of the excellent blog Journal d’un avocat), Charb of Charlie Hebdo—who points out the differences between Dieudonné’s legal challenges and the lawsuits that have been filed against CH over the years—, Pascal Riché of Rue89, the Franco-Algerian journalist Akram Belkaïd, the venerable Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, and others. Mediapart’s Edwy Plenel has gone so far as to compare Valls to Nicolas Sarkozy (the similarities between the two have been remarked upon by more than one)

Imposant son duel avec Dieudonné comme le feuilleton médiatique du moment, Manuel Valls fait tout bêtement, et sinistrement, du Nicolas Sarkozy. Il exacerbe, hystérise, divise, dramatise, pour mieux s’imposer en protagoniste solitaire d’une République réduite à l’ordre établi, immobilisée dans une politique de la peur, obsédée par la désignation d’ennemis à combattre, tournant le dos à toute espérance transformatrice, authentiquement démocratique et sociale. Avec cette politique avilie, réduite aux émotions sans pensées, aux réflexes sans débats, aux urgences sans discussions, nous voulions en finir en 2012, et hélas nous y sommes toujours.

The alacrity with which the Conseil d’Etat—the supreme court of the administrative legal system—issued its rulings over the past two days is also disquieting, as if there were some kind of consigne issued on the matter. And now it appears that Valls is trying to have Dieudonné censored on the Internet. This is crazy. Dieudonné’s lawyers will most certainly take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and which will most certainly rule against the French state and in Dieudonné’s favor. And Manuel Valls—and the French Socialists—will have definitively succeeded in turning a lowlife anti-Semite into a martyr for free speech. Great! On this, I have to part company with Thomas Legrand, France Inter’s normally sharp political editorialist—and with whom I invariably find myself in agreement—, who, yesterday morning, disagreed with those critiquing Valls and the Conseil d’Etat. He asserted, entre autres, that

La parole raciste est performative, c’est un acte. Tenir des propos racistes c’est être violent. A partir du moment où l’on sait que Dieudonné sera antisémite dans son prochain meeting, peut-on encore invoquer la liberté d’expression pour le laisser faire ? C’est à peu prés comme permettre une ratonnade au nom de la liberté d’expression des ratonneurs. Entre l’époque des lois scélérates et aujourd’hui, il y a eu quelques événements : le génocide arménien, la Shoah, les guerres de décolonisation, le Rwanda (Goebbels et Radio 1000 collines) qui permettent de comprendre la différence fondamentale entre la violence des mots anarchistes –pour poursuivre avec cet exemple- et la violence des mots racistes. Face à ces considérations, se demander si les interdictions du meeting de Dieudonné ne vont pas lui faire de la publicité, ne pèse pas grand chose. Faire de la publicité, rendre public le plus largement possible l’idée que le racisme est interdit, c’est renforcer un tabou positif, qui, à court terme, peut créer des troubles, mais qui, au fond, renforce la cohésion. C’est l’Histoire qui nous l’a enseignée.

Specious analogies. “Ratonneurs” are thugs who carry out violent acts on people, Radio 1000 Collines openly called on people to murder their neighbors… What is going on in France right now is a wanker making sick jokes to other wankers. Il n’y a pas eu mort d’homme. There has not been a single documented instance of a Dieudonné show resulting in physical aggression against an individual, or even against property. If Dieudonné were to suggest that his fans do any of this, legal sanctions against him would be in order. But he has done no such thing.

