After a weeklong battle of wills with President Emmanuel Macron, France’s military chief, Pierre de Villiers, resigned on Wednesday. The president, in forcing the hand of General de Villiers, took a page from the playbook of Charles de Gaulle, the strong-willed former general who founded the country’s Fifth Republic in 1958. But as Mr. Macron soon discovered, the Gaullist rules of politics no longer apply.
As the first president of the Fifth Republic, de Gaulle wished to impose on the nation — and on its military — an executive authority so powerful that France would regain not just stability, but also its former glory in world affairs.… Seguir leyendo »
In French, the word “déchéance” has several meanings, all of them bleak. It can refer to the fall of a civilization, or the degradation of the social fabric. More formally, it means the forfeiture of a right or a possession — one’s citizenship, for example. All three meanings, carrying echoes of the country’s experience under Vichy, resonate in a political drama unfolding in France.
Two weeks ago, the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, delivered a stunning blow to the French revolutionary ideal that citizenship is no less indivisible than the republic itself. He announced at a news conference that his government would introduce legislation this year to amend the Constitution to allow the government to strip French citizenship from individuals who are found guilty of acts of terrorism — but only if they are among the three million French citizens who hold dual nationality.… Seguir leyendo »
On Oct. 13, 1765, the writer James Boswell arrived in Corsica to meet the nationalist hero Pasquale Paoli. The trip was remarkable in part because the island — home to a wild people fighting one another when not fighting off foreign conquerors — had never before been explored by someone from England. It was no less remarkable because Boswell, though a resident of London, was not English, but rather a Scot, whose conservative Tory politics mixed with romantic nostalgia for his own nation’s lost independence.
As Boswell later explained in his account of his visit with Paoli, he wanted “to find what was to be seen no where else, a people actually fighting for liberty.”
Two hundred and fifty years later, a growing welter of political movements in Britain, France, Spain and other European countries see themselves as the inheritors of the same ideals that drove Boswell and Paoli.… Seguir leyendo »
Eleven women have caught the attention of the thousands of tourists visiting Paris’ celebrated Montmartre neighborhood. They are les dames pipi — the peepee ladies. Though their name suggests an avant-garde theatrical troupe, they instead represent the rearguard of one of France’s less glorious but still vital professions: the women who clean and service the city’s public restrooms.
Since July 1, the dames pipi have formed a picket line at the public toilets in Montmartre, blocking access to the facilities. Anyone who has ever pounded the Parisian pavements in pursuit of a loo can appreciate the consequences. Desperate tourists are besieging nearby restaurants and cafes, which limit access to their frequently dubious restrooms to their clients.… Seguir leyendo »
The frantic negotiating to resolve Greece’s debt crisis before Sunday’s deadline is a race that launched a thousand cliches. We’re told that the Greeks have embarked on a new odyssey in uncharted waters, that as the EU tightens the screws, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande have left the door open and that the world is holding its breath, though the economic details are Greek to us.
And, of course, countless headlines insist we’re watching a Greek tragedy unfold. It’s hard to blame the editors and columnists: After all, tragedy goes hand in hand with Greece, just like ouzo and «Mamma Mia!» The ancient Greek understanding of the term, although it has little to do with today’s cliches, in fact casts a bright Mediterranean light on the current crisis.… Seguir leyendo »
A foreign delegation representing a powerful alliance confronts a small Mediterranean country with an ultimatum. Either join our alliance, pay ruinous dues and cede your national sovereignty, or you will be destroyed. Unwilling to allow the delegation to present its case to their fellow citizens, the country’s political elite tries to buy time. But appeals to reason, pragmatism and common decency fail to budge the visitors. When the elite finally replies that it is not prepared to surrender its nation’s freedom, the delegation withdraws and, true to its threat, crushes the rebellious country.
