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From one French left to another: President Hollande and Manuel Valls.

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French President: Laughing-Stock?

“Il s’est présenté comme l’homme qui n’aime pas les riches. En réalité, Le Président n’aime pas les pauvres. Lui, l‘homme de gauche, dit en privé ‘les sans-dents’, très fier de son trait de humour”

He puts himself forward as somebody who doesn’t like the rich. But in fact, the President doesn’t like poor people. The ‘man of the left’, proud of his joke, calls them, in private,  the “toothless”.

Merci pour ce moment. Valérie Trierweiler. 2014

Valérie Trierweiler’s account of her life with President François Hollande remains a best-seller. Its portrait of the former Paris Match journalist’s love, her saintly devotion to public life and her deep left roots, his ruthless pursuit of power, his cheating, her shattered private life, and his (alleged) disdain for the less well off, is not widely accepted as reliable political history. But on Page 179 one thing stands out. An opinion poll in May this year registered 3% who wanted the partner of France’s First Lady to stand again in the Presidential elections of 2017.

This may be an extreme result. But at present Hollande’s personal unpopularity stands at over 70% of voters. 80% of French electors are unhappy with his policies. Only 15% have any confidence in him. The traditional right is engaged in a battle for control of their party, the UMP. Ex-President Sarkozy, despite the ‘Bygmalion’ scandal over corrupt election funding that makes anything in the UK look pretty small beer, has returned to the scene. On the far-right, Marine Le Pen, continues to figure prominently in the opinion polls. Nobody on the left – least of all Jean-Luc Mélenchon now calling for a ‘Sixth Republic’ – offers a serious electoral alternative.

It is no coincidence that in this climate of frustration recent weeks have seen violent protests following the death of the young botanist, Rémi Fraisse during protests at a dam project in Sivens. The new wave of autonomists and those involved in the “Zones à défendre’ – Zadists – may be attracted by a spectre risen from the grave: the Comité Invisible. The authors of the post-Situationist L’insurrection qui vient (2007) have just heralded, in a new pamphlet (À nos amis) revolutions ‘everywhere’ (discussion in English here). Perhaps. But the banlieue, if not exactly quiet, quieter than expected. The new French ‘Intifada’, announced from the predominantly (by no means exclusively) Muslim poor suburbs, has not, yet, happened (and with the example of the Da’esh its Islamist side looks less and less appealing).  (1) 

While waiting for them to become visible, and reluctant to pay for what should be free literature that offers details of the “soulèvement” (uprising) underway, we remain in mundane domains. The fate of the French left is being played out inside the institutions of the 5th Republic. The politics of the French Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS) are at the centre. The PS in its Déclaration de principes (2008) dropped one half of its traditional Jaurèsian ‘synthesis’ – democratic Marxism and pursuit of the class struggle – and concentrated on the other – democratic and Enlightenment values. (2) In his electoral programme François Hollande appealed to equality and declared war on “finance”. But his attempts to ‘master’ financial markets, and influence the European Union to support pro-growth policies instead of continued budgetary ‘rigour’ soon ebbed away. We might say then that the leadership of the PS has drifted away from any social democratic reforms. That it now concentrates on promoting France as a “competitor” on the world market.

The details of this retreat are not hard to find. Since 2012, public sector workers have had their wages frozen, the minimum wage (SMIC) has only increased…minimally (0,8% since July 2012), it’s been made easier to sack employees, pension rights have been eroded, regressive indirect taxes (VAT ‘social’) have gone up, and the famous tax on Fortunes (Impôt sur la Fortune) adapted so that it has considerably less effect than its (rich) detractors asserted. (3) A vast recruitment drive for new teachers, that is, plans for 60,000 new posts, has so far resulted in 3,856 new jobs (Le Monde. 6.1.14). Despite some youth job creation unemployment has risen by half a million since May 2012.

Turn Rightwards.

After the disastrous local and European election results this year Hollande pushed out left-wing Ministers, Arnaud Montebourg and Benoît Hamon, the Greens (Europe Ecologie-Les verts, EELV) quit, and installed a new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Valls, on the PS’s right. As Interior Minister Valls heavy-handed approach to law and order, Roms had already earned him the hostility of the Greens and the left. This is said to have hastened the departure of the EELV from their position as junior government partners.