My third point. Valls may be inflating Dieudonné’s significance and with the extensive media coverage—which is only normal in view of the story’s interest and the fact that major politicians are driving it—increasing Dieudo’s fan base, but the fact of the matter is: Dieudonné is irrelevant and will remain that way. In listening to him speak on politics one is struck by the nullity of his rhetoric. To call it intellectually impoverished would be an understatement. To get an idea of the level at which Dieudonné is operating, take a few minutes and listen to him here (English subtitles). This is the degré zéro of political discourse. Marine Le Pen is both Aristotle and Pericles by comparison. Moreover, Dieudonné has no sympathizers even at the extremes of the political spectrum (a few ageing or marginalized frontistes apart; Marine LP won’t have anything to do with him). Even pro-Palestinian/Israel-bashing associations on the far left have condemned him in no uncertain terms, e.g. the Association France Palestine Solidarité and the Campagne BDS France. To these one may add the self-styled Parti des Indigènes de la République—which 100% supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their struggle against the “Zionist entity”—, which issued a declaration 4½ years ago harshly denouncing Dieudonné and his rapprochement with the extreme right. Dieudonné is radioactive from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Only those regarded as crackpots and whack jobs even by other extremists will touch him with a ten-foot pole. So politically speaking, he represents exactly nothing.

As for his youthful fans—and this is my fourth point—, way too much is being made of them. Now I have been somewhat taken aback at images of the thousands who attend Dieudonné’s shows, who are intimately familiar with his shtick, and find his antisemitic “humor” hilarious (e.g. see the video of his Bordeaux performance last April embedded in this piece; see also this, this, this, and this). I don’t know where this Judeophobia—latent and overt—comes from or how to interpret it, particularly as anti-Semitism has declined precipitously in France over the past six decades; it is not significantly higher in France than in the US or anywhere else (and is no doubt lower than in a number of European countries; I’ll come back to this subject another time). It is true that a significant number of his fans are youthful Muslims—who are disproportionately given over to antisemitic stereotyping—and other post-colonial and DOM-TOM minorities, but they are by no means all; many fans are regular “gaulois” French, middle class, and educated beyond the bac.

Several commentators have said that we need to listen to Dieudonné’s youthful adepts, try to understand where they’re coming from, and absolutely not stigmatize them, e.g. Pascal Boniface, who offers this

Mais ce qui compte, au-delà de [Dieudonné], c’est l’influence qu’il peut avoir sur une partie non négligeable de la jeunesse française. C’est là le véritable enjeu. Son public est jeune et divers. Ce n’est pas en traitant tous ceux qui vont à ses spectacles de nazis ou d’imbéciles qu’on les fera se désolidariser de Dieudonné. Quelles sont les raisons de la popularité de Dieudonné ? Il est le fruit d’un rejet des élites politiques et médiatiques par une partie de la population. Ces dernières devraient davantage réfléchir aux motifs de ce rejet, plus compliqué que de désigner un coupable idéal.

In an FB exchange yesterday, a smart journalist with a Maghreb specialization took me to task for an off-the-cuff remark I made dissing Dieudonné’s fans, responding with this

On ne s’en sortira pas avec ce genre de noms d’oiseaux et le mépris… [Il faut] sortir de l’état de crispations délétères, de la crise de représentativité et des fractures sociales et mémorielles qui minent la société française.

Perhaps. In another vein, my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, whose civil libertarian critique of the government I entirely share, worried about the impact the Conseil d’Etat’s interdiction of Dieudonné’s shows would have on his alienated fans

What this series of lamentable episodes–from Anelka to Dieudonné to the Conseil d’État–has revealed is that France is on the verge of another explosion of rage by people who feel they have no political voice. It’s a pity that there is no civil rights movement worthy of the name and that no leader of stature has emerged to channel this anger into more productive channels. I shudder to think of what lies ahead.

Art needn’t shudder, as nothing whatever lies ahead, at least not from Dieudonné’s fans indignant at Manuel Valls’s vendetta against their hero. In listening to Dieudonné’s fans on the TV news and reading in press articles what they have to say (see above links), one is struck—indeed stunned—by their political inculture, of their intellectual indigence. The nullity of Dieudonné’s political discourse—the zero degree of its content—has found its audience. Intellectually speaking, Dieudo’s fans are in his image. Jean-Yves Camus, the well-known specialist of the extreme right, nailed it in his column in the December 31, 2013, Charlie Hebdo

