Thursday, March 28, 2013

ouragan dans un pot de thé

I'm sure that this is much more than you want to or need to know about French politics. I don't do this very often, but I am compelled to give some background on the latest developments on this land I am a part of now and love. It's very hard to explain French politics and the French mentality to Americans. I have been immersed in this culture for the last 30 or so years, but I will always be an outsider. This was the first really secular society, the word is laicitie, yet it remains profoundly Catholic. But for most French, the definition of being Catholic is profoundly different than an American, or an Italian. Your typical French male person who would identify them self as Catholic would be in the strict eyes of the Vatican living in a state of mortal sin. Culturally, most people are Catholics by heritage. There is a large Protestant population, that is what the Wars of Religion in the 16th Century were all about. There was a large Jewish population, but it's just beginning to really recover it's numbers 60 years after WW2. The Evangelist Christians are beginning to make inroads here, especially in the large Gypsy population, which was traditionally and nominally Catholic. Moslem?...don't go's the fastest growing demographic group in France.
But this is a laic country. Churches are not allowed to own property directly. The historical churches all over France are State owned and maintained as our cultural heritage.  The outward expression of religious belief is considered wrong and in many cases, illegal.
There are religious private schools here but they are not state supported. So, most people while they identify themselves as Catholic, do not practice the religion as Americans do in their guilt bound strictures. Most French men are baptized in a church, the do the childhood rituals, first communion, confirmation and then outside of marriage and funerals, usually only are seen inside a church when they are dragged to midnight mass on Christmas...if the church in your village is important enough to rate a visit from the local cure for Christmas.
But it's in the culture, the holiday calendar is based around the cycle of Catholic feasts. Easter is lamb, Pentecost is veal...And everyone gets totally freaked out by the Pope! This whole new pope thing dominated the news for weeks and seemed to reawaken the latent religious DNA lurking in the French genetic makeup. It would seem that this is just another unfortunate coincidence that has dogged the Socialiste Government of Francois Hollande. One of his campaign promises was to make Marriage Equality a part of the French Constitution. It would seem just another step in our social evolution. The same groups would kick and scream. Just like the legalization of abortion, the abolition of the death penalty and the official decriminalization of homosexuality. The Catholics and the neo nationalist far rights all kicked and screamed, but most of the French supported these measures  and after they became facts, they accepted it and moved on. On the surface, that is what was happening with the Socialiste Initiative to legalize Gay Marriage. It is a de facto thing anyway. We have an institution called the Pacte...and there are less and less actual marriages and more and more Pactes. Any one can form a Pacte. It's a legal agreement, a contract both parties can negotiate. So more and more couples eschew formal marriages and make a pacte...there is no discrimination in the legal definition of the union defined by a pacte.
But, the Socialistes had committed to legalizing Gay Marriage and moved on it. Most of the French were in favor and most didn't care. The Far Right Catholics and the unholy alliance with the Neo Nationalists and the absurdly still existent Royalists did...but they traditionally don't like anything. The alliance of these factions had their bonds forged in Pre WW2 France. They became the backbone of the collaborationist Petain Government of Occupied France. Yes, the Royalists still believe that one day France will bring back Royalty and all of their useless titles will magically be restored and we will all become their peons and peasants again.
Suddenly, though there is a new player in the game. The center Right UMP Party. They would be the equivalent of the Republicans in America. They controlled the Presidency with Chirac, then Sarkozy for 15 years. They are now bitterly factionalized after the massive defeat they suffered in the last election. There has been an almost fraticidial war going on between the followers of Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Cope. During the UMP/Sarkozy administration, The UMP began to attempt to co opt the influence of the far right Front National as a strategy to win the 2012 election. Their rhetoric became more extreme against immigration and more openly traditional values and openly embraced the symbols of Catholicism. They blatantly exploited every supposed terrorist incident and many commentators are saying they were purposely lax and abetted a few incidents to reap the publicity value.
In the long run, this backfired. The Front National spent a lot of energy refurbishing it's image with Marine LePen as it's new leader and presidential candidate. As the UMP became more extreme, the FN tried to appear more user friendly. Behind the scenes of course it was the old FN allied with Neo Fascist groups in France and all over Europe, but they had the economic failures of the UMP and European Union to exploit. Not, that they had any real ideas...Jean-Francois Cope became the most dangerous demagogue in the UMP as Party secretary and the man seen as the architect of the UMP's neo nationalist extremism. After their utter defeat across France in the 2012 election, the UMP split as Filon and Cope sparred for leadership of the party. They had their first ever popular vote among members for the Party leadership which was an utter failure as both factions accuse the other of rigging the election. Six months later and the rift still isn't healed. Six months later and the UMP is trying to re inflate the punctured balloon of Sarkozy to somehow boost their image. Sarkozy is one of the great manipulators of French politics. A demagogue who in the very end, could not govern, but he sure could  manipulate. He was totally into governing by polls and trying to mold his public image according to the latest figures. His relationship to the well used aging model, wannabee pop star and ideological chameleon. She has had affairs with quite a few pop stars in France and powerful left wing political figures. She was Eric Claptons's lover and then dropped him for Mick Jagger.The Bruni/Sarkozy match up was totally the result of his publicist, Claude Gueant, who was an admitted admirer of Karl Rove, bringing Bruni and Sarkozy together after Sarko's marriage implode soon after his election in 2007.  