Category Archives: History – Histoire

2002 – 2017: Le sacrifice de mes convictions.

En 2002, j’avais 18 ans et étant né en avril, j’ai pu voter pour la première fois aux élections présidentielles.

J’ai toujours aimé le vote. Je me souviens très clairement, quand j’étais petit, accompagner mes parents au bureau de vote le dimanche qui se trouvait dans l’école maternelle. On les attendait dans la cour, je les voyais parler à des gens, montrer leur carte d’identité (une chose que je n’avais pas), puis ils allaient dans un truc avec un rideau qui ne laissait voir que leurs pieds. Après, ils mettaient une enveloppe dans une boite transparente, quelqu’un disait quelque chose, ils signaient puis on jouait dans la cour avant de poursuivre la journée.

Voter était normal. Ca n’arrivait pas souvent mais quand ça arrivait, ça faisait simplement partie de la journée. On y allait sur le chemin de la forêt ou du parc, des terrains de tennis ou de la piscine. Ils n’en parlaient pas mais je savais ce qu’ils faisaient et alors que je grandissais, me passionnais pour l’histoire, la géopolitique, la politique, la longue et pénible car fragile construction des démocraties, le vote devenait pour moi le principe même de l’histoire en marche.

L’année précédente, on avait étudié la Ière puis la IIème République, la mise en place du cens qui ne permettait qu’aux riches de voter puis sa disparition sous les coups des penseurs, des philosophes et des grands hommes. L’année même, on avait fini la Seconde Guerre Mondiale et on avait parlé du droit de vote des femmes, puis de la baisse de la majorité à 18 ans. Je voulais faire partie de cette évolution, en profiter comme quelque chose de spécial qui m’attendait.

En 2002, c’était le doute. Mes 18 ans étaient moins de deux semaines avant le premier tour des présidentielles. J’étais lycéen et me sentais quelque part comme un imposteur. Je ne payais pas d’impôts, ne travaillais pas mais la loi me l’autorisait donc j’avais bien l’intention d’exercer ce droit. L’administration prend toujours son temps donc même si j’avais tout fait comme il me l’avait été demandé, receverai-je ma carte en temps et en heure? Oui et ce fut une catastrophe.

Je voulais voter pour m’exprimer vraiment, faire compter ma voix, faire parler mes convictions mais nous sortions d’un gouvernement de Gauche qui, comme beaucoup d’autres, avait trahi ses électeurs. Les jeunes, surtout, avec une précarité accrue qui devait eliminer enfin le chômage, avec des CDD qui n’ont rien changé sauf à rendre ma génération totalement à la merci du patronat.

Néanmoins, je suis socialiste par convictions et non par intérêt donc j’ai voté pour le PS comme j’ai toujours voulu le faire. Enfin, non, pas exactement: entre 12 et 15 ans, j’étais Marxiste. Féministe Marxiste avec l’idée que les femmes devaient prendre le pouvoir pour faire subir aux hommes les millenaires de servitude qu’elles doivent encore supporter. Le lycée et les cours de philosophie m’ont ammené à réfléchir au Marxisme et à m’en détacher pour une approche plus centrée sur le travail en commun que sur la division de la société en factions qui doivent se battre.

Mais 2002 reste 2002 et je me retrouve à dévoir laisser mes convictions derrière moi pour sauver la Révolution française. Je dois laisser derrière mes idéaux, l’utopie et mes rêves d’une France qui change pour soutenir un démocrate corrompu face à un fasciste négationniste. C’est l’histoire en marche. C’est 1914, Jaurès et l’Union Sacrée. C’est 1932 et la resistance aux ligues d’extrême droite. C’est 1940, De Gaulle et l’appel du 18 juin. C’est l’altruisme intellectuel, c’est savoir abandonner ses convictions personnelles pour le bien de la nation, de son histoire, de ce que mes ancêtres ont construit.

Les années qui suivirent, j’ai pensé ce temps révolu. J’ai voté Royal face à Sarkozy, ai quitté la France de Sarkozy pour l’Angleterre où j’y ai découvert et analysé sous toutes coutures le New Labour, une Gauche que j’admirais de loin mais dont les réalités sont loin de l’image qu’elle se donne. Tout comme la France.