Puisque l’ancien comique [Dieudonné] et son acolyte [Alain Soral] qui fut écrivain sont dans une logique mercantile à outrance, c’est aux clients autant que vendeurs qu’il faut s’intéresser. Les clients sont des pigeons décervelés qui croient lutter contre le «système» par une attitude d’adolescent rebelle à deux balles, les yeux rivés sur le clavier de leur ordinateur à visionner en boucle les vidéos du gourou avant d’aller acheter les produits dérivés sur la dieudosphère ou sur le site d’Égalité et Réconciliation. Quand ils se décident à sortir du monde virtuel, ces «soldats politiques» de pacotille poussent le courage jusqu’à défier le capitalisme, les discriminations raciales et les méchanismes de domination par un geste fort: une «quenelle» photographiée en loucedé sur un smart-phone qui coûte un demi-smic. Ces gens ne sont que des tout petit-bourgeois en mal d’émotions fortes, des consommateurs passifs de la sous-culture de masse qui prolifère sur les réseaux sociaux. Leur pseudo-subversion est un leurre: ils n’iront pas voter, ils désertent les luttes sociales et l’engagement sur le terrain et ils n’aident en rien, concrètement, les immigrés ou les travailleurs licenciés.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. In listening to and reading the words of Dieudonné’s fans—not to mention those of the Man himself—the leitmotif is opposition to “the system.” And the “quenelle” is their expression of this, of cocking a snook at “the system.” But what precisely do they mean by “the system”? Is it the capitalist system? Liberal democracy? The republic? The European Union? What exactly? In a discussion on the Dieudonné phenomenon this past week in a Master 2 level class at one of the universities I teach at, I put the question to a student—bright, highly politicized, and manifestly on the extreme right—who was halfway defending Dieudonné by “explaining” the “quenelle” phenomenon as a gesture of opposition to “the system” by numerous persons—soldiers, policemen, firemen, etc—who are actually inside “the system” but oppose it and, for obvious reasons, cannot express this openly. Huh? Opposition to the system by those inside the system? So please tell: what is “the system”? My student could not—or would not—say. But when we listen to Dieudonné, we get a very clear idea of what he means by “the system”: it’s that—and which is everything (politics, the state, economy, finance, the media, culture, you name it)—which is controlled by the “Zionists,” the CRIF, Bernard-Henry Lévy, the Rothschilds, Patrick Cohen, Patrick Bruel, etc, etc. And, of course, Israel. In short, it’s the Jews. The antisemitism of Dieudonné—and which suffuses his shows—is the rawest that has been expressed publicly in France since the Second World War. Audiences that eat this up, that adhere to it, that do not react to it with instinctive indignation or revulsion, merit no sympathy or comprehension. They merit nothing but contempt.

Dieudonné’s lizard brained fans may be angry about something—and their anger will no doubt increase as their hero’s legal difficulties mount—but, like Dieudonné himself, they are, finally, irrelevant. As Jean-Yves Camus observed, they are outside the political system, are politically illiterate—I actually know a couple of fans of Dieudo’s shows personally, as I have learned, so can attest to this particular aspect—, probably do not vote in their majority, do not participate in organized social struggles, are not members of civic associations… They are passive consumers of trash popular culture. And they are ultimately anodyne. They won’t join terrorist organizations or engage in criminal or subversive activities. Not a chance. And they certainly won’t form a political movement or join the Front National en masse. They will continue to go to their jobs—and most of them presumably do work, what with the price of admission to Dieudonné’s shows (cheapest seats at €38), their smart phones, etc.—and then go home to their computers, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et j’en passe. If they feel alienated or angry, that’s their problem, not society’s. And it is not something politicians or intellectuals need to get overly worried about. Not so long as the branleurs remain outside the formal political system or civic life.

