France 2005: the quest for greatness?

It has now been a year and a half since I moved to France. I am not going to bore you with all the domestic challenges the move caused me, do not worry, but I need to mention this since I have only just begun to explore life in France. This post about France will therefore be rather impressionistic. Yet I am sure our esteemed guest poster Emmanuel, and hopefully our French readers, will chime in with corrections, elaborations and the like. I also need to mention that I live in the countryside of Brittany, which means there is some distance between me and whatever happens in Paris and the rest of France.

The first thing I noticed about France is that my day-to-day life has not changed much compared to my extended stay in Belgium. People basically talk about the same things: life is expensive, the weather is relatively mild for the time of the year, the bathroom needs painting, sports, etc. And naturally there has been some cultural talk, since I am a new kid on the block with a heavy foreign accent, mostly about culinary and linguistic differences. Every now and then the conversation turns to politics and society. Rarely so, but still.

Again, there are many similarities between France and the other countries I know, Belgium and The Netherlands. People worry about employment, notably the lack thereof, and about how the euro made life more expensive. There seems to be a general distrust of politicians and most people seem to be somewhat indifferent to what happens on the political scene, unless there is some big thing like the EU referendum on the constitutional treaty or national elections or an international crisis like the war in Iraq. The EU and immigration continue to be hot topics.

The differences are, as usual, underneath the surface and extremely hard to extricate. As a Dutchman it took me fifteen odd years to even begin to understand the Flemish soul and I do not expect it to be different here in France. I shall therefore limit myself to what struck me most after having lived in France for eighteen months now: I need to come to terms with living in a large country – at least by European standards – that defined a considerable part of continental Western European history and culture.

For instance. This year there was some commotion in France about the lack of popular interest for the 200th anniversary on December 2nd of the Battle of Austerlitz:

Austerlitz… tous les écoliers de France connaissent le nom d’une des plus belles victoires françaises ! La commémoration de cette victoire me paraît en tout cas autrement plus pertinente que d’envoyer notre porte-avion Charles-de-Gaulle… en Angleterre pour la célébration de Trafalgar !! Au moment où on s’étend, à n’en plus pouvoir, sur le déclin de la France, quel joli paradoxe français que de commémorer nos défaites et pas nos victoires ! L’auto flagellation a ses limites, les critiques aussi.

The bold text reads : In any case, the commemoration of this victory seems much more pertinent to me than sending our aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle… to England to celebrate Trafalgar!!

Napoleon Bonaparte is still making waves. Claude Ribbe, historian and author of Le Crime de Napoléon or Napoleon’s Crime, threw some more oil on the fire by comparing Napoleon to Hitler, including in his description acts of genocide by means of gassing, slavery and death squads. And the attack on the glorious past of the French empire continued with the passing of a much criticised law on February 23rd 2005, the so-called loi relative à la reconnaissance de la nation et la contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés, which says, among other things, that school text books should pay more attention to the positive influences of colonialism. The main purpose of the law, if I read it correctly, was to recognize the suffering and the sacrifices made by officials in service of the French empire, notably the harkis and indigenous administrators in colonial Algeria.

Yet the law met with fierce resistance from historians arguing that history should not be dictated by law and that this particular law could lead to revisionist propaganda. Proponents of the law mention the lack of balance in current teaching of the French colonial past. “It was not all bad”, they say. Critics of the law like historian Pascal Blanchard, on the other hand, say there are many more bad things still left unexposed.

Of course France is not the only country struggling with its colonial past. I only need to mention my native country The Netherlands and my former host country Belgium and their colonial histories in Indonesia and The Congo respectively.

But neither the Dutch nor the Belgians are now openly defending the positive sides, should there be any, of their colonial pasts in order to salvage the idea of la grandeur de la patrie, as seems to be the case in some French quarters. The political programme of the French Front National states explicitly Nous n’avons qu’une politique : la grandeur du Pays or « We have but one policy : the greatness of our Country ». As the recent debates in France about the February 23rd law and the commemoration of Austerlitz indicate this concept of greatness or grandeur goes beyond building a prosperous country.

