By Ramin Mazaheri
One of the joys of France is the openness with which people talk politics here.
In the English-speaking world simple political disagreement leads immediately to judgmental condemnation of one another. Look at the centuries of sensationalism and warmongering from London’s Fleet Street - there’s a big market for intolerance. In the US it’s considered best to not talk about politics, or religion, at all.
But the French do talk politics, and all the time, and well. They prefer abstractions and exceptions to declarations and moral lines, but at least they discuss politics without rancor.
As France goes, so goes the European Union. Since the Great Recession many have suggested that an economic solution to the eurozone’s problems is that Germany should leave, taking their economic neo-imperialism and a strong Deutschmark with them. Nobody says the same for France - their role is indispensable to the European project.
Think back to how vital the past two French elections were, and how they had provided a true bellwether of the continent’s political situation:
In 2017 Marine Le Pen was offering a Frexit vote within six months of victory, repudiation of banker debt and seriously discussed leaving the euro. These are all serious ideas, especially when compared with the three main topics of the 2022 election: xenophobia, Islamophobia and Ukraine. The two mainstream parties were ousted for the first time since Charles de Gaulle - major upheaval.
In 2012 Francois Hollande declared “finance is my enemy” and was going to lead a Latin bloc against Germany and cut austerity off before it could do serious damage. Optimism was high that what many in France insisted was true: that someone as pro-money and monarchical as Nicolas “bling bling” Sarkozy was an aberration. The failure to produce the major upheaval for which Hollande truly had a mandate led to his 4% approval rating, his inability to even run for re-election and the destruction of the Socialist Party.
Less than two weeks until the first round I strain to find election topics of interest to write about. There is a lassitude regarding political matters which is totally out of keeping with French culture, and this does not augur well for Europe.
France will likely have abstention rates not seen since 2002, but France is so politically active that still means an estimated 71%. That would be a big drop from the 79% turnout of 2017. These are scores most Western countries would die for, so there’s no chance that low turnout in 2022 is going to seriously discredit French democracy. What discredited French democracy was the brutal, state-sponsored repression of the Yellow Vests, of course.
So abstention rates don’t tell the whole story in 2022. People tell me - and it’s my job to ask - that they will vote merely out of a sense of civic duty, and without the typical Gallic passion.
2022 is a hollow election in France: The issues which are allowed to be debated are hollow, the candidates are straw men who lack domestic credibility and the vacant look in people’s eyes when talking about the election implies that France is just hollowed out.
Why? This will be the first major Western election since the end of the coronavirus era, and I can only hypothesize that there must be a connection.
Today there simply is no spirit of résistance,which the French can seemingly fabricate out of thin air (this is mostly admirable, though occasionally overly-provocative). It was only two weeks ago that France ended its coronavirus restrictions, after all, and what French people want now is relief and simple pleasures. Embracing politics is to embrace dispute, hard-won compromises and a pleasure which is mental and not immediately tangible - it is to embrace résistance.
Is it possible that the coronavirus lockdowns have simply made people more resigned to their political fate? If so, one should bet on incumbents.
Who could have thought that the French wouldn’t care about the election of such a controversial president? The price of gas (€2 per liter) is now a whopping 25% higher than in November 2018, when that issue sparked the Yellow Vests - it’s illogical that there aren’t even bigger demands for government action now? This is the type of disinterest amid disorder which one only reads about after years of war or revolution - eventually a populace simply can’t generate enthusiasm for political endeavors.
Europe has only one hope that this is a case of French exceptionalism: Is it possible that Macron’s Yellow Vest weekend beatdowns have simply defeated France? Macron’s campaign platform was encapsulated in a book he titled Revolution. It was not ironic - Macron truly is a neoliberal revolutionary willing to wage war on his own people just to institute far-right neoliberalism which even the International Monetary Fund admitted has failed, in a 2016 report. People here view Macron’s re-election as a foregone conclusion - he simply cannot be opposed.
I think we can’t underestimate the way Western mainstream media has turned into total sycophants of the elite. With startling swiftness the new mediums of the 21st century have gone from liberating the average person with a new “freedom to write” to banning dissent, and coronavirus speeded this process along.
The French people do not care about the issues which the mainstream media pushed in this election campaign - they handed control of the agenda to far-right troglodyte Eric Zemmour - but what can people do except tune out and not care? A handful of billionaires control the media here, and US-based social media decide what can and can’t be discussed - Metternich, Austria’s prince of censorship in Europe’s post-French Revolution era, would be jealous.
In 2022 the media here is similarly refusing to allow discussion of Macron’s record: economic failure, the worst political repression in a century and an administration which halfway into his 5-year term set the record for cabinet ministers forced out for corruption. This is a politician who polls told us was elected primarily for two reasons: to prevent the authoritarian far-right from wielding police power, and to sweep out the two corrupt mainstream parties. One can only say that there has been total failure on these two points - the problem is finding media allowed to say it!
The war in Ukraine has provided the coup de grâceto discussion of serious domestic issues in this election, sadly.
There’s too many Muslims in France to not perceive surprise regarding the biased treatment in favor of Ukraine, which translates into more indifference and contempt for what’s in the news. While media in the United States insist that all of Europe is cowering in fear from Russian nuclear bombs that idea only produces laughter in Paris - it is absurd, of course. How Ukraine got to be a primary issue in the French election - few care to answer. I can’t help but note that public opinion is allowed to play no role in foreign policy decisions in Western Liberal Democracy, so whatever Paris decides to do regarding Ukraine will be decided among the court of the elite, as it was in the time of kings. Of course, Western Liberal Democracy is fine with autocracy and monarchy.
If France sees a repeat of 2002 it will be the left which surprises this time, but even that provokes looks of disillusion. The talk of a social explosion is widespread here, but it does not appear likely to happen within the next four weeks.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. His new book is ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values’. He is also the author of ‘ Socialism's Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I'll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)