Monday, May 07, 2007


What everyone thought would happen, has happened. Nicolas Sarkozy is France's new president. Ever since I have lived in France, some four years now, he appears to have dominated the political news through his high profile role as minister of the interior (giving speeches to massed crowds of police) and head of the UMP (giving speeches to eager young supporters). There is no doubt that he was always a man in charge of his own destiny, a clever political manoueverer and a forceful debater. When he was interviewd on the TV a week ago by Charles Bremner, the Times Paris-correspondant seemed to shake in his boots. About the interview, Bremner later wrote:

It's impressive watching the Sarko machine at work. He comes with a big entourage of lieutenants, aides, advisers and security people, mostly men and most of them taller. The boss, though pint-sized, exudes energy and command.

Ségolène Royal had her work cut out from the beginning. As a woman, she faced a difficult job to convince the older generation that she was fit for office, simply because they believed it was not a role for a woman. To men she seemed quite electable, someone who could argue her idea forcibly. But somehow, many women took against her, finding themselves ill at ease with her strong character.

One thing was for sure, Ségolène Royal stood up for what she believed in at every turn. She made Sarkozy look like a one-trick pony. But what a trick! There was only one major tenet to his campaign: he would make France work harder. Nothing more than that. When he says: 'We will leave no one by the roadside', what he means is: 'We will leave no one by the roadside lounging around.'

Last night, following the TV announcement at 8pm, thousands celebrated Sarkozy's victory at Place de la Concorde. But elsewhere, things were not so seemly. In the early hours of this morning, a friend living in the centre of Paris sent me a long 'reportage' on the riots she had just witnessed in Place de la Bastille. There are plenty of photos here on Hugo's flickr account.

While some may complain, the majority in France feel that the country needs the adrenalin injection that Sarkozy is offering. All sorts of reforms are needed to make society more mobile and to make it easier for those who aspire to business success. It will be interesting to see whether Sarkozy can succeed in his self-appointed role, or whether his political style will be too devisive for a country grown used to the gentle touch.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, Jon. I'd like to link to this from my site where I gave some space to Kristeva's article on Royal.

Odd about the 'woman' question. Germany currently has a woman chancellor, the UK had Maggie Thatcher, Norway has been there, India has been there, etc. There have been close to fifty women leaders in the world since the beginning of the twentieth century. Care to expand as to why it may be different in France?

Jonathan Wonham said...

My feeling is that France is not very advanced on the equality front. Women are still encouraged to value themselves on the basis of physical appearance, hence the emphasis on slimming (almost every pharmacy window has a huge slimming poster) and lacy lingerie (ditto in every other bus stop hoarding).

Royal is said here to have "des airs d'institutrice un peu froide mais intègre" and in some TV clips she has been portrayed as positively fierce. I don't believe this 'masculine' behaviour plays well in a country where the 'femininity' of a woman is so valued.

I found the quote below on a petition of support for Royal found here which puts these comments into some further context and which, I think, supports my original conclusion.

Mais ce n’est pas tout. Nous entendons des amies déclarer que « jamais elles ne pourront voter pour cette personne », elles ne la trouvent pas assez « sympathique » ou « engagée », « elle fait du tort à la cause des femmes », on croit rêver.

Le masculin est général, le féminin est particulier. Et tous les efforts de la candidate pour neutraliser cet « effet de genre » échouent et se noient dans l’infinie variété des commentaires des consommateurs.

Il fut un temps où l’on disait : « le privé est politique ». Aujourd’hui, le politique est réduit au sentiment privé, au caprice individuel, au j’aime/ j’aime pas, au consumérisme et à la frivolité définitivement sexiste.

Nous, femmes et hommes de la République, nous disons assez !, marre du machisme ! : nous voulons une femme Présidente pour construire enfin une République fondée sur l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes.

Amen to that.

Jonathan Wonham said...

It should be added that Royal's performance was in no way a poor one. She managed to rally the diverse factions of the left, the turn out for the election was almost as high as it has ever been, her result was much better than Jospin's in the last election and, at 47% of the vote comes close to socialist president Mitterand's result of 1981 in which he gained 52% of the vote (and won). She is therefore in a good position to consolidate her role and perhaps stand again in the next presidential election.