Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bye-Bye Bling Bling?

I didn't recognize the man who approached me as I left the chaotic Sunday market on Boulevard Ney. Reaching out with a friendly "bonjour," he pressed a thick pamphlet into my hand as I passed. Looking down at the sober red, white, and blue sheaf, I quickly sized it up as pro-Sarkozy election propaganda. (The public markets, brimming as they always are with Parisians of every political leaning, prove to be prime territories for leafleting.)

At home, after stuffing the last of the spring fava beans and juicy tangerines into our Lilliput-proportioned refrigerator, I flipped open the 34-page manifesto, hoping to discover just how well those twice-weekly french lessons are paying off (suprisingly well), and more so, to learn what the incumbent everyone loves to hate had to say to his public in what are likely the final hours of his tenure. It was a fascinating read.

The president of the Fifth Republic is definitely preoccupied with a few specific themes: immigration, national security, and France's economic strength. Nothing surprising there. More interesting was the thread that held this manifesto together: What it means to be French.

Candidates on every corner: These ubiquitous posters depict the 10 presidential contenders; Ultra right-winger Marine Le Pen's head is scribbled with "Disgrace."

So, what does it mean to be French? In Sarko's view, it means assimilation, and definitely means speaking French, but it's more than that, he says. "Everyone who wants to come to and live in France, whether man or woman, must know that here, we have rules that we impose on everyone: Separation of church and state, a burqa ban in public places, a veil ban for public service workers, mandatory education, equality between men and women, the right of women to work, and an absolute ban on polygamy and female genital mutilation."

He continues (rather snarkily, if you ask me), "In France, men and women use the public pool at the same time. Doctors are both men and women. And school lunch menus are what they are, so don't try to impose your cultural or religious preferences on secular France." (He didn't actually say that last bit, but it was implied. He's made it clear he does not support Islamification on any level, nor does he believe in vegetarian lunch options in public schools.)

"No one is obliged to come to France, after all."

Sarko's plan for the future of France includes reducing new immigration by 50 percent, and then, giving priority to political refugees and highly skilled labor. I wonder what this means for me and the rest of France's current immigrant population? The cynic in me says those immigrants with the whitest skin will find themselves more or less immune to the threat of closing doors and invitations to return "home."

Get out the (youth) vote: Pro-Hollande event flyer posted outside Lycee Honore de Balzac in the 17e

The candidate I believe has the strongest chance of defeating Sarko is Francois Hollande. An unapologetic Socialist, he seems less focused on blaming immigrants for France's problems, which makes him a strong candidate among the
populaire proletariat, and he's one of just a handful of candidates I've seen grooming the youth vote. His campaign buzzword is "change," and where I see that most is in his environmental agenda, which includes reducing reliance on nuclear power, developing renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. No word from the Hollande camp on whether that plan includes a moratorium on factory farms, but it could happen! And in typical Socialist fashion, he wants to raise taxes for the rich and redistribute the wealth to bolster public services that will help the neediest in every corner of l'Hexagone. Even if I'm not entitled to vote, these are ideals I can stand behind.

The primary election is this upcoming Sunday. Yes, Sunday! Why vote on a Sunday, instead of, say, a Tuesday? So that everyone can vote. (Well, almost everyone.) Two weeks later, the last two candidates standing will be whittled down to one winner. Is France ready to say au revoir to President Bling Bling? I think the answer is "oui."

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