Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Bizarre Episode ...

The Communist mayor of Aubervilliers obtained a court order to remove 80 tents and 112 squatters from a park, where the squatters had camped out to demand affordable housing. Rama Yade, secretary of state for human rights in the foreign ministry, went to Aubervilliers at the request of unnamed groups to try to work out a compromise solution.

The mayor of Aubervilliers protested this action by "a minister" (he misspoke) in defiance of a lawful order of the court. The association Droit au Logement objected to what it called "a demagogic political visit aimed at sweet-talking the expelled squatters." The prime minister issued a reprimand to Yade, instructing her that any future excursions of this sort were to be cleared with him. Yade responded that she had made her trip as a UMP national secretary, not a cabinet official. Her ministerial responsibilities of course do not include housing or cities. The responsible minister, Christine Boutin, has not been heard on the subject.

The fate of the squatters seems to have been forgotten in all the hullaballoo.

L'Affaire Robert

It seems that interior minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has complained to the editors of Le Dictionnaire Robert about their choice of a sentence to illustrate the word rebeu, which is verlan ( a sort of French pig-Latin, in case you didn't know) for beur, itself verlan for Arabe. So rebeu is verlan-squared, proving that two wrongs don't make a right. In any case, MAM objects to this:

T'es un pauvre petit rebeu qu'un connard de flic fait chier, c'est ça !

The offending sample sentence is taken from a book by mystery writer Jean-Claude Izzo. Although the minister denies any wish to "interfere with the editorial choices" of the dictionary's compilers, she says that she cannot but "share the disapproval" of police unions and "deplore" the decision to use this sentence, which she deems offensive to the police. Any possible offense to le pauvre petit rebeu is left unmentioned in her message.

It does strike me as odd that the minister of the interior and police unions would feel obliged to comment on an obscure example in a dictionary, even if it is the best of all French dictionaries, when I can turn on my TV most nights and hear similar language in any number of films and TV series. As a translator, I have some professional standing in the matter, and I have to say that it's extraordinarily useful, particularly to us foreigners, when dictionary compilers descend from their ivory towers to give us the language of the streets. So I find this particular ministerial intervention rather baffling, even if it's perfectly understandable that the woman in charge of the police would want to defend her troops. Perhaps she also intends to give them a lesson in the sort of language they ought not to use when dealing with citizens of North African descent. In that case, perhaps the lesson is of the sort I once received from a cultivated Frenchman as to the difference between Corneille and Racine: "Corneille nous donne la nature humaine telle qu'elle devrait être, Racine nous la donne telle qu'elle est."


"Voluntarism" is a word frequently heard these days. Sarkozy believes that the will is everything in politics and that where there's a will, there's a way. Has the OECD revised its estimate for French economic growth downward from 2.2 to 1.8 percent, the largest downward revision among the G7? No matter. Of growth, Sarko says, "I will go find it." He'll cut labor costs further (though he doesn't say how), create service sector jobs (though he doesn't say how), and continue his flank attack on the 35-hour week (though he doesn't say where he'll strike next). Meanwhile, at Bercy, Christine Lagarde says that she sees no reason to believe the OECD and is sticking with the 2.2 percent growth projection.

From the United States, where the Bush administration has demonstrated how lethal the combination of resolute will, irrepressible optimism, and denial of reality can be, the signs don't look good. But it's still early, the hubris of the first 100 days hasn't worn off, and time for course corrections remains, so I'll just raise an eyebrow at this point and leave sounding the tocsin for later.


Sarkozy's policy of ouverture continues to disrupt not only the Socialist Party but also his own UMP. The latest developments in Alsace, a region strongly dominated by the right, are an index of the upheaval in the political landscape. The Socialist Party has dissolved its Mulhouse section. Jean-Marie Bockel, the mayor of Mulhouse, who joined the Fillon government as secretary of state for cooperation and Francophonie, held a meeting on Saturday and proposed to run a unity list in the municipal elections. The PS countered this move by dissolving its local section, but not all of its local members are happy about the move. Bockel supporter Denis Rambaud calls it a "stupid decision, a denial of democracy." Like the secretary of the local section, Michèle Striffler, he would have preferred that party militants debate two options: whether to run a PS list against Bockel's or to support the unity list.

But Socialists aren't the only politicians miffed by ouverture. Arlette Grosskost of the UMP was outraged that Sarkozy tapped a Socialist to join his government from a region that is a UMP stronghold. She has received some compensation for this affront, including a veto over UMP candidates chosen to run on the Bockel unity list.

If 2007 was a realigning election, the turmoil in Alsace demonstrates that realignment can be quite wrenching at the local level. Sarkozy will try to repair the damage by holding his first council of ministers meeting outside of Paris in Strasbourg. He will also visit Mulhouse in a two-day royal visit to the turbulent province.