Bonjour Tristesse: The Economic and Political Decline of France

Bonjour Tristesse(…..) What this shows, however, France’s fear of no longer playing an important role is real. This is all the more jarring because the country, with its 1.500-year history and its “civilisation française,” sees itself as a natural leader among nations. France still maintains a costly vestige of its former colonial empire, scattered halfway around the globe. Imperial Parisian palaces contribute to sense that France is not just an ordinary country. But does a democracy truly benefit from being celebrated in a monarchical setting? France’s biggest problem is not economic reforms, like the ones Germany demands, but a dearth of democratic culture, says journalist Edwy Plenel. He is sitting in the conference room of an office building in a residential neighborhood in eastern Paris. Plenel, with his trademark large moustache, was a Trotskyite in his youth. Today, at 60, he manages the Internet newspaper Mediapart, which has set almost all major French political scandals of the recent years into motion, including perhaps the most devastating of them all, the case of Jérôme Cahuzac. The fact that a budget minister faced allegations of tax fraud and held a secret bank account in Switzerland, which he had strenuously denied until overwhelming proof finally forced him to admit it, transcended even the worst of improprieties to which the French had become accustomed. The case of disgraced former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had already given the public a glimpse into the behavior of an elite that considers itself above the law. Citizens had long resigned themselves to the fact the politicians repeatedly embroil themselves in inscrutable financial scandals. The Cahuzac case, says Plenel, demonstrates with nearly chemical clarity that the French democracy isn’t functioning properly. “Democracy isn’t just the institutions,” he explains, “but also the way it is lived out.” In this case the entire system failed, says Plenel. After Mediapart reported on minister’s Swiss bank account in December, other media organizations, which Plenel accuses of engaging in “a government journalism,” chose to believe Cahuzac’s lies instead. Neither the president nor the parliament, including the opposition, took action after the Mediapart report. The judiciary only became involved when Mediapart filed a complaint, says Plenel. “In this manner, the public gains impression of French oligarchy that sticks together”. Plenel has been working as one of France’s few investigative journalists for the last 30 years. He was with Le Monde for many years, including a stint as editor-in-chief. After leaving the paper, founded Mediapart, which is now in its third year, has 45 employees and is turning a profit. Plenel defends the profession of journalism as he understands it, but, as he points out, this makes him something of an oddity in France. France’s basic problem, says Edwy Plenel, is a presidentialism. “We entrust everything to one man instead of strengthening our democracy”. Plenel explains that France had the most absolute monarchy on the continent until French Revolution swept it away, but it in turn was followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. As a result, the concept of placing so much control into the hands of one individual was implanted into the heart of post-revolutionary politics. “It has shaped our entire history since then. Unfortunately, General de Gaulle was also a Bonapartist” (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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