Allez France - get a grip!

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

This is a true story which I'll turn into a quiz. There was a country, this week, where the following events were all recorded within 24 hours. If you can't name the country, name a continent where you think this could happen.

It was announced that the foreign minister was cited in a probe about an illegal, multi-million dollar international arms traffic. At the same time, a rural shopping centre was attacked by a baseball bat-wielding gang who threw molotov cocktails at check-out tills, leaving a security guard burning and beaten and close to death.

Two leading anti-corruption investigators were, shortly afterwards, given leave of service, upon their own request. Both of them had led investigations into multi-million dollar scams, one involving the head of state, the other involving leading government and industry figures. Both admitted they were very scared and had had enough. They had complained of physical intimidation and the burglaries of their homes and offices.

Meanwhile, close to the capital, a police station was attacked with a nail-filled grenade while, a few miles away, the country's highest appeal court was the scene of disciplinary hearings against four magistrates who stood accused of covering up dozens of murders and disappearances of young women over a period of 23 years. Evidence and investigating files had been destroyed and other cases closed before police enquiries would discover the truth.

At the other end of the country, a small rally held by a democratic candidate in national elections was the target of a rampaging gang who smashed through the doors of the meeting room, finally held back by riot police before getting the chance to attack the attendance. Shortly afterwards, two schoolgirls, aged 13 and 14, were arrested for the horrific mutilation of the body of a 14 year-old girl classmate, who was found with lacerations and severely beaten.

While all this was going on, Taiwan and Singapore announced separate investigations into yet more multi-million euro scams led by officials from our same 'mystery' country, which involved the corruption of local officials for the sales of naval frigates and locomotives.

Back at home, after this astonishing 24 hours of news, our country's premier news radio station, which is state-owned, ran three foreign stories at the top of its bulletin, including one about a traffic pile-up in a neighbouring state.

What is the name of this wayward country? France!

It's all a far cry from the corny images some continue to tout of a country made up of nothing other than country idylls, never-ending romantic, sun drenched, check cloth lunches and funny old men sporting berets and baguettes.

So just what is going on here? In a little over a month, France goes to the polls to elect a new president. One month later, it is to elect a new parliament. Yet, despite the dramatic state of affairs facing the country, all the signs are that these elections will record the highest level of abstentions under the Fifth Republic.

This national resignation in face of chaos is serious. It reflects a total incapacity of the traditional political parties to offer a realistic answer to the very grave issues confronting France, which can be summed up as the near-total abscence of a sense of social cohesion beyond xenophobic rally cries and ridding its national institutions of deep-seated corruption, based on generations of elitism and unacountability.

That is a recipe for a return to extremes - and many French now fear that is just what is likely to happen.

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