Saturday, 29 September 2012

Copé's shabby "anti-white racism" jibe

Copé opts for an insincere 'I'm a serious person' pose for the camera.
France has been feverishly debating leading UMP member Jean-François Copé's declaration that "anti-white racism" is a reality in France and that it is to be condemned just as anti-anyone-else racism is to be condemned. His remark was widely believed to target Muslims and blacks as he alleged that anti-white racism was common in 'les cités' - large council housing estates, mostly on the outskirts of French cities, which are heavily populated by Muslims and blacks.

He is right on the face of it of course. Anti-white sentiment does exist within those communities, even if it only concerns a small minority of their members, and I have experienced it myself as have many other white-skinned people. But Copé's declaration is highly misleading as it deliberately implies that whites suffer from the same racism as those of immigrant origin do.

Copé has obviously taken a leaf out of the far-right Front National's official policy handbook, which tries to minimise anti-immigrant racism by saying that it has its equivalent in the form of anti-white racism.

But who has ever heard of a white person who was refused a job interview because of his name or colour? When was a white person ever refused entry to a night club because he was white? Whoever refused to rent an apartment to a white person on grounds of racial origin? And I have never heard of houseowners refusing to sell their property to white people either. How many white people get stopped and searched by the police?

France has a population of around 6 million  immigrant-origin inhabitants - both legal and illegal - representing just under 10% of the total population. But they are almost non-existent in the French parliament, in boardrooms and management, in banks and finance, and they are highly unlikely to be found in the upper ranks of the police, the legal profession and many more.

The plain fact is that these population groups are far more likely to be poor and unemployed, or in badly-paid jobs, and many of them live in poor quality housing. Yet successive governments of both the right and left have done little to tackle anti-immigrant sentiment, let alone the endemic anti-immigrant discrimination which exists in many sections of French society and bars immigrants from many jobs and opportunities.

Jean-François Copé is a highly experienced politician, having served as a government spokesman under Jean-Pierre Raffarin and others before going on to do a stint as Budget minister and being the UMP's parliamentary spokesman. As such, he must have known that his slanted statement would make the headlines.

Most senior members of the UMP have, however, been very circumspect when asked for comment, and none has given him a clear thumbs-up, indicating that they consider that supporting Copé would lose them support amongst rank-and-file UMP members who shall shortly be asked to vote for their next president. The candidates are François Fillon and Copé himself, but his ill-advised anti-white racism comment may well turn out to be the nail that closed the coffin on any hopes he may have had of winning.

I think Copé seriously miscalulated the effect that his words would have on his near-term political future. All his declaration has done is to move his wing of the UMP further towards the extreme right, inflame public sentiment and throw oil on the fire of France's racial tensions. He shall surely, and quite deservedly, be made to pay for it.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Sarkozy comeback: not if it will happen, but when?

"Shall I kill myself politically?" "NOOO!!" screamed his adoring fans
They began as wishful thinking by disappointed political allies of Nicolas Sarkozy after his defeat before slowly and cautiously creeping into the the inside pages of the press, but there can be no doubt left today that the rumours which began three months ago have now turned into a plausible scenario - that in which Sarkozy returns to politics to lead the French right into battle at the next presidential election.

Nicolas Sarkozy's defeat at the hands of François Hollande coupled with his decision to abandon politics led to much anguished hand-wringing within the ranks of the UMP, and a couple of opportunists even expressed their pleasure at his departure before declaring themselves as early candidates for the UMP's upcoming leadership battle on a platform along the lines of 'I'll put right what Sarkozy got wrong.'

Sarkozy's name was barely mentioned for a while unless it was used to express a desire to move on from the Sarkozy era, but his former Chief of Staff Claude Guéant, faithful as ever to his boss' cause, soon began to float the idea of a possible return. He was followed by several others, including - and oddly enough given that he was a fierce opponent of Sarkozy during his presidency - Dominique de Villepin. He declared on French TV in August that he believed Sarkozy would be back, adding that "Today, both the right and the left are writing a plausible and absolutely extraordinary scenario for him which is just incredible. The French are very fond of these situations."

Indeed they are, and it is perhaps this penchant for unlikely comebacks and underdog situations that could lead them to consider voting for Sarkozy in a few years, because there is now a lot of circumstantial and real evidence that although he is staying away from active politics at the moment his troops have placed him at the centre of the party's affairs.

