Posts Tagged ‘president nicolas sarkozy’
A sign of how a strong far-right has inflected French politics is the language used by Jean-François Copé in the race to win the leadership of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the UMP.
Said to be losing support to rival François Fillon (former PM, 2007 to 2012) he has come out with some extraordinary statements.
Claiming to ‘break a taboo’ he says in the just publishedManifeste pour une droite décomplexée (Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right)
“Un racisme anti-blanc se développe dans les quartiers de nos villes où des individus -dont certains ont la nationalité française- méprisent des Français qualifiés de “gaulois” au prétexte qu’ils n’ont pas la même religion, la même couleur de peau ou les mêmes origines qu’eux”, écrit le secrétaire général de l’UMP,
An anti-white racism is on the rise in the inner cities, where individuals, including those with French nationality, despise French people. They call them the “gaulois”, because they do not have the same religion, the same skin colour, or the same background as them.” wrote the (present) General Secretary of the UMP.
l’Humanité reports that Copé also take to attacking the Front de Gauche as ‘extremist’ and even suggests that they are anti-Semitic.
It will be interesting to see if this rhetoric has an echo in Britain, where sections of the right showed sympathy for these ideas when they were given voice by the Front National during this year’s Presidential Campaign.
L’Art Français de la Guerre. Alexis Jenni. (Prix Goncourd 2011) Gallimard. 2011.
Review: Roots of the French Presidential Election Debate.
“Cette masse, quoi qu’elle flotte, elle a en elle une force qui l’assure: le sentiment de l’honneur militaire renouvelé toujours par notre légende héroïque”
“These masses, whilst they waver, have an inner strength which keeps them upright: the feeling of military honour continually renewed by our heroic legend.”
J. Michelet. Le Peuple. 1836.
The French Presidential elections have been marked by intense anxiety and bombastic statements about ‘French identity’, both from the right and the left. At times it’s as if we have returned to the time of Michelet, (1798 – 1874) historian of the Revolution, who described his work as rooted in “le sentiment de la France et l’ideé de la Partie” (the Fatherland). The “cult de la Patrie” has its “dogmas, ses héros, ses saints, sa mythologie, sa liturgie ses mystères et ses Fêtes.” (1) Whenever a Presidential candidate evoked France, one could be sure that a version of this narrative was at work, from a lineage traced from the Great Revolution, to the ‘terre et les morts’ of the Right, republican or, counter-revolutionary.
A pillar of the faith was, at one time, French military glory. This might appear to have expired. But there remain worshipers, such as the former Socialist Defence Minister (1988 – 1992), and ultra-republican, Jean-Pierre Chevènement. The outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy vaunts military participation in Western interventions, claiming a special Gallic role in Libya.
L’art français de la guerre is a novel about the French “military legend”. That is, the twenty years from the Liberation, immediately followed by the blood-stained suppression of Algerians in 1945, the 1950s colonial war in Indo China, to the end of Algérie Française. The narrator listens while Victorian Salagnon, painter and veteran of all these wars, talks them through. As the post-war French army began in 1945 with a “massacre général” in North Africa, and “les mains dans le sang” (their hands in blood), so they continued.
For two decades these conflicts followed one other. Volunteer fighters, including ex-Resistance heroes, and even former German soldiers, were recycled from one combat to another. Conscripts were enrolled (the military service that French nationalists continue to evoke against giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections), until France was forced to recognise that her “génie colonisateur” was finished for ever.
But the narrative does not only aim to draw a giant fresco of the army’s “furia francese.” Alexis Jenni’s first novel envelops today’s French fury: immigration, crime, and national ‘identity’. Some reviewers have indicated that its ambitions are perhaps not always realised. Descriptions of combat are always very literary. Yet, as the Presidential election campaign reaches its conclusion, the appearance in L’art of GAFFES (Groupe d’Autodéfense des Français Fiers d’Être de Souche” (Self-Defence Group of French People Proud of being of ‘Pure Stock’) reflects a stark cleavage. What could have opposed this more than Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s call for “métissage” (ethnic mixing)?
Dying like Ants.
In 1991 the narrator of L’art français de la guerre made love, wrapped in a warm duvet. He was constantly watching television as the Gulf War got underway. When the Western allies used overwhelming force Iraqis died like ants. Their weaponry fell like rainfall, on a nameless enemy. Nobody counts their fallen, as if they are “mosquitoes”. They don’t count. They are nameless. Desert Storm was the inflation of the colonial principle: ten enemy dead for every one of the colonists killed.