Une Nouvelle Gauche qui est très vite devenue l’exemple des autres Gauches d’Europe: une Gauche qui se plit au monde construit par la Droite, qui accepte la mise en retrait de la société face aux impératifs économiques. Une Gauche qui n’est qu’en opposition, qui n’a plus d’idées ou qui a honte de les défendre parce qu’elles ont été détournées par un Bloc qui fut “vaincu sans même avoir à faire la guerre”.

Cependant, à mes yeux, le PS résiste encore donc, depuis Birmingham, je vote pour Hollande aux présidentielles mais les Verts aux législatives. C’est toujours comme ça, je vote “utile”. Pas de dispersion quand c’est une personne pour éviter que 2002 ne se répète. Oui, le traumatisme reste. Puis je vote au plus près de mes convictions pour que les députés représentent au mieux la diversité des courants, des idées, des classes,  des sexes, des origines à l’Assemblée où les lois sont écrites, discutées et votées.

Les choses sont difficiles mais Hollande tient le cap puis arrive Valls et tout bascule. Le New Labour est dans la place, la realpolitik de Gauche qui se veut adulte et responsable, qui regarde de haut l’idéalisme et l’utopie de la Gauche dite traditionnelle, comme senile et paradoxallement immature. Hamon en fait les frais puis Montebourg et surtout Taubira. Pour la première fois, je ne pas pour qui voter. C’est politiciens créent un parti? Je fonce mais ils restent fidéles au PS qui garde cette tradition d’auto-critique.

Que faire? Je le sens dès 2015 comme j’ai senti venir le Brexit et ai quitté l’Angleterre en 2014 avant d’en faire les frais: le PS va à sa mort. Comme quand les Radicaux de Gauche sont devenus le centre droit (UDF) au fur et à mesure du temps et des gouvernements, une nouvelle gauche renaîtra mais sera-t-il temps comme en 1936?

Aujourd’hui, on est en 2017. 15 ans après avoir été obligé de sacrifier mes convictions sur l’autel de la République et rien n’a changé. On sort d’un gouvernement socialiste qui a une fois de plus courbé le dos et a trahi ses électeurs, sans aucun résultat concret. Pire, elle attaque: les électeurs, la démocratie à coup de 49:3 et la dissidence.

La Gauche se doit d’être utopiste et idéaliste, d’imaginer des choses nouvelles. Qu’elle se fasse ridiculiser par la Droite paternaliste et arrogante, c’est une chose mais que le Premier Ministre et les ministres du PS eux-mêmes attaquent cette vision du futur, c’est dévastateur. Qui va nous faire rêver et espérer si la Gauche ne croit plus qu’en la realpolitik et abuse de son pouvoir?

Soudain, Valls est vaincu et les autres aussi. Hamon est là, celui qui a fait les frais de cette trahison et j’espère, je crois à nouveau. Je ne m’attends pas à ce qu’il gagne mais je suis d’accord avec lui, ces idées, son utopisme et son idéalisme parce qu’on ne va nulle part en restant fixé sur le passé et peignant d’une autre couleur des échecs pour les faire passer pour de la nouveauté. Il faut imaginer, inspirer les gens à inventer quelque chose de nouveau.

Cependant, ça reste un choix difficile parce que je ne veux pas avoir l’impression de voter “inutile”, par seul intérêt alors j’y retourne: dans les programmes, au délà des discours – je ne connais que trop la valeur trompeuse des discours. J’étudie les autres et aucun ne s’approche autant de ce qu’en quoi je crois qu’Hamon.

La Droite sous toutes ses formes, on oublie. Cheminades, je pensais sérieusement qu’il était mort. Mélenchon joue de la division et je ne supporte plus entendre dire que c’est la faute d’untel ou untel, sans compter sur son anti-européanisme qui n’a rien de constructif et son admiration non-assumée pour Poutine. Poutou est intéressant, il parle sans mâcher ses mots, sans être bêtement poujadiste mais je n’ai rien vu qui aille au-delà. Macron, c’est simple: j’ai vécu sous Tony Blair donc je connais les réalités de cette Gauche.