My first-coffee-of-the-day tour of French news sites this morning turned up some interesting poll results which reveal that 44% of those polled think that presidential action would have been better if Nicolas Sarkozy had been elected, with only 26% supporting the work of François Hollande. This poll is one of several which ask the same kind of questions and come up with the same answers, and they show without a doubt that there is still a lot of public support for Sarkozy.

Discussion of the rumours of a Sarkozy resurrection are now an everyday occurence in the French press, and much of it is centred upon whether or not he is somehow pulling the strings behind the scenes of the current UMP leadership battle being fought between favourites François Fillon and Jean-François Copé, both of whom are faithful Sarkozysts. There is no proof of his implication but there is no doubt either that he is now an omnipresent factor in the fight to win the UMP's presidency, which will be decided on November 18, and several of the early candidates explained their retirement from the race by saying that they were doing so to help Sarkozy by leaving two of his most influential supporters to fight it out.

It is telling too that neither candidate is campaigning on a platform to take the party away from Sarkozy's policies. On the contrary, both of them make almost daily declarations of faith to Sarkozy in order to please the many Sarkozysts within the voting militants' ranks, and UMP heavyweight Christian Estrosi recently announced his backing for Fillon whilst at the same time declaring that Sarkozy is still the "natural leader" of the UMP and that if a presidential election were to be held now Sarkozy would win it.

Guéant agrees with this of course, and he told reporters on Sunday that Sarkozy could represent a good option for France. He went on to say that if Sarkozy were to become the UMP's presidential candidate he would have to be elected as party leader too and he even exhorted him to contest November's election, although he left the door wide open for him to refuse by pointedly adding that the vote in November was not about electing a presidential candidate.

But perhaps the most pointed and obvious clue to date as to how UMP members are thinking came today from Nadine Morano, who was Sarkozy's Minister for Apprenticeship and Professional Formation. She has declared that she will support Copé in November because "...he has publicly asserted that if Nicolas Sarkozy decided to get back into politics he would support him." The message couldn't be more clear, particularly as she added that it was by no means certain that the next leader of the UMP would be its presidential candidate.

And what does Sarkozy himself have to say about all this? The answer, of course, is nothing. He cannot be seen to be actively influencing the vote, but his silence on the many stories concerning his possible return are a clear sign that he is not denying them in order to keep those within the UMP who may criticise him in check from a distance via their fear of reprisals should he return.

He is also aware that none of this speculation is good news for François Hollande or his government. He had the lowest poll ratings of any president in the 5th Republic after three months in office, and the French are becoming increasingly impatient with what they see as his lack of action, notably on the economy. Unemployment has hit 3 million for the first ever time and there are several major layoffs in the pipeline in major industries and companies. This means that he is hardly in a position, so far, to be able to dismiss the possibility of the eventual return of Sarkozy with an absent wave of the hand by citing progress made under himself, of which there has as yet been precious little.

Despite his physical absence from political life, it is as if Sarkozy never left politics in the first place. Almost all of his former ministers have openly backed him recently, the future party leader may turn out to be no more than a caretaker, and he is being openly touted as a future presidential option after being out of office for only a few months. If Sarkozy has in fact secretly decided to make a political comeback, and as Valentin Spitz put it for Nouvelobs, "..he knows that the most urgent thing to do is wait in order to allow Fillon and Copé to rip each other to pieces and Hollande to mess things up."

Nicolas Sarkozy once said that his decision to run for president in 2007 (and win) was taken while he was taking a shave two years earlier, and although there are relatively few recent photos of him my money says that he is still shaving.....

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

French Language vs English Anglicisms

I see this abomination several times a week, merde!
The French language has always been held in very high esteem in France, and quite rightly so. It's an elegant and highly expressive language and it sounds like music to these English ears. French is considered to be part of the country's heritage and it has a fierce watchdog to protect it. It's name? L'Académie Française.

The Academy decides which words, spellings, grammatical structures and other elements of the language may or may not be used and how, although it is difficult to keep up with all of its rulings as there are so many of them.

Another of the Academy's responsibilities is that of keeping foreign words from 'polluting' French, which it considers to be a 'pure' language, and I have an image of the French language, at least as the Academy sees it, as being besieged by would-be foreign invaders, which is why it is surrounded by virtual barbed-wire fences, booby traps and hundreds of hidden French-protecting nests of heavy machine guns which fire bullets charged not with explosives but with French grammar and spelling edicts and diktats.

