21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
News Analysis now
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories
Dreamscapes Two
More Original Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living



The International Writers Magazine: French Politics

A Farwell to Sarko
• Dean Borok
I, for one, will shed a tear for outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom I much admired. He was a bit of a comic personality but he was an effective, intelligent leader who managed to keep France stable in the context of wrecked economic conditions, and whose charming wife Carla Bruni enhanced his presidency with her talent and human interest without ever embarrassing him.


I always regarded Sarko as a bit of a Francis Veber light comedy movie, with his jogging, his slavish admiration of American-style dynamism and his slightly out-of-control retinue of wives and female cabinet ministers, a stage farce by Beaumarchais or Molière. Why the usually astute French cinematic world never caught onto the comic possibilities of the Sarkozy regime, I’ll never understand.

Sarkozy represents to me above all a man destined for greatness for whom the world never presented a grand stage, a Ulysses S. Grant without a civil war, a Churchill without a Hitler, indeed, a Napoleon without a revolution. Sarko, with his Karcher power washer for cleaning the “racaille” that festered in the suburban housing estates, represented a midget version of Bonaparte, who never hesitated to fire artillery pieces down city streets to decimate raging monarchist mobs. His worldly consort, Carla Bruni, might have, under more trying circumstances risen to the historical significance of an Eva Peron or a Princess Diana. Indeed, Bruni succeeded, unlike Empress Josephine, in delivering him an heir.

So much the worse for Sarkozy, but the rest of us are better off, living in a world of tedium that at least offers us the chance of living out our full life expectancy. Any time these big shots are in their glory, the rest of us are condemned to live in turmoil, so it’s a relief that his successor, François Hollande is so unremarkable. Hollande was not formed in any crucible of madness, but rather in the Elysian paysage of Normandy, which is a setting so rich in natural treasure and human civilization that its beauty is celebrated in world culture.

Either you know Normandy or you don’t. I’m not here to write an elegiac travelogue, except to remind the reader that Victor Hugo traveled there for inspiration to write his literature, that the 19th century impressionist painters lived there to paint its idyllic landscapes and Gustave Flaubert based his novels there, books so rich in descriptive detail that the writer hardly felt compelled at all to devise a story line.

Where Sarkozy’s personality was somewhat frenetic and micromanagerial, Hollande seems to project a more sedate, pedestrian nature, more resembling Mitterand’s tranquil nature hikes than Sarkozy’s urban jogging. From a visual point of view, that’s very refreshing, because now we will no longer be afflicted by press photos of Sarko’s skinny legs. Hollande was born in the Norman city of Rouen. His father was a provincial medical doctor and, since this was before national medical insurance, it’s easy to imagine him accepting payment from some of his patients in the form of agricultural products that are so expertly produced in that region, as was the case of Emma Bovery’s husband, Charles, in “Madame Bovary”. Flaubert’s depictions of life in nineteenth century Normandy, with its agricultural fairs, rich peasants and minor aristocracy color my thinking about François Hollande. His youth in the late 1950’s and early sixties must have been reminiscent of an antique Jacques Tati movie, with schoolboys in shorts salivating over the cakes displayed in bakery windows, cops riding bicycles and beret wearing men in raincoats carrying leather briefcases and long loaves of French bread. This might seem contrived, but it’s not. It’s also far from the urban chaos experienced by the Parisian boy François in Truffault’s “400 Blows”, which is closer to today’s reality.

Hollande’s father allegedly was a political reactionary and supporter of the Vichy government during the German occupation of France during World War II, who admired Marshall Pétain and continued to praise him long after he was tried and imprisoned, denigrating the French Resistance as “opportunistic”. Personal allegiances tend to overlap political schisms in a way that Americans are only now starting to understand. I can cite as an example François Mitterand’s close lifetime relationship with Maurice Papon, Nazi collaborator, executioner of thousands of Jews and Arabs and police official under DeGaulle and Pompidou, who was only convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison late in his life.

Nevertheless, even though Holland père et fils are still personally close, it’s possible to speculate that the mad political ravings of his father propelled François Hollande into the embrace of the left. In 1968, when Hollande was still an adolescent, his father, alarmed at the May revolution and fearing that it presaged another invasion from the east, this time by the Soviets, moved the family from Normandy, which had suffered so much from the previous war, to Paris, which had gotten off relatively more lightly. They installed themselves in the prosperous suburb of Neuilly where, in fact, Nicolas Sarkozy lived with his family.

