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France: Racism and Politics

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

Nowadays in France, like in Africa, when politicians need a boost in popularity or want to cast a wider political net, they make an appeal  into the most primal instincts of the voters: ethnic identity. The approval rate of French president Sarkozy has gone from 67% in July of 2007 to less than 27% in July 2010, according to the blog sarkononmerci.fr, citing 9 opinion polls from independent media sources. The blog adds the following analysis after the latest surveys [fr]:

He asked that we judge him on the results of his actions. Today, after more than three years of a disastrous administration, the purchasing power is at its lowest, unemployment is at its highest,  the french economy is in limbo, the social injustice are as obvious as ever and the republican ideal is in very bad shape.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Frenchmen have such a low opinion of their head of state who offers little vision or stature and whose only competency seem to be to give hands out to his billionaire friends, the same friends who were of a great help when he reached for a seat that now seems a bit too overwhelming for him. In fact, we should be suprised that there are still almost one-third of the population that still thinks the president  is doing a good job. Still, it alo means that 2/3 of the population have a low or very low opinion of his tenure

French Minority Protesters on Flickr by edesc – CC license-attribution

For the past few weeks, in order to regain the approval of his citizens and turn back a declining popularity, the president has been given multiple interviews and repeatedly offered firm speeches on the theme of security and criminality. He was given a golden opportunity to retrieve voters lost to the extreme rights when the riots of Grenoble occurred a few weeks ago.
Tepetate recalls the events évènements on the blog rue89.com [fr]:

The riots started around 1h30 am. About 40 cars were burned within a limited parking space, between two tramway stations. It was the deed of a few youngsters.
The armed forces and the foremen arrived one hour later. Mutliple tear gas were thrown. As far as gun shots, it is impossible to confirm or deny because some of the noise came from cars exploding.
To speak of urban guerilla warfare is vastly overstating the case because it was not people against an army but some schmuks without any strategy! The police station in the borrough was not even lit on fire.
»

The president rapidly intervened and used a lexicon that far right politicians would not have repudiated. Mehmet Alparslan SAYGIN reminds us on his blog of the most controversial part passage le plus controversé [fr] of Mr Sarkozy's speech at the installment of the new governor of Isère:

Rescind the current legislation on nationality and propose that nationality be revoked for the people of foreign origins when attempting to take the lives of a policeman, gendarme or any representative of the public authority. Well, the ensuing controversy was to be expected.

The blog lalignegenerale, analyses thusly those  measures announced by  the president :

« I won't dwell on the ubuesque notion of  ”of foreign origin”. Because when exactly does “foreign origin” start? In the spirit of this measure,  how many generations have to had passed on before one is protected from losing its citizenship? Does the president have criteria he'd like offer? Maybe a (DNA) Test ?  And if by any chance the members of the Constitutional Council, State Coucil or the parliament were to approve of this inane proposition, what would then become of the no-longer citizens?  Since they don't have a substitute nationality, what kind of legal vacuum would then fall into ? Former Frenchmen? Stateless people? As the president put it, since the “machine that provides nationality no longer works”, will it now produce stateless citizens?

The worst part is that at the end of the day, if this proposal is a serious one and not just some political fronting to win back some votes from Marine Le Pen ( ed. note: far right leader), then it would contradict three sacred axioms engraved in the founding texts of our republic: the Program of the National Council of the Resistance in May 15 1944, the Declaration of the Human Rights in 1948 and the Constitution of 1958.

As soon as those measures were announced, the daily newspaper le Figaro published an opinion poll conducted by IFOP that proclaimed the results he was hoping to see: that the majority of the French people shared his views on domestic security. The enthusiasm was so overwhelming  and the questions posed in the surveys so biased that other newspapers conducted their own polls, most notably l'Humanité and Marianne who found that the enthusiasm for the annoucement might have been more moderated that initially proclaimed. In an article entitled: ” All polls are not created equal” Rue 89 explains the issue:

Polls keep coming in and they contradict each other. After le Figaro and l'Humanité, Marianne publishes its own study on the government's security measures.
We learned that 51% of French are rather “in favor” of revoking citizenship as a sanction (63% of left leaning voters and 28% of right-leaning voters).  In the Figaro poll on August 6, 70% were in favor of revoking citizenship. For the same crime, the CSA poll for l'Humanité showed that 57% think it is necessary.

Ministers and other leaders of the ruling party took turn in blaming immigrants, Roma and itinerant community members.  Mais Il y a aussi protestations et cacophonie  dans la majorité comme le relève viactu.com, citant un article sur Profession Politique.However, there were also voices of protests from the ruling party as viactu.com noted, citing an article in Profession Politique:

After the firm speech from the president on July 30, that brought to the forefront the theme of linking immigration with national security and given the increased popularity of the politics of the far right, many personalities spoke out against the measure.
Not surprisingly, the supporters of Villepin ( rival of the president in the ruling party) protested the loudest, notably the MP Marie-Anne Montchamp who spoke of “upping the ante” and “populist position from the presidency”.
Yet, some of the attacks also came from people who were not hostile to Sarkozy. “Let's try to avoid making laws based on circumstances” says the former PM Alain Juppé who is a potential candidate for a position in the new government.  His thoughts were echoed by Senate president Gérard Larcher and  MP Bernard Debré who urge everyone to be very careful with “manipulating citizenship”.
Another point of tension was the elimination of Roma and itinerant community illegal camps within 3 months , measures that  were disapproved by  Christine Boutin and Jean-Pierre Grand, who angered the ruling party when they called the measures “raids”.