Words from many countries have entered the language over the years, and some of them have been officially endorsed, but two of the biggest threats to French today are the use of texting language, which purists see as a threat to the correct use of French, and the massive infiltration of Anglicisms, which is becoming a major menace to its beauty.

Anglicisms have existed in French for many years of course, with words like 'weekend' and 'parking' (car park) being universally employed with little or no opposition, and the use of English is common practice in this globalised business world, but the last 15-20 years have seen a veritable tidal wave of Anglicisms flood over French shores from Britain and America, and into everyday French.

Some of them are relatively innocuous, although I realise that deciding which Anglicisms are acceptable or not is a subjective process. The French, like Anglophones, use 'un must' to designate something that is a must-do/see/read etc, computer terms such as scanner and mail/email are common and French TV has 'prime time' viewing hours. Another one which sits easily with me is the term 'gore' to describe gory photos.

But who could possibly find the slightest shred of elegance in the answer given earlier this year by potential French presidential candidate Martine Aubry to a journalist who asked about her capacity to be a good president? "Je serai capable de faire le job" she blurted clumsily, and it was at that precise moment that I and many others decided that she most decidedly wouldn't. Nobody needs a prez who can't speak French correctly.

You would most surely find that phrase if you googled it, and on the subject of Google, one paper once referred to the Internet giant as "une gigantesque cash machine." The paper was right in its analysis of course, but its use of French was very wrong indeed. What's wrong with the perfectly apt French equivalent - 'machine à sous'?

France has a deserved-or-not reputation of being a country which goes on perpetual strike, so how is it that they haven't yet developed their own strike vocabulary? One report I read reported  a strike and and its "250 salariés lockoutés" whereas another paper quoted a factory manager as saying that there would be no discussion with his striking staff until they called off the strike " le sit-in."

Not that members of the French national football team cared, because sporting paper L'Equipe informed us that they had been given a "day off." Oh, so no 'journée de repos' then. Another profession which gets lots of days off is teaching. Teachers in France sometimes feel hard done by, and they once criticised a set of reform proposals by declaring that teachers were " génération crash-test."

Maybe you were hoping that international news about serious issues may be spared, but if you were, you were unfortunately mistaken. The damage done by the devastating 2004 tsunami, we were informed at the time, meant that "..le Tohoku risque de devenir un no man's land." Meanwhile, diplomats and NGO's concerned with the Ivory Coast troubles were desperately trying to create "..corridors humanitaires" to help people caught up in the fighting. Bernard Kouchner was also busy being a "go-between" in another conflict.

I hear and read Anglicisms every day, and most of them are downright ugly. Here are a few examples, overheard in cafés and bars. A lady who had trouble at work decided that she would "faire du low profile", two men on a terrace were joined by a third who announced that he had had a "power breakfast" at work that morning, and what of the teenage girl who told a friend that she was fed up with a friend who was forever going on about "her life." Yes, you guessed right, it means the perfectly fitting French word for word equivalent of 'sa vie.'

Flea market, le rush, être busy, trôp de work, faire du shopping, faire un brushing, make-up, porter des baskets, des jeans' (yup, with an apostrophe), bad, the ever-present cool, un life-saver, the list is long and it's getting longer every day.

The Academy is quite rightly outraged at the excessive use of Anglicisms, not only because the French language contains perfectly adequate equivalents in the vast majority of cases, but also because their use is ruining the sonority of the language.

That said, some of the more vociferous opponents of Anglicisms are quite wrong to blame the phenomenon on Anglophones. After all, nobody is holding a gun to French heads to insist that they use Anglicisms. On the contrary, almost all Anglophones I know who have connections with France and its language are just as unhappy with the situation as are the French themselves.

I blame fashion. Anglicisms are seen as hip and cool here, as is Anglo-Saxon culture as a whole (see this blog), and they are to be found in TV ads and on ad hoardings everywhere because marketing specialists know that they sell product, particularly to people under 40. T-shirts are full of English would-be witticisms ("I'm available, are you?") and fashion magazines are jam-packed with them. They are everywhere to be seen, even on municipal buildings, like the one here in Lyon in the photo above.

Perhaps the most important question concerns whether or not the tide can be turned. It unfortunately seems that the globalised world has had a major impact on the French language and that is to be regretted, but, at the end of the day, the only people who can do anything about the situation are...the French themselves.

Anglicisms are the gauntlet that English has thrown down, but if the French language is to survive as the beautiful language it has always been, France, the French and their language have no choice but to pick it up.