Valls admired Tony Blair, and appears determined on emulating his ‘progressive’  pro-business policies. A marginal figure for a long period (he got a humiliating vote in the PS open ‘primaries’ for Presidential candidate) this choice appeared a desperate one. It was based more on his apparent popularity to ‘tough minded’ voters, not too fond of migrants or too scrupulous about how criminals are treated.

But Valls has also floated the idea that there should be a wide-ranging re-alignment in French politics. The idea of a ‘common home’ for the centre (by which is meant those who have backed right-wing governments and presidents in the past) and the (economically) liberal ‘centre-left’ (in Mandelson speak, ‘progressives’) is modelled on Italy’s Partito Democratico. It is aimed at ‘reform’ of the country’s ‘restrictive practices’ (employment protection laws – to begin with), balanced budgets (welfare cuts) and pro-business (tax cutting) policies. This may not be a viable strategy, (the idea extends to changing the PS’s name) but it has attractions for many sections of the French political scene. Eradicating any form of democratic socialism from mainstream Hexagonal political life would be an, intended, bonus.

Not surprisingly Valls has faced great hostility within his own party. Inside the National Assembly, the 41 ‘frondeur’ deputies, and outside, the Appel de 200, have attacked Valls. They have voted against his ‘reforms’ (such as on labour ‘flexibility’ such as Sunday Working). A new current amongst activists, Vive la Gauche has emerged. The ‘social democratic’ wing of the Socialists has rallied around the unlikely oppositional figure of Martine Aubry, the Mayor of Lille and a long-standing player in the PS. Long associated with the Rocardian reformist wing she has now called to drop the “old liberal recipes” for economic reform, for investment, not cuts. While some note a lack of clear ambition to lead the Parti Socialiste her criticisms have been widely heard. In the meantime there are reports of members’ disillusion resulting in a catastrophic loss of party membership. (Le Monde 30.10.14)

To the Socialists’ left the Front de Gauche (FdG) has not developed into a vibrant and attractive alternative. Jean-Luc Mélenchon now, apparently, considers that the real fight is between the People and the “oligarchy”. The PS and Hollande the “old” left have become pillars of this elite. The Parti Communiste Français (PCF), part of the FdG, have by making some municipal election agreements with the Socialists, are….the conclusion is obvious.

Demanding the real “sovereignty” (‘profoundly anti-capitalist’) of the People Mélencohon’s ambitions rise to the creation of a New 6th Republic. (Nouvel Observateur. 8.10.14.)In the meantime the (still?) leading public face of the FdG looks to the prosperous medium-sized town of Grenoble, where his small organisation the Parti de Gauche, allied with the EELV and local left-winger against the PS and the PCF, and now control of council.

The resulting Mouvement pour la VIe République (M6R) has not won over the masses, although parts of the FdG, such as Ensemble, have backed the project. Mélenchon himself has become associated with Green protests, like the one at Sievens already cited. One is reminded of the British left’s interest in democratic reform, and ‘new politics’ (of whatever stripe) which always seems to rise when there is little prospect of socialist policies being implemented by any government.

Economics first.

In reality it’s the conflict outlined above, over economics, which is redefining the nature of the French left. Does the left represent the working majority, and the ‘poor’ (sans-dents), equality and collective rights? Or is the ‘left’ iitselfan ‘outdated’ concept (as they said, way back in the 1930s) and what’s needed is ‘production’ ‘flexibility’ entrepeneuriship and growth before anything else can be achieved? Or is it impossible to get the latter without the labour (socialist) movement leading their direction? It must be said that the, formal, split between France’s Parliamentary and trade union left does not help weigh the outcome of the clash between these perspectives in favour of this latter possibility.

These are the terms of the political and ideological battles underway. They are not concerned with “culture wars”, like the one underway over Eric Zemmour’s Le Suicide Français (defending Vichey, battling ‘political correctness’), or the half-hearted dispute around Marcel Gauchet (an unoriginal theorist of ‘totalitarianism’ who’s apparently also got some rightist inclinations). It is not the “republic”, since there is no movement outside political enthusiasts, a declining constituency, for this ‘revolutionary’ change. It’s not even over Race and Ethnicity (important though these issues are). The root of the far-right Front National’s popular appeal is economic: a rejection of migration (like its homologue UKIP) and the effects of the market, unemployment and low wages (offering a ‘national’ economic policy as an alternative).