Je reconnais qu’Hamon est un peu maladroit quand il s’exprime. Sa performance pendant le débat était misérable mais ca n’enlève à ses idées qui sont les plus proches des miennes. Alors, oui, aujourd’hui j’ai voté Hammon.

Néanmoins, je ne suis pas aveugle ni stupide et je sais qu’une fois de plus, dans deux semaines, 15 après ma première fois, je vais devoir sacrifier mes convictions pour le bien du pays, même de ceux qui ne le veulent pas parce que je ne que connais trop l’histoire.

A cynic, a pessimist and an historian.

I am a pessimist and as David Mitchell says: “The good thing about being a pessimist is that you are never truly disappointed.”

So Trump is president of the United States of America. And? Yes, it’s bad news but only a fool would not have seen it coming, I feel.

I don’t venture into “T told you so” anymore because I have stopped telling people “so” a long time ago for I have always been accused of being a pessimist, of always seeing the bad in everything.

My pessimism goes to such an extent that people don’t believe me or sometimes they even think I’m rooting for the bad ones to win so to shake up everything with a wrecking ball – alike to those who say “a good war would be good.”  Last month, I was talking to some people who asked me why I wanted to leave France again and I said: “I am not going to stand there and be an accomplice to Marine Le Pen winning the elections.”

That was very unwelcome amongst the people present, especially two black friends who reacted badly but it’s a truth I can’t help to believe in. I was told “my cynicism was sickening.”

I am accused of not giving people enough credit but as Roisin Conaty said to Ian Hislop when she predicted Trump as a president and he told her not to be so defeatist: “Brexit!”

I want to believe in people, in the good in them, in their supposed selflessness; I want to jinx the “Marine LePen = Présidente”, believe me, I do! But my conviction is that she will win, I never had faith in humanity which makes it even more important for me to vote against her – because my pessimism not is stopping me from wanting to play my part in preventing what I know to be coming.

Even more so, I am so terribly convinced it is lurking and waiting, I believe in my personal little mission to do what I can to stop it.

So, no. I am not surprised Trump was elected. I had my doubts and kept hoping until the FBI came out as people were already voting to say that there were more emails and there could be something there, just to say it was nothing a couple of days before the actual election.

That guy tried to save his skin but he has killed his career for he has proved himself a terrible liability for all parties. Trump sees him as someone who tried to undermine his rhetoric all the way, and a uncontrollable electron who will drop terribly undermining bombshells at any time; and the Democrats are now convinced it was the worst choice Obama has ever made in his entire career.

I know all this and knew it was coming because of that cynicism people are accusing me of.

Cynicism comes from knowing so much that you cannot help but question everything. My anxiety means that facing with any situation, I over-analyse everything, thoroughly. And it applies to everything I take an interest in, including the US elections.

I read, watched, listened, witnessed and like Brexit, tried to jinx it and to convince myself it would not happen but the pessimist in me knows what anger drives people to do. History is here to teach us something – which is why it’s so gladly rewritten when not deemed unnecessary, as it is in the US school system, by the affluent and powerful who find solace in the masses’s “blissful ignorance”.

When Cameron announced the date of the referendum, I went on Facebook at once and said, months earlier, that, as an historian, it was a very exciting moment as they would leave the EU and the UK would break after 300 years.

I am not pretending to be some kind of psychic Cassandra but as an historian by education, I have crucially learnt to read the signs. Throughout history, there are circles, even back in the Middle Ages when periods of freedom, openmindness were abruptly stopped by a conservative backlash.

Today, it’s the backlash against the rights movements and the minorities they protect, all blamed for all the pain the former privileged ones are experiencing or are afraid to experience. It’s not the poor and disenfranchised who made Trump president, it’s the authoritarian-loving middle class who mostly did, in a desperate bid to stop whatever is seen as a risk to turn them into what they despise the most: the poor themselves.

It’s the, justified, backlash against the almighty finance and markets who are indeed ruling the world nowadays, thanks to the Republicans as much as the Democrats. It’s the failure of the GOP who lost control of own its God-centred and divisive rhetoric in the hands of the people who this time did not care for God or to go for someone who was “Against everything but…”, rather went for someone who was against everything, full stop.

I can carry on like this forever, going back to Nixon, talking about the US traditional distrust of its own government and therefore habit of electing people who have (close to) no qualifications for the job. Just like I can go back to 1965 to find the seeds of Brexit and 1962 for the upcoming triumph of Front National in France.

Today, Donald Trump is president and anyone who dismissed it is not “out-of-touch with the real people”, just a fool who refused to see the realities of a failed education system and a deeply divided country suffering from the global economic rules the US have been writing and pushing through themselves since the 1950s. That’s the real backlash. People believed it when told it would benefit the First World as a whole and are angry to see that it has turned out to only benefit the likes of Donald Trump, who skillfully managed to play victim of a system supported by Clinton herself. That’s the pessimistic and cynical me, talking.

As an historian, it’s fascinating, more than the Bush era. It’s an end of to post-WWII and post-Cold War US economics and politics as we know it, the beginning of the unknown, the possible worldwide domino-effect but mostly and hopefully the last chapter in the withering of the last superpower under its own contradiction and betrayal of the values that made it strong to begin with. Or more likely, just a blip. A hole in the crouch area of your favourite jeans. You’ll get a new one when you can…

1918?

Pendant mon cours de français avec ma stagiaire russe:

“Vous avez des arguments comme celui de Trump en France?

-Oui, au début c’était que le Front National mais ça déborde sur tout le spectre politique. On nous dit, on nous répète, on nous promet qu’on va ‘faire revenir la France’

-Où?

-J’en sais rien. Je n’y prends pas. Mais personne ne sait. C’est le principe. C’est comme Poutine quand il dit qu’il va à nouveau rendre la Russie grande et puissante.

-Mais Poutine est ridicule! La Russie était puissante au XIXe siecle avec le servage, l’empire, les trois Etats. On pouvait faire la guerre sans raison, envahir nos voisins juste comme ça…C’était un autre temps, comment peut-on revenir au XIXe siècle?

-La France était décrite comme le pays le plus puissant après 1918.

-Donc les Français veulent revenir en 1918?

-Non. Enfin, certains oui, surement. Certains pensent bien que le travail des femmes est la cause de chômage, alors… Mais les gens ne savent pas où ils veulent revenir mais le slogan leur va bien. Il faut faire revenir la France. C’es clair, non?

-Non.

-On est d’accord. Parlons de Petersbourg…”

20 years down the drain

I have been a Europhile for the past 20 years.

When I was 11, I decided that I was not a Frenchman born in Versailles rather a European born in France.

I have believed in Europe. I have loved Europe. I have fought for Europe. I have defended and argued in favour of Europe. In 2005, I shouted, cried and ranted so much in favour of a Yes vote to the French ratification of the European Constitution that it seemed I had taken the weight of a continent on my shoulder.

I have believed in Europe for I have been convinced that we indeed had finally put our fratricidal past behind us. That we have learnt from it. That we have learnt to stop pointing fingers at each other, constantly trying to get pay back and to avenge something that was done to us before.

I have believed in Europe because we were ready to try and work together so we can truly help each other and find new ways, new solutions, new beginnings.

I have believed in Europe because I have had the conviction that after our centuries-long enterprise of bleeding and burning the whole world to its knee, we had matured, changed our ways and now have had to show the world that our past selves were wrong and we can indeed live together in solidarity and peace. Because at the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters, and only dysfunctional families are ready to disown and let their kin die alone.

I have believed that these dark times were behind us.

Why? Because that’s what I was taught Europe was for.

Ever since I was born, I have listened to teachers, politicians, philosophers, journalists, writers, my mother telling me about the mission Europe has: to defend democracy against its enemies, whatever their shape or disguise, to protect its citizens against the peril of misery, humiliation, famine, economical decadence for our past had shown all too well whither such plights always lead.

I have argued for the past 20 years that Europe is humanity’s one chance to show that the world is not the unforgiving, ruthless jungle the neo-capitalists like to portray to justify their murderous greed. I have argued that being together and talking about problems, rather than bringing each other down to brutal and silent submission with weapons or bank account closures, is the proof that we are actually naturally inclined to working together, to helping each other.

For the past 20 years, I have fought for a Europe that would finally put the people in charge of their fate above politics and money. A place where the everyday man, woman and child will not have to suffer from the bad decisions that were made from above, without or against their consent because everything will be in their hands.

I have had a dream of a Europe where we, the people, could genuinely decide our fate in a truly democratic system. A system that would value, respect and listen to the opinion of the citizens it relies on in order to ensure the life they live is the life they actually choose.

For 20 years, I have replied to its critics by saying that yes, it is not perfect, but we are working on it and that everything that is being done is for the good of the European people. I have said time and again that at the end of day, the European Union is and will be true to what it preaches: a transparent democracy dedicated to us, to our better life and better future. A genuine democracy that will only serve the genuine interest of the people.

Today, it’s 20 years down the drain.

Today, I am shattered, angry, disappointed and ashamed.

Today, I can’t believe I bought into all these fancy concepts politicians had been throwing around to get us on board a project that, eventually and again!, turned out to only serve the rich and powerful.

Today, I cannot believe I fell for it. I feel like such a fool.

Today, Europe has proven to be ruled by money. Again. It’s nothing new. And I have been used, abused, deceived and mislead.

Today, in the name of democracy and the better future, the people of Greece, a democracy itself, will see €50bn worth of “valuable” public assets taken away from them and from their democratically elected politicians forever. They will never see them again because investors are refusing to embrace the monster they are themselves feeding, they are refusing the first rule of capitalism as defined by their beloved Adam Smith: you have to take risks and tough beans if you fail.

Today, the democratically-based European Union has made the decision to turn a blind eye and to forsake its fundamentals and ideals of democracy, citizenship, freedom, sovereignty, equality, solidarity to give way to the Eurozone and its unelected and unaccountable, financial ilk: the Eurogroup and the ECB, seconded by the almighty IFM, where Washington holds 16% of the vote when 85% are needed to reach an agreement.

Today, the European Union has made the conscious decision to disregard the voice of the Greeks, to betray all of its citizens and prove its enemies right by what it calls the Monetary Snake destroy a hard-earned democratic sovereignty.

The European Union is now nothing less that the League of Nations Wilson had created after WWI to ensure “peace and prosperity” in Europe but which silently oversaw Germany being sacrificed on the shrine of peace because it was in fact dominated by France and all the other winners of said war and they all had a bone to pick with the evil Germans.

It did not matter that Germany was a young and fragile democracy, like Greece, which, like Greece again, had become the complete opposite of the autocratic regime it was before the war. It was not enough. We needed more to soother our grievance and the League of Nations gladly let Germany suffer to oblivion in the hands of its creditors. All because everyone seemed to agree that they were at the time the biggest threat to our peace and prosperity.

Like Greece today with its bailout, the puny democratic power was forced to accept every single humiliating, undermining and dangerous clauses of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. This treaty would legalise further humiliation and would force the country’s economy to its knees as it faced having to literally pay back all the damaged it had caused.

I remember reading about the rise of Hitler and the fall of Weimar when I was 15. I remember reading about the invasion and occupation of the Rhur by the French in 1922 that triggered the spiralling downfall. A unilateral and unstopped decision made on the basis that Paris was not getting the money Berlin was supposed to pay back on time.  I remember reading about the endless vicious circle of the young German republic’s economy, its hands tied in the back by this peace-preaching League of Nation led by vengeful winners.

In history lessons, we are repeated again and again that all these measures to ensure Germany would rightly pay for what it has “alone” caused was one of the main cause of WWII as it pushed Hitler to be democratically elected in 1933. In the name of peace, the League – like the EU today – never lifted a finger, on the contrary, it became the accomplice.