Carla released a cd while she was officially first lady in France which died here, but sold internationally because of the morbid fascination with...hey she's French and like the presidents wife and singing about cocaine. She is releasing a new record presently which features a pretty pathetic ditty insulting Francois Hollande called The Penguin. Of course the morbid interest in Sarkozy is a smoke screen, he can never go back into politics. He is doomed to a legal limbo trying to fend off and fight the litany of corruption cases that he is involved in one way or another dating back to his days in the Balladur Government. Just today, he was linked to the manipulation of the UMP Party Secretary Elections...he is accused of working to corrupt the votes in favor of Cope, because he really dislikes his former Prime Minister, Filon. Meanwhile, this week has seen Sarko being hauled into court in Bordeaux and being charged with taking advantage of an old lady...this is the ongoing Bettencourt affair, where his party is accused of setting up a secret system to defraud Lillane Bettencourt, the dowager of the L'Oreal Cosmetic firm and the richest woman in France out of millions of Euros. This is serious and the right is freaking out.  Carla was on all the major media radio shows emoting and actually crying that her husband was being politically persecuted by the Left. To underline how serious the rupture in political discourse has gotten here, the judges, the media and a lot of left wing politicians have received very credible death threats in the last 72 hours.
Six or Seven months into the Socialiste Administration and France is suffering from it's worst
The Racist poster attacking the Minster
of Justice, Christiane Taubira
unemployment numbers in decades. The economic idiocy of the Sarkozy years won't go away over night, but all sides are trying to make hay out of the ongoing disaster. The FN still has no real vision except get out of the Euro and deport immigrants. The UMP has become a nonstop noise machine of negativity and Cope and his faction are intent on taking the lessons of the Tea Party in America and running with them. Hence, the massively organized anti Marriage Equality Demonstration that took place in Paris on Sunday.  Suddenly,blatantly racist posters attacking Christiane Taubira, the present Socialiste Justice Minister appeared all  over France.  Taubira is a remarkable woman. She was a politically independent single mother who rose from poverty in French Guyana to become a scholar and professor in economics and agriculture, then political prominence there. Guyana is a French Over Seas Department and she became it's representative in the French Government. I've written about Taubira recently. She is the champion of the effort to push this law through.
The conservative Catholics have been protesting the Marriage Equality Law since it was first proposed with massive organized marches in Paris and other French cities for the last year. Most French support the concept of Marriage Equality. As I said above, it is going to become the law and the brouhaha will be over, like with the death penalty and abortion. The main opposition has been Christine Boutin and her Conservative Catholic Christian Democrat Party. They along with the Front national have been able to mobilize 
militant conservative Catholics from all over France and provide transportation to create the image of
The "martyred' Chrisitne Boutin image.
She got a whiff of tear gas during the
violence and is now playing it for all
she can get out of it....
massive opposition. This time, on Sunday, it was bigger and nastier than ever. This time with the link to the UMP, who is trying to use the Marriage Equality Law as a political tool to discredit the Socialiste Government, we saw for the first time, the conservative arm  of the UMP directly involved. They are in effect, trying to create a French Tea Party type movement. It doesn't matter that their policies are directly responsible for so many of the economic problems in France today. It doesn't matter that they are so deeply immersed in their own corruption scandals. They are effectively out of power and disintegrating. That makes them very dangerous and desperate enough to link to the Front National and the Christian Democrats and try to co opt them both again as way to regain political power. The language in the meda has been hyped up regarding intolerance and racial prejudice. Many of my French friends tell me that they have never seen the level of racism in the national discourse before. Many of these people are able to recall the tensions in France during the Algerian War.

 During the demonstrations in Paris on Sunday, the protestors attacked the riot police, The CRS to provoke them and then used their own children as a "human shield" when the CRS retaliated. Groups of protestors attacked the police and gave the fascist salute singing the national anthem. The UMP is playing with fire. They have unlocked the door and the demons are truly loose on the land. Gay marriage will be the law of the land. The votes will go through. The most popular politician in France is still Manuel Valls, The Socialiste Minister of the Interior. He has remained calm and strong though out all of this. If his government survives the next 4 years, he might be the next President of France! Most French are supportive in the polls, but the unholy alliance, the bad chemistry is something that will haunt this country for decades. For what it is worth, Francois Hollande did make a credible appearance on French Television last night. Hollande is a very intelligent, likable, straight shooter. His biggest handicap is politely saying, a lack of obvious charisma. He seems ready to compromise and find a middle road, but in this extreme political climate, it takes much more. When you are dealing with desperate sharks , reason is like blood in the water.
I realize that this analysis is far from complete, but do you have any questions? Because in tying to answer your questions, I might find more insights that may answer my own questions!

No comments: