Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

La France Forte, or Why You Desperately Need Sarko Standing On the Beach

The French presidential campaign is kicking into high gear, and Nicolas Sarkozy has one key message for his ungrateful people: vote him back in, and he promises to spend his second term standing on the beach, like a magnificant granite Colossus, liquifying overseas demons with the sheer power of his blue-eyed gaze. 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the advert.

Fancy a dip?

It’s been running for about a month, and it’s the subject of some witty (and goofy) send-ups(Franc Fort, Farce Fort, France Morte…). But as I’ve just come across it, what in the dickens is it trying to tell us? He certainly doesn’t look prepared for the beach. 

First off, we ask ourselves – what exactly is this inexpressive poker face meant to project to us? That he doesn’t enjoy his job anymore? Or he has no time for trivial things such as cuddling kittens or chilling with his family?

Perhaps it’s that compassion and empathy are naive, wasteful, hopeless attributes in a world strewn with threatening vagrants? I think so. Here is Sarkozy, steely-eyed warrior, who has achieved a lasting peace with his unenviable duty – the perennial defence of his people against relentless, unspoken nastiness, washing up on the nation’s beaches!

Indeed, beaches. France is a famously geographically diverse country, and his deadened gaze might have been set against any number of natural backdrops. The Alps. A sun-kissed pasture. A mostly-sunny sky with a couple of attractive, clumpy clouds you just want to bite into.

But this vast, flat grey sea. No sign of waves, islets, boats, or features of any kind. The eye is drawn to nothing but the horizon. And what lies over France’s oceanic horizons?

Fear, in two tiers. 

Firstly, amongst the Marine Le Pen fans and other xenophobes of the far right (of whom there are too many), nothing matters more than immigration and foreigners. Take heart, hard-asses – when Granite-Sarko stands on his Mediterranean coastline, he looks outward towards North Africa with a sober resolve to smite so much as a dodgy looking raft drifting his way. Sure, Granite-Sarko seems cold, but it is because he fully understands the scale of the threat bursting northward from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mordor itself, overflowing with writhing masses of non-Christian refugees and non-conformist asylum seekers keen to exploit the nourishing teat that is the French Republic.

Sarko stands on guard. France’s teat is not for their suckling. Plain and simple.

For the more moderate French nationalists (of whom there are also a great, great many), Granite-Sarko stands not on the Med, and not so much as a merciless bulwark. But he stands on his northern shores, almost within sight of Great Britain, which he regards with the non-plussed demeanour of a dinner host watching an arrogant, drunken guest boast about himself while ladling brown gravy onto his salmon. With a dessert spoon.

Sarko reminds his people, that in the face of Britain’s swaggering self-exceptionalism within the European Union, it is only he who can tell David Cameron, literally, to shut up. Sarkozy will not bend or wither, and will happily dismiss the selfish pleadings of his Anglo-Saxon nemesis and snub his handshakes!

The logic is that London has tried for too long to free itself from Europe’s grasp, yet continues to enjoy coming down to the Continent with wagging fingers and half-assed condescension. Sarko responds by unfurling his middle finger, to the applause of his peeps. In that vein, he is self-respect, he is firmness, he is bold and fair on the European project, and will take no guff from ale-swilling islanders to the north.

This poster, truly, has it all! Nicolas Sarkozy as the great Janus of French conservatism, looking two ways at once to two quite distinct voting constituencies and hoping, dearly, that at least someone, somewhere, in some direction, will take the bait.

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Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Some summit perspective

G8 times are here again! And France gets its day in the sun as host, which clearly heralds the ascent of a new French Order in Europe and the world. It will inevitably send their newspapers and TV chat hosts into a month-long tizzy of neurotic self-congratulation and overblown patriotism. Nicolas Sarkozy will almost certainly cite this as evidence that France has matured into a really, really respected power – respected, and loved, and more than capable of organising big dinner parties. Right? Right??

Or is that kind of parochial identity anguish a particularly Canadian phenomenon? Sigh.

We remember it well. Last year, the Canadian media universe (i.e. the Globe and Mail), and the Harper Government together, each treated our hosting of the G8 as though it was the victory in a highly competitive popularity contest. It was the culmination of years of leadership on the world stage. That ill-founded conceit was hyped not only directly from the PMO, but also in copy-and-paste form in the columns of that critical eye, that investigative journalistic powerhouse, Jane Taber. Canada had suddenly become a strong, bold, respected international player, because, well, it was our turn to host a big dinner party. One which happens every year, somewhere in the world.

Harper is still talking about it as though it’s some kind of lasting evidence of his global leadership. Let’s compare world leaders on this – does anyone think Nicolas Sarkozy (and Le Monde) are so insecure about France’s accomplishments in the world that they’ll weep tears of joy this week because they’re in the international news? Equally, will the world look to France as being somehow “bolder” because they’re hosting the thing?

If the answer is “no” there, then sadly, it was always “no” here too.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,

Carts, horses, and Libyan liberation

Perhaps it’s a hasty enthusiasm for revolution, but France is the first country to drop recognition of the Gaddafi regime. Paris now recognises the rebellion movement, the National Libyan Council, as the legitimate Libyan government, exiled temporarily to Benghazi as it may be.

It’s a fascinating development – European MEPs have been calling for the EU, as a foreign policy making body in its own greater right, to do the same thing, and recognise the NLC as the new recognised power. Britain and Germany have jointly called on Europe to demand Gaddafi step down, while falling short of outright recognising the NLC at the moment.

Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs seems to be shrugging off the suggestion that the EU even could, saying obliquely that “she was not mandated to take such a step herself.”

Isn’t she? Here we were, thinking that the role of High Representative was defined in vague latitudes in the Lisbon Treaty because EU superelites wanted to expand Brussels’ sphere of influence on the sly, not retreat from it? Hum.

Anyway, my desire for Ashton and the EU to take themselves more seriously is another debate for another day. Whatever mandate she thinks she does or doesn’t have, she does raise a legitimate question as to whether recognition of the NLC at this stage in the game is wise. Yes, it sends a powerful political message to Gaddafi, and may have a domino effect across Europe and the world which could enable NATO or the UN Security Council to get tougher, faster, and that’s for the good (although NATO committing military hardware to anything new right now seems unlikely). It also, I suppose, opens the door to France (and others) trading directly with the NLC: delivering aid, and delivering, one assumes, arms (how soon would Britain follow suit? Not sure whether it’s comedy or tragedy to see Gaddafi and the rebellion, each of them firing UK-made missiles across a smoky Mediterranean sky).

But, but, but. The NLC was first conceived on 27 February 2011 – less than two weeks ago. Is there enough certainty whether the NLC is in a condition at this moment to deliver good government? Is it composed of the right people? Is it unified by anything coherent beyond opposition? Unless I’m mistaken, they don’t have a “prime minister” or a “secretary of the interior” or an alternate civil service devising national policy in the wings. If they do, it’s very, very early days. Diplomatically, what is it Sarkozy’s recognising?

We can applaud his boldness in not just waiting to meekly follow the global consensus after it’s been crafted (cough * Harper *), but this feisty energy might be best applied to helping the UK-German proposal succeed (however unpopular “Anglo-Saxon” solutions may be). Better, perhaps, to support the NLC’s role as a body facilitating leadership transition – rather than to imagine that they are already rightly governing, or should, having not yet been through an electoral process of any kind.

To enable Libyans to bring about a post-Gaddafi world, there are more practical things we can do:

Britain believes there are four priorities for the Nato meeting. These were agreed by David Cameron and Barack Obama in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. They are: surveillance of Libya as a possible precursor to a no-fly zone; humanitarian assistance; work on a no-fly zone; and a tightening of the arms embargo on Libya aimed at members of Gaddafi’s regime.

It’s the place to start. If it works, we can fly the black, red, and green Libyan independence flag as a meaningful symbol of a new Libya, rather than of one which doesn’t yet exist.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , ,

Vive la difference

Good for these girls – it seems clear to me that they’re capable of standing up for themselves and aren’t ones to readily accept unfair treatment from a belligerent authority.

We should also see that confidence in their choices of what they wear, and why they wear it.

Muslim woman wearing veil ‘refused bus ride’ in London

“I realised […] this may be a racist attack.”

She asked for his contact details but when he refused she began to film him and he covered his face.

“I said, ‘It’s OK for you to cover your face on my recording but it’s not OK for my friend to cover her face out of choice?’

Just think, every bus driver in the whole of France now has the right – nay, the duty! – to behave like this guy. Vive la difference… or not.

I’d like to continue this post, but the French approach to diversity vs. conformity causes steam to come out of my eyes. Maybe another day, we’ll go there. But for now, a plain old congrats to these two London girls for kicking up a fuss!

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , ,

Gaulle de arms

Outside my office today, a cavalcade of coaches has just driven by, complete with police escort, sirens howling, and mildly-contained chaos. It can mean only one thing:

Sarkozy.

The French President is in London to commemorate the 70th anniversary of what is generally considered the beginning of the French Resistance. Immediately following the Nazi takeover of the French levers of power, and the collaborative accord signed by Pétain, General Charles De Gaulle escaped to London from where he would try to lead a French resistance in absentia.

On 18 June 1940, he arrived at BBC headquarters to deliver a rousing speech aimed at compatriots back home, urging them not to give up the fight against their new Nazi occupiers and the Vichy Regime that accommodated them. It was stirring oratory, as it needed to be – especially as he was physically absent from his devotees back home.

Charles De Gaulle has said some, umm, galling things (sorry) in his time. But in times of trouble, Mother Mary didn’t tell him to Let It Be – no – the thrust of his speech was to say “we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.”

An excerpt in English:

“Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!

“Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.”

It is impassioned stuff, though there will always be some irony in invoking the “use” of the Allies’ great Empires in the war, as if there weren’t a hint of any moral quandary about the establishment of those empires themselves, nor any resistance within Allies’ colonies in aim of their own national liberations. And of course, De Gaulle’s taking for granted the Americans’ seemingly infinite industrial resources did come at its own price: eternal reminders of the fact.

Whatever the importance of the occasion 70 years ago, it’s not certain how widely the radio broadcast was picked up back home in l’hexagone. At least, though, it did signal that we’d entered a brief period of two Frances: the official France under the Vichy, and the resistant France in its form as a scattered underground.

P.S. EU Commission head José Manuel Barroso said a couple of days ago, possibly referencing the anniversary of the De Gaulle speech as much as he was referencing big decisions around the Greek bailout, that Europe comes together best during moments of crisis. Tell it to the ash cloud! But if a new cooperative spirit can be ressurrected in remembering Europe at its worst, well, that might be nice.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

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