A puncture can change your life. In Louis Malle’s film Lacombe, Lucien (1974), the young peasant Lucien is rejected by his former schoolteacher who runs the local resistance organisation he wishes to join and then, returning home by bicycle, gets a flat tire. Seeking help in a nearby farmhouse, he finds himself among a band of carousing militiamen, collaborators sworn to eradicate La Résistance. He denounces the teacher, becomes a local boss of the militia, and is finally shot by resistance fighters.This much-quoted moment of chance is the starting point for the book Aurais-je été resistant ou bourreau? (2013) by literature professor and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard, which translates as ‘Would I have been a resister or a collaborator?’ As historians, and indeed as citizens, we assume that we would have made the right decision during the Second World War, given what we know about its horrors. The myth developed by General Charles de Gaulle in 1944 – that the French overwhelmingly behaved patriotically, rallied behind his leadership, and liberated the country themselves – persuades us that we would most likely have resisted Nazi Germany. A myth, however, is designed to unify a people and legitimate its rulers, not to tell the truth. As a young lecturer at Oxford 35 years ago, I remember looking round my college’s governing body, composed overwhelmingly of conservative middle-aged men, and wondering what they would have done if Britain had been occupied by the Germans. I concluded that most of them would have collaborated.
Tag Archives: France
Prior to the second round of the French Presidential election, DiEM25 (the pan-European movement of democrats, mostly of the left, that I helped to found) promised Emmanuel Macron that we would “mobilize fully to help” him defeat Marine Le Pen. This we did – incurring the wrath of many on the left – because maintaining “an equal distance between Macron and Le Pen,” we believed, was “inexcusable.”But there was a second part to our promise to Macron: if he “becomes merely another functionary of Europe’s deep establishment,” pursuing dead-end, already-failed neoliberalism, we “will oppose him no less energetically than we are – or should be – opposing Le Pen now.”
The title of a comment piece which appeared in The Guardian, the UK voice of the anti-Assange-pro-Hillary liberal left, says it all: “Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?”
Predictably, the text proper begins with: “Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism?” and mockingly dismisses even the conditional leftist support for the second-round Macron vote, the stance of: “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly.”
This is liberal blackmail at its worst: one should support Macron unconditionally; it doesn’t matter that he is a neoliberal centrist, just that he is against Le Pen. It’s the old story of Hillary versus Trump: in the face of the fascist threat, we should all gather around her banner (and conveniently forget how her side brutally outmanoeuvred Sanders and thus contributed to losing the election).
We are entering an era in politics in which statements beginning ‘It would be the first time that…’ often announce that something previously inconceivable may be about to happen. This French presidential election is the first in which the Front National (FN) going through to the second round is not in doubt: there is a possibility (still highly improbable) that it might win. For the first time, no one is defending the record of the past five years, even though two of the outgoing president’s former ministers are standing: Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party (PS) and Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (Forward!). It is also the first time that the candidates from the PS and the right, which have governed France since the beginning of the Fifth Republic, could both be eliminated in the first round.
On the afternoon of July 19, Adama Traoré was riding his bike through the center of Beaumont-sur-Oise, a picturesque hillside town north of Paris. The day had been uncommonly hot, more than 90 degrees. Even on the narrow, winding streets of Beaumont, the shade lay in narrow ribbons along the storefronts of the bakeries, groceries, pharmacies, and computer repair shops; restaurants were just opening back up after a midday siesta.
It was Adama’s 24th birthday. He was working construction and had saved up the money for a celebratory trip south that weekend. Gliding into the cobblestone plaza by the public library, he joined his older brother Bagui at the wicker chairs and marble-topped tables of the Balto, a corner bar where a coffee costs a euro and change.
Two plainclothes police approached. They were looking for Bagui in connection with an extortion case. The elder Traoré handed over his ID. But Adama didn’t have his on him. He had recently spent several months in jail, on charges of hitting a man, and he was not planning on going back. So he fled.
