Dumps Mistress before France Dumps Him?
(This story has been updated, scroll to end)
At 5.52pm on January 25, some 12 hours before an eclectic group the «Jour de Colère» collective, launched a mass protest in Paris to demand his resignation, François Hollande announced he was splitting from the deeply possessive “first girlfriend”, as she has been dubbed by the American media.
The move — which he had dithered over for more than two weeks — was a clear effort to help defuse grass roots anger nearing boil-point in France where he and the rudderless Socialist-led government are struggling to revive an economy in which 3.29 million are unemployed and growth in 2014 is not expected to exceed 0.9% (IMF).
Valerie Trierweiler’s only reported reaction came in the tweet below thanking her staff for their dedication during her time at the Elysée.
Toute ma gratitude va à l’extraordinaire personnel de l’Elysée. Je n’oublierai jamais son dévouement ni l’émotion au moment du départ.
— Valerie Trierweiler (@valtrier) January 25, 2014
The tawdry vaudeville which has gripped France and the world since its was disclosed by Closer, a gossip magazine, has seriously diminished the dignity of the French presidency, an office traditionally held in considerable esteem in France.
Anger at the distractions of this inelegant soap opera by a president with the worst ratings in the history of the Vth Republic, has been reflected in social media. Dozens of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have sprung up venting feelings of voter despair, frustration and disenchantment, much of it by way of biting satire, witty, disparaging and often raunchy cartoons and at least one 20-minute mocking video which rapidly went viral.
The presidential circus proved to be manna from heaven for a little-known coalition of mainly right and right-of-right protest groups long-planning a national Day of Wrath for January 26.
The left-wing newspaper Libération identified some 60 organisations it said were behind the call for “Jour de colère” demonstration, massing under a range of issues such as: taxation, youth, traditional family values, unemployment, small-scale traders and farmers, belief in freedom of expression, rejection of further immigration and of Islam.
The organisers hoped that many more than than the 25,000 people on their Facebook page indicating they intend to march would turn up. According to social media accounts supporters ranged from the Bonnets Rouge:
to backers of Dieudonne and his quenelle salute.
Activists showed considerable ingenuity in spreading their message including some who advertised a Hollande Demission keyboard for sale on Le Boin Coin a widely-used and highly-popular website similar to Craigslist, for buying and selling unwanted stuff locally.
As CNN reported: “Hollande, 59, has seen his personal approval ratings plummet since his election, although this has been attributed to dissatisfaction with his leadership rather than disapproval of his private life. A recent survey by French pollster Ifop with Le Journal du Dimanche found that more than 80% of respondents had not changed their opinion of the President based on the allegations of an affair.”
“The parting of the ways came as a new opinion poll confirmed that Ms Trierweiler was by far the most unpopular First Lady in the recent history of France. Just 8% of respondents to the survey for the Le Parisien newspaper backed Ms Trierweiler, a journalist for magazine Paris Match, as a popular First Lady.”
A moral lapse may well be easier to overcome than becoming a figure of grand ridicule… But the real damage is long term, not just in the Google trail that will follow them but in the damage to their own sense of self. You don’t readily recover from seeing yourself belittled in such a way. You’re a very modern kind of road kill – Michael Wolff in USA Today
Judging from the list published on the Jour de colère website, among groups in the collective are a number linked directly or indirectly to those who opposed and continue to oppose, the recent homosexual marriage law; others viscerally opposed to the Socialist head of state, and many of the Bonnets Rouges involved in the initial tax revolt who have committed to the march even though the Bonnets Rouges movement itself has distanced itself from the Day of Wrath, according to L’Express. Groups reported to be involved include Collectif Pour L’Enfant, Collectif Famille Mariage, Printemps Français, Hollande Dégage, Hollande m’a tué, Stop-Hollande, pro-Dieudonné, Hollande Démission and many others.
Apart from the official list of participants, there are also some potentially embarrassing supporters of the collective and its protest, notes L’Express. “The fundamentalist movement Civitas, Riposte Laïque and Alain Soral (supporter of Dieudonné and his quenelle) have all called on their supporters to march in Paris. The controversial comic Dieudonné, now in trouble with the authorities over allegedly unpaid fines and taxes, has also issued an invitation to activists through his Facebook page”.
However the demonstration may actually gain strength from the diversity of its participants and their multiple demands. The “Day of Wrath” website says the event will target: “tax overkill, peasant poverty, unemployment, insecurity (a code word for those opposed to more immigration and the failure to integrate those living in violent high rise urban neighbourhoods), the bankruptcy of the national education system, the destruction of the family, contempt for French identity, trampling on freedom of expression and the denial of democracy”
The organising collective may not be all that pleased with this eclectic range of groups, but it defends the right of anyone to protest — part of its own commitment to freedom of expression, which it believes is under threat from more authoritarian sections of the government.
