For some time, I have been trying to bring Atlas readers accurate news from France. Unvarnished, unbiased -- almost impossible. French media is virtually state controlled and little veracity seeps out. The French governement has gone so far as to ban citizen journalists from reporting on violence.
So it is with great anticipation that I introduce a new column here at Atlas. SOPHIE STATESIDE. Sophie Fernand is French, frank, and fabulous. She has written for The Weekly Standard and now she writes for us. VOILA!
We toasted our new collaboration. VIVA THE TRUTH!
Here, Sophie's first column for Atlas:
French nation's confiscated symbols Sophie Fernandez
National Identity became such a tortured issue in France that the tricolor flag and the Marseillaise recently needed a public rehabilitation. The presidential campaign's key topic has been restoring a normal relation between France and its identity, starting with eliminating the surprising taboo that surrounds the Nation's symbols like the French anthem and tricolor flag. International football matches are the one and only occasion you can drag out a French flag in France without being regarded as a Nazi.
After long years of existence of this bewildering anathema, Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal finally evoked on March 23, during a press conference in the South of France, the idea that "every family should own a flag and display it in their window on Bastille Day." The day before, during a meeting in Marseille, she sang the Marseillaise and underlined it was important for the Left to "reconquer the National hymn, unfortunately abandoned to the Ultra-Right." Even if the Republic's symbols are inherently public: "Res Publica," the "public thing" in Latin, Ségolène Royal needed to pronounce their rehabilitation in the public sphere.
The anathema on symbols of the French Republic surged into the public debate on October 6, 2001, only two weeks after 9/11, when football supporters booed the Marseillaise at the beginning of a France Algeria "friendship match" at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The whistles molted into a terrifying "Osama" hummed by the crowd of supporters for a few seconds, signaling a broader hatred towards the Western World as a whole. The match had eventually to be interrupted because of the invasion of the field by young supporters waving Algerian flags. Sarkozy, then minister of the Interior, had reacted to it with a law proposal condemning to a 7,500 Euros fine and up to 6 months in prison for anybody publicly dishonoring the anthem or tricolor flag. This grim episode marked the end of the national football team as the last haven of patriotic respect. The national football team was traditionally considered as a symbol of multiculturalism by French media who called it "black-blanc-beur" (black-white-arab, "black" being in French the only acceptable way to say "noir") in reference to the "bleu-blanc-rouge" flag. Famous French intellectual Finkielkraut mentioned in an interview with Haaretz in November 2005 that the national team would be better named "black-black-black". He was right when he added that if "you make this type of remark in France, you might end up in prison." In fact, Montpellier's mayor Georges Frêche, got excluded from the Socialist Party for such a comment two months ago.
Even the toy trademark Playmobil participated in the schizophrenia surrounding French identity and its football team, creating for Germany World Cup in 2006 two toy soccer players, one black and one white, and this, only for the French team and no other. What is happening in soccer, French people's main leisure is very symptomatic of politics. Algerian flags dragged out to celebrate France were the images of jubilation of Chirac's reelection in 2002, after having escaped from Le Pen's election, they were exactly the same as the ones of the national football team's victory in the World Cup in 1998, the Marseille born best player Zinedine Zidane having Algerian origins. This rehabilitation of France's symbol was highly necessary and marks a historic step for the Socialist Party, which used to sing "Bella Ciao", an Italian partisan song during World War II in its meetings; but it may be just a posture if we take into account that Ségolène Royal keeps including in her program the regularization of all the illegal immigrants, vacating the idea of Nation of its meaning. French identity being the key topic of this presidential election, the Socialist Party did not want to let the right monopolize it. By saying that Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal of creation of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity was "ignoble", Ségolène Royal dangerously distanced herself from one of the strongest preoccupation of her voters; 58% of the workers being in favor of it, according to an IFOP survey.
Sarkozy's election made all French people believe that time had come to recover a clear and frank relationship with the symbols of national identity, but this glim of hope was short. For his first Bastille Day, last Saturday, Nicolas Sarkozy invited all the twenty-six European armies to participate in the parade on the Champs-Elysées. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani were among official guests at Bastille day's celebration in Paris. In order to finish drowning national symbols into fuzzy and warm diversity, Nicolas Sarkozy organized so-called "concert of brotherhood", starring German rock group Tokio Hotel, 1960s French rock star Michel Polnareff, and Portuguese-Canadian singer Nelly Furtado. The annihilation of French traditions got complete when the new president refused to give his Bastille Day allocution.
If Sarkozy is not the man, who will cure France?