By: Pierre Sarliève
Photo: Séverine Peyron
“One may have been a great soldier in the First World War and have directed noxious choices in the Second”. Both are historical facts. Unfortunately, with the recent controversy, history became a political issue and ideology came into play. This is a prime example of how one can be historically accurate but morally wrong.
On November 7, President Emmanuel Macron unleashed a violent controversy by taking up the idea that France should pay tribute to Pétain during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice. Evidently, people who followed this case with attention will note that Mr. Macron pronounced his infamous phrase in an informal setting, speaking to a journalist while visiting a Renault factory.
Unfortunately for him, the few words quickly ignited the French political class and created a blazing controversy which has seriously degraded his “long march” to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Indeed, his political aim was to use the WWI anniversary to win back the French and his presidential aura lost in recent months. For a week, Emmanuel Macron put a lot of effort into multiplying formal and informal meetings, visiting factories or institutions for the elderly and seducing locally elected officials. He even avoided the provocative little sentences so characteristic of him, and displayed on the contrary, an attentive ear and a smiling face.
“Marshal Joffre is the military winner of the 14-18 war. Pétain is a traitor and an anti-Semite. His crimes and betrayal are imprescriptible,” Mélenchon has argued.
Mélenchon — and many other politicians — were quick to accuse Macron of playing with history, some even stating that the president was trying to rehabilitate Philippe Pétain. Justified criticism? It would be objectionable if Macron had suggested we pay tribute to Pétain in the same way it is paid to other marshals of the Great War. It was a foolish idea to revive the controversy with one of the worst figures of France’s past, stricken with national indignity.
However, it was not the commemorative event at the Invalides which raised the most anger, but E. Macron’s quote cited above. This is where I simply cannot understand the silliness of France’s current opposition. It seems to be the destiny of all politicians to get involved in scandals, where all forms of media jump on the most careless of statements made by the president, in the attempt to stir up controversy. Politicians and journalists should seriously return to a calmer state. For instance, Mélenchon could sometimes mind his own business as we all remember his tremendous panegyric of the Cuban government and the wellbeing of its citizens on March 11, 2016.
I find there are two major issues in this controversy.
Firstly and evidently, Macron would have been much smarter to remain quiet on Pétain, as he had done since the beginning of his march. On the other hand, we must remember the importance of the period. We are, after all, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. It was a moment where the commemorations required our utmost respect and created an opportunity for French political leaders to take a break from their incessant bickering.
Secondly and most importantly, we are seeing a serious form of frenzy in French politics. Indubitably, political life has never been a cup of tea. Under the Third and Fourth Republic, the debates were lively and the printed press did not hesitate to verbally assassinate the most fragile. Nonetheless, what is happening today goes much further than what came before. Daily controversies, news quickly converted into psychodrama, vulgar accusations. It is as if we are living in a constant political delirium.
This is particularly dangerous and irresponsible from our political leaders: it does not matter if one likes President Macron or not, but creating useless polemics will instill a political culture of “he said she said”, drifting public debate towards melodrama. Besides, we see professional political swordsmen — marginal columnists, provocative politicians, even cynical leaders — become the systematic arsonists of the political scene. Traditional and social media, politicians, government officials and citizens, no one is innocent in this deleterious drift. Neither is Emmanuel Macron, who practices a “frank speech” which is more sincere than skillful. They are all condemnable in the withering away of nuanced democratic debate.
This is tremendously frightening as all the important debates which concern the lives of French citizens, especially for the most vulnerable in our society, are being put aside and replaced by deceiving ones (such as whether or not Macron will rehabilitate Pétain). Politics will not solve current and future problems of society through clumsiness and stupidity. For this reason, we must demand the return to more practical and productive inter-party discussions, in order to protect the interests of citizens rather than politicians’ electoral ambitions.
As Sciences Pistes, we should pay attention to the transformation of political speech as we are likely to become actors in either a drift towards more senseless talk or towards a more constructive debate. I sincerely hope that we are part of the latter.
Pierre Sarlieve is a second-year Euram student writing chronicles for the Opinion section of the Sundial Press. Born in France, raised in Canada, he sometimes questions in which part of the world his heart remains. Qualified as overly serious, he spends much of his time reading and criticizing whatever position he judges excessively firm, although he is occasionally guilty of the same deed.
Séverine Peyron is a first-year Euraf student and an illustrator for The Sundial Press. She’s a child of the world ; indeed, she’s spent a huge part of her life abroad in Africa and in South-America. From Benin to Mauritania, from Guinea (Conakry) to French Guyana, she’s an exotic flower which will make you go nuts. Her creativity can make you travel in another universe. Even though she may seem crazy cause she loves Metal and Hard Rock, don’t worry, her illustrations don’t bite.
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