A final point. As a comedian, Dieudonné is not funny. I have watched his skits on YouTube, including those from the ’90s with Elie Semoun, and failed to find any humor in them. Okay, humor is subjective and there are many people out there who have turned away from Dieudonné but still swear that he is—or used to be—a great comedian. Perhaps. But I can assert that when it comes to ethnic stand-up comedians in France, he cannot hold a candle to Fellag or Gad Elmaleh, or even Jamel Debbouze or Elie Semoun solo. Now these ones are funny!

The Dieudonné story will likely disappear in the coming days, as we move on to the next earth-shattering story, of François Hollande and his new friend.

ADDENDUM: Alain Finkielkraut and Plantu debated the Dieudonné affiar on I>Télé two days ago (watch here). Politically speaking I agree with Plantu but on the analytical level, I am entirely with Finkielkraut (and I am otherwise not a fan of his, to put it mildly). A friend remarked on what a simpleton Plantu was in his argumentation, incisively observing that “maybe that’s what it takes to be a great political cartoonist (which he is): a willy-nilly simplification of complex issues.”

And for those who have time, France 24 had a good debate Thursday night on “Free Speech or Hate Speech? The Row over French Comic Dieudonné” (in two parts: one and two), with Philip Cordery (PS MP), Philippe Moreau Chevrolet (Nouvel Obs columnist), Justin E. H. Smith (American philo and history prof in Paris), and leftist journalist Diana Johnstone. All were articulate and presented their arguments well, including Johnstone, with whom I rarely agree—and who wrote an execrable article on the Dieudonné affair last week in the ultra-gauchiste Internet rag CounterPunch (which I will decline to link to; if one wants to read it, one will have to go and look for it).

UPDATE: Art Goldhammer has a post on his French Politics blog on my Dieudonné post. He says

…I think [Arun] underestimates the potential harm of what he concedes is a widespread and increasingly uninhibited antisemitism in certain segments of French society. For Arun, these people are not alarming because they operate at “the degree zero of politics” and are products of a degraded popular culture. One can agree on the last two points and still worry about the potential for disruption and contagion. I’ve also been struck over the past few days by the crowds gathered at sites where Dieudonné performances have now been banned. Quite a few of the people interviewed on the TV news did not appear to be young denizens of the Paris suburbs or excluded visible minorities. Most seemed closer to 30 than to 20 in age, were well-dressed, and evidently had no difficulty coming up with the minimum 38 euros necessary (as Arun notes) for a ticket. Yet they were eager to tell the national TV audience that they believed their hero was being suppressed by “the Zionist lobby” through its immense and occult influence on the government.

I entirely share Art’s disquiet at the complicity of Dieudonné’s fans with the latter’s antisemitism, and which I made clear. But to repeat, I don’t see this as having grave consequences for French society or the political system given the depoliticization of his fan base and the fact that they really aren’t all that numerous. Dieudonné can get several thousand people into an arena for his shows—but not sell them out (as one may see in the YouTube of his Bordeaux show last April that I linked to above; and his Théâtre de la Main d’Or in Paris’s 11th arrondissement seats all of 250)—and get up to two million hits on YouTubes—which are no doubt seen by people multiple times, by many who are not his fans (including those like myself), and by a likely not insignificant number outside France (notably in the Maghreb, where his views have a potentially large and receptive audience). In the larger scheme of things, there are just not that many people involved here.

Contrast this with a rough American equivalent of Dieudonné—a showman from a visible minority with a nasty antisemitic rhetoric—, which was Louis Farrakhan, who, if one remembers, was the focus of a lot of media attention in the US from the 1980s and, above all, in the mid ’90s. Farrakhan was/is far more intelligent and sophisticated than Dieudonné and a far superior orator—there is no comparison between the two—, led a religious movement which was more than a mere cult, could organize “Million Man Marches,” and sell out arenas seating tens of thousands. There was alarm in various quarters—particularly in the Jewish community—over Farrakhan and the effect his rhetoric could have on his (exclusively black) audience—which loved his demagoguery—, but, finally, nothing came of it. He was thoroughly isolated politically, including among black politicians, and his fans—who were far more numerous than Dieudonné’s—neither joined the Nation of Islam nor coalesced into a movement or cause. Farrakhan fizzled and the media forgot about him.