On July 28, Brice Hortefeux announced that half of the illegal camps will be dismantled. To facilitate this “ethnic clean up” the blog denistouret.fr writes [fr]:

Brice Hortefeux will “quasi-immediately” deport Roma back to Rumania and Bulgaria who committed offenses to the public order.  In 2009, more than 10.000 Roma were expulsed from France. 10 IRS agents will investigate the situation in the illegal camps because many of our compatriots are surprised to see the size of some of the cars that are found in the camps. The interior minister also promised that the government will pursue developmental programs on the space vacated by the Roma.

denistouret.fr adds:

More than 400,000 itinerant community members were in the census in France in 1990. 95% were French and 1/3 were nomads. Roma were the minority.
“We are facing a slew of the most obsolete clichés” reacts SOS Racism president Dominique Sopo. “The phrases being outed suggest that all these communities are cheating the IRS, living illegally on camps and committing crimes that ought to result in their nationality being stripped from them.” We are currently seeing a vision of society that ostracizes and racializes communities. They presidency want to spur fear so that it can deploy security measures  and surveillance companies”

The first expulsion of Roma people will happen on August 19 says a report seen on Facebook.

On his blog, Guy Birenbaum sarcastically reports on the comments made by  by minister Éric Besson on the president's speech:

I cannot resist the temptation to offer you a hilarious take on the following words:

” As to the remarks by the president about the stripping of nationality, let's not exptrapolate and create unnecessary scare crows.”

No Scare crows !

and more importantly, Unnecessary ones !

Got it ?

Don't ever bring it up again.

And don't forget to tell Roma people, Itinerant people and “people of foreign origins” [to not bring it up ever again] ( I will let you complete the list as you wish).

According to other polls, these speeches reflect the general sentiment in France quite well. Saphirnews.com says in an article:” Racism explodes in France“:

One out of two French thinks that “foreigners know how to exploit the social security better than others”. 28% think that “Blacks are stronger physically than others.” 30% think that Jews have more influence in the finance and in the medias than others. About homosexuals, 12% think that they are more obsessed with sex and 4% openly say that they are homophobic.

Dominique Soppo says that ” we witness a liberated expression of racist speeches for a few months now. This is in reference to Eric Zemmour's words about blacks and arabs.

Tackling the issue of racism, alterinfo.net writes that the fabrication of new ennemies from within is a well-known tactic to distract from other issues and legitimize the current order:

It's waiting there. Ready to jump. It's ready to undermine the basis of French society, sneaky parasite that is hidden inside. It's often of brown skin, comes from foreign countries, display so-called radical political views, attend a mosque, read dangerous books, wears sportswear and sneakers; it's dangerous, lives in community, is involved in urban violence, the roots of violence, delinquance and the rise of all perils. It's a “fellagha” (bandit in arabic), bolsheviks, post-colonial immigrants, leftists, and third-world revolutionary, or anarchists. It's…

It's in this climate of hatred fed by political ambitions who are scared of their own constituents that the UN Comittee on the Elimination of Racial dDiscrimination (CERD) denounced a “recrudescence of racism and xenophobia” in France.

Still, despite the racially charged atmosphere, it is important to note that one of the most liked political figure in France is Rama Yade, a black politician born in Senegal and that for the 8th time, Yannick Noah is ranked first on the list of most popular personalities in France and that Franco-Algerian football player Zinedine Zidane is in second place.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

  • http://none Otton Bexaron

    Message from the Americas: This should make the Europeans reflect about solving their own ethnic problems – instead of sticking their noses into the affairs of people in the Americas, Asia and Africa! And all the European religious missionaries and “human rights activists” should concentrate on solving Europe’s problems instead of interfering in the affairs of people overseas.

    • http://konakryexpress.maneno.org Abdoulaye Bah

      It is interesting to read such words from an American citizen (if I understant well)! However I continue to love both America and Europe.

  • MVSKARAN

    And yet, just a few centuries back, the French traveled to distant lands in the new world and the old world! They had built up colonies in Africa, Asia and, northern America and Latin America! When they were ruling over other people, they wanted everyone across the world to become ‘French’! Now, with the liberation of all those colonies, they lament the very presence of the dark and brown-skinned people amidst them living like parasites supposedly on the ‘social security’ extended to them! Whatever happened to the grandiose visions of the French just a few centuries back? Lost forever?

  • Jérôme

    Hello,
    I have discovered Globalvoice in the Economist and I was wondering what’s said about France…I have not been disappointed!
    This article is very politcally biased and distort the facts in order not to give the truth but only one-way political pov…not very interesting and definitively not trustworthy about France, but ok if you want to know the leftist pov.

  • Pingback: Africa francofona: eventi tragici e citizen media nel 2010 | VOCI GLOBALI

  • jennacatlin4

    Racism should be abolished from France as it leads to anarchical situations, related issues should be resolved in France to give rise to a peaceful environment. Moreover, shouldn’t interfere in other states and interfering in the internal affairs of people. to divert your attention form likewise situations park safely with Airport Car parking at Gatwick

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