Tuesday, April 1, 2008

La Banderole

When I discussed the film Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, which is about to become the all-time French box office champion, I mentioned negative stereotypes attaching to the people of the North. Those stereotypes have now erupted into national consciousness after the display, at a soccer match between Lens and PSG, of une banderole invoking the film's title in connection with an offensive description of the Ch'tis: pédophiles, chômeurs, consanguins. The banner has been denounced by everyone from league officials to President Sarkozy and every editorialist in the country, to say nothing of ur-Ch'ti Dany Boon himself.

Yet no one has remarked on the odd conjunction of "pedophilia and incest" with "unemployment." Although the culprits have yet to be identified, the usual suspects have been named. At least one well-known club of soccer hooligans "known to the police," the Boulogne Boys, has admitted that it may have been guilty of "laisser faire" while denying actual responsibility for the content of the banner. Among these louts there are undoubtedly a fair number who, if not unemployed themselves, are acquainted with the unemployed. Yet we have in this banner a spontaneous theory of unemployment linking the social scourge to biological characteristics that used to be associated with the term "degeneracy." The concept of degeneracy was deployed in the nineteenth century by writers and politicians of both the Left and the Right to explain persistent social ills. Zola, for all his sympathy for the underclass, took hereditary degeneracy as one of his major themes. In the fin-de-siècle theories of degeneracy proliferated. Here we have a strange revival--or, rather, an unpleasant throwback--in a most unusual context.

France, the US, and NATO

France is going to send 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, to the pleasure of the United States. France is also going to oppose the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, to the consternation of the United States and the pleasure of Russia. So which is it: "Sarko l'Américain" or "Putin's Poodle"?

Neither, of course. Demonstrating a Gaullian dexterity, Sarkozy is beginning to stake out a distinctive approach to foreign policy. He will neither systematically oppose nor systematically support American positions. He does not reject military intervention where he believes common security interests are served. He sees no point in antagonizing Russia and may believe that Bush administration moves (such as new radar installations in Eastern Europe) have gone too far and triggered legitimate Russian fears. He covets Russian energy reserves in a way that the U.S. does not.

His realpolitik will arouse domestic opposition. The Left opposes support for U.S. military interventions. Human rights advocates want more attention to be paid to violations by the Russians and Chinese. Sarkozy has weakly responded to the latter concerns by suggesting that he might not attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing; Washington and Gordon Brown demur.

GMO Debate

The National Assembly begins debate today on a law regulating the use of genetically modified organisms. The law, proposed by the government and substantially modified by the Senate, is intended to bring French regulations into line with EU directives on the subject. The Left and Greens oppose the bill, which passed the committee on economic affairs with UMP votes only.

EADS Insider Trading

The AMF has found evidence of insider trading at AMF and will file complaints against 17 officials of the company. The Groupe Lagardère says that it has not been notified of any irregularity by the AMF. EADS CEO Louis Gallois says that the company will defend itself.