It seems that, in some French minds, there is a psychological need for glory and lustre in order to be able to compete with the power of 21st century style empires like the USA and up-and-coming China. France, like so many European countries, is searching for, or trying to maintain, an identity of itself in a world where national identities are seemingly being eroded by globalization and immigration. The ‘foreign’ influence on the French national psyche exerted by immigrants, notably Muslims, was demonstrated by the debates this year about the 100th anniversary of la Laïcité, the separation of state and Church, and, tangentially, by the riots in the banlieues.

Again, this search for, or even the affirmation of, a national identity is not an exclusively French issue. But for me, coming from a small country myself, the concept of grandeur is something new. I am now living in a former empire…

But maybe my foreign eyes and mind are deceiving me. In any case, I am sure this post should provide plenty of people with an opportunity to either discuss, rant or flame. Bonnes fêtes à toutes et à tous!

UPDATE: Today, Wednesday January 4th 2006, Chirac spoke in favour of rewriting the February 23rd law saying that “the current law is dividing the French people, it needs to be rewritten” and “it is not the law’s domain to write history”. As to the matter of slavery, Chirac declared his intention to install une journée de la mémoire or ‘memory day’.

He also offered an explanation of the word ‘grandeur’: “The grandeur of France is tolerance and respect towards everyone.” And he also stated: “We can be proud of our history, marked by so much success, so much grandeur, so much light. Yet it is also because we are at peace with our history that we can acknowledge its shadowy areas and its challenges.”

31 thoughts on “France 2005: the quest for greatness?

  1. The UK was largely trapped in this sort of narcissistic fantasy from well before I was born in the 1950’s until the early 1980’s. It was a horrified fascination with the country’s seemingly endless ongoing decline from a glorious past.

    What finally snapped the country out of it (I had by then emigrated in disgust) was two slaps to the face from absurdly weak opponents: the parochial and economically suicidal unions in the 1970’s and Galtieri’s Argentina in 1982. At last, it seemed, the British were being kicked around by some opponents weak enough that they could do something about them, and they came together (most of them) and they did do something about them, and today few people concern themselves with Britain’s imperial past.

    France has a long, long way to go. It’s painful to realize how absurd you look from the outside while this is going on (never mind the US, ask influential people in China, India and other high-growth countries how much time they spend thinking about the ‘French way’… just not while they have a hot liquid in their mouths).

    I now notice young, educated French people emigrating as I did (often ironically to London) to escape the embarassment and frustration, and be able to get on with their lives, leaving this pointless obsession, which is just an excuse for doing nothing and having no clue which way to go, behind.

  2. “The UK was largely trapped in this sort of narcissistic fantasy from well before I was born in the 1950’s until the early 1980’s.”

    Yes, but we British were incredibly gloomy and pessimistic. I don’t get the feeling from what Guy and others are saying that this is the French case.The French still don’t seem to have come to terms with their changing reality. The language question seems to me to be one indication of this.

    Britain’s relative decline started much earlier (after WWI), and was more to do with the arrival of the US than the later loss of the colonies IMHO. So during the 60s and 70s, while we were all pessimistically naval gazing, France was faring in its own way much better.

    It is only now, with the new wave of globalisation that the ancien social-industrial regime is really under strain. Naustalgia for a glorious past is, of course, one form of denial.

    My feeling is that our generation in the UK partly lived off the post war Beveridge consensus, and the idea that we had the best health and education systems in the world. When reality finally made us aware that we didn’t, and that our poor productivity performance was making it impossible even to dream of, this was when the gloom really took root.

    Incidentally, I would date the newer spirit of optimism in part to the commencement of the Northern Ireland peace process, and the fact that xmas shopping in Oxford Street was once more likely to be safe, and that troops might finally be off the streets in every part of the UK.