If Sarkozy, who is a product of the deracinated world of transborder migration and immigrants rising rapidly through society, Hollande inscrutably represents a hundred generations of landlocked tradition extending back to Charlemagne and even the Romans. Taking note of this, no matter how modern he might appear on the surface, I have to conclude that the style of his presidency will inevitably vary widely from that of his predecessor. Hollande is going to be more French, and I can’t imagine, in the light of his gastronomic experiences in Normandy and Paris, that there are going to be very many weenie roasts like the one Sarko enjoyed at George Bush’s summer home. Hollande’s choice of women says a lot about him as well. Where Sarkozy fell for the flashy, Brazilian-Italian-French pop star/fashion model Carla Bruni (whom I adore), Hollande is drawn to the serious, intellectual type. His former girlfriend, Ségolène Royal, who bore him three children, ran for president of France in her own right. Hollande managed her campaign, and they broke it up the day after the election because he had begun to deceive her with his current paramour, Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist who divorced her husband, with whom she had had two children, to be with Hollande. The fact of Royal and then Hollande both running for the office and him winning, and all of them having all those kids without bothering to apply for a marriage license is to me delightful, but I doubt that the English-speaking world, with its focus on propriety and headlong rush into matrimony will share my enthusiasm, particularly now, with the latest witless explosion in matrimony. What is the big deal about getting married, when it is guaranteed a 50% failure rate? Would you buy a car that had a 50% chance of breaking down?

I don’t anticipate that the new French presidency is going to be as accommodating to foreign delegations as its predecessor for the simple reason that it’s not dignified to make oneself so accessible. For this reason, and because Hollande’s stated purpose is a renegotiation of Europe’s constitution – the president-elect has explicitly stated, “We’re not just any country. We can change the situation” – German Chancellor Merkel may very soon find herself waxing nostalgic for Sarkozy, whom she has previously disdained. Now that the Cameron government has for all intents and purposes recused itself from any role in determining the future of European finance, indeed in recent days it seems to be trying to make domestic political capital out of Europe’s troubles, Merkel finds herself isolated in her resistance to the Mediterranean of countries, henceforth to be led by France, who are insisting on a growth-oriented loosening of monetary policy, which ultimately has to lead to a devaluation of the euro and subsequent dilution of German wealth. Now they are joined by the Obama administration as well in insisting on an logic of growth. My opinion is that the ascendency of Hollande must inevitably result in Merkel’s political demise.

A lot of people, and notably Hollande’s own Socialist colleagues, are shaking their heads in wonderment over his unlikely ascendency, although it’s not so rare at all in history when circumstances demand it. In the “I Claudius” series of books by Robert Graves about the machinations of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Caligula has been assassinated and the Praetorian Guard is searching the royal palace for his remaining relations to dispatch, when the run across his scholarly uncle, Claudius, who is lame, stutters and shudders when he speaks. In a fit of mirth, the military junta anoints him emperor. Claudius, taking his time, masters the snake pit of imperial politics and goes on to enjoy a tranquil and successful reign.

The same could be said about Hollande, who, though a longtime reliable political operative, was destined to be always a bridesmaid and never a bride. He was so second-tier that as recently as the last election he had unsuccessfully run the election of his then-domestic partner, Royal. She lost and the stage was set for economic genius Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whom Sarkozy sufficiently feared to appoint him Chairman of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, just to get him out of the country. Strauss-Kahn subsequently eliminated himself as a candidate when he was accused by an African hotel maid in New York of committing an indiscretion with her and then not paying, leaving the Socialist field so weak that, as the last party figure left standing, he assumed the nomination and was carried into the presidential palace on a wave of popular revulsion over Sarkozy’s austerity policies.

Austerity as a weapon for fighting an economic depression seems to be losing its allure. A lot of people describe the European Union as a German horse ridden by a French jockey. Now that Berlusconi has been replaced in Italy by a centrist technocrat, Greece is veering to a radical left government, Spain is close to collapse and Labor seems to be on the ascendancy in the UK, with the collapse Cameron’s coalition almost inevitable, a Socialist France seems to be firmly in the saddle for pushing through a revision of monetary policy.

But there’s always another wrinkle to sort out, and France’s presidential election is due to be followed by a legislative election in June for control of the lower house of the National Assembly. This time it will be a three-way race including the much reviled proto-fascist National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, who managed to garner almost a fifth of the votes in the first round of the presidential balloting. The FN will almost certainly end up getting a sizeable representation in the parliament, which should result in a very lively legislative session. The FN has picked up some pointers in bottom-feeding cracker politics from the U.S. Republicans, such as the anti-abortion issue, to complement their already virulent xenophobic racism. It’s starting to look like 1936 all over again, except that, mercifully, there is no German wolf howling for blood. At least not yet.

© Dean Borok June 2012

Share |
More Comment


© Hackwriters 1999-2012 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.