“Day of Wrath” as a movement, was born on the Internet and stands out from others dismayed by the first 20 months of François Hollande’s rule. It seeks to federate all the disparate social media activists into a snowball of protest it hopes will roll across the country after the Sunday march, Le Figaro suggests.
But the magazine adds, the “Day of Wrath” collective marches under a deliberately vague line, highly focused on the person of the president. “When you have a president with only 15% popularity in the polls, the fact that he was democratically elected does not justify that he should continue in office… Day of Wrath wants François Hollande and his gang the whole government working with him on the destruction of France, to quite simply go. Asked if they are Republicans, they respond: ‘We are French’, ” the paper reports.
Today’s protest has the disadvantage of being staged between the Marche pour la vie or March for Life protest last weekend and that planned for February 2 by the Manif pour tous the group opposed to gay marriage.
While French newspapers insist the French in general don’t give a fig for President Hollande’s domestic affairs, the 70 tonnes of horse manure dumped on the steps of parliament by one angry voter (see image above) and followed by similar manure attack on a Socialist party headquarters in Troyes are perhaps a more accurate measure of the feelings of growing numbers of voters’ about their indecisive leader.
As Art Goldhammer an astute long time observer of French affairs noted recently: “This truly alarming poll from IPSOS will get everyone’s attention: It appears to confirm a rejection of France’s political system and its media.
“The relationship of trust between the French and many of their political institutions is permanently broken. 72 % of those polled have no confidence in the National Assembly, 73% for those asked about the Senate , while 88% of those responding say French politicians are out of touch with the voters. The media is very strongly criticised with 77% of those polled saying they do not trust it and 74% saying French journalists do not report on the real problems facing France.”
The IPSOS poll also appears to confirm a sometimes massive hostility towards foreigners. “66% of those polled agree with the idea that there are too many foreigners in France . 47 % believe that to cut unemployment in France, the number of immigrants must be reduced. Although declining, a rejection of Islam remains the view of a majority of those surveyed: 63% (-11 compared to the previous such poll) are of the view that Islam is not compatible with the values of French society.”
One of the figureheads of the Day of Wrath is David Van Hemelryck who earned some notoriety over the summer when he flew a small plane along the Atlantic coast dragging a large banner demanding Hollande resign (Hollande Dégage)”
According to a Le Parisien report on January 19: “David Van Hemelryck leader of a movement calling on François Hollande to resign, was arrested Sunday at the start of a demonstration in Paris. He had launched a small dirigible in the shape of a … quenelle or dumpling (see photo below).
Police officers present at the Place du Chatelet, said that, given the context, this balloon which was some 6m long and 1m in diameter could constitute “an offence under disturbance of public order ordinances’ and the dirigible further appeared to be ‘provocative’.
“David Van Hemelryck (34) was taken into custody for questioning over ‘inciting racial hatred’. This active opponent of homosexual marriage, has become known for several militant actions in recent months, notably during the 11 November Remembrance Day Commemorations when along with a number of others he booed the presidential cavalcade on the Champs-Elysées.
“Before his latest detention he claimed he had been arrested twenty times and held in custody four times. He is the man behind the “Hollande Dégage” movement which is very active on the Internet and in social networks”
As one of his supporters noted in a comment on these same social networks: “President Hollande’s disapproval ratings have now sunk to 77%. Undaunted by such a level of unpopularity, he is proposing to legalise medically assisted suicide. This means that this divisive president is going to be responsible for the two of the biggest revolutions in French legislation in recent decades (the first being homosexual marriage)”.
Then there are the sentinelles or watchmen a spin-off of the Manif pour tous movement and who, ever since France legalised homosexual marriage in the summer, have taken turns to stand in silence in front of the French Justice Ministry as an ongoing protest and “witness” to their belief in the importance of “traditional family values”.
One earlier news report suggested the government was concerned about how long the watchmen had managed to sustain their vigils in front of the ministry responsible for introducing the law. “We thought that with the onset of winter it would all peter out but as it turns out wherever (Justice Minister) Christiane Taubira goes she is met by watchmen and anti gay marriage protestors,” an official reportedly said.
This Roman Catholic Church-backed group, whose manifesto is in the photo below, has now spread across several EU countries as its Facebook page shows, a sign perhaps of the surprisingly strong influence the Catholic Church continues to have in some parts of Europe.
In an Oped piece for the New York Times Robert Zaretsky a US historian and long time student of French affairs asked Is the Fifth Republic Burning: “Future historians of France may well decide that the Fifth Republic died as it was born: in a traffic incident” he writes. “Thanks to its canny creator (Gen de Gaulle), this conception of the presidency edged into the mythic.
