I live in North Carolina, a state governed by Christian extremists who have banned gay marriage and fear that the federal government is a leftist dictatorship intent on taking away their rights. Last week, I returned to Paris for the first time in two years and, on Sunday, was fortunate enough to witness a mass demonstration—of Christian extremists who oppose gay marriage and believe that France is governed by a leftist dictatorship intent on taking away their rights.
Sunday’s gathering was the latest in a series of protests against the legalization of same-sex marriage. This one was unusual in that it occurred after President François Hollande had promulgated the legislation—known as the “Taubira law,” after Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister—on May 17. Hollande himself had dubbed the initiative “le marriage pour tous”—“marriage for everyone.” In reply, Sunday’s event called itself a “manif pour tous”—a “demonstration for everyone.” In this way, the organizers sought capitalize on polls suggesting that a narrow majority of the French public opposes the law. They also went out of their way to present themselves as positive and inclusive, insisting, at least officially, that they were not gay-bashers. They showcased, for instance, several gay participants who favor civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples. Continue reading
What does it mean to be “on the right”? In France, this question has long been debated. The great political scientist René Rémond famously saw the right in France as torn between a series of apparently contradictory positions: secularism and clericalism, authoritarianism and liberalism, statism and anti-statism. In recent decades, the French right has seemed similarly fractured, in ways that both perpetuate and depart from its earlier cleavages. It can espouse free-market capitalism but also “economic patriotism,” European integration as well as national sovereignty, republican tolerance but also rabid xenophobia. In particular, the French right has been dogged by the persistent problem of its relationship with the National Front (Front national, or FN). Does the Le Pen family party ultimately share many of the mainstream right’s values, only expressing them in more virulent terms? Or is the FN’s identity sui generis, as distinct from the center right as the latter is from the left? Continue reading
The first round of the 2012 French presidential election takes place on April 22. The following is Sister Republic’s run-down of the ten candidates on the ballot:
Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, UMP)
It has been a strange five years: the man regarded as unquestionably the most talented French politician of his generation has become one of the least popular and, perhaps, worst presidents of the Fifth Republic. Nicolas Sarkozy, who used to say that he dreamed of being president while shaving in the morning, is struggling for his political survival. He risks becoming the first incumbent since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981 to be denied a second term (a point that Giscard famously rubbed in, with wonderful passive aggressiveness, by letting the camera dwell on his empty chair for the entire duration of the Marseillaise at the end of his farewell speech).
Sarkozy, renowned for the nervous energy he brings to every endeavor, does have a record to run on (thanks in no small part to his competent and self-effacing prime minister, François Fillon). In 2007, he introduced measures to minimize the impact of public sector strikes on the French population. He implemented a controversial pension reform, which meant that most French people not facing immanent retirement will have to work longer. He has, like all Fifth Republic presidents, made foreign policy a priority. He was critical in securing Western military intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebellion; he has taken a hawkish stance on Iran; and he reintegrated France into NATO’s integrated command. Most importantly, he has played a critical role in the euro crisis, negotiating the Greek bailout and crafting policies to staunch the risk of future defaults. In this context, he found a crucial ally in German chancellor Angela Merkel, though he has often placed himself to the left of her draconian fiscal conservatism. Continue reading
If Mohammed Merah did not exist, Nicolas Sarkozy would have invented him. It is hard to overstate how perfectly Merah—who murdered three paratroopers and four French Jews before being killed on March 22 by special police forces after a tense standoff outside his Toulouse apartment—plays into the president’s electoral endgame. I may be overreacting to the drama of the moment, but I predict that Sarkozy will be reelected and that the past forty-eight hours will be seen as the decisive turning point in his road to victory. I also think this is a profoundly sad moment: in the months to come, French society, politics, and public discourse will suffer considerably from this tragic incident. Continue reading
Every time the French hold an election, there’s a moment when municipal authorities cart out truckloads of heavy metal panels from wherever they hibernate in non-election years and set them up in front of schools, mairies, and other public spaces. On these panels, the candidates and parties that qualified to be on the ballot are allowed to display their official “electoral propaganda.” Each panel is reserved for a particular candidate or party. This is where diligent citizens could, in the pre-internet age, go to learn about the candidates so that they could make an informed choice between them. I doubt that these days many people actually make up their minds by reading these panels, if they ever did. Yet there is something touching about the fealty that the French still pay to this custom—to the idea of a neutral space, designated by the state, where every candidate can make his or her case before the electorate. On the metal panels, politicians of Brezhnevian longevity, such as Jacques Chirac, receive no more and no less space than the ecologist du jour or the ever befuddling LaRouchites. Continue reading