Friday, May 29, 2009

Walesa jumps gravy trains

My latest blog at Presseurop

A couple of weeks back Lech Walesa caused mutterings in the Irish and Polish press for having been a guest speaker at the Libertas convention in Rome. Papers speculated whether this was not a ringing endorsement of Irishman Declan Ganley’s crusade against the Lisbon Treaty on a “pro Europe - anti EU” ticket.

“We need to heed the Libertas message and put the people back at the heart of the project,” he said. Rumours soon surfaced that for such chiselled gems the Nobel Prize winner and former Polish president had received €50,000 for his pains. A week later Polish daily Gazeta Wyborsza reported the figure was €100.000 and called him a “disgrace”. A tightlipped Declan Ganley refused to disclose. “Gentlemen do not talk about money to other gentlemen. The word honorarium includes the word honour.” And indeed for this Latin-monikered party whose Europe-wide candidates include Czech tax-evaders, a Holocaust negationist from Poland and France’s own Islamophobe-in-chief, the Viscount de Villiers, they are all honourable men, as Mark Anthony once said over the corpse of Julius Caesar. Later, Walesa bragged to fellow Polish journalists that for speaking he got more in one night than they earned in a year, which has a Linda Evangelista ring about it, though the model who would not get out of bed for less than 20,000 dollars does not apparently have to live off a Polish state pension.

Here’s where it all goes awry. After Rome, Walesa’s son told the press that “my father doesn’t agree with Libertas, their opinions or how it works,” As far as Poland was concerned, Libertas, he said, “don’t exist”. Walesa, on the defensive, grumpily asked impertinent journalists - “Should we lock them up and beat them?” After all he only wanted to take part in open debate with these honourable men. This week, reports the Irish Independent, Walesa now has personally distanced himself from the party which will be running some 550 candidates in 16 member states this June. He now urges Irish voters to say yes to the treaty rejected last year. “I don’t like the Lisbon treaty as a driver but it’s better than no driver at all.” There are bad drivers and bad drivers, however, so one assumes that the inference here is that the Lisbon treaty might go up over the kerb, jump a few reds rather than plough wildly through a crash barrier and plunge us all into a 300 foot ravine. In the meantime, Libertas hasn’t asked for a refund.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

No peek-a-boo with President Sarkozy

My first blog at Presseurop

Is France taking an authoritarian turn? So wonders left-leaning daily Libération. In Marseilles a 52 year old philosophy professor has been charged for “breach of the peace in daylight hours disturbing other people’s tranquility.”

The incident unfolded all of eighteen months ago in Marseilles’ central train station where PL (only his initials are known) yelled “Sarkozy, je te vois!” (I can see you) as a means “to break the ice with some humour” as two police officers carried out an ID check on two youths. Passers-by are said to have laughed at this allusion to the French president’s predeliction for law and order crusades. The police officers, however ( described by PL as "very kind" ) “felt intimidated” and “invited” wise-cracking PL to the station. Eighteen months later he received a summons.

PL’s rebel yell would seem fairly innocuous, if not insipid, but Marseilles’ zealous local prosecutors have dug up the above-mentioned, and wonderfully eloquent, charge, from the very bowels of French law (dating from 1875) to protect presidential dignity. This, as Libération notes, is not the first of such incidents since the controversial Sarkozy rose to prominence. In 2004, an erudite demonstrator schooled in Roman period population movements was sentenced to one month imprisonment for having yelled “Go back to China, you Hungarian git” at the then Interior Minister - whose father hailed from Budapest. Unlike his tranquil predecessors, Chirac and Mitterand, the French president is renowned for his sensitivity when members of the public vent their pent. He has not just crossed swords with Breton fisherman, but last year launched a personal suit against a firm which produced a voodoo doll in his image emblazoned with the “Get lost, silly twat” remark with which he dispatched a farmer at the French Agricultural Fair of 2008.

Sarkozy’s street-fighting style, many complain, has diminished the office of president. "He wanted to break with his predecessors by going down into the arena himself," says political commentator Stéphane Rozès. But in bringing the presidential function to street level, "he invites citizens' invective." What worries Libération most, however, is that the case against PL was launched not at the President’s instigation but by "the zeal of public servants". "In other democracies," writes editor Laurent Joffrin, "this little affair would have caused a major scandal. In the Republic, we have the right to make remarks about the sovereign".

So is France’s often vulgarly eloquent street life being smothered by an increasingly monarchical Sarkozy aided by an obsequious judiciary ? One legal blogger alarmingly observes that "penal law is being instrumentalised in order to create a political police." Perhaps the mood would be less dark if the French left were able to rise out of the doldrums it has languished in since the passing of the Mitterand administration all of fourteen years ago. Le Monde reports that in the forthcoming European elections the PS, France's main opposition party, stands to win a lacklustre 22% of seats while the UMP at 27% will remain the largest French party at the Strasbourg parliament. The UMP, after all, is the party of a president whose approval ratings rarely go above 40%.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yes we Cannes - Part 2

Click for a fine finish

If I may say so

French culture:

Yes we “Cannes” (Part 2)

The French turn out more than 200 movies a year, market them cannily, and they host the industry's biggest bash. So how are French films faring? And is the French film industry getting an unfair boost from public subsidies?

France 24 - Yes we Cannes Part 1

Was on France 24

Click for a shaky start

French culture:

Yes we Cannes

The French turn out more than 200 movies a year, market them cannily, and they host the industry's biggest bash. So how are French films faring? And is the French film industry getting an unfair boost from public subsidies?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Paris Sky

Cuidad, this is not an environmental protest. The twin stacks near the Grand Library feed clouds to the Parisian sky daily and it is indeed one of my favorite sights.