Showing posts with label French crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French crime. Show all posts

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It was Mitterrand who gave the order

We learn today in a book by the French journalist Bruno Fay that, according to information from former French PM Michel Rocard, it was in fact the president François Mitterrand who ordered explicitly the destruction of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985.

This revelation is likely to darken our memory of a great statesman whose heritage has already been somewhat stained by two or three items drawn from his past.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A lord and his lady

The name Shaftesbury might not ring a bell with many people. It's a small town on a hill in the southern English county of Dorset.

In 1973, Shaftesbury's steep street was made famous by a TV ad for a brand of bread named Hovis:

Curiously, the commentator speaks with a North Country rather than a Dorset accent. This publicity was followed by several funny spoofs. Here's one of them:

In my articles written in August 2007 entitled End of English excursion [display] and Dorset ancestral anecdotes [display], I described my genealogical pilgrimage to Blandford, which is not far away from Shaftesbury.

I've often been intrigued by the fact that the names Skeffington and Shaftesbury have almost identical etymologies. Let me explain. The remote ancestors from whom I acquired my Skyvington surname were Normans who sailed across the English Channel with William and usurped a Saxon settlement (tun) in Leicestershire whose patriarch was called Sceaft, meaning shaft. Maybe this Saxon elder had earned this name through his skills in spear-throwing. In any case, this fellow was not an ancestor of the Norman invaders who chased the Saxons away. The Anglicized name of the place where my Norman ancestors settled down, Skeffington, was simply a reminder of the original Saxon name. I have no reason to imagine that any of the original Saxons mated with the Normans invaders, giving rise to offspring with genuine Sceaft genes... because I'm a lousy spear-thrower. In the case of Shaftesbury, too, the Norman invaders appear to have usurped a Saxon stronghold (burg) created by a patriarch called Sceaft.

Apart from that, whenever Shaftesbury and Dorset are mentioned, I think immediately of the beautiful face of Nastassja Kinski in the film Tess [1979] by Roman Polanski. In fact, although the novelist Thomas Hardy [1840-1928] located Tess of the d'Urbervilles in Dorset, Polanski's movie was actually shot in the north of France. Now, I'm letting myself get led astray...

In the 17th century, a Dorset fellow named Anthony Cooper, with no outstanding qualities or world-shaking talents, nevertheless persuaded the king to name him the Earl of Shaftesbury. Later, his descendants left the town with the steep hill and moved to a tiny place in Dorset named Wimborne St Giles, where they erected a red-brick mansion, and transformed themselves into posh aristocrats.

The Shaftesbury earldom still exists. As in all old families, some peers were fine men, whereas others were nincompoops. [Young readers might need to look that word up in an old English dictionary.]

In France today, we're hearing a lot about the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, whose decomposed body was found in April 2005 at the bottom of a rubbish-strewn ravine on the French Riviera. He had been strangled in November 2004 by his brother-in-law, Mohamed M'Barek, now serving a 25-year jail sentence.

Last night, at the end of an appeals trial in the splendid Provençal city of Aix, the late lord's third wife, Jamila [shown in the above photo with her barrister, at her first court appearance, in May 2007], was sentenced to 20 years for complicity in this crime.

Getting back to etymology, we might say that the outcome of the appeals process in Aix-en-Provence confirms that Shaftesbury—as they say in the classics—got shafted. The ingredients of this sordid affair [wealth, sex, cupidity, stupidity, crime... themes that you can look up on the web] form a more dramatic cocktail than anything the Dorset novelist Hardy would have ever imagined. Polanski, on the other hand, would surely be capable of tackling such powerful stuff.

LOOKING BACK UPON THIS BLOG POST [notes written in January 2016] : Back at the time I wrote this post, some seven years ago, I was interested primarily in the name of the village, Shaftesbury, because I had heard that this word had a similar etymology to my own surname, Skyvington. Both names evoke settlements of tribes of ancient people designated by a term that stands for the shaft of a spear or arrow. I used to be intrigued by the fact that Shaftesbury is close to the territory of my Dorset ancestors named Skivington, but I now believe that any Shaftesbury/Skivington similarity is purely a coincidence. While writing the blog post, I became intrigued by the character of the celebrated politician Anthony Ashley Cooper [1801-1885], 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. Then, of course, I was intrigued by the unhappy ending of a recent head of the family, murdered by a brother and sister who are now in prison... no doubt for years to come. But I had no reason to suspect that my humble blog post would lead to so many enthusiastic reactions from individuals, apparently Americans, who seem to look upon themselves as members of the same noble family as Lord Shaftesbury.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Children deported from France

I've found that an attempt to approach a mind-boggling manifestation of evil such as the Shoah involves a series of steps. For many years, it was an abstract event in my mind, akin to the pilot's vision of the city he has just bombarded. It wasn't until I was in my early forties, settled near the Jewish heart of Paris, that I started to acquire a more complete concrete awareness of the exact nature of Nazi monstrosities. Since then, I've been trying constantly, not to "understand" such unfathomable cases of Man's inhumanity towards his fellow men, but to resolve my conception of these events into a vast but vague philosophical context.

