One has always noticed a trace of bitterness among the French North Africans, and the country’s slide into a state of flaw has merely widened the rift between them and the French French. Sociologist Mermet has this pessimistic view to offer: `Things will radicalise,'' he says ``There is a real risk of explosion. We are in a pre-revolutionary situation”.
French cinema too has been reminding citizens how close the nation is to anarchy. A new work by Sofia Coppola, “Marie Antoinette” (also premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival), paints the last days of the French monarchy at Versailles to highlight how an unfeeling queen (who asked her subjects to eat cake if bread was unavailable) and a weak king provoked the people into storming the Bastille, which signaled the start of the revolution. The message here is clear: a Government unresponsive to the plight of its people faces the danger of being toppled, a situation that can lead to lawlessness and rebellion.
Much of France’s present-day woe arises out of a combination of good intentions, bad policies and vested interests. After all, it cannot be denied that among the rich Western European and North American States, France, despite its poor job creation efforts and an alarming rise in unemployment, has the most impressive social spending record. Significant pension increases and labour law innovation are part of this.
Yet, poverty has been spreading. There are 4.5 million poor people in France out of its total 60 million. Another 5 million survive barely above the poverty line. Today, 30 per cent of the French youth have no work, and 75 per cent are underemployed.
Timothy B. Smith says in his book, “France in Crisis”, that the “big” State in the French style is not necessarily a “Socialist” State. A Socialistic society spreads costs and benefits, burdens and responsibilities in a more equitable fashion than this. France was a more Socialist nation in 1980 than it was in 2000, than it is now.
Struggling to come to grips with rising crime, sluggish growth, joblessness, poverty, religious extremism and racism, France still lives off the 1960s and the 1970s boom time, made possible by a robust post-War economy. The French are still plundering these assets. But, these are rapidly shrinking and will disappear soon.
There are some who want this “loot” to continue, this state of affairs to carry on, because they still enjoy the bonuses that have never been, in the first place, accounted for in France’s statistics. These vested interests have triumphed over the notion of common good.
French writer and journalist Francois de Closets writes in his new book that “France is now divided into those who are protected and those who are fed to the lions. Even more distressingly, these protected elites justify their egoism by couching their discourse in terms such as justice and equality”.
Once egalitarian and fraternal, France is now frighteningly unequal and fragmented, largely because some have stubbornly refused to allow change. The society is utterly flawed, smug and selfish.
With most French men and women in financially dire straits, the government must realise that the system needs to be overhauled. An attempt must be made to return to the founding principles. Social and economic reforms are imperative to check France from sliding further into the pit. But will the lucky some allow this to happen?
(Posted on this website on June 28 2006)