    Perhaps this is why the new wave of global terrorism is having such an impact on people’s outlook, since this bit is once more under threat.

    I would say there may be more parallels between the old UK case and the US one faced with the inexorable rise of China and India.

  3. “It has now been a year and a half since I moved to France … The first thing I noticed about France is that my day-to-day life has not changed much compared to my extended stay in Belgium.”

    Do they still tell those blagues belges in France ?

    The most interesting experience I made as an expat was the reverse culture shock I experienced when I returned. Paradoxically it was easier to go abroad and adapt to the new environment than returning home and re-adapt to those old habits I had grown up with (probably because I didn’t expect to have any re-adapting to do and so was complete unprepared for it).

  4. French don’t care about “grandeur” except maybe people over 60 years old.
    But the left,especially intellectual, like to criticize the colonial era.
    And it’s true that many french are proud of the colonial past of the country.
    More then 50% of communist and socialist in France think that the role of France was positive(unlike of their leaders).
    And of course much more on the right.

  5. Excellent post.

    In the Baltics, the quest for greatness is especially evident among the Russian-speaking population, both young and old. Both groups tend to romance the past in pink colors with much fanfare, saying “It wasn’t all that bad in the Soviet Union. At least we had a country we could be proud of.” The young ones quickly add, “But we don’t want to go back.” The nostalgia is self-evident.

    And the fight over history is still ongoing in the Baltics, especially in Latvia. The perception of World War II and annexation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union are very much debated and in a way is the guiding principle for separating the right from the left in the political arena.

  6. Well, it’s been a little over 1 1/2 years I’ve been living in the US, and after having lived in Japan, Spain and Brazil, I just assumed having a bulk of your countrymen cultivating their fatherland’s grandeur was just how things worked everywhere. Nice to see some people see this under a different perspective.
    Happy New Year…

  7. I would appreciate illuminating insights into what motivated this from M. de Villepin

    I haven’t read de Villepin’s book, but for insights on most things French, my own instincts tend to starting with some Victor Hugo (though not the prose, évidemment). Eulogizing gallant defeat is commonplace enough, as in The Charge of the Light Bridage and the like. Hugo’s L’Expiation, however, is an entirely different kind of beast, and it feels like a uniquely French approach to weaving a national narrative, somehow. Hopefully, someone has taken the trouble to mangle it into English.

  8. Eh, this one is not truncated. But it doesn’t look like there’s a full translation up on the web.

  9. “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

    The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War certainly comes into the category of celebrated heroic failures, rather like Captain Scott’s tragic bid to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1912. As best I can gather, there is a distinct class split in the way that the commander of the Light Brigade, Lord Cardigan, is generally regarded. While the military establishment in Britain at the time considered him a dolt, which he undoubtedly was, he was otherwise widely regarded as a popular hero, which is why ladies still often refer to their wooly jackets as “cardigans”. The irony is evident in Tennyson’s famous poem:

    Not tho’ the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder’d:
    Their’s not to make reply,
    Their’s not to reason why,
    Their’s but to do and die.
    http://eserver.org/poetry/light-brigade.html

    All that said, Napoleon seems to have retained a better reputation in France. Compare his tomb at Les Invalides with Wellington’s inconspicuous tomb deep in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. But then, of course, Napoleon regarded Wellington as a mere Sepoy general. The trouble with M. de Villepin’s remark is that it conveys a nostalgia for a lot of baggage that went with Napoleon, his autocratic ways, the ambition for territorial gains, the protectionist Continental system for European trade and his plan to invade Britain.

  10. my mommy did a year abroad her senior year of college. It was the hardest thing she ever had to do. Mommy was in Granada Spain 2001-2002 but remeber what ever does not kill you makes you stronger. ps I am a dog. woof woof. (a boxer check out my site) Good luck to you. How long will you be away?

  11. “Do they still tell those blagues belges in France ?”

