Monday, May 07, 2007

Adieu, liberté française?

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France is, by all reports, the first good news that George Bush has had in many, many, many months. That, of course, would make it bad news for pretty much everyone else.

Is it that bad? I don’t speak French, so I’ve had to rely on English-language news media and bloggers and the picture I get is one of Bush circa 2000, the very face of friendly fascism planning much mischief without scaring the people— au contraire, he actually won them over.

On BBC World this morning, French pundits were talking about how good it was that France had elected the son of immigrants, and that the runner-up was a woman, Socialist Ségolène Royal. Yeah, well, one does have to look for something positive, I suppose.

George Bush reportedly phoned Sarkozy to congratulate him as soon as the results were known. On a visit to the US, Sarkozy was practically worshipped by right wing Republicans and had been invited to the White House, an unusual move for a mere minister. By contrast, departing French President Jacques Chirac has never been invited back after being the first foreign leader to fly to America as soon as possible after 9/11. Chirac opposed Bush’s Iraq war, and the Bushies didn’t like that—or Chirac. It would seem logical to suppose that Sarkozy will be more accommodating both to the occupation of Iraq and to the Bushies’ policies generally.

Curiously, the report on New Zealand’s Newtalk ZB radio news this morning said that Sarkozy had “trounced” Royal. They clearly need new script writers, ones who understand what words mean, because a 53-47 result is hardly a “trouncing”. It’s a wide enough victory margin to be clear, but not large enough to claim any sort of mandate, and so, Sarkozy didn’t “trounce” anybody. Fortunately, TVNZ’s news breaks on the Breakfast programme didn’t say anything absurd like that.

It has to be said that New Zealand’s relationship with France has been somewhat fraught. It’s been argued that part of the reason that Britain signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was that it was the only way it could gain control of New Zealand because it didn’t have enough troops in the region. Their goal, this theory goes, was to block French expansion (some historians rubbish this idea).

More recently, France’s gleeful insistence it could freely test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific became a source of division. When French government secret agents committed an act of terrorism in New Zealand (sinking the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour in 1985), things got even worse. In the end, New Zealand was bullied into releasing the French government terrorists (one of whom later received a medal in France) because France threatened to destroy New Zealand’s trade with Europe if it didn’t.

It has since been revealed that then-French President François Mitterrand personally ordered the attack, though this wasn’t known at the time. Nevertheless, when Mitterrand left office, no one in New Zealand was sorry to see him go.

President Chirac decided to renew French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and NZ-French relations soured again. Afterward, he did seem to make an effort to make amends up to a point: He wouldn’t apologise for the nuclear testing programme, nor for the act of terrorism in New Zealand. Nevertheless, he welcomed Prime Minister Helen Clark several times, and relations have improved.

We’ll have to wait and see if NZ-French relations under Sarkozy will be more like Chirac or Mitterrand, or if he can move beyond both. Personally, I’m not optimistic because it seems to me the last thing the world needs is another right wing head of state, regardless of country.

Footnote: French translations in this post, including the headline, are from AltaVista Babel Fish Translation; blame them if the words are wrong...


This Boy Elroy said...

All the french that I work with are pleased with the election results and they aren't fascists. I'm a bit confused about the situation over there. I am loath to believe that this will mean anything for Bush. Conservative across the pond is not the same as it is here in the US. Let's not forget that Europe ran all the crazy people out. The crazies found some land and called it The United States of America.

lost in france said...

@Arthur: You will laugh at the graffitti in my post of today.

If you are interested on one take on the French nuclear/Rainbow Warrior scandal try reading the "L'Affaire Rainbow Warrior" chapter (it's in English) of the book "The French Secret Services: From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War" by Douglas Porch -- Oxford University Press, 1997.

@This Boy Elroy: If you are living in Texas, it would figure that the French near you would like Sarkozy. After all, I can't imagine any other kind moving to Bushville (there is a marked propensity among the French -- or perhaps the more enlightened ones -- to gravitate to New York City or perhaps San Francisco).

This Boy Elroy said...

I'm sorry Lost in France but your generalization is moot. I work with highly educated French who come here because it's a reknowned institute in the field of scientific research, not because they have empathy with Bush or neocon philosophy.

I don't know either candidate well but I do know my colleagues. When I asked them why they were pleased with the results the consensus is that Sarkozy seemed to present himself as a "candidate with more solutions rather than talk." They don't think he's the best candidate but they believe that he was better than Royal and that socialism wasn't working.

I just find the rift interesting.

lost in france said...

@This Boy Elroy: Sorry for the generalization, but I know many highly educated people in France who are sick at the thought of Sarkozy as President.

I can't believe that such highly educated Frenchmen believe in splintering their country even more. Why can't France be more progressive like Spain instead of becoming more regressive on social issues, as Sarkozy seems to promise.

Ever since he and his party have come to power there have been more riot police in the streets than I ever saw before.

La Petite Anglaise got it right it her blog where her reaction to the election is "oh. shit."

But I guess Sarkozy will be easier to take living thousands of miles from France ....

Arthur Schenck said...

Great discussion, guys!

I should qualify: I'm not saying that Sarkozy's supporter's are fascists, or even that he is, but rather that he reminds me of Bush circa 2000, when he and his controllers hid their fascist agenda. Sarkozy's former control over police gives me pause, and could lead to a crackdown as Putin did in Russia.

However, I do think it says something about expectations that among the first calls of congratulations Sarkozy got were ones from Bush and Blair. In his victory speech, he said France was America's friend (based on what the translator said), and that would clearly be music to the Bushies' ears.

I can't speak to what either of you were saying about individual French people's support or lack of support for Sarkozy, since I don't know any French people. However, my impression is that the Left has a real image problem in France, and that contributed in part to their defeat.

One talking head on TV (BBC World, I think it was) was blaming the debate for Royal's loss, saying she didn't say anything and was "aggressive" (which to my American ears sounded like the old "a man is strong, a woman is a bitch" sexism).

Bottom line for me, though, is what I said in the post: "The last thing the world needs is another right wing head of state, regardless of country."

lost in france said...

Well there is a ray of hope -- the upcoming legislative elections. Sarkozy needs a legislature to pass laws. If only the left and center parties gain more seats than his ....

Perhaps what disturb more about Sarkozy than anything are: (1) his pure ambition which if unchecked is dangerous (the way he took control of his party was machiavellian); (2) his cronyism and friendships with too many powerful people; (3) his arrogance (and that of his party); and (4) his party's lukewarm record on gay rights.

lost in france said...

Oh, I forgot the (x) security thing, the (y) poor record of the government that he has been a part of for the last five years (as Minister of Finance and Minister of the Interior), and (z) the fact that he stabbed his political mentor in the back, and so on....