I have believed in Europe because I have thought we had understood this. And we had, for a moment. After WWII, all countries, including Greece, agreed that the stupid war reparations and the finger-pointing at one people and blaming it above all others were creating nothing but ever-growing antagonism, hatred and resentment. It was making us ever weaker. We needed to work together so we cancelled the debt. We had matured. I thought…

 

However, today it’s Versailles and the occupation of the Rhur again. The people of Greece are facing with exit and misery or endless misery in the hands of the people they were taught and told to trust.  In the 1920s, the League of Nations just watched as we pushed Germany down the drain and now, in the 2010s, the European Union just spectates as we push Greece down the drain.

The banks want their money back after eight years of bad investments they gladly jumped on and austerity they happily championed, all without results they swore would show. Regardless of all the hurt they have been doing to Greece since 2008, no matter that Greece is now enduring a situation akin to the US before Roosevelt decided to make the State intervene, they are now going to get what they want and dismantle the State even more. End of.

How? By using the one bit of Europe that has never been touched by democracy yet: the Euro and its institutions. These have been called to openly overrule Greece’s democratic regime, like we did with Germany in 1922 as the banks are getting ready to open the tilt and take whatever they think ought to be theirs whether the Greeks agree or not.

When it comes to greed and destructive capitalism, history has taught us nothing. Once again, we have set countries against each other, people each other, North v South in a flourish of damaging, uneducated stereotypes feeding endless xenophobia for throwing their people against their people is the best way economics has found to hide the fact that we actually have nothing to say on the matter.

20 years.

Until weeks ago, I was still arguing that we were truly looking for a solution that would benefit the people above all but now that “we have a deal”, I don’t believe it anymore. Until weeks ago, I was still arguing against the people who were saying that our leaders were not interested in working for the great and good of everyone, rather just for themselves. But today, I am not sure especially when I see the ones shouting victory in the name of the union.

Wolfgang Schäuble, for instance, is righteously standing there telling us that it’s all about saving the union, it’s about fairness and doing the right thing, it’s about the sake of the other millions of us but then it turns out that the tax heaven-based private company which will be handling the Greek public assets and managing the burning sales is chaired by him.

To me, this man’s commitment into ensuring Greece pays every single cent given with interests is actually driven by his desire to get a piece of the cake. The biggest one, in that. And no one is lifting a finger! The fate of millions of people, from new-born babies to ageing grandmothers is resting in his sole hands, despite the Greeks refusal and I hear “Bravo!”.

Junker, as the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, spent years resisting, fighting and lobbying against clearer, better defined, more integrated European tax laws that would put an end to his country playing with the system and remaining a tax-heaven and now he’s standing there on his plinth of hypocrisy telling us that the Greeks are only reaping what they sowed by not playing by the rules. And no one is lifting a finger!

And our leaders. They have been calling us to vote during European elections because it is “our future”. We have been told that our voice matters and will make a difference. Yes, that’s until money is involved and suddenly there are superseding considerations we cannot possibly understand so our voice is irrelevant. Is that their idea of democracy? You serve the people unless you get scared, ignore us, serve the markets alone, screw it up but because we did vote for you, it’s actually our fault so we pay the prize for generations to come.

I have come to understand they are calling us to vote just to be able to lecture Russia or China from their high horse when shit hits the fan. “At least, I am here by the will of the power…I don’t care for it says but I am better than you.”

20 years that I have been defending a fraud, the building of a union that clearly puts its cherished, richest few before the livelihood of millions of its citizens because they have convinced themselves and trapped themselves in an economic understanding where they have reduced the States to irrelevance so these very few are now the only, untouchable, precious key to our well-being.

Today, however, it’s not time for me to argue for the destruction of the union.

I am now a Euro-sceptic because I trust what is accountable to the people, which the Euro institutions are not. There are the enemy of social-democracy.

I am not however a Europe-sceptic. I still want to believe in the dream because I am socialist. Call me utopist, drag me in the dirt, frankly do your worst if it makes you happy.