    Well, they are being careful but I have heard the phrase “les petits Belges” a few times already. It is rather funny, an expat Dutchman sticking up for Belgian pride in France 🙂

    And that “reverse culture shock” I am very much aware of as well. The fact that your own country is changing constantly while you are away is a big part of that too, I think.

  12. Bob B,

    That’s a good point. In heroic defeat only the soldier gets a stake in chivalrous heroism. The most flattery a commander can hope for is some species of the tragic hero. What’s striking in Hugo’s poem is how studiously he avoids evoking the republican in Napoleon’s conquests, even as he conjures up his imperial glories. In fact, that is also the crime for which “expiation” has to be made. In the poem, however, it finally arrives not in the form of defeats or captivity, but rather in a panoramic caricature of mid-century plebeian banality, crowned with a debased Napoleonic cult.

    I think there is a great deal of continuity between Hugo’s combination of repudiation and nostalgia and the way France’s national self-perception has coped with the loss of its colonial grandeur. Both these components are rather more finely etched into the national psyche than is the case in the UK, because the break had to be more complete.

    While looking for the poem around the web I also chanced across this bit of oratory from Hugo, in his capacity as a starry-eyed herald of the “United States of Europe”:

    Donc nous aurons l’Europe République.
    Comment l’aurons-nous ?
    Par une guerre ou une révolution.
    Par une guerre, si l’Allemagne y force la France. Par une révolution, si les rois y forcent les peuples.

    Thus we shall have Europe, the Republic.
    How will we get it?
    Through a war or a revolution.
    Through a war, if Germany forces France into it. Through a revolution, if the kings force the peoples.

    I’m reminded once again of the underappreciated thesis that, as in the historical relationship between Christianity and Islam, the relationship between France and the US is better understood through their commonalities than their differences.

  13. “I would say there may be more parallels between the old UK case and the US one faced with the inexorable rise of China and India.”

    I have a hard time with this…

    My great-grandmother is remembered by her descendents for (among other things) refusing to become a naturalized American citizen – “A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die!” – and for having as a prized possession a map of the world with the British Empire printed in red. Of course, as a British imperialist she was twice an exile – a Canadian who emigrated to the United States – so her feelings may not have been close to what native UKans felt.

    However, I can’t think of a modern American equivalent of that map.

    At another level, colonialism/imperialism wasn’t just a political and economic strategy, it was an ideology, as summed up by people like Kipling in works like “The White Man’s Burden”. The end of colonialism meant abandoning that ideology if not actively rejecting it, and thus rejecting much of what the last few generations of your countrymen had believed. It must have been something like confronting racism or homophobia or a loss of religious faith for people of more recent generations. (Yes, imperialism was in part literally racism, but it was racism in different clothes.)

    And again, I can’t think of a modern American equivalent of “The White Man’s Burden” that would have to be repudiated.

    Basically, while American relative decline may well prove highly uncomfortable, I don’t think it will be as hard as the end of imperialism was – and evidently in some places still is – for the old imperial powers.

  14. And again, I can’t think of a modern American equivalent of “The White Man’s Burden” that would have to be repudiated.

    I think one only has to update the notions. Civilization (as a non-countable noun) is not a word in which we trade comfortably any longer, but it has been variously decomposed into democracy, freedom, human rights, and all the other good stuff. Of course, one would need to distill appropriate rejectable components out of the American foreign policy tradition in order to repudiate them.

    Basically, while American relative decline may well prove highly uncomfortable, I don’t think it will be as hard as the end of imperialism was – and evidently in some places still is – for the old imperial powers.

    I don’t think these are quite the terms which best describe the situation. Following WW2 and the loss of colonial possessions Europeans constructed new national identities, in more or less different ways. Repudiation of colonialism was a creative act, one of the pillars on which self-affirmation rests. This is why blurring the lines of principle tends to provoke such strong reactions, according to the significance of each tenet in the popular self-perception of a nation. Some transitions were of course harder than others. The loss of Algeria was notably traumatic for France, but I think not as much as the heritage of Nazism for Germany. All things considered, the writing of European narratives was remarkably well performed, in that it pervasively interpreted the losses and defeats as successes rather than failures. Things don’t look quite so bright in other parts of the world, or, indeed certain corners of Europe itself.

