All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Frustrated in France

Don't get all excited, this is not the title of a post in one of the many British immigrant fora in which the disaffected, the disappointed and the downright demented pass their time while living the dream in the depths of rural France.

I drop in on some occasionally - usually by going for the wrong option on the menu of sites presented - and the level of venom on some of them is startling. There are the odd oases of pleasantness, where people are genuinely trying to help others with queries, but the overall tone is one of self satisfied smugness. So my visits are rare.

Neither is it the second of the unfulfilled promises.  I have been alarmed to note that as I mark material for the subject of sex among the snails it seems to be taking on the dimension of the classic three volume Victorian novel......the Trollope of the troglodytes.

No it is the depressing return to the realities of French public life.

Recently, communes have been commemorating the deportation of Jews under the Vichy regime duting the Second World War,  so the maires and councillors lay flowers and make speeches just as in all the other ceremonies over the year.
However, it is customary to ensure the presence of school children for this commemoration and not only their presence but their  participation.

In the next department, one school asked one of the few surviving deportees to describe what had happened to her as their contribution.
The elderly lady did so, producing a simple description of events which served better than any diatribe to illustrate the horror of the process she had undergone, and the contribution was sent off to the mairie.

In her statement, she said that she had been arrested by three gendarmes. Nothing more was said about the involvement of the police and gendarmerie in carrying out the orders of the German occupying power, no perjorative remarks were made about the three officers concerned.

The maire was of the view that no mention should be made of the gendarmerie at all. The occasion was one of reconciliation, not the opportunity to settle old scores and he decided that the statement was not acceptable.

The elderly lady would make no alterations, and the teacher of the schoolchildren concerned made a protest to the maire, who dismissed it as a politically motivated stunt, since the teacher was a member of the Socialist Party while he was a member of the ruling UMP.

Only in 1995 did France, in the person of President Chirac, acknowledge responsibility for the fate of Jews in France under the Vichy regime, but the subject is still one to be treated with kid gloves, and with the UMP regrouping after the disastrous regional election results on a 'law and order' policy, a UMP maire was clearly not going to tolerate any criticism of the gendarmerie, even more than fifty years after the events concerned.

Britain was not occupied in that war. It would be unthinkable for anyone who had not undergone that experience to say how French people should have reacted.
However, the avoidance of the subject by the higher echelons of French society is significant.

A general acknowledgement of error has been made, but, in a hierarchical state like France, the 'hoi oligoi' does not find it wise to let the 'hoi polloi' get it into its' head that criticism of the regime is a possibility. Thus, in my view, the over reaction of the maire.

There is another factor.

Sarkozy came to power offering reform of the creaking, anachronistic French system.
He has been largely undermined and his plans brought to naught by his own folly - the cartoon court of smaller than life characters, the navel gazing, the 'jack the lad' behaviour on public occasions - but his party, the UMP, realised with a shock how much his reforms threatened the comfortable web of control in which they lived and sucked the lifeblood of the nation, and they are fighting hard to reassert control.
Criticism, events which recall the reaction of their predecessors in the period of the Occupation, are unwelcome. They tarnish the myth of 'every Frenchman a Resistant' which was promoted to hide the unpleasant realities of life in France under Vichy. They tarnish the image of the caste which has ruled France ever since.

So, given the political sensibilities, just how is the elderly lady to explain how she was translated from her home to a place of horror and death?

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