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.

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

Limp on, dear Commonwealth!

I’m a bit of a fan of the Commonwealth. Maybe that’s unusual, and especially unusual for anti-monarchist republicans (like moi) who blame most of the world’s ills on the dark legacy of colonialism (actually also like moi).

But there are a couple of reasons to like its work and its potential for greater things. Firstly, on a compassionate level, I feed bad for it. Mainstream media and lesserstream media alike seem to take great joy in attacking the Commonwealth with the predictable clichéd adjectives like “relic,” “imperial,” “redundant.” I suppose I automatically rally to the defence of anything that seems casually dismissed at best and gleefully mocked at worst.

Mainly, though, what I like about it is in contrast to the United Nations. The UN is, necessarily, a universal organisation. If it is generally agreed that you are a state, then you are eligible for UN membership. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sham state like Somalia, an atrocious state like North Korea… the political recognition of statehood gets you in the General Assembly, pointe finale.

The Commonwealth, though, is meritorious. It’s not enough, or even necessary, to be an “ex-colony.” Mozambique and Rwanda joined without any formal links to Britain in their histories. What you need is to demonstrate a verifiable and sustained commitment to human rights, to transparency, to electoral democracy, to education, to combatting racism. That’s the basis of the Harare Declaration, and it gives the institution a raison d’être that the UN can never have.

If you violate the terms of good behaviour, you get suspended, as Pakistan, Fiji, and Zimbabwe have been in recent years. Brits and Canadians might not notice that much, which is a shame, because the role the Commonwealth plays in affirming democratic and liberal credentials (like an ISO certification, but for countries!) matters much more in the developing world. Countries like Rwanda clamoured for years to join the CW, in a manner not unlike Turkey’s reforms aimed at easing entry into the EU. So, it has influence.

I also like the scholarships, and I like the Games. The Commonwealth Games are, of course, the most high-profile feature of the Commonwealth itself, and despite the fact Australia wins bloody everything, it’s nice to have an athletic forum that is predominately Global Southern, and doesn’t feature much competition from Europe, and hey, no U.S.

But the Commonwealth has a crisis in communicating its vision of legitimacy and relevance, and the kerfuffle over the Dirty Delhi Games only exacerbates this. People will say: “FIFA awarded the World Cup to South Africa, and they went fine. Why couldn’t the Commonwealth do a better job of ensuring the Delhi Games were up to scratch?” And it’s a good point. I suppose people need to remember that, as an institution borne out of empire, it is now a devotedly decentralised and non-interfering organisation. To avoid accusations of patronising neo-colonialism, the principle of non-interference might have played a role in hands-offness with the organisationness. But it doesn’t look good.

In typical bumbling fashion, London Mayor Boris Johnson has waded in with a ham-fisted attempt to rally around the beleaguered Delhi Games, and he did so by exposing his total ignorance as to how his own country competes in it.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Team GB should go to the Games and playing their part in what has every prospect of being a fantastic Games,” he told the Standard. “I hope that some of our great competitors won’t be put of by media gloomstering from doing the Commonwealth proud.”

Team GB is the unified British team that competes at the Olympics. But for the Commonwealth Games, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland each compete separately. The Mayor of the 2012 Olympic Games City doesn’t know how the Commonwealth Games (or his own country’s athletics federation) work.

So the Commonwealth suffers from bad optics, and it’s generally criticised (and praised) by people with only a cursory understanding of how it works, what it does, why it exists. I was hoping the Delhi Games would show a future-oriented, Southern-driven, bright, young, up-and-coming face of the Commonwealth as embodied in the state of India itself. If all people see are dirty floors and collapsed bridges, though, it’s just going to be another opportunity to beat up on the whole institution. And to that I say boo.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , ,


January 2021

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