Sound familiar? Apart from a few details, the situation resembles the present standoff between Greece and the European Union.… Seguir leyendo »
Before the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks on Jan. 7, France was bracing for a dispute that, though neither violent nor volatile, nevertheless goes to the heart of the internal tensions over the role of religion in this devoutly secular country. After a tense, week-long negotiation between a special committee and the minister of the economy, Emmanuel Macron, the National Assembly will begin debate Monday on whether department stores and shops will be allowed to open more often on what has been a traditional day of rest.
During his presidential campaign in 2012, François Hollande lambasted the Right for its efforts to transform Sunday into a day like any other, devoted to business and material gain.… Seguir leyendo »
The Islamic State video marking the executions of 18 captured Syrian soldiers along with American aid worker Peter Kassig shocked the world for the usual reasons and one more as well. The militants did not wear masks. Two who appeared in the video, Michael Dos Santos and Maxime Hauchard, are French citizens. Their unmasking allowed the French to put faces to two of the more than 1,000 of their countrymen estimated to have given themselves to Islamic State and its terrifying worldview.
These particular faces have blurred the typical profile of a French Islamic militant: young men of a particular socioeconomic and psychological stamp, offspring of North African immigrants, no longer part of their parents’ world and not yet part of their new world.… Seguir leyendo »
April was the cruelest month for François Hollande. The French president, battered by abysmal poll ratings, traveled to the southwestern town of Carmaux to commune with the spirit of its native son, Jean Jaurès, the founder of France’s Socialist Party, titanic tribune of the people and tireless defender of the values of 1789.
Desperate to save his own political hide, Mr. Hollande hoped he would somehow profit by identifying publicly with the man who ever since his assassination in 1914 — on the eve of the outbreak of the catastrophic war that he had fought so hard to prevent — has become a modern icon of French greatness, perhaps second only to Charles de Gaulle.… Seguir leyendo »
Though the votes have not yet been counted in Thursday’s presidential election in Algeria, the result is all but decided: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will win a fourth term.
Bouteflika’s long reign is unprecedented (and unconstitutional), and so is the nature of the election. The ailing and frail 77-year-old Bouteflika had not made a single public or televised campaign appearance until this month’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in which Bouteflika looked more dead than alive.
Indeed, one critic, novelist Yasmina Khadra, calls Bouteflika’s government a «zombie regime.» The president — a functionary of the National Liberation Front, the party that has owned Algeria since its independence in 1962 — is entrenched, propped up by generals and an uneasy status quo.… Seguir leyendo »
Future historians of France may well decide that the Fifth Republic died as it was born: in a traffic incident.
As France and much of the world now know, part of President François Hollande’s morning routine of late has been to zip on his moped between the Élysée Palace and an apartment on the aptly named Rue du Cirque for romantic trysts with the actress Julie Gayet. While his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, and his interior minister, Manuel Valls, were unaware of these jaunts, the paparazzi, cameras trained on the building, shot a helmeted Mr. Hollande entering and leaving by the front door.… Seguir leyendo »
For food, fashion and fast trains, few labels are more sought after, and rightly so, than «Made in France.» But when it comes to the making and unmaking of empires, not so much. Take the case of the Central African Republic.
Three weeks ago, as bloody mayhem engulfed the CAR, François Hollande did what French presidents do best: He sent in the paratroops. With the blessing, and precious little else, of his European neighbors, Hollande declared his intention to protect 100 or so French nationals in Bangui, the capital, and to disarm both the outlawed Seleka fighters, overwhelmingly Muslim, and the vigilante anti-balaka (or «machete») militias, which are Christian.… Seguir leyendo »
Albert Camus, who would be 100 years old Thursday, is ageless. The French Algerian’s life and work reflect the long tragedy of the 20th century, marked by disquiet, genocide and violence, but his diagnosis of our absurd condition, and his effort to find not a cure (there is none) but the proper response, tie him just as firmly to the new millennium.
Camus lived on intimate terms with the absurd. He lost his father, whom he never knew, in the war to end all wars that emphatically failed in that regard. He was a French intellectual from working-class Algiers, a writer raised by a grandmother who could not read and a mother who could not read and could scarcely speak.… Seguir leyendo »
In the politics of national identity, as with the politics of real estate, there are three cardinal rules: location, location, location. Few events better illustrate this truth than the current debate in France over whose earthly remains best belong in the basement of a hulking neo-Classical pile with a fissuring dome and bricked-up windows that looms over Paris — otherwise known as the Panthéon.