    The degree to which the components of virtuous conquest in the American popular psyche would have to be repudiated when military dominance of the US declines would depend on how its repudiation would figure into construction of new ways to feel good about ourselves. It would also depend heavily on role of catastrophic events in these geopolitical reallignments.

  15. “The degree to which the components of virtuous conquest in the American popular psyche would have to be repudiated when military dominance of the US declines would depend on how its repudiation would figure into construction of new ways to feel good about ourselves. It would also depend heavily on role of catastrophic events in these geopolitical reallignments.”

    Um. I’m not sure that US military dominance will decline anywhere in the near-term future. I think that it is at least as likely that it will continue and grow and become steadily more irrelevant to the sources of real national power in the 21st Century until the American voter starts to say “Why are we spending all this money on useless bombers and aircraft carriers?”

    Simple military defeat hasn’t driven the idea of “virtuous conquest” out of the American narrative either. Less than 30 years after Vietnam, Bush was able to revive it for Iraq.

    For a more extreme example, see the Confederate States of America and the Myth of the Lost Cause.

    Could catastrophes force the American narrative to be rewritten? Certainly. But that takes us past the economic relative decline that we started with into new territory.

    An interesting (and potentially important) question: What other than military defeat could persuade Americans and others to construct new ways to feel good about our/themselves?

  16. David,

    Yes, these are good points. Among the less far-fetched scenarios, I think popular American views could be affected by a visible failure of nascent democracies. At present, democracy is, after all, not unlike Islam at the end of the 7th century. Not long ago its prospects on a global scale were very much in doubt, and now most folks in our part of the world believe that it will continue to spread. Just because up to now it has. And rather miraculously, if you think of it in the context of broader history. For the US, Vietnam and Iraq wars (although I do keep my fingers crossed) may not be the kind of disasters that rewrite histories, but they do have a nagging and comulative effect. In the shorter term, it would be easiest to imagine the dependable pendulum of American preoccupations swinging its way back to popular isolationism and relatively untheatrical realpolitik. Just a few minutes ago, I was frankly a little startled to read this in the New York Review of Books: “Global security is not served by launching messianic campaigns to export democracy.” Not because the arguments are new, but because they seem to become increasingly unadorned.

    That’s not quite an answer to the more interesting question you raise.

  17. While there is debate about the colonial past in Belgium, there is nothing in The Netherlands. Zip, nada, nothing. It’s as if the past does not exist at all. The Dutch have retreated into a parochial provincialism while the country falls apart around them.

    Having been to France recently, I can say there is more optimism there than in The Netherlands, where conversation seems to be mostly limited to talk of taxes, the latest government failures and all thos e damn foreigners.

    Sad to hear that some in France weren’t happy about the Austerlitz anniversiary. There was a big to-do in the Czech Republic (www.austerlitz2005.com). Somewhere there’s a picture of me sitting on the back of a horse drunkenly waving a sword over my head… Austro-Hungarian side of course…

  18. “I have a hard time with this…”

    Just briefly, since I think it’s a side-issue from the points Guy is making: I think there are two issue here in identity terms, colonialism, and technical supremacy. The two aren’t necessarily the same.

    I don’t think the big UK hangover was a post-colonialist one, but a realisation that the UK was no longer the workshop of the world. Indeed, it was a realisation that, technically speaking, many people now did things better,

    My impression, from a distance, is that the colonial thing is irrelevant to the US, but the self-image of being the tech leader is very important.

    This is not in any imminent danger of disappearing, but there is a perception that it *may* come into question at some point in the future, and obviously when it is no longer the world’s number one economy by size, then some turning point will have been reached.

