Thursday, November 5, 2009

"The National Debate on National Identity"

Marc explains the news from France.

Right-wing (or far-right) nationalism remains strong in France. The Left has abandoned the discourse and symbols of French nationhood and the progressive values they (can) represent to the right. François Mitterrand introduced proportional representation, in large part to encourage the development of the National Front and thus weaken the Right on its right flank. Similar encouragement is now given by Sarkozy to the NPA, the far-left party fronted by postman Olivier Besancenot.

Every time an election comes round, the Right returns to the issue of national identity, playing on fears of Islamic extremism, communautarianism (growth of ethnic or other non-universal/national identities), and immigration. We've got an election next year (to the regional councils), so it was time for someone in the government to play the nationalism card.

That someone is Eric Besson, "minister for immigration, integration, and national identity" (yes, the French national identity is so weak that it needs a minister to defend it). Besson is a traitor, who joined the Sarkozy campaign after serving as a top advisor to Ségolène Royal (in which quality, he wrote: "La France est-elle prête à voter en 2007 pour un néo-conservateur américain à passeport français ?" (Is France ready to vote for an American neocon with a French passport?). His reward has been a series of top government jobs in the Sarkozy administration, and support in creating his own political movement (Les Progressistes)*, designed to give right-wing Sarkozy's majority an imaginary left-wing component (also

As Minister of Immigration, he has undertaken a series of measures, including a "big lie" campaign that claims that French law does not punish those who assist illegal aliens (for example, by being a good Christian and feeding the hungry). This, despite a series of ongoing cases where people who have fed or lodged illegal aliens (for example, their spouses, children, or parents) have been prosecuted.

Besson's latest gimmick is a "Debate on National Identity". He has been assisted by comments from Sarkozy about French identity being tied to "the land", a Leitmotiv of the far right that hearkens back to Pétain and beyond.

While many people think that the question "what does it mean to be French today?" is a good subject of debate, most also see this "debate" for what it is, a partisan political move aimed at garnering support for the government from the racist and xenophobic right before the upcoming elections.

The main tool of the debate is a website, which has already been roundly criticized for unauthorized use of statements from various left-wing politicians in an effort to create an illusion of consensus. For the party of HADOPI and the defender of property rights, this online theft of intellectual property is particularly piquant. Many contributors to the site have seen their posts deleted by particularly ruthless moderators, whose goal is apparently to further this illusion of consensus on the threats to French identity and the means to protect it.

*Another former Socialist who turned his coat to support Sarkozy is Jean Michel Bockel, mayor of Mulhouse, who was also given a ministerial position and support for creating yet another pseudo-party, "La Gauche moderne", to give Sarkozy political cover on the left.


Kati said...

I read an interesting post by Todorov on on why he refuses to participate in this debate (of course he did with his contribution)...

The irony of French identity is that France has always been a diverse country. Just ask any Corsican, Normand, Basque, Provencal, Alsacian, etc. That doesn't mean they're not French too (well for most of them!), it's just that France has never been homogeneous.

Marc Naimark said...

How interesting! I know, but I use it exclusively to find stories translated from for my students! I never think to actually see if there's interesting original content. It seems like they've got a lively debate about the "debate" going on, which I'll enjoy reading.