The Socialist Head of State is, we are informed, a great football fan. He does not believe that the score is final until the match is ended (Le Monde 5.11.14). If at the moment he might be a laughing-stock (as Trierweiler helpfully calls him, the object of “risée générale’), perhaps. But the “reforms” of his new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, may finally bear fruit. Enterprise will be set free, growth will return, and unemployment) will go down. Yesterday Hollande has – widely – stated that he will not seek re-election is he fails to cut the dole queue. 

We shall see on the 15th of November whether the French Trade Unions and left – who plan a day of action against government policies – if any serious alternative is emerging.

MOBILISATION NATIONALE LE 15 NOVEMBRE !

(1) The French Intifada. The Long War Between France and its Arabs Andrew Hussey. 2014.

(2) On Jaurés’ synthesis see: Jean Jaurès. Gilles Candar. Vincent Duckert. Fayard. 2014.

(3) Dossier.: Politique Française sans Boussole Le Monde Diplomatique. September 1014.

“Le Parti communiste organise, ce week-end, en Seine-Saint-Denis, une conférence nationale. Objectif : poser de nouvelles pierres à la construction d’une alternative aux politiques d’austérité, que le président de la République devait une nouvelle fois défendre jeudi soir. ” Humanité 7.11.14.

France: the Left, the Future of a Disillusion – Eric Fassin

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Un manifestant, le 1er mai 2014.

Hollande: ‘Sarkozy with a Human Face’? 

Eric Fassin sociology professor at  the ’Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) has written a new book, Gauche : l’avenir d’une désillusion (The Left: the future of a disillusion).  It offers a highly critical balance-sheet of Hollande’s presidency.

Interview with CÉCILE DAUMAS

Two years ago François Hollande was elected President of the Republic. Have these been two years of economic realism or of a long disillusionment?

Hollande is “Sarkozy with a human face”, you say in your book: the issue  is no longer whether it is still socialist or has passed over  to the Social Democracy … you think he is the gravedigger of social democracy . Is this not exaggerated?

The President “admitted” to being a  ” social democrat”. The press applauded, starting with Libération . But the “pact responsibility” (Hollande’s key measure this year AC)  has been arranged with  the employers, not the unions. Social democracy implies a trade-off between capital and labour. Holland has reason to reject those who use the term “social-liberal” (about his policies. AC): his government is hardly “social.” It may well be  true that in policies, “the State will take the initiative”; but it is at the service of companies, banks and markets. This is not a liberal but neoliberal state. “Holland has got rid of socialism,” Alain Minc has announced with joy, just  as “Mitterrand  got rid of communism” .

But Holland hasn’t he proved that the left  can be realistic about the economy, something the left is often accused of being incapable of?

It’s an odd kind of economic realism that turns its back on the analyses of economists. We are told that “too much tax kills tax”. It would be better to remember that austerity kills prosperity, except for a few. It reduces purchasing power, boosts precarious employment and promotes … the incomes of rentiers. Who can believe that the money given to companies benefits employment, and not  shareholders? What  the socialist leaders call realism is a renunciation of the values ​​and intelligence of the left, as if reality was necessarily fixed on the Right.

At Le Bourget, the candidate Hollande called his enemy (“finance”) and declared: “There has never, I mean never, been only one possible policy, regardless of the seriousness of the situation” . Today he says the opposite – as François Mitterrand did in 1983  (when he turned to the Right, AC).

This is the posthumous triumph of Margaret Thatcher and her assertion that “There is no alternative” In other words, there is no policy: the illusion of ‘realism’  ” kills democracy.

Because if there is no alternative, voters choose either abstention or the Front National which has  denounced the “UMPS” (the Right-Left’ consensus in power, AC).

**********************

You imagine in your book a scenario in which the  second round of the Presidential elections (2017)  is a duel between  UMP  (Right) and the FN  (far-Right). .. This strategy (by the Socialist Party) of refocusing its goals,, or (as critics allege) its drift to the right,  is it doomed to failure?

There are certainly reasons to be frightened ! Since 2002, the direction of endless Socialist Party changes has been always  rightward … However, if the government imitates the right in the same way that  the right imitates the extreme right, the result is that voters often prefer the original to the copy. We are on this slippery slope towards this.  Hollande, for once realistic, has already mentioned that he may well not stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2017  election.

 Adapted extracts from Libération.

More on Fassin’s book, and his, call to rebuild links between the Left and the People,   Éric Fassin : « Il faut peser plus que notre poids, devenir des minorités agissantes »

More anti-Gay Demos in France Sunday.