The Panthéon was not always what one wit called the “Académie Française of the dead.” Commissioned by King Louis XV to honor the patron saint of Paris, the church of Saint Génèvieve was completed just as the king’s son, Louis XVI, lost his throne and, eventually, his head to the revolution.… Seguir leyendo »
The traditional July 14 military extravaganza along the Champs-Élysées, orchestrated to project a united and confident nation on France’s national day, arrives not a moment too soon for France. For one day, the nation can forget its economic and political woes, kick back and watch the passing parade.
Of course, that the pride of place is given not to huge balloons shaped like Mickey and SpongeBob, but instead missile carriers and tanks, reminds us that here, too, the so-called French exception is truly exceptional.
It so happens that Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the thinker some still hold responsible for the Revolution, loved parades.… Seguir leyendo »
In 1645, the young Louis XIV laid the cornerstone to the church of Val-de-Grâce, built to celebrate his birth seven years earlier. A century and a half later, the French Revolution transformed the church into a military hospital. But as its current patient, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, reminds us, Val-de-Grâce’s ties to monarchic power and empire continue to the present day.
From the moment Bouteflika arrived in Paris nearly a month ago after suffering a minor stroke, Algerians have suffered a news blackout. The Algerian government has treated the event rather like its military operation during the hostage crisis at a gas facility in the Sahara earlier this year: with intense secrecy and overwhelming force.… Seguir leyendo »
Life has been quiet in Paris — Paris, Texas, that is.
Earlier this year, two bills for the legalization of gay marriage were submitted in the Texas legislature. While the odds for their passage are long, the passions they have aroused are slight. No boisterous anti-gay marriage demonstrations have wound past the local (65-foot-tall) Eiffel Tower, and the only red meat tossed around has been on backyard grills. In fact, all that our gun-toting governor, Rick Perry, could muster on the subject was a tepid: “In Texas, it is fairly clear about where this state stands on that issue.”
Where Texans stand is not just further to the left than Perry believes — polls reveal that a majority of young Republicans support gay marriage — but also to the left of residents of the other Paris — the one in France.… Seguir leyendo »
In everything but name, France’s Parliament system is in the throes of a filibuster.
Since Feb. 2, when the Socialist majority in the National Assembly voted to redefine marriage as an agreement between two people of the same or opposite sex, the conservative opposition has filed more than 5,000 amendments, none of which they expect to pass into law, in order to drag out the nation’s seemingly ineluctable march to legal recognition of gay marriage.
Many of the proposed amendments are meant to outrage: A member of the U.M.P., the neo-Gaullist party leading the resistance, demanded that incestuous and polygamous marriages also be legalized in the name of equal rights.… Seguir leyendo »
Returning home from a visit to Russia in 1774, the philosophe Denis Diderot wrote that in France, he could not “help but think that I’ve the soul of a slave in a country where men are called free,” whereas in Russia he “had the soul of a free man in a country where men are called slaves.”
Has Gérard Depardieu had similar thoughts of late?
On Sunday, President Vladimir V. Putin welcomed the French actor to Russia with a newly issued Russian passport. Mr. Depardieu, outraged by the French Socialist government’s proposed 75 percent wealth tax, had walked out on his country.… Seguir leyendo »
François Hollande described Tuesday night’s press conference, his first since becoming France’s president, as a “teaching moment” to explain his controversial economic program. One of the lessons, it appears, is that the French must learn to eat their crêpes sans Nutella. While we should not make too much of the popular hazelnut and chocolate spread, it is possible that its fate has become oddly entwined with that of French socialism.
French socialism has long tended to be less doctrinal than inspirational. In part, this resulted from its ancestry: Several different streams — some purer, others deeper, but all of them flowing from the French Revolution — converged in 1905, forming the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière.… Seguir leyendo »