The country of romance is no more.
"France: Riots again,” read a Time headline last week. The title could be the same this week. Riots are starting to become a way of life in France, or maybe it's the sign of something more sinister.
Last November it was cars, warehouse, and schools in flames. Now it is casseurs randomly smashing in storefront windows and administering random beatings. The world has started to discover that beneath the postcard surfaces of the Eiffel Tower and romantic restaurants, the country of arrogance was very sick. Slums and ghettoes in the banlieus; a racism against Arabs and foreigners that dare not speak its name; Muslim youngsters living a thug's life of radical Islam, violence and drugs; widespread anti-Semitism; high rates of unemployment.
The present riots were a storm ready to blow. Many politicians knew it. They did not try to speak of solutions because they knew there were none. One of them, a member of the government, said to me: "We are on the verge of disaster." It is a symptom of where France now stands, that he asked me not to use his name.
Nothing has changed since the riots of November. No politician is offering real solutions. France is still on the verge of disaster. What did happen during the last few weeks just showed how very close disaster actually is.
Because next year’s presidential elections will be next year, and because he wanted to be presidential, the present French prime minister, the Napoleonic Dominique de Villepin, has decided to create a new contract, making it easier for young people to get a first job. This very small step in the direction of the free market and reality was too large a step in a sclerotic country like France.
For decades, France has been the country of lifetime employment, the country where almost everybody's dream is to become a civil servant, the country where it's forbidden to work more than thirty-five hours a week and where six weeks of vacations a year are mandatory. Little by little, the burden has become too heavy. Books have been published about the day of reckoning when the country would go bankrupt, but nobody paid attention. "If you move, you die," another politician told me. He added: "If you want to be a politician in France, you must not tell the truth. Never." Dominique de Villepin did not tell the truth, but he did move. He is almost dead now. And he is not the only one.
What we are witnessing in fact is the repetition of an old drama. Twenty years ago, the Prime Minister was a man by the name of Jacques Chirac. He tried to make (very tiny) reforms in the university system. Protests and riots followed. Chirac lost all chance of rising to the presidency in the presidential elections two years later, and François Mitterrand, the socialist President, was very easily reelected in 1988. (It was not a surprise; the incumbent’s chief promise was to do nothing.)
Eleven years ago, in 1995, another Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, tried to make very timid reforms in the status of civil servants. Protests. Riots. Strikes. A few weeks later, Juppé was out. Two years later, France had a socialist Prime Minister who promised to do worse than nothing, and who kept his promise. Among many other decisions, Lionel Jospin created a minimum income for all people who were 25 or over. Until then, the French had the "right" to retire at 60. Thanks to Jospin’s minimum income, they can retire at 25.
If he had wanted to be sure to get elected next year, Dominique de Villepin should have made further gestures toward the socialism which has France teetering on the brink. He opted for something else. It was a big mistake. Now the trade unions, leftists, socialists, all the people who are the guardians of French sterility, know he is almost dead, politically speaking. But they want more, much more this time: they want him to commit political suicide in public. They smell blood; they feel the fight is one to the death and are certain that they want to be the last men standing. They don't care about the future of the country or the future of the young people they send into the streets. They care only of their own future and thus each party in the coalition of chaos follows his own desperate agenda.
Trade unions in France are weak, highly politicized: most of their members work for the French state and they want things to stay this way. What they care for are the benefits of their members, and these they will fight for even if they must kill the country and its future. They are ready to see everything else destroyed. Their leaders know that the benefits of the members are paid by condemning millions of people to poverty, but they know their motto: apres nous le déluge.
Leftists in France are still dreaming about revolution and the destruction of capitalism and they have a point: the polls show that France is the developed country where the distaste for capitalism is the strongest; the only western country where globalization is considered a dangerous development by a majority of the population.
Socialists want to enjoy political power again, as soon as possible, even if they have no ideas. And they have a point too. Almost all the journalists in France are fervent socialists, as the way they describe events shows. Almost all the teachers and university professors are fervent socialists too. And the students who are in the streets now repeat like puppets what they have been told by trade unionists, leftists, professors, journalists, and socialist politicians. They would like to have jobs and rosy prospects. They do not understand those that are inciting them to protest are those who are primarily responsible for their dark and hopeless situation in the first place. They do not understand that the privileges their parents enjoy have a price and that they are the ones who will have to pay the bill. They don't understand that they themselves are the victims of the privileges of their parents. In fact, they understand nothing about the world they live in because they have been brainwashed since primary school into believing that they deserve a job, a nice car, an apartment, a good salary—all of this immediately—and that the purpose of government is to provide them with all this.
The people who have taught these students would have been fired as totally incompetent had they been teaching in Poland or in Hungary after the fall of communism: there, it is no longer possible to say with a straight face that you're both an economist and a Marxist. In France, on the other hand, such a claim gives you instant credibility.
Within two or three years, the "leaders of the students" will be leaders of the socialist party: business as usual. Next year, there is a good chance the socialist party will rule again, even if the socialists have no ideas (or maybe because the socialists have no ideas). The people who work directly for Nicolas Sarkozy, the only "hope" of the French conservatives think it's too late, and the chances to see Sarkozy elected in 2007 have been lost now. Sarkozy has trickily started to pull the rug from under Villepin by “dialoguing” with the rioters. So very French of him! Spring vacation is coming soon, and for the French people, vacations are the only thing more sacred than strikes and protests.
A few things are for certain. The students who protest indeed have a dark future. They will live in a country that looks more and more like a slowly sinking ship—so slowly that it is able to convince itself that it is merely taking water. Some of these students, the smartest, will leave the ship before it's really too late and they will go to the UK, to Ireland, to Canada, to the US.
The people who come for the riots, who rioted last November and have been fellow travelers this spring, will continue. They have nothing to lose. Whatever happens, they know they will live in the ghettoes and in the slums, they know they are condemned to a thug's life. Even students with a hazardous future have privileges they will never have. They call themselves "scum," and in fact, it's what they are. Even if the don't join directly the ranks of radical Islam, they think the future of France belongs to it: within 20 years, one person out of four in France will be Muslim, and almost certainly poor and angry.
So the French disease progresses. It is chronic becoming terminal. On the way toward collapse, there will be no civil war, just moments of harsh violence. The population will change. People with a high level of productivity will choose exile.
People with a low level of productivity will immigrate. Jews and Christians will leave. Muslims will arrive. The number of barbarians like those who killed Ilan Halimi in February will increase. The French economy will crumble more and more. The legitimacy of the French political system will become thinner year after year: old whites voting for old whites while young dark skinned people organize the rule of the mob in wider and wider districts.
I could say that democracy in France vanished a long time ago: when decisions taken by a legally elected parliament can be wiped away on a regular basis by violence in the streets, you are not in a democracy anymore. No wonder France is a less democratic society every day and a more fearful one.
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