In asking French schoolchildren to adopt, as it were, the memory of young victims of the Shoah, Nicolas Sarkozy is no doubt inspired by fine and profound intentions. But I find that he's asking far too much of young minds, not yet capable of grasping the existence of total evil. It's a risky operation, in that nobody can know beforehand the extent to which a particular child will succeed in assimilating the horror of what happened, and how that child is likely to attempt to resolve his/her revelations. There's a danger, I believe, of traumatizing children. Visions of the Shoah are too heavy a burden for tender eyes. There's time enough, later on in life, for such images of Hell.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Prick in the works

In my article of 4 December 2007 entitled Subliminal phallic stuff [display], I described the curious TV publicity of a French bank named Société Générale. In their ads, an animated thing, the same size as a human being, is supposed to be a friendly thumb, constantly giving a helping hand to bank customers. To me, though, this alleged thumb has always looked more like a big prick. Well, it would appear that my hunch was right. Within the context of this major French bank, there was indeed a prick—a so-called rogue trader—who succeeded in stacking up losses for the bank of 4.9 billion euros ($US 7 billion).

Funnily enough, in the case of this astronomical spiral of losses, there is a winner: the little-known business college in Lyon that had trained the trader. On TV last night, one of their female professors, as proud as punch, explained that, to teach students how to manipulate effectively the banking system in the hope of helping their employer to earn colossal amounts of money, these same students are obliged to acquire knowledge that might enable them, theoretically, to operate as crooks. QED. It's rare, these days: teaching establishments that offer a sound education in this kind of domain. I'll bet that college will be inundated with enrollment requests next year. Serious youth who want to learn how to become pricks.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Assassination trial of a Corsican goat herdsman

In each of the hundred or so geographical departments of the French Republic, the national authority is represented by an individual known as a prefect. I mentioned already this republican concept in my article of 21 July 2007 entitled Prefects [display]. In view of the highly symbolic nature of the role of these distinguished individuals (not to mention their everyday down-to-earth responsibility of maintaining republican order throughout the nation), killing intentionally a French prefect is a particularly grave crime, which might be likened to assassinating the president or prime minister of France. In other words, the Republic doesn't take such acts lightly... and rightly so.

On the evening of 6 February 1998, the 60-year-old prefect Claude Erignac was gunned down, from behind, in a street in Ajaccio. Over a year later, nine Corsican separatists, suspected of being associated with the commando that assassinated Erignac, were arrested. And one of the arrested men claimed that the fellow who actually shot the prefect was a goat herdsman named Yvan Colonna.

The named culprit immediately went into hiding in the wild hills of Corsica. Four years later, in July 2003, Colonna was finally tracked down and brought into custody, and his trial before a court of assizes in Paris started a month ago.

It's interesting to note that the unique accusations of Colonna as the trigger-man in the Erignac assassination emanate from the small circle of Corsican separatists who've already been condemned for participating in this crime. In other words, they (and close family members) are saying that the execution was carried out by a specific individual, Yvan Colonna, who can be considered as a fellow-member of their separatist clan. Now, this is weird. Everything would be so much clearer, in a way, if they were to say that the gunman was an Italian mafioso, for example, or a disgruntled tourist from Brittany, say, or even a crazy American psychopath who happened to be visiting the birthplace of Napoleon. Today, the wife of Alain Ferrandi, sentenced in 2003 to life imprisonment, refuses to retract her declaration that Colonna visited her husband at their home, just after the crime, accompanied by Pierre Alessandri, also imprisoned for life.

Colonna's trial has highlighted what appears to be a curious criminal behavior, specifically Corsican. One has the impression that condemned Corsican separatists are capable of accusing such-and-such a former comrade in arms, as it were, because this strategy enables the real culprits, meanwhile, to save their skins. In other words, while Colonna's defense lawyers are attracting attention by doing their best to prove that their client could not have possibly committed this crime, the true criminal is sinking more and more into obscurity.

This morning, in a dramatic last-minute operation, Colonna's lawyer Gilles Simeoni even went as far as the law and legal ethics would enable him to go in insinuating, rather explicitly, the identity of the obscure individual whom the wife of Ferrandi might be trying to cover up by allowing the blame to rest upon Colonna.

The least that can be said is that the evidence against Colonna is flimsy, and that the charismatic calmly-spoken 47-year-old Corsican doesn't behave like a killer. In France, the expression "intimate conviction" is often used to designate our privately-held opinions concerning the possible guilt or innocence of a convicted individual. At the present moment [Thursday afternoon, 13 December 2007], while I'm writing this blog article, Colonna's trial has not yet ended. Consequently, it's out of the question for me to express publicly my "intimate convictions" concerning the case of Yvan Colonna. I can say, however, that the vast information provided by the Internet concerning all the intricacies of an affair such as this would appear to aid us immensely in forming a sympathetic evaluation of this individual.

Breaking news [Thursday evening, 13 December 2007]: Yvan Colonna has just been sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination of the prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac, in 1998.

Personal conclusions [Saturday evening, 15 December 2007]: This affair was judged, not by a citizen jury, but by an exceptional group of professional magistrates. It would therefore be ridiculous to claim that these expert dignitaries might have acted in a lightweight or erroneous fashion. So, we have to search for deeper reasons for their condemnation of the Corsican shepherd... whose lawyers have just launched an official appeal, as expected, to a higher court. Clearly, the greatest single negative factor in the case of Yvan Colonna was the fact that he decided to attempt to hide from French Justice, and indeed succeeded in doing so for four years. Everybody knows that this kind of behavior is frankly unpardonable within the context of the French Republic... whose noble forms were traced initially by a Corsican named Napoléon Bonaparte. If you've got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't hide. Inversely, if you did hide from French Justice, then you probably had something to hide... such as an assassination, for example. Incidentally, this is not a valid logical deduction... but it's enough to put you behind bars for the rest of your life.