Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Change of attitudes and words

Not so long ago, many people in France were intrigued by the dynamism, exuberance and energetic determination of the newly-elected president... without necessarily admiring his actions and operations, or taking the man seriously. Nicolas Sarkozy was new; he was young; he was different... Political observers accustomed to the time-honored and relatively austere traditions of French politics of the Fifth Republic—from de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard and Mitterrand through to Chirac—were initially astounded by this Speedy Gonzales with a finger in every pie. He seemed to be operating almost everywhere, simultaneously, and people soon understood that he would not be calling upon the services of his submissive prime minister... or any other minister, for that matter. Why should he? Sarkozy's wife Cécilia turned out to be more efficient than even a French minister of Foreign Affairs in liberating the female hostages in Kadhafi Land. But she ended up running away.

I have the impression, though, that the dashing French prince, presently enamored of an Italian fashion-model princess, might be moving into the treacherous midnight zone of Cinderella, when the champagne bubbles can burst, and beautiful people can turn into toads. What I'm trying to say is that I sense that more and more French people are irritated by the Sarkozy style, and that the fairly tale could end rudely at the drop of a magician's hat. [I'm aware that I might have mixed up a few images and metaphors in this paragraph.]

Sarkozy's new-year message to the French nation was disappointing. For inexplicable last-minute reasons, instead of having his message video-recorded in a professional style, Sarkozy decided to deliver his speech live, in a stilted formal fashion, prompted by means of an idiot board. Then he threw in a weird allusion to a personal vision designated as a "politique de civilization", which left people startled and confused, primarily because nobody seems capable of grasping what this expression might mean.

Certain popular young Frenchmen are frankly angry.

France's favorite personality, the celebrated tennis player and singer Yannick Noah, is scandalized by Sarkozy: "Everything shocks me. His attitude, his tone and his arrogance shock me. The display of wealth and his cynicism shock me. The disinformation shocks me." Noah ends up borrowing the image of Louis XIV at Versailles: "He's the king with his court, and the sycophants are down on their knees before him."

In a slightly different register, another outspoken young Frenchman, the leftist politician Arnaud Montebourg, has decided to attack Sarkozy in an indirect manner.

He has aimed his fire at his former Socialist colleague Bernard Kouchner, enticed by the siren song of Sarkozy into becoming his minister of Foreign Affairs. Montebourg has declared vigorusly that it's high time for Kouchner to simply resign from a presidential context that brings to mind "the Ancient Romans of the decadence". For those who need more than a metaphor to understand his criticism, Montebourg accuses Sarkozy of "moral bankruptcy", and throws in nasty expressions such as "betrayal of electoral promises", "fiscal injustice" and "diplomatic fiasco".

The criticism of both Noah and Montebourg can be described as fighting words. What will Sarko try to invent, to defend himself? Maybe, like Forrest Gump, he should run like hell.

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