    That this is affecting the way people think, well, as evidence I will post comments from another blog:
    http://neweconomist.blogs.com/new_economist/2005/12/can_china_overa.html

    The post itself is worth a read, but the comments from Arthur Ekart are revealing, in and of themselves. I quote in full, since I have no intention of trying to distort another’s opinions, especially when I don’t agree with them.

    There’s nothing to suggest China will overtake the U.S. economy anytime soon. China is two economic revolutions behind the U.S. Also, China’s 1 billion peasants will be a negative force similar to India. Moreover, if you take away Hong Kong and Shanghai, China would be one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s unorthodox to relate purchasing power parity to GDP. I suspect, it’s difficult to measure China’s GDP (however, the high growth rate only proves China has a small economy). Both the consumption and production functions should be measured, and the effects of international trade (see Mundell-Fleming model). Obviously, China is losing the major trade wars to the U.S. (China exports half of its economy and is forced to invest its trade surpluses overseas to maintain acceptable levels of output and employment) Comparing living standards is more appropriate. Consequently, China simply doesn’t have what it takes to be another U.S. and will follow an economic path similar to India. There’s nothing in the Chinese economy that would lead anyone to believe it will surpass the U.S. economy.

    and

    Unlike the French, Americans welcome competition, which is one reason why the U.S. is the only real superpower. You seem to be in denial about the U.S. (much like the French). China and India are catching up. However, the U.S. is also moving forward, of course, at a slower rate, because large economies can’t grow fast. Are you still waiting for Japan to overtake the U.S. also?

  19. Dutch colonialisme is something that was inherited from the 17th century and as such it had not the “bringing civilization” added to it. It was to make money in Indonesia and not to teach them dutch.

  20. I’m always surprised when foreign commentators put in bold citations of french citizens about “the grandeur of france”. For one, I never heard this kind of thing from french people I discuss with. I’d be curious to know more about social category of those cited so frequently. Looks like media using old stereotypes to gain some attention.

    France (government) foreign position is mostly talking and parading, but not that much action.

    Laurent

  21. I don’t think it’s very useful to quote Le Pen to desribe the mainstream opinion in France. I never ever hear about La Grandeur de la France either, except in a mocking way.

    We’ve argued that topic to death over at the European Tribune in recent days, if you want to go wade into introspection and gloom (not!). We’ve done the same with the “Anglo-Saxon model” (a msinomer for the great Thatcher-Reagan pullback)

    http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2005/12/30/13817/039 ( The Anglican Model, “Laissez-Faire” Capitalism & J.K. Galbraith)

    http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2005/12/29/83748/739 (is it true that france sucks)

    http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2005/12/26/13528/661 (old vs new Europe)

    http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2005/12/30/75134/300 (no more “Anglo-Saxon model”)

    There’s too much French-bashing.

  22. “I don’t think the big UK hangover was a post-colonialist one, but a realisation that the UK was no longer the workshop of the world. Indeed, it was a realisation that, technically speaking, many people now did things better,”

    Interesting. I’d heard the opposite before, but not, on consideration, from a UKan. Obviously your knowledge is grater than mine.

    “My impression, from a distance, is that the colonial thing is irrelevant to the US, but the self-image of being the tech leader is very important.”

    Very true.

    “This is not in any imminent danger of disappearing, but there is a perception that it *may* come into question at some point in the future,”

    Also true.

    “and obviously when it is no longer the world’s number one economy by size, then some turning point will have been reached.”

    This is a different thing entirely, and at the risk of dragging the comments yet further away from the original post, I have to question it.

    So far, most of the discussion of this particular issue seems to be either journalists or pundits trying to push buttons and responses from people whose buttons have been pushed. On the day when the statistics indicate that China’s economy has (by some measure) surpassed the US, there will probably be front-page articles in the papers and speeches by politicians all over the world. But what will happen on that day, that week, that month, that will cause discomfort or loss for those who choose to ignore the chattering classes?

    Will the Chinese automatically dominate the Security Council?

    Will the Chinese win more Nobel Prizes that year?

    Will the Chinese start buying American companies and replacing American brands?

