Mon Sep 6th, 2010 at 07:31:41 AM EST
France is holding its breath today, as President Sarkozy makes ready to announce his decision on the conflict opposing his two dog-whistlers-in-chief, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux (who has announced he wants to become Mayor of Vichy, a sleepy little town no one has ever heard of), and Immigration Minister Eric Besson (who is about to contract his second marriage, to a Tunisian Muslim woman thirty years younger than him; who'd want to be Immigration Minister if there are no perks?), said conflict centring on the question: should polygamous binationals be stripped of the French part of their binationality, or not? There's a day of action tomorrow against the retirement pensions reform (and further
reforms destruction of redistributive social systems) championed by utterly compromised and how-long-before-they-throw-him-under-a-bus Labour Minister Eric Woerth-it, but let's wager the real French people will be entirely preoccupied by the polygamous binational question. Next vital dilemma, bigamous polynationals.
For sure, there's a deliberate attempt to deflect public attention from Sarkozian "reforms" and the state of the economy. But there's more than that, in the obvious replay of themes from the Pétainist government during WWII, in particular that the citizenship of naturalised French people might be revoked (whether for attacking police officers or for pretty much any crime or misdemeanour, as a minor UMP dog-whistler suggested). There's more in the stigmatisation of Muslims through the anti-burka law to be promulgated this autumn. There's more in the deliberate assertion of a link between foreigners and crime. There's yet more in the accusations and innuendo levelled against gypsies and specifically Romanian gypsies (further set apart by the use of the name Roms, as if the meaning of Roma were "Romanian", now a French media commonplace), in the destruction of their shanty towns and in the more or less voluntary return by charter to Romania.
Much of this is gesticulation. Sarkozy already knows he is up against the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and France's own Conseil Constitutionnel, that will in all likelihood pronounce aspects of the anti-burka law or of any legislation tending to create a second-class category of French citizens as contrary to the constitution; and above the French constitution come EU community treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights. It's equally clear that nothing (legal) can prevent Romanians or Bulgarians who have been "returned" to their countries from heading straight back to France, which is their right under EU treaties.
But, from a communications point of view, lines have been crossed. France's universalist pretensions have been dragged in Vichy-style mud by the proposal from the highest guarantor of the Constitution that French citizenship for foreign-born people should be a separate and inferior category. Words have become acts in the dismantling of gypsy camps and the flights to Romania. A show is being acted out to prove to the French that Sarko really is a tough guy with a Kärcher.
Why, is obvious. The economy and employment are not going to improve, belt-tightening lies ahead, and Sarkozy wants to use the situation for TINA "reforms". He is deeply impopular and polls show him a likely loser in 2012, if he stands for reelection. So he is turning back to the base that won him the 2007 election: the over-65s who want scary brown people imprisoned and/or thrown out of the country.
The strategy is one of polarisation: strongly divide the electorate on cultural issues. Sarkozy's favourite verb for this policy is cliver, to cleave, to split (as in "wedge" issue). Apparently he has recently repeated to his advisors and supporters that from now on it would be cleave, cleave, cleave – and the more the left screams about it the better. The machine to call the left "soft on crime" is of course already running: the identity of foreign with criminal is its fundamental plank, so any defence of foreigners or citizens of foreign extraction is equivalent to defending criminals.
Is it working? Hard to say. Polls differ. The two main monthly popularity barometers differ on the up or down tendency for Sarko, though where they agree is that he is still only supported by less than one out of three respondents. The strategy might work, but it looks like a desperate gamble. What is even more likely to happen, as one major minister (Woerth-it) bites the dust and Sarko proceeds with a government reshuffle that may well see a change of Prime Minister, is that Sarkozia will decline into the nasty little set of conflicting egos it's made up of. And belt-tightening ahead...
So the left wins in 2012? Quite possibly, even probably. But whose nest is Sarkozy feathering right now? As he trivialises the supposed connection between foreigners and crime, as he flatters the insecurity angst of the fearful and the law-and-order lust of the authoritarian, for whom is he preparing a solid electoral base of 25%? For Le Pen. No, not Jean-Marie, his daughter Marine, whom J-M will soon seat on the throne of a family-dynasty Front National. So, whether or not Sarkozy himself gains a political advantage from his crossing of the lines, he is doing permanent damage to France and to Europe.
Are we back in the '20s and '30s? Sarkozy and his people certainly don't think so, they simply know they can transgress by the regular echoes of Vichy policies, and transgression, crossing the lines, is the way to gain attention and sharpen up the options before the standard voter. Also note that Sarkozy wants the left to jump up and down with its hair on fire. Yelling "Nazi" at him is just great for cleaving the electorate. So, even if we're tempted to think it, it's not the greatest in terms of communication. And frankly, we are not in the situation of post-Versailles Germany. History does not repeat itself. Annette Wieviorka is a respected specialist of the history of that period, and here's what she said in a recent interview:
|"Ce n'est pas les années 30, ça n'est pas rassurant pour autant" | Rue89||"It's not the 1930s, but that's no cause for relief either" - Annette Wieviorka - Rue89|
|Non ! L'actuelle configuration nationale, européenne et internationale n'a strictement aucun point commun avec les années 30.||No! The present national, European, and international configuration has strictly nothing in common with the 1930s.|
| On a beau regarder de près la situation d'aujourd'hui et ses dérapages, on ne peut pas avoir le sentiment d'être à la veille de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, à la veille de l'installation de l'Allemagne nazie, de l'Italie fasciste, ou même de la Chine de Pékin.||However closely we may look at today's situation and its excesses, we can't feel we're on the eve of World War II, or of the establishment of Nazi Germany, or fascist Italy, or even the China of Peking [= Communist? - afew]|
| Il y a donc une vraie difficulté à construire intellectuellement et à nommer ce qui se passe aujourd'hui sans céder à une certaine facilité…||So it's really difficult to construct intellectually and to put a name on what is happening today without giving in to a certain tendency to be facile...|
| Absolument: il est difficile de penser ce qui se passe aujourd'hui autrement qu'en référence aux années 30. Mais ce n'est pas parce que ce ne sont pas les années 30 qu'on peut être satisfait, tranquille, rassuré, et pas indigné par ce qui se passe aujourd'hui.||Absolutely: it is difficult to think of what is happening today other than by reference to the 1930s. But it's not because it's not in fact the '30s that one can be satisfied, tranquil, reassured, and not indignant about what's happening today.|