Today’s Journal du Dimanche (January 12th) has a short interview (not online) with André Déchot, co-author of the 2011 book La Galaxie Dieudonné: Pour en finir avec les impostures (which looks worth reading), in which he discusses Dieudonné’s fans. In response to a question as to who they are

D’abord un noyau dur minoritaire, entre 10 et 20%, que agrège des négationnistes, différents courants d’extême droite dont des dirigeants du FN, des conspirationnistes, des fondamentalistes musulmans, des sectaires…Sans oublier les jeunes de la droite radicalisée qui étaient mobilisés contre le mariage pour tous. Ils étaient là, jeudi pour acceuillir bruyamment Manuel Valls lors de son arrivée à Rennes.

As for the other fans

Beaucoup de jeunes qui viennent des quartiers populaires, pas seulement issus de l’immigraton, et dont la plupart sont hors syndicats, hors associations ou structures collectives. Leur point commun, c’est un manque de repères historiques ou politiques. Ils sont dans une confusion entretenue par Dieudonné et ses amis. Pour eux, la «quenelle» est avant tout un bras d’honneur à un pouvoir en place qui, pensent-ils, les ignore.

As to whether or not they are antisemitic

Le public de Dieudonné n’est pas dans son ensemble antisémite, mais il adore ses provocations. Pour les fans, Dieudonné mène un combat contre la pensée unique, pour la liberté d’expression. Au regard de la posture victimaire de l’«humoriste», on peut presque parler d’un antisémitisme jugé acceptable par le public. Mais le risque est insidieux: on rigole aux vannes antisémites par provocation et, petit à petit, l’imaginaire de chacun peut se reconfigurer sur des préjugés racistes.

The France 2 talk show host, Frédéric Taddeï, interviewed author Marc-Édouard Nabe on Friday night, who had some interesting insights into Dieudonné and his fans (watch here), emphasizing, in particular, their attraction to conspiracy theories. (Taddeï, BTW, has invited Dieudonné onto his show in the past year, which gives the lie to those who say that Dieudo has been “banned” from mainstream television.)

It seems that Dieudonné is trying to calmer le jeu, announcing that he’s scrapping his current act and writing another. He’s no doubt getting scared that the state is going to go after him financially—and which Jean-Marc Ayrault all but confirmed this past week—, hitting him for unpaid taxes and fines. Money-wise, he has a lot to lose. And likely will.

2nd UPDATE: Art Goldhammer favorably links to an FT column (register for access), dated January 10th, on the Dieudonné business by Christopher Caldwell. It’s good, though Caldwell exaggerates—and not for the first time—the degree to which antisemitism is a problem in France. I noted one passage in particular

Dieudonné…may be the most gifted French comedian of his generation. He has made his name writing, directing, singing and acting two-hour-long combinations of skits and stand-up at his own Théâtre de la Main d’Or in Paris. His histrionic and imitative gifts are extraordinary, permitting him to carry out, for instance, both sides of an absurdist dialogue between a television intellectual and a car-burning rioter in the banlieues.

I presume Caldwell has seen a full Dieudonné act but wonder whom he’s comparing him to, i.e. how familiar Caldwell is with the world of French stand-up comedy in general (and the comedians I mentioned above). I’ll keep an open mind on Dieudonné’s comic act—his early stuff at least—but have yet to be convinced.

3rd UPDATE: Jack Lang—whom I would normally not cite favorably—deplored the Conseil d’Etat’s ruling in an interview in Le Monde (January 13th). Lang, pour mémoire, was a professor of constitutional law before entering politics and knows two or three things about the world of culture, so his viewpoint on this matter is noteworthy. In the same vein, retired law professor Serge Sur—who’s a major figure in his domain—took the Conseil d’Etat to task on the “Liberté, libertés chéries” blog (January 10th), calling its ruling a “Jour de deuil pour la liberté.”


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