If democracy cannot express illusions and crazy hopes; if it cannot contain narratives of emotion and ideals, it dies. – Paul Mason

The time has come to make the union accountable to what it has been preaching: democracy, solidarity, equality, peace and well-being of its people above all else.

It is time to change properties: to fight against the Euro and for the European Union.

This is why we built the European Union

Warsaw, 1945.

I long hesitated on which city to choose and what to show: the burning pile of bodies of 1945 Dresden, the children walking in the streets of Berlin, the lone standing churches of Rotterdam, Cologne or Arras, the omnipresence of Death during the Siege of Lenigrad, the scale of destruction at Stanligrad but I decided to go for Poland for it had become, during the war, the pit of human-made horror.

This picture is why we built the European Union.

We built the European Union so we could create a place where countries were so dependent on us each that we would never be able to settle our differences by scores of death and destruction anymore.

We built the European Union on the bodies of 60 million people so that after millennia of fratricidal wars, we could finally accept that we were different yet the same. Before the EU, our autocratic regimes then nationalism and fascism had made us believe that our differences meant we would never get along and the only we had to find a solution a problem that seemed unsolvable was to take arms, mobilise men as young as 14 and throw them with ever-greater force on the top of each other for generals and leaders to see who had suffered the least damage and could therefore claim victory.

We built the European Union so we could, for the very first time in the history of humanity, find a truly civilised alternative to death as a referee to our differences of opinion, belief, ideology, form of political regime, culture, language and ruling dynasty. One will say that European countries are still using the old men-world methods outside. It’s true and I am the first one to be ashamed of it but it has also showed the world that it was possible to think and do differently and ever since it has been created, countries all over the world have decided to more or less give it a go from South American countries to the Far-East

We built European Union on the idea that by being together, we would always be stronger, individually and collectively, than by constantly trying to overcome our neighbour’s perceived power. Like a V-sign to the English-world’s 19th century conception of the laws of Nature, competition against the other powerful and destruction of the mild are not the only way forward anymore. Even in the midst of the worst economic crisis we have ever known, the European Union as an entity is still the richest, economically most powerful and geographically best-integrated and most tolerant place in the world. The erstwhile ridiculed idea of solidarity as a power has made its way for the great and the good.

Now, yes, it is not perfect. Yes, it is riddled witg forces  trying to use and abuse it for their own purpose. Yes, it has to live with the cancer of racism, intolerance and accept in its very core forces that want, and maybe will, eventually destroy it but, in that aspect, it is no different than any other democracy. These forces were, are and will always be there whether we work as one or alone within our own little, supposedly opaque and foreign-proof borders. So we may as well work as one to resist them.

Yes, it’s difficult everyday but no one said it would be easy. At the end of this memorial day, let’s remember that the European Union has managed to rethink how we deal with each other: with diplomacy, negotiation and talking. It has brought 27 countries nursing hundreds of different languages, dialects, cultures and sensibilities together in a way that has never been done before and it is getting them to finally talk to solve problems. The European Union has forced countries to accept and promote differences, cultures and languages in and out of their borders. Before the EU, these countries and regions only saw one thing in each of its neighbour and dissidence: a threat. So every single one of them only saw one possibility when it came to dealing with it: wars and destruction. Wars to get what you thought was yours, wars to protect what you believed was yours.

Yes, talking and talking and talking takes more time than getting a gun out and killing the person you are arguing with in order to win the argument. Yes, talks and talks and talks are less flashy, exciting and newsworthy than a “good old bloody war” when it comes to printing newspapers that need to attract readers. Some good old scattered bodies, dead babies in the arms of crying, blood-covered mothers is so much fancier but that’s why we built the European Union, so would never have to deal with it anymore, on our land to begin with, and maybe eventually the world.

Yes, it seems to be getting nowhere in Ukraine but it does. Believe me, as an historian, it would have taken barely a month for the WWIII to happen if we had kept our old ways of dealing with things. With all the Western Europe and all its allies up in arms against Russia and all its allies, with countries in Eastern Europe bullied into taking side and turned into an Orwellian battlefield. All because a handful of Russian separatists were more comