This week’s Charlie Hebdo satirical drawings relating to the drowning of the Syrian toddler on a Turkish beach, and more generaly to the migrant/refugee flux into the EU, drew international salvos of criticism. Was this the work of a journal whose near demise from terrorism led to one of the biggest march for freedom of speech in recent history? You bet.
The whole point of Charlie Hebdo is to kick you in the teeth with as much trash and irreverence as possible. I generaly don’t see much point in the exercise, but this time the drawing from Riss really says something. Unfortunately the message tended to be lost, as you can read in this article for example. In this drawing, the blue sky of Europe contrasts with the dull, barren landscape on which the boy is resting, as a way to illustrate the contrast between “here” and “there”. The McDonalds billboard illustrates western over-consumption (two menus for the price of one), placed there as a sort of welcoming sign meaning “forget your dreams of freedom and happiness, say hello to junk food, junk politics, junk dignity”.
Junk politics didn’t wait for Charlie Hebdo, as ex-and-would-be-next french president Nicolas Sarkozy unashamedly tried to pick up some far-right goodwill by warning of the impending disintegration of french society in the face of migrant pressure. Coming from the son of a Hungarian migrant, in a country whose current Prime Minister was born a Spaniard, it shows how desperate this scumbag has become. On Friday the paper Libération commented Sarkozy’s latest rant against now-dead Kadhafi (whom he had pompously invited in Paris on an official visit in 2007 before destroying him in 2011), saying: “what is extraordinary with Sarkozy is his capacity to articulate false statements whithout even trying to sound a little bit credible” (1). Facing him in the conservative primaries to come, Alain Juppé is sitting pretty as he watches Sarkozy self-destroy. Well nearly, because Sarkozy is like the living dead: he always comes back.
In the meantime, the incumbant President is trying to navigate the perillous seas of ineptitude currently rocking the EU boat. Following his decision to agree with immigration quotas in the face of Merkel’s open arms, the next day he had to fight off right-wing sarcasm as Merkel shut her borders. Having decided to tackle the Islamic State in Syria with a few bomb runs without appearing to help Big Bad Bachar, he now has to deal with the fact that Russia is actively helping said Bachar fight off said Islamic State. Or the fine art of how not to be the friend of neither Bachar not Putin whilst fighting the same ennemi.
Where is Prime Minister Manuel Valls? The big-mouthed, excitable moralist-in-chief of the current governement has been in hiding since the summer. Hollande’s overturning of his refusal to accept migrant quotas probably didn’t help. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership elections must also have been a shock: what, a real socialist? How dare they, after all we’ve done to kill off the very idea! Bloody rosbifs.
But we just heard from Valls yesterday, as he was guiding visitors around Matignon: he told a young boy who wanted to become President that that was fine, but he should wait until 2032, after Valls himself has finished his two mandates starting in 2022 (french presidents take 5-year terms,, the next one starting in 2017). Vall’s good friend and Economy Minster Emmanuel Macron threw in another good one by stating that the life-long status of french civil servants was no more adequate nor justifiable. Macron’s comments obviously have the leftish side of Socialist Party up in arms, whilst the Conservatives complain that Macron is poaching on their land.
The question itself is the subject of an interesting and long-running debate, with two main arguments: on the “pro” side is the argument that a life-secured civil servant will act apolitically and be less tempted by corruption, the “anti” side arguing that life tenure leads to cronyism, inflated and self-serving bureaucracy, and immobilism. Both sides are right.
This weekend is “old stones day” in France, or Journées du Patrimoine: a custom started under Mitterand in 1984 with the aim of opening up a maximum of public and private “heritage” buildings and sites. You can visit, one weekend a year, grand places normaly closed to the public such as the Elysée, Matignon, the National Assembly but also hundreds of private castles, manors, etc… It’s now a European event, even a worldwide event. Yesterday I got a chance to visit the ruins of a castle, the Lourdon Castle sitting a couple of miles North of Cluny. Initially built in the 9th century, it was a private property lost under the vegetation since it’s destruction in 1632, under Louis XIII, only to be reopened in 2012 when the owner leased the site to a local association. The job of clearing the place out, examining it and maybe rebuilding some of the 12th century towers and it’s amazing 16th century “tennis court”, or jeu de paume as it was then called, is only beginning. You can see some pictures I took yesterday here.
(1) Ce qu’il y a d’extraordinaire avec Nicolas Sarkozy, c’est sa capacité à énoncer les contre-vérités les plus accablantes sans même songer à être un peu crédible. https://fr.news.yahoo.com/syrie-libye-sarkozy-fabule-160851726.html
Feel free to check out my previous french chronicles here.