Two hours later, he lay dead in the courtyard of a police station. The cause of death was later found to be asphyxiation.
Marine Le Pen has arrived in Lebanon to find out that the Christians she thought were her allies aren’t on her side at all
Marine Le Pen has been doing a little Trumping in Beirut. Yes, all the way from Paris she came to ride her French presidential election campaign through the sectarian thickets of Lebanon by refusing to wear a veil to meet the Sunni Muslim Grand Mufti. Given the nonsense she spoke to the (Christian) president of Lebanon and the schoolgirl interview she granted to the country’s (Christian) French-language newspaper, many Lebanese – and a few Christians, too – concluded that this wretched lady embarked on her visit with the sole aim of insulting the country’s Muslims.
Of course, it was a publicity stunt. Marine Le Pen doesn’t care about the votes of Lebanese Christians who hold French passports – her Front National (FN) anyway wants to get such dual nationals to choose their country of citizenship, so the poor old Christians of Lebanon whom Le Pen supposedly loves may have to abandon their country of origin if they want France to “protect” them from the Muslim hordes. No, her refusal to wear a veil – a mere headscarf to show respect to the Sunni Mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian – was intended for her domestic audience in France. Muslims want to subjugate women. It was the old message. To hell with Lebanon. Which is surely why she was accompanied on this pantomime by more French than Lebanese journalists.
At the start of 2017, with the elections in France in the Spring and then in Germany in the Autumn, it may prove useful to return to one of the fundamental issues which plagues discussion at European level, that is the alleged economic asymmetry between Germany with its reputation as prosperous and France which is described as on the decline. I use the term ‘alleged’ because, as we shall see, the level of productivity of the German and French economies – as measured in terms of GDP per hour worked, which is by far most relevant indicator of economic performance – is almost identical. Furthermore it is at the highest world level, demonstrating incidentally that the European social model has a bright future, despite what the Brexiters and Trumpers of every hue might think. This will also enable me to return to several of the issues addressed in this blog in 2016 (in particular concerning the long European recession and the reconstruction of Europe) as well as in my December 2016 article « Basic income or fair wage?« .Let’s start with the most striking fact. If we calculate the average labour productivity by dividing the GDP (the Gross Domestic Product, that is the total value of goods and services produced in a country in one year) by the total number of hours worked (by both salaried and non-salaried employees), we then find that France is at practically the same level as the United States and Germany, with an average productivity of approximately 55 Euros per hour worked in 2015, or more than 25% higher than the United Kingdom or Italy (roughly 42 Euros) and almost three times higher than in 1970 (less than the equivalent of 20 Euros in 2015; all figures are expressed in purchasing power parity and in 2015 Euros, that is after taking into account inflation and price levels in the different countries).
Le paysan de la Roya, symbole de l’aide aux migrants, veut continuer son action malgré les descentes de gendarmerie et les risques de prison.
La boîte en fer qui fait office de boîte aux lettres sera bientôt trop exiguë. Chaque jour, le facteur y dépose des dizaines d’enveloppes. A l’intérieur, mots d’encouragement, chèques et dessins. Sur chacun des bordereaux est inscrit : «Cédric Herrou, Breil-sur-Roya, France». «Google m’a téléphoné pour retirer mon adresse des recherches parce que je reçois aussi des insultes et des menaces, explique leur destinataire. Avant de raccrocher, le gars au téléphone m’a dit que j’avais leur soutien.»
François Fillon’s victory in France’s rightwing presidential primaries shows that liberal progressive values in Europe aren’t just confronting the ghosts of fascist-type movements. There is now a threat from a new type of reactionary movement. Anyone who thinks that Fillon’s success clears the ground for a resounding defeat of far-right ideas in France’s 2017 presidential race should think again. Fillon’s most active support base has come essentially from hardline, traditionalist Catholics – people who generally aren’t described as far right, in the sense that they don’t affiliate themselves with Marine Le Pen’s Front National. But some of their ideas do overlap.