Sarko vu par un souverainiste (Max Gallo)

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Sarko vu par un souverainiste

L’un des ralliements les plus significatifs à Sarkozy, lors du démarrage de la campagne électorale, fut celui de l’historien et écrivain Max Gallo, 75 ans. (Il vient d’être admis à l’Académie Française.) Homme de gauche dans la politique (au début de l’ère Mitterrand), Gallo s’est progressivement éloigné de ce monde en même temps qu’il évoluait politiquement vers une position de plus en plus nationale. Aujourd’hui, on peut le classer comme “souverainiste”, éventuellement plus “souverainiste de gauche” que “souverainiste de droite” si cette classification a vraiment un sens.

Il s’agit ici d’une interview que donne Gallo au Spiegel allemand (Spiegel.Online) le 16 mai dernier. Il explique sa façon d’apprécier Sarkozy et, au-delà, on peut deviner les causes de son engagement. On comprend que la question de l’identité nationale est au centre du propos. L’intérêt de cet interview est qu’il hors de la sphère franco-française, donc dégagé des éventuelles contingences politiciennes françaises.

L’interview était présentée, le 16 mai, de cette façon :

«Nicolas Sarkozy was inaugurated as France's new president on 16 May. “Spiegel” spoke with French intellectual Max Gallo about why France wants Sarkozy, what his election means for la Grande Nation, and how Sarkozy is like Napoleon.

»Historian Max Gallo, 75, has written numerous books about the major issues facing France and some of the country's most important figures. From 1983 to 1984, he was government spokesman for President Francois Mitterrand. In this election, he supported Nicolas Sarkozy.»

Sarkozy’s Victory is That of Reality Over Utopia

SPIEGEL: Monsieur Gallo, does the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the president of France signal a new era in the country's political history?

GALLO: Aside from the normal generational shift, it is certainly a true turning point in the political cycle. The ideology of the left, which has influenced, if not dominated, public and intellectual life in France since World War II, is in a deep crisis. Marxism ended long ago, and yet the French socialists haven't discovered any new answers. Many leaders of the left still view social democratic reform as betrayal. This stands in contrast to a candidate who, for the first time, has clearly, decisively and forcefully declared, as part of his platform: ''I am a man of the right.''

SPIEGEL: Was that why you, as a former leftist, supported him?

GALLO: I chose Sarkozy before the election — in the interest of France. Why? Because he was simply the better candidate. Perhaps I make judgments like an old school teacher, but I would give Sarkozy a B and Royal a D. If anyone can bring about change, he is the one.

SPIEGEL: Sarkozy rescued the right from its complexes and from its bad social conscience?

GALLO: The head of the UMP aggressively took that position. Given his declared belief in the values of the right, the fact that he was voted into office by an unexpectedly clear majority of more than 53 percent of voters is evidence of an importance shift in the political climate. Sarkozy deliberately sought out the confrontation with the left's uniform way of thinking. He intentionally pushed for the break that Jacques Chirac still shied away from.

SPIEGEL: What exactly does that mean?

GALLO: Sarkozy's victory is not the result of a clash between two equally powerful forces. It is a victory over a ghost, a cadaver that still moves, but no longer has any intellectual strength. Ségolène Royal sensed this, which is why she clearly distanced herself from her own party during the campaign. The victory of the right is a victory of reality over utopia. The left was unable to see the real problems for what they are. Take immigration, for example: Talking about its consequences was taboo, because it's considered an issue of the right.

SPIEGEL: In contrast, Sarkozy has announced plans to establish a ministry for immigration and national identity. How do you define France's national identity?

GALLO: It is not a closed, rigid concept, and it is certainly not nationalist. The indispensable basic principles include the jus solis, that is, the right of any child born in France to become a French citizen, the separation of church and state, and centralism. Add to that the republican school system and the direct relationship between the citizen and the state, without intermediaries, as well as equality and the role of women. Finally, the national canon includes the importance of the French language and the significance of universal values.

SPIEGEL: In other words, liberty, equality and brotherhood?

GALLO: If we contradict these fundamental principles, we run the risk of damaging the nation at its core. If that happens we could face collapse, and I believe people sensed this in the election.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that the somewhat mythical identity that is being conjured up here — the French soul — is more important that all basic economic issues: unemployment, decline in purchasing power, the housing shortage?

GALLO: Not more important. The truth is that concerns over identity extend to other problems, including economic ones. This is why Sarkozy speaks of democratic patriotism, the importance of industrial production for France, and protecting our own companies against the trend of emigration, and unfair competition. Ségolène Royal also didn't hesitate to wave the French flag.

SPIEGEL: Isn't the nation-state a dying breed, crushed between affiliation with a region or community and supranational structures like the European Union?

GALLO: The nation is not dead. This theory has been historically incorrect since the fall of the Berlin Wall. German reunification represents a democratic and national revolution. We have experienced a renaissance of nations everywhere in Eastern and Central Europe since then. Those who claim France as a nation-state is obsolete are wrong.

SPIEGEL: How can this belief in the nation be reconciled with Sarkozy's liberal economic approach and his commitment to globalization?

GALLO: You mustn't be deceived. Sarkozy preaches to two sides: deregulation and government intervention. He is no neoliberal ideologue, but a pragmatist who will staunchly defend France's interests, also — and especially — against EU agencies in Brussels.

SPIEGEL: And against Berlin?

