1- The Caucasian Immigrant’s Confession: your cool-eyed bloggiste has turned into an addict of the 2007 French Presidential election race. No matter how uninspiring the candidates may be. So what’s the story on Sarko’s apartment renovations, on the shooting star trajectory of liberal candidate Bayrou—and speaking of fireworks, I can’t wait for Segolene’s rendezvous this Tuesday with Angela Merkel.
2- Why addicted? See 3.
3- Has the heroic Marianne (bra-free symbol of la Republique, a way more fetching avatar than Uncle Sam) become The Sick Girl of Europe? Most of her subjects seem to think so. This weekend’s edition of the daily paper Le Figaro devotes an entire editorial page to the question: ‘France: Does She Have Reasons to be Afraid?’ Recent book titles have put it slightly differently. For instance: ‘Risk, Unemployment, Exclusion: Is France Broken?’ and ‘Is it Time to Burn France’s Social Model?’ and ‘The Big Waste’ (my loose translation of ‘Le Grand Gaspillage’.)
Both present and past contribute to the spreading malaise and sense of shame. Vichy is always good for a mea culpa, such as the induction into the Pantheon a few months ago of ‘The Just’, those stubbornly moral French who saved Jews from Petain and the Nazis. The line for the ceremony wound back a kilometer long. And last year’s indigenous hit movies was Indigenes, a salute to the under-compensated valor of North African-origin troops in WW2 whose shock value galvanized pension payments to surviving veterans. In the same vein, a lengthy public debate over whether France should formally apologize across the board for its colonial history… or take some credit for instituting French schools and civil engineering abroad, as well as an open immigration policy on home ground.
Past errors feed present fears. (Um, no, this is not about Iraq. Not right now.) The generous immigration policy has led to the explosive growth of ‘cite’s’ , aka ‘banlieues’ , aka ‘sensitive districts’— violence-plagued, mainly black and ‘beur’ populated rings around all major cities. Geographically a mirror shape to American inner-city ghettos. But a similar trap to law-abiding inhabitants, and a contemporary version of barbarians at the gates to the better-off, and treated, e.g. by Sarko’s police, as such.
But this problem of over saturation, and lack of long-range planning for the newcomers, is only one worm in the can of France’s fears and discontents. Despite having been the fascistoid le Pen’s unique issue for the past decade, immigration problems are not the only beef de jour of an electorate fed up with the lame current (not-) candidate debates. So what are the other beefs?
Unemployment. The Euro-driven cost of living. (Economically this makes almost no sense, but it is a cherished resentment.) The open, as in a wound, question of voting a European constitution. Loss of the nation’s economic competitiveness (what galls Gaul the most is, being behind the Germans. ) An imploding educational system. An exploding national debt. The tax question, as illustrated by pop star Johnny Halliday’s recent defection to Gstaad. The ‘unfair’ pension perks enjoyed by state employees (unless of course you are one of the one-in-four state employees.) The degrading environment…but there, for once, France is not the worst offender.
Basically, the Fifth Republic is suffering from Loss of Gloire syndrome, a sort of civilizational menopause, the same devastating life-stage Great Britain went through, post-war and pre-Thatcher. The fear of losing one’s job, or never finding one, is real enough. But there is also the fear that as a society France will never come up with another Voltaire and a new Enlightenment, another Camus and Resistance, or even another Cohn-Bendit and May ’68. That even the language of Moliere is about to go the way of the white rhinoceros–
That’s what’s at stake in the coming May election.