“To be sure, de Gaulle carefully cultivated this public persona. But he was also, as the novelist (and Gaullist minister of culture) André Malraux remarked, equal to his myth. Indeed, de Gaulle tailored the president’s office to the mythic dimensions he alone could fill. Perhaps it was for this reason that de Gaulle observed, ‘I had no predecessor and will have no successor’. … The prediction has never seemed truer in a France mesmerized by “la peopolisation” — the sort of celebrity journalism we associate with People magazine, which has breached the wall between the private and public in the French political world.”
He goes on to ask: “The Gaullist Republic was as much a cultural as a political fact, but French culture and politics have changed dramatically. Given the persistent calls for a Sixth Republic, one that enhances Parliament’s powers, is it possible that the Gaullist Republic has outlived its purpose?”
Is that what the Day of Wrath demonstrators are also working towards?
Story: Ken Pottinger
Footnote: The end of the Fifth Republic idea (above) was soundly rebutted by Paris-based political scientist and academic Arun Kapil here . He also has a later piece where in very strong language he assails the President for his treatment of his former partner and suggests Hollande has seriously damaged his own image and standing through thoroughly ‘caddish’ behaviour.
In pouring rain the various groups marching under the collective banner of JourDeColere left Place de la Bastille at 1400 for Place Vauban, behind Les Invalides in Paris. Police estimated the crowd at 17,000, well below the numbers initially hoped for (25,000 had indicated on Facebook that they would attend).
According to the leftwing news site Rue 89 the organisers claimed “a phantasy figure” of 160,000 marchers while shortly after the protest officially ended at 1700, i-télé, a TV broadcaster estimated the crowd had been around 37,000. As the photo below shows the activists were already anticipating the usual war of numbers that attends all protests in Paris:
The gallery of images that follows is from the Twitter account of the various groups participating — the quality is marred by the driving rain:
The organisers and many of their social media supporters later complained vociferously about the ungenerous TV reportage the demo received on national networks after the event (between 10 and 20 secs by their reckoning and way down the news agenda).
However Le Petit Journal, the long-running satirical show on Canal+ promised to make amends with a show trailed here:
This unflattering effort is unlikely to placate the supporters of the Hollande Resign cause either; and yet … a large portion of a 20-minute satire of President Hollande that went viral on the Internet and depicts him as bungling and inept, was made by this same irreverent team. Perhaps Le Petit Journal regards its latest show as a way of being satirically even-handed?
A later BFMTV report (below) noted the protest degenerated into clashes as the main march dispersed. “Police said 250 people were taken into custody after the anti-Holland “Day of Wrath” march Sunday, ” which ended in clashes . A total of 262 people were arrested, according to the Prefecture of Police. Nineteen policemen were injured in clashes with protesters, but none was hospitalized.. The clashes between several hundred protesters and security forces broke out at the end of the event.”
Other media claimed it became clear that organisers had failed to control and exclude more extremist elements, including masked far-right groups filmed making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic slogans. The troubles that broke out as the main march dispersed, appeared mainly confined to members of these extreme groups.
A mildly-tongue-in-cheek Le Petit Journal report January 27 (below) reflected both the wildly heterogeneous mix of protest groups involved (unsurprising given the proclaimed aim of the Hollande Démission organisers was to provide a protest vehicle for all the “angry of France” focused on forcing the unpopular president to resign), as well as the darker side — groups of anti-Semitic extremists chanting hate slogans. Some reports suggested the latter may have been opportunists who tagged on uninvited for the aggro and brawling at the end. Clearly provoked by these extremists, conservative columnist Ivan Rioufol writing in Le Figaro called the protest: “an indefensible manifestation of vulgarity and hatred against Jews, Freemasons, media, you name it…”
At Prime Minister’s Question time on Tuesday just two days after the Paris protests, Guillaume Larrivé, an opposition UMP Member of Parliament for the Yonne caused an uproar in the National Assembly when he demanded the resignation of President Hollande. The YouTube clip below shows enraged government benches reacting to the MP’s remarks, which as the Speaker later noted, transgressed French parliamentary etiquette. The Speaker’s words were echoed by Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who reminded the deputy of the convention that the House does not call into question the legitimacy of the directly-elected head of state. “Democracy emerges from the vote of the French people, and from nowhere else (“la démocratie c’est le vote du peuple français, rien d’autre!”) Jean-Marc Ayrault said, sharply reinforcing the view that power lies in the ballot box and not on the streets. Watch the uproar here:
- François, Valérie, and Julie – II (arunwithaview.wordpress.com)
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- On s’en Fout ! We’re Voting Marine le Pen…
- Jour de colère – II | Arun with a View
- Assignment: Dieudonne: France’s Most Dangerous Comedian? – BBC