Victorian Salagnon, encountered by chance in a Lyon bistro, the veteran of the twenty years of rearguard efforts to maintain the French colonies, teaches the narrator to paint. A lone Parachutist Painter, he takes us through his story. It passes from his schoolboy days to the Resistance, to Indo-China to the Casbah of Alger. In Vietnam an army of “berserkers” was unleashed against the Vietnamese, burning and destroying everybody and everything in its path. This force of “assassins” failed, as another was, vainly and viciously battling the Armée de Libération (ALN), the armed wing of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in Algeria.
L’art follows efforts to downplay Algerian heroism by describing Pontecorvo’s film La Battaile d’Alger (1965) as “cette légende de gauche” an “exemplum marxiste”. The Algerians, it is remarked, are portrayed there with the “noblesse” of a Soviet People. The reality was more “sordid”, as the FLN castrated and mutilated its enemies, and the French electrocuted and tortured real and imagined insurgents. Is that all? It may be that this history is complex, as the more recent film, Hors la Loi (2010) that is punctuated with brutal inter-Algerian conflicts, shows. But is anybody really denying that French colonialism deserved to be beaten?
Post-colonial France rested uneasy about national identity. Since the 1980s a great theme, a favourite of authors as diverse as Régis Debray from the republican left and Alain de Benoist from the Nouvelle Droite, has been the cultural – even genetic – roots of what it means to be French. In L’art the GAFFES, once a groupuscule, take over Voracieux-les-Bredins. They claim to defend the “people européen de race blanche, de culture greque et latine et de religion chrétinne”. These are terms, now familiar, are not in real politics no longer confined to the fringes. They could come not only from the mouth of Marine Le Pen but from inside Nicolas Sarkozy’s party. In the book they soon create their own ‘army’, of municipal police, violence breaks out, and another war seems inevitable, on French soil.
As well it might if the French Right continues its xenophobic turn.
What is French identity? Jenni has his narrator say, ““la France est l’usage du français. La langue est la nature où nous grandissons elle est le sang que l’on transmet et qui nous nourrit.” (France is the use of French. This language is the natural world in which we grow up and it’s our patrimony, the blood that feeds us.)
The novel is largely a success, though lengthy and full of characters, its style is lympid and (as an Anglophone) its use of present participles gives it some extra charm. It ploughs confidently in a similar furrow to Goncourt winner, Les Bienveillantes (2006) by Jonathan Littell, drenched by the horrow and sadism of war. As indicated here, the French elections have increased the novel’s relevance in the last months. If one can say that the ‘legend’ of French Military honour has been dismantled before, by historians and other writers, it is not a bad idea to write about it when the use of armed force to settle the world’s problems has again become popular, at least amongst the leading Western political classes. Sarkozy at any rate would not renounce this, even as he withdraws from a French ground presence in Afghanistan.
Is this all? Jenni denies ‘racial’ categories (citing his character’s Celt and Hungrain ancestors), but is always anxious about identity. But Jenni, as have many French Presidential candidates, often refers to ‘Anglo-Saxons’, who as far as it goes are treated as another ‘race’, at least culturally. He apparently believes that the “Anglo-Saxons” have always preferred to attack others from a safe distance. He appears innocent of any knowledge of the post-Second World War brutal efforts of the British Empire to suppress its own anti-colonial uprisings, from Malaysia to Kenya.
Jenni compares ‘Anglo-Saxon’ protests, with people waving hand-made placards, full of good-will and boredom, with French marches, full of shouting running, ready to confront the “hoplites” of the Police and engage in the “joie de guerre civile”. While not quite the ‘anti-France’ –as Michelet described Britain – we clearly are something being French is defined against.
I came across an Anglo-Saxon once, in Alice Through the Looking Glass. He was called Haigha. Haigha was “an Anglo-Saxon Messenger “ with “Anglo-Saxon attitudes.”
Apart from the other Messenger, Hatta, I haven’t run by any since.
(1) Le Nationalisme Français. Anthologie. 1871 – 1914. Raoul Girardet. Editions du Seuil. 1983.
A favourable review (French): here.
The Guardian published an article when Jenni won the Goncourt prize – here.
ArcelorMittal Workers Tear-Gassed by Sarkozy’s Police.
The New York Times has been criticising Sarkozy.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in France is getting a little desperate, and more than a little ugly. Although new polls show him the likely top vote-getter in next month’s first-round voting, they also show him running well behind François Hollande of the Socialist Party in the decisive May runoff. To try and close that gap, Mr. Sarkozy has been fishing for far-right voters by assailing foreign immigrants, foreign imports and even the dietary laws of French Muslims.
For once we agree with something in the NYT – except for the minor point that other polls indicate Hollande is in the lead for the first round.
Oh, and like the bourgeois liberal media outside France they don’t really register the effect that the Front de Gauche and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are having.
David Cameron’s best mate (after Rebekah Brooks and a Horse Called Bung – Private Eye alleges) is in a real pickle.
Now today we see some real class struggle in (More Here)