This “Unity” Wears Him Out

Who’s tired? Are you tired? Nicolas Sarkozy is tired:

“François Hollande’s national union already fatigues Nicolas Sarkozy.” That much is clear, even in a rather spectacular manner. For on Monday evening there was a big ceremony held in Paris in honor of Agence France-Presse, the main French news-agency, supposedly to celebrate that organization’s 70th anniversary. President Hollande was there, and so was François Fillon, of the opposition and who had served under Sarkozy as Prime Minister. Just to show how non-political an event this was supposed to be, even far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen was there (and she had not been invited to the huge JAN 11 Paris march).

By the way, I write “supposedly” there in connection with AFP’s 70th anniversary because, according to my standard Wikipedia sources, the organization really got started back in August, 1944 as Paris was being liberated from the Nazis by the advancing Allied forces – that means 70 years is August, 2014. Perhaps the earliest that the French political elite could find a mutually agreeable free spot in their agendas was last Monday – Blue Monday, in fact, said to be the most depressing day of the year, in case that had anything to do with it. Or – more likely – perhaps the shocking attacks against freedom of expression in France of two weeks ago caused the country’s movers-and-shakers to decide that there needed to be some occasion, something celebrating freedom of the press, so that the AFP was enlisted for that.

Another “supposedly” is in order here, however, a far more bitter one, for by its actions after the Charlie Hebdo attacks the French government has betrayed its actual indifference to that “freedom of expression” which one could argue all those people – the non-politicians – were marching down Paris avenues on Sunday, January 11, to support. Or maybe not “indifference” but rather a stark partisanship: it’s OK to mock Islam and Muslims, but the same is not true when the target is Jews or, indeed, those who mock Islam and Muslims. The latter are allowed to dish it out; they must be shielded from actually having to take it.

So perhaps there’s a grand distinction that is being made here by French government policy, which Monday night’s AFP gala was meant to reinforce: true freedom of expression is a no-no, while freedom of the press is great, mainly because the national press can be relied upon not to transgress the rules – rules (sketched above) which you won’t find written down anywhere (least of all within the French constitution), but which the French government has lately had the chance to clearly delineate and reinforce by its legal actions.

Odd Man Out For A Purpose?

If that is true – if the distinctions in the freedoms the current French government is willing to allow are so legalistic – then that Monday evening ceremony certainly had rather less exalted significance than it seemed. And Nicolas Sarkozy, who is ex-President himself, and now head of what has to be ranked as the second-most-important opposition party (namely the UMP, behind Le Pen’s FN), was the notable absentee.

Was that because he realized, and wanted to protest against, this hypocrisy? You can’t really say that. As he remarked, “Freedom of the press, that’s fine, but frankly I prefer to go see the cops,” and indeed he spent the time when everyone else was at the AFP gala attending instead a celebration of the 20-year existence of the policemen’s union, Alliance. (Here the corresponding Wikipedia source indicates that, for its part, Alliance was actually formed back in May of 1995; it seems French politics is willing to be very flexible with anniversary dates as long as a political point can be made!)

It’s no secret that, having clawed himself back to the presidency of his right-wing political party (after having endured some post-presidential humiliation, including being investigated for violating French campaign-finance laws), Sarkozy is aiming to become the first President of the French Fifth Republic to serve non-consecutive terms. And it’s no surprise to see him among the police, since he made much of a strict law-and-order approach back when he first won the office in 2007.

He also told the press “This national union of Hollande’s, it’s wearing a bit on me.” (FR: ça commence à me courir). His approach in 2007 was also that of straight-talking, and it is at least refreshing to see him puncture that sanctimonious “national unity” aura, coming after the shock of the Paris attacks, that Hollande will otherwise be trying to sustain for as long as he can. (Among other things, it’s supposed to mean that no one can disagree with you: you’re the President of the nation!) We just cannot (yet?) go so far as to annoint Sarkozy as some knight-errant dedicated to exposing, and reversing, the current French government’s lamentable double-speak when it comes to allowing its citizens to express their opinions.

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