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Demo Against LGBT, Sexual Equality and against ‘Familyphobia.”

The ‘Manif Pour Tous’ movement is calling for a massive demonstration in the centre of Paris on Sunday, February 2, to protest against same-sex marriage laws that were passed by Francois Hollande’s Socialist government in 2013.

The mobilisation is Contre la familiphobie, les familles se mobilisent !”

This new “phobia” – against families – is apparently threatening France.

A central theme is opposition against “diffusion de l’idéologie du genre à l’école” which we have already blogged on.

The organisers aim to put an end to “ à tous ces projets LGBT et anti-famille que prépare le gouvernement” – all the LGBT and anti-family projects being prepared by the government.

Après avoir mené le combat contre le mariage homosexuel, la Manif pour Tous a appelé à manifester à Lyon et Paris contre la procréation médicalement assistée (PMA) aux couples de femmes, contre la gestation pour autrui (GPA) et contre l’«ABCD de l’égalité», un dispositif expérimental en primaire pour lutter contre les stéréotypes filles-garçons.

Libération.

After having fought against gay marriage, la Manif pour Tous, has called for demonstration against Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP) for all-women couples, against surrogate motherhood, and against the “ABC of Equality” (taught in schools) *, and a measure put in place in primary schools to combat stereotyping ‘girls and boys’.

In fact present legislation does not envisage giving PM treatment to lesbian couples, nor to authorise surrogate motherhood.

The Police, the paper further reports, are concerned that a delegation of Hussiers – court officials  – will take part in this march – presumably to act as “official” monitors.

*Les ABCD de l’égalité : un outil pour lutter dès l’école contre les inégalités filles-garçons.

The ABCD of Equality: a means of fighting straight from school age against inequalities between girls and boys.

The objective: “Transmettre des valeurs d’égalité et de respect entre les filles et les garçons, les femmes et les hommes, est une des missions essentielles de l’école, au fondement de la réussite de tous les élèves, les filles comme les garçons.”

Communicate the values of equality and respect between girls and boys, women and men – one of the essential objectives of Schooling, and the basis for achievement by all pupils, girls and boys.

François Hollande: From One Social Democracy to Another.

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François Hollande: From One Social Democracy to Another.

The sight of President François Hollande as a pudgy Alain Delon, scootering to a gallant assignation with Julie Gayet, has captured the world’s attention. No doubt to be made into a film by the Comic Strip as a hommage to the Nouvelle Vague, this aspect of the Head of State’s life is less important than the other big event last week. At Tuesday’s New Year Presidential Press Conference Hollande announced a major political turn, to “resolutely social democratic policies”.

The former General Secretary of the Parti Socialiste wooed the French employers’, and their organisation, the MEDEF, with pro-“enterprise” proposals. This “pacte de responsabilité” is based on reducing (state) charges on companies. This would be part of an overall reform of taxation, and specifically the gradual abolition of the contribution employers have to make to finance family allowances. Employees will not, he claimed, have to take over responsibility for paying for them. Instead there will be a reduction in state spending and a reduction in the public deficit.

Political Strategy?

For Jean-Luc Mélenchon this declaration was the worst blow to the left since Guy Mollet (Socialist leader in the 1950s) backed the repression of the fighters for Algerian independence. Hollande, the former Presidential candidate of the Front de gauche, stated, was elected to wage war on finance capital. He has now abandoned the battle (Blog 14.1.14). Indeed he had dropped social democracy, the idea that a left government could help share out the wealth produced by growth. Now Hollande, and his Prime Minister, Ayraud, were in reality “social liberals”.

Indeed many people had the impression that Hollande’s objective was to reach out to the Centre. The “pact’s favourable reception by some on the centre-right, such as Jean-Louis Borloo (Union des démocrats et independents, UDI) , suggested an attempt to reach more formal agreement. But “triangulation” is much more probable, as commentators note that the President is reaching out not to right-wing parties but to their electorate (le Monde 17. 1.14)

Taxation and Cuts

What are the assumptions behind this “pact”?

Nasser Mansouri Guilani of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) in l’Humanité (14.1.14) began by observing that projected growth in the French economy for 2014 satnds at a low 1%, unemployment continues to grow, and investment is also down, France is not prospering.