GALLO: Sarkozy is also aware of the necessity of close German-French cooperation. All it takes is a look at a map of Europe to understand why this is true. But the romanticism and sentimentality in the relationship between Paris and Berlin is likely to vanish. It's the way it is with an old, married couple, although the established habits will remain in place. Sarkozy will become a highly unpleasant negotiator for Ms. Merkel. The new president will very quickly attempt to secure a concession on the European stage.

SPIEGEL: France First — that was a slogan of right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Doesn't toying with this concept pose a danger to civil rights?

GALLO: Leaving the national question up to Le Pen was absurd — for the left as well as for the right. The nation, Joan of Arc, all that disappeared in the cellar of history, and all Le Pen had to do was help himself to that history. Sarkozy has taken up the issue again. To secure the votes of ordinary people, he had to address a topic that affects them — France.

SPIEGEL: Apparently with success. Happily, Le Pen's supporters have declined in number. But won't Sarkozy ultimately have to pay a price for this?

GALLO: I don't think so, but this is partly the result of a peculiarity of the president's that I find important: Sarkozy is the son of an immigrant. This means that his chosen ties to France are probably stronger than those of other citizens. He is a patriot through and through. I am convinced that he believes what he is saying when he describes himself as a ''short Frenchman with mixed blood.'' He is grateful to the nation and proud to be a Frenchman. And perhaps it is ultimately more important for the future of our country that an immigrant's son is becoming our president than a woman.

SPIEGEL: If Sarkozy is truly the patriot and pragmatist you describe him as, why was he the most hated and demonized candidate, one who polarized instead of unifying?

GALLO: Throughout the entire campaign, I believed that he could only lose for one reason: not being “French enough.” The son of immigrants, his father from Hungary and the mother's family Jews from Thessaloniki? Throughout the history of the Fifth Republic, presidents, including Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, have always emphasized their rural roots. All came from the geographic heart of France and maintained their roots there. In contrast, Sarkozy lives in Neuilly, an affluent suburb outside Paris. In other words, he doesn't come from anywhere, not even the capital.

SPIEGEL: This didn't seem to hurt him, especially among older voters, in smaller cities and in rural areas.

GALLO: Young people between 18 and 24 voted for Ségolène Royal, while those in the next few age groups chose Sarkozy, including a clear majority of voters over 60. This is why it will be critical for the new president to rectify his relationship with young people, especially in the suburbs.

SPIEGEL: But immediately after the vote, they began setting cars on fire again. Wasn't it counterproductive for Sarkozy to have criticized the May 1968 student unrest during the campaign?

GALLO: He emphasized one aspect of May '68: that the student movement did not manage to build ongoing solidarity with the workers. At the time, the students were not even allowed through the gates at Renault. Elsewhere they were greeted with stones. Politically speaking, the revolt was a failure, because the reaction it prompted was the powerful majority achieved by right-wing politicians like Georges Pompidou and later Giscard d'Estaing. In France, the first thing the May '68 student unrest achieved was a restoration.

SPIEGEL: Is this the message Sarkozy wants to convey to protesting youth: Resistance is pointless; the important thing now is to reestablish order, authority and morality?

GALLO: The slogan “just order,” which Ségolène Royal used, means exactly the same thing. The return of order is the issue, because disorder and chaos are a threat to democracy.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that we will see an end to the endless intellectual debate over the supposed decline of France?

GALLO: I was never a believer in decline, because I am convinced that we are not heading toward decline, if only because of our demographic development. Unlike neighboring countries, our birth rate is unusually high. There is confidence in the future. And when you look around in France, you'll see a people filled with inventiveness and creativity, tenacious not sniveling. Only our politicians have not satisfied expectations.

SPIEGEL: Does that apply to the representatives of both the left and the right?

GALLO: Just take a look at Mitterand and Chirac. There are many similarities between the two terms, which cover a quarter century filled with dramatic changes. Together they form a unit, a period of sitting it out and waiting. Mitterand and Chirac were two men who loved their country and only wanted the best for it, but ultimately felt that they were dealing with such a fragile, complex society that it would be best not to touch it, much less expect anything of it.

SPIEGEL: Sarkozy, by contrast, believes in France's awakening, its dynamism and its unbroken greatness?

GALLO: He has proven that France is willing to accept deep-seated reforms and even make sacrifices if a politician can present a clear, coherent and well-argued concept. I was surprised that Sarkozy repeatedly referred to France as a being made of flesh and blood. This comes from the first part of de Gaulle's memoirs, where the general refers to France as a “person,” even a “princess.”

SPIEGEL: Is this why Sarkozy refused to address the dark chapters in France's history — the slave trade, colonialism, collaboration with Nazi occupiers, participation in the Holocaust — and, like Chirac, apologize for them?

GALLO: De Gaulle and Mitterand also repeatedly rejected such statements of regret. One cannot build a future based on the description of a criminal past. And France was not criminal, as some have claimed.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that Sarkozy would be even more like De Gaulle than Chirac, who also served under de Gaulle?

GALLO: Political scientists have often described Gaullism as a sort of Bonapartism. I myself have occasionally compared Sarkozy to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was simultaneously a man of change and one of unity and continuity. He emerged from the revolution armed. For some he was a Jacobite, a sort of Robespierre for horses, and for others he was a reactionary, because he said: “Neither red caps (the Revolution) nor red heals (the aristocracy) — I am purely national.” This is the source of Bonapartism, which has not yet run dry, as a political current, and Sarkozy appears to be its heir.

SPIEGEL: Monsieur Gallo, thank you for this interview.

[Notre recommandation est que ce texte doit être lu avec la mention classique à l'esprit,“Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.”.]


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