    And most important, will the US stop being good at what it’s good at?

    The rise of China might very well be uncomfortable for the US, but I’m not sure the one statistic of total GNP size means.

  23. “But what will happen on that day, that week, that month, that will cause discomfort or loss for those who choose to ignore the chattering classes?”

    Well obviously nothing concrete, just a feeling that nothing will ever be quite the same again. The US will in all probability never again be the world’s largest economy. Of course China itself will still be pretty poor.

    But then will follow an era of ‘catching up’ as Chinese per capita incomes get nearer and nearer to the US ones. Japan is still pretty rich, and pretty technologically innovative, but it doesn’t pack the clout it used to, that is all.

    “And most important, will the US stop being good at what it’s good at?”

    This I think will depend on the US and not on China. An interesting question, but one that clearly goes beyond the bounds of what we can reasonably resolve here.

    “Obviously your knowledge is grater than mine.”

    Well don’t treat what I say as gospel either, just another input :).

    My feeling is that there were, of course, plenty of ‘Little Englanders’, but they were not necessarily representative of the whole population.

  24. “I don’t think it’s very useful to quote Le Pen to desribe the mainstream opinion in France. I never ever hear about La Grandeur de la France either, except in a mocking way.”

    True, hence my qualification “in some French quarters” right before I mention Le Pen. The FN is a popular/populistic party (=they try to appeal to what people are supposed to think and feel) and when I compared it to the programme of the nationalistic Vlaams Belang, the concept of “grandeur” struck me as being different a different element from the VB programme.

    It may be true that the mainstream is not too worried about grandeur, that is why I asked for French input on this post, but as a foreigner from a small country I cannot help but notice the sense of “grandeur” Chirac seems to communicate through his gestures and way of talking, for instance. And there is the talk of “la Francophonie” which seems to go beyond protecting the native language.

    I wonder if there are regional differences as well as the difference between media/politicians and mainstream people? Since I live in Brittany, where Parisians are not very popular, my views can be distorted.

    And please do not take this post as French bashing, that is not what I meant it to be. The concept of “grandeur” in the 2005 French debates honestly struck me and I used it as an angle to talk a bit about France -with all the necessary qualifications and caveats- and to invite French readers to bring a bit of much needed Francophonie into AFOE.

  25. Guy,

    Sorry about the harsh words. I guess I was a bit sore after being called anti-Russian for my posts on the gas dispute… (and anti-Brit throughout eurotrib…)

    I guess I was disappointed to see your post cut short – it started with many interesting insights, and sort of stopped in midair…

    The problems in France is that, with Chirac, we seem to be stuck in the late 60s, when he was minister for agriculture, the job he seems to have kept to this date, and when, as an advisor to Pompidou, you’d deal with strikes and industrial policy in a small meeting with two industrial bosses, tow (nationalised) bankers and two trade unionists, and indeed when the concept of “grandeur de la France” was prevalent.

    Despite Chirac’s best efforts, he is now totally outdated – and the country is sort of stuck until he goes…

  26. “I guess I was disappointed to see your post cut short – it started with many interesting insights, and sort of stopped in midair…”

    No worries. And the post indeed stopped somewhat in midair. Initially it was longer, but I scrapped a lot of highly speculative nonsense and decided to leave the rest “as is” to get a dialogue going.

  27. “I was a bit sore after being called anti-Russian for my posts on the gas dispute…”

    Anti-Russsian?? I thought you were being pro-Russian :).

    Sorry, that was meant to be a joke. Seriously your post is pretty fair on Russia, and I only disagree really because of some of the bigger issues in the background.

    I can understand some might think I was anti Russian, but I’m not, I’m anti-Putin and I think that *is* different.

    I agree with Tobias that what Russia needs is an orange revolution itself, but when I look at those poor and downtrodden people in Beslan I can’t bring myself to feel optimistic we will have one.

    As in Venezuela, a lot of the people who could induce change seem to be upping and leaving.

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