Holalnde, as Mélenchon notes, criticised the financial system and its responsibility for the 2009 crisis. His Projet Présidential began with a call to assert the sovereignty of the Republic against the market. European measures to protect public services and to regulate banking and finance, including an agency of « notation » were proposed. schemes to reduce youth unemployment, measures to protect the jobs in companies of more than 5,000 employees were taken, and an active industrial strategy – persued by his (left-wing) Minister Arnaud Montebourg, were initiated.

This has not, as we observed, resulted in growth. Guilani puts the responsibility for this on neo-liberal economics. Hollande by contrast has turned to the liberal idea that the « wealth creators » need encouragement. They are held back by too much state taxation. Polices that encourage the « offre », that is those producing for the market, must be put in place. The pact is a way to do this. Much is unclear. The “redefinition” of the principle “missions de l’État” is open to many interpretations. But reducing spending means one thing: cuts

Few have ignored that the basis of the new approach responds to long-standing criticisms from business and political leaders in ‘anglo-saxon’ countries that France is too bureaucratic and the economy is hampered by too much state control. As Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of l’Oréal, put it, these are steps in the right direction (Le Monde. 17.1.14). Next, he stated, is a need to change the taxation rates for high earners.

The protests of the « bonnets rouges » in Brittany and elsewhere against the « eco-taxes » have contributed to this focus on state finance and the « problem » of regulation by public authorities. The right, including the Front National, calls for ever more radical reductions in state spending. Members of the (previously governing) party, the UMP, want to 25 hour week abolished, and privatisations.

With union membership at a feeble 7,6% of employees there is little effective working class opposition. We might even ask that if Hollande’s has proposed a ‘pact’ and the employers have responded yes, whether he feels he needs them. The non Parti Socialiste left, largely the Front de gauche (FdG), has responded with  calls for fiscal justice, but, on the evidence, has been little heard. But then reports equally indicate that the Pacte has not been widely greeted by the public either.

A Failure of Equality.

The Socialist Party’s Déclaration des principes (2008) put equality, as the basis for a critique of capitalism, at the heart of its programme. In Les Gauches Françaises (2012) Jacques Julliard asserted that Hollande represented a « third generation » of social democracy. This had the objective of redistributing wealth, from finance capital to employees. Pierre Rosenvallon, from the social democratic « second Left » wrote, in the influential La société des égaux (2011) (partly inspired by Anthony Crosland) of a reformism that would create « common decency » in a more equal society. In this people’s individuality (« singularité ») would be founded in citizenship and community.

It is hard to see how this will come about under François Hollande’s Presidency. As Serge Halimi has commented neither he, nor his Prime Minster, Ayrault, have shown any « pugnacity » in challenging neo-liberalism (Le Monde Diplomatique. January 2014). This, Halmi asserts, reflects a long-term accommodation to market economics, going back to the time of François Mitterrand in the mid-1980s. After efforts to introduce a state-led socialist programme and nationalisation faltered, they changed direction. Under Mitterrrand’s Prime Minister Laurent Fabius (1984 – 1986) – now Foreign Minister – the Socialists encouraged “winners”. Entrepeneurs such as Bernard Tapie came into Mitterrand’s orbit. We will be watching with interest to see if anything similar happens now.

The French Socialists’ modest proposals to change the course of European Union policies have not been heard. Social democracy is weak in Europe and has become weaker still in recent years. That the German Chancellor and her SPD partners have welcomed Hollande’s latest moves indicates that it is the French Socialists and not the European right that have been persuaded to alter direction.

Equality in any form is no longer a priority. With all due sense of proportion, one could say of this latest turn to the market, as Ernest Bevin might have remarked, that once you’ve opened this Pandora’s Box you never know what Trojan ‘orses might jump out.

Mitterrand’s legacy.

President François Mitterrand was the personality who indelibly marked the French Socialist Party’s transition from a party of opposition to a regular participant in government. His socialism, such as it was, barely developed beyond Victor Hugo’s warm calls for social justice. The ‘Sphnix’ was also famously ambiguous. Apart from a hidden double marital life, Mitterrand harboured more grudges than an entire mountain Albanian clan. (Mitterrand. Philip Short. 2013)

François Hollande had a reputation for normality, good humour, and a more ideological socialism, or rather the social democracy represented in the Parti Socialiste’s humanist critique of finance capital. In the last week we have learnt that he too has a compartmentalised life, and that his political comrades know little of his private character (Kim Willsher. Observer. 19..12014). It is now being said that anybody that does not follow the new line will be excluded from power, though there have been  grumbles from inside his own party, and  partners such as the Greens, (EELV).

