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France finally bids goodbye to de Gaulle
MOSCOW. (Vitaly Dymarsky for RIA Novosti) –

On Sunday, France will hold its first round of presidential elections. Who will replace Jacques Chirac?
This is the question that polling agencies are now trying to answer. Every day the French media publish the results of numerous polls. All respondents agree that there are three obvious leaders in the presidential race: SÊgolÉne Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Bayrou. They are followed in the polls by the ageing veteran of French politics, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who heads the far-right National Front. The remaining eight of the 12 candidates are not so much contenders for the ElysÊe Palace as political Olympians for whom taking part in the marathon is more important than winning it.
The competition between the four heavyweights could result in some surprises, although the polls predict that Sarkozy will win the first round with Royal as the runner-up. They would then qualify for the May 6 run-off. There is, however, still a lot of potential for an unexpected turn of events. One riddle has already been solved – in mid-March, Chirac said that he was not standing this time despite his constitutional right to run for a third term.
In his emotional farewell address, Chirac did not have much to say to his potential successors. But he gave them one piece of advice: "Never compromise with extremism, racism, anti-Semitism or the rejection of others. In our history, extremism has already almost ruined us. It's a poison. It divides. It perverts. It destroys.”
These words were primarily addressed to Nicolas Sarkozy, who has always been a tough rival of Chirac, although they come from the same political family. He is the fiercest fighter against illegal immigration (although he himself comes from a family of Hungarian immigrants). Sarkozy wants all “others” to dissolve into French society. He has even suggested setting up a new ministry for immigration and national identity. Chirac’s words that “France is enriched by diversity” are also meant for him.
In general, the ethnic issue has long been a headache in France, which has to pay for its imperial past by accepting a heavy flow of immigration from former colonies, a flow that sometimes gets out of hand. Now, with the expansion of the European Union, France has to deal with people from Eastern Europe coming to seek their fortune. It is no accident that a referendum on the EU Constitution in May 2005 failed because of a poster of a Polish plumber that was put up all over France by opponents of European integration.
Resentment towards the “others” provides fertile ground for the growing popularity of Le Pen and his far-right National Front, whose positions border on fascism. In the 2002 election, he made it into the run-off, shocking the French public. Nicolas Sarkozy learnt his lesson better than others: having become interior minister, he launched an assault on immigration. The results have been dubious. Sarkozy has enticed voters with nationalistic views, but he has also made the bad situation in immigrant suburbs even worse – the “others” are growing more and more discontent with their status.
In effect, Chirac warned his potential successor against showing too much zeal in fighting immigration. It could bring him short-term electoral gains, but it will not help deal with the problem of immigrants or their relations with French society. In talking about “extremism,” Chirac might have meant not so much those who took part in the street riots, smashing shop windows and turning cars upside down, as nationalistic-minded politicians who tacitly or overtly demand “France for the French.”
The meaning of Chirac’s political legacy is crystal clear – be loyal to the French model even in the new world. Since de Gaulle’s times, France has been considered a country where even far-right politicians profess leftist views. Owing to this father figure, France was among the great powers that won World War II. He also managed to put an end to the exhausting and pointless Algerian conflict. General Charles de Gaulle is the author of the model that has been adopted by Chirac. A foe of socialism, to say nothing of communism, the general found his own recipe for war-ravaged France: a combination of state-run capitalism founded on big, government-owned companies with an extravagant system of social support. Since all his opponents were on the left of the political scene, de Gaulle paradoxically occupied the right flank, despite his statism. I think this explains (along with their shared anti-American attitudes) the special relations that have linked Paris and Moscow for severa
l decades – both in Soviet times and now.
At one time, Chirac made an attempt to adjust the general’s French model and assumed a neo-Gaullist stance. But his efforts did not make the state-run sector more efficient, while expensive social support continued to be a drag on the French economy. He did not have the political will to renounce the system because even tiny reforms pushed people into the streets, costing votes.
Chirac’s contradictions with Nicolas Sarkozy are not limited to their policies towards ethnic minorities. The outgoing president has criticized his potential successor for excessive liberalism and Atlanticism. Be that as it may, Jacques Chirac is seen as the last Gaullist, and for this reason his appeal to remain loyal to the French model will remain unheeded – the model is obviously lagging behind the demands of the modern economy.
Now the voters will have their say – if they want to improve their lives quickly and ignore France’s “special place,” they will cast their ballots for Sarkozy. If they prefer a smoother transition, a neither-peace-nor-war situation, they may go for Francois Bayrou. His ratings have grown tremendously in the last few days. In public opinion polls he has almost matched SÊgolÉne Royal from the Socialist Party, who has not come up with anything new so far.
The departure of the last Gaullist will assuage anti-American sentiments in Europe, including Russia. Moscow has lost the support of Germany (after Schroeder) and Italy (after Berlusconi) and will also lose it if Sarkozy comes to power in France; he is much more critical of the Kremlin’s policies than Chirac ever was. In the European theater of anti-American action, Moscow will have to fight almost single-handedly, hoping for assistance from its Asian and Latin American comrades-in-arms. Europe is not likely to help us there.
Vitaly Dymarsky is a member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.-0-