Hollande’s presidential campaign was an echo of Mitterrand’s 1981 success. He presented himself as a force tranquille. Is January’s move another copy, this time of the former President’s efforts to divide the right ? Will he act equally ruthlessly against his enemies ? Is this move to the market the sign of abandoning any reformist politics?

Of more importance: will the left, which was paralysed during the Mitterrand years, be able to respond with vigorous opposition?

We certainly hope so.

Valérie Trierweiler and Ségolène Royal: Things We Might Consider.

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A Bit of Recent History.

Some of the English-speaking media seem to think that the ‘affaire’ surrounding François Hollande’s relations with Julie Gayet   is a rare example of a French Politician’s private life being brought out in public.

Plenty of articles have shown that this is not true, though it may well have been true during the Mitterrand years.

But not for a long long time.

One has less sympathy for  Valérie Trierweiler when we look at some of her own past.

Entre deux Feu (2012) covered -in great detail – Hollande’s early relations with Trierweiler, and the (to say the least) thorny relations between her and Hollande’s former partner, Ségolène Royal (Parti Socialiste Presidential candidate in 2007) – the mother of his four children.

Then there was this last year:

Miss Trierweiler sparked a political storm last week with a Twitter message in which she wished “good luck” to the Socialist dissident rival of Miss Royal, 58, the mother of President François Hollande’s four children, in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

While Miss Trierweiler was initially defiant about the tweet, she admitted on Wednesday that she “made a mistake” after Miss Royal was comprehensively defeated. Mr Hollande was reportedly “furious”, letting her know “it can never happen again”.

Miss Royal had already said she was “wounded” by the “violent blow” from Miss Trierweiler.

But today she went much further, claiming that Miss Trierweiler had been angling behind the scenes to undermine her political career for years, ever since starting a relationship with her ex-partner.

She had previously reproached senior Socialists including Mr Hollande, party leader at the time, of being less than supportive during the 2007 presidential race, which she lost to Mr Sarkozy.Here.

In the legislative elections of 2012 the dissident socialist Olivier Falorni was indeed encouraged by  Valérie Trierweiler, to stand against Ségolène Royal.

He won with  62,97 % of the vote.

There’s plenty more to say.

This  perhaps explains why Trierweiler does not evoke universal sympathy – no more than Hollande for that matter.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 13, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Humour, François Hollande, and Politics.

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Francois Hollande delivering a speech during a meeting in Aulnay-sous-Bois, Paris

Likes a Larf.

French President François Hollande is known for his jokes.

David Cameron,  said that he would roll out the red carpet for French companies who did not wish to pay the 75% tax rates (for the highest earners)  the Socialist-led government had introduced.

Holland replied, “J’apprécie l’humour, et surtout l’humour britannique. Donc j’étais très heureux que l’on puisse m’offrir un tapis pour les prochains mois et les prochaines années.”

I like a joke, particularly British humour. So, I am happy that they will be able to offer me a red carpet, in the coming months, and indeed for the coming years.

There is an article, in English, on the BBC web-site, giving more details on this, appealing side, of the French President.

This time his fondness for a laugh has got Hollande in hot water.

On Monday, December 16, the 70th anniversary celebration of main French Jewish umbrella group CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), Hollande joked that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had returned from a trip to Algeria “safe and sound…which is saying something”.

Algerian officials were not amused.

On Saturday in Algiers, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra told journalists that the French President’s wisecrack about France’s former colony was “a regrettable incident”.

The Algerian press was was particularly unamused by the joke. On Saturday, five days after Hollande made the comment, the front pages of Arabic-language newspapers El-Khabar, Echorouk and Ennahar featured the news. One headline read: “Hollande mocks Algeria in front of the Jews”. France 24.

Hollande should have read Claude Cockburn.

In  I Claud  (1967) Cockburn observed that humour often falls flat in diplomatic exchanges.

Beginning with De Gaulle (who liked to make, often cutting, witticisms), Cockburn then brings up the case of high European diplomacy and (if memory serves me rightly) a Renaissance example where an attempt at wit caused more serious difficulties than Hollande has, so far, encountered.

Left-wing political humour is a genre in its own right (Hollande is reported to be a master there was well).

Here too we find a regrettable tendency not to get the jest.

The SWP leadership,  despite its fame as a laughing-stock, shows an unhappy inclination to resent the honest efforts of wags, on the Internet and off it.

Words such as “slander” spring to their lips.

Even the Weekly Worker, we hear, shows a humourless school-teacher side when that august publication is subjected to mild ribaldry.

Tendance Coatesy likes funny.

And that’s that.

NPA Denounces French Intervention in Central Africa – a Misjudgement with Consequences.

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Fleeing families near the cathedral in Bossangoa.

The Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste’s reponse:

NO TO FRENCH MILITARY INTERVENTION IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC!

The French military intervention in the Central African Republic  has begun. The United Nations Security Council has given the international police operation an a ‘legitimacy’, on allegedly humanitarian  grounds. The goal of the intervention  is claimed to be  “restore constitutional order” and “prepare the ground for future elections” , and in the immediate present, to ensure the “disarmament, containment and dismantling of armed groups.”

In fact, France is involved in this former colony, where it has a long history of  supporting dictators like grotesque Bokassa,  to defend its own interests. It was France which,  ten years ago,brought in  President Bozizé whose  hated and corrupt regime has collapsed.

No one can remain indifferent to the plight of the population. But a military  intervention sponsored by the major imperialist powers  will not solve anything. Indeed it will do the opposite. Its goal is not to end the abuses and looting carried out by Seleka. This action follows the same objective as that in Mali. As in the rest of Africa the real aim is is to maintain the position  of the great powers, while  the political system they have set up no longer has any power. For the Government of President Holland and prime Minister Ayrault, the objective is to preserve France’s old colonial privileges, and those of the French multinational Areva, Bolloré and other Total.

Military intervention can only lead to further suffering for the population, and to new crises..

French Troops Out of Africa!

More on the NPA’s views on France as the Imperialist Gendarme in Africa here.

They notably deny that there is a “pre-genocidal” situation in the Central African Republic  “The French government has talked about pre-genocidal situation, that is not the case. Genocide is the result of a deliberate policy of discrimination and hatred against a portion of the population accompanied by a specific ideology, as in Rwanda where for years a political stigma against Tutsi took place…they should know, as they (The French Foreign Ministry) participated in this.” The NPA does admit however that, there “is a real risk that these cycles and inter-religious violence could worsen and spread.

Comment: There are so many reasons why this reaction of the NPA is wrong, absolutely wrong,  it is better simply to let a more factual account speak for itself.

Innocent victims: France sends in more troops to stop massacres in Central African Republic

By KRISTA LARSON Associated Press

Bangui, Central African Republic - France and the African Union on Saturday announced plans to deploy several thousand more troops into embattled Central African Republic, as thousands of Christians fearing reprisal attacks sought refuge from the Muslim former rebels who now control the country after days of violence left nearly 400 people dead – and possibly more.

French armoured personnel carriers and troops from an AU-backed peacekeeping mission roared at high speed down Bangui’s major roads, as families carrying palm fronds pushed coffins in carts on the road’s shoulder. In a sign of the mounting tensions, others walking briskly on the streets carried bow-and-arrows and machetes.

Concluding an aptly-timed and long-planned conference on African security in Paris, President Francois Hollande said France was raising its deployment to 1,600 on Saturday – 400 more than first announced. Later, after a meeting of regional nations about Central African Republic, his office said that African Union nations agreed to increase their total deployment to 6,000 – up from about 2,500 now, and nearly double the projected rollout of 3,600 by year-end.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Central African Republic has been wracked for decades by coups and rebellions. In March, a Muslim rebel alliance known as Seleka overthrew the Christian president of a decade. At that time, religious ideology played little role in the power grab. The rebels soon installed Michel Djotodia as president, though he exerted little control over forces on the ground. He has since formally disbanded the Seleka coalition, but the former rebels now consider themselves the army.

Amid new massacres on Thursday, U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution that allows for a more muscular international effort to quell months or unrest in the country. Troops from France, the country’s former colonial overseer, were patrolling roads in Bangui and fanning out into the troubled northwest on Saturday.

“This force is going to deploy as quickly as possible and everywhere there are risks for the population, with the African forces that are present – currently 2,500 soldiers,” Hollande said, referring to the increased French presence. “In what I believe will be a very short period we will be able to stop all exactions and massacres.”

In an interview with France-24 TV, Hollande said the AU reinforcements would arrive “in the coming days,” without specifying. He said 1,600 French troops was “enough: There won’t be more,” and added that they would remain as planned for about six months – though a residual force of 500 to 600 might stay thereafter.

Word of the bigger deployments came as human rights groups continued the grisly business of counting and collecting bodies of those killed in recent massacres. The death toll in the capital from the recent fighting rose on Saturday to 394, said Antoine Mbao Bogo of the local Red Cross.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking on i-Tele TV, said France accelerated plans for the 1,600-strong deployment because of the “upsurge” in violence since Thursday. He said French forces would disarm any armed militias, and would use force if the fighters don’t hand over their weapons peacefully.

He said French troops had been sent to Bossangoa, the home region of ousted President Francois Bozize and many of his perceived supporters.

Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia called on former rebels who are now integrated into the national army to stay off the streets now being patrolled by French and regional forces. Presidential spokesman Guy Simplice Kodegue said those who violated the order would be punished.

Now, sectarian strife has grown. On Saturday, aid workers returned to the streets to collect bloated bodies that had lay uncollected in the heat since Thursday, when Christian fighters known as the anti-balaka, who oppose Djotodia, descended on the capital in a coordinated attack on several mostly Muslim neighbourhoods. Residents of Christian neighbourhoods said Seleka have counter-attacked by going house-to-house in search of alleged combatants and firing at civilians who merely strayed into the wrong part of town.

Zumbeti Thierry Tresor, 23, was among those slain after he tried to cross through another neighborhood to visit family members in another part of Bangui. Seleka fighters shot him in the neck and stomach, his friends said. On Saturday, neighbors hiked the rocky path to his one-room home where his covered body lay on the floor underneath neatly hung music posters.

Outside the front door, his wife wailed hysterically, gripping their 3-year-old daughter in her lap as neighbors crowded around her. Alongside their house, a team of a dozen men with sticks and shovels dug Tresor’s grave under the shade of a tree.

“We want the French army to come and protect us,” said Tresor’s friend, Francois Yayi. “We have no police to call. The Seleka will kill us all.”

He and his friends begin counting on their fingers the number of neighbours slain amid the latest spasm of bloodshed. At least 10 they determine have died since Thursday.

As families mourned their dead, others fled by the thousands to the few known safe places in the capital – the airport guarded by French troops and the grounds of a Catholic center run by the Salesians of Don Bosco. About 3,000 people had fled to the complex on Thursday when the fighting began and that number swelled to 12,000 by Saturday.

“We have no water, no food, no medicine – we have nothing,” said Pierre Claver Agbetiafan, looking around the center where he works.

As dusk fell, hundreds of people began lining up outside the mission’s doors for a safe place to sleep, carting foam mattresses and plastic buckets of food on their heads. Some even toted wheeled luggage, not knowing when they could return. Every bit of ground near the tennis courts was crowded with families preparing for a night on damp ground under the open sky. The air filled with smoke as women tended small fires to prepare dinner.

Judith Lea, 47, came with a family of 20 including her 3-day-old grandson to escape violence in their neighborhood on the north side of the capital. As people settled in for the night, she and the other female relatives argued over what to name the little boy who has spent nearly his entire life in a displacement camp.

“When the Seleka rebels came to the house, they stole his blankets and all the little things we had bought for him,” Lea said, stretched out on the ground to rest. “When this war is over, what will we do? He is cold and hasn’t had his vaccines yet.”

Most of the displaced in Bangui are Christian: ex-Seleka have not targeted Muslim neighbourhoods. But anger over the attacks has prompted vicious reprisals on Muslim civilians in other parts of the country. Nearly a dozen Muslim women and children were slain less than a week ago just outside the capital in an attack blamed on the Christian fighters.

Seleka are blamed for scores of atrocities since taking power, tying civilians together and throwing them off bridges to drown and burning entire villages to the ground. Anger over such abuses has fanned a backlash against Muslim civilians, who make up only about 15 percent of the population. The anti-balaka, the armed Christian movement that has arisen in response to the Seleka attacks, is widely believed to be supported by former army soldiers loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize.

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

The BBC reports give similar details.

An estimated 10% of CAR’s 4.6 million people have fled their homes, while more than a million urgently need food aid, according to the UN.

The largely Muslim rebels controlling much of the country have been accused of atrocities against Christians, and fighting between Muslim and Christian militias has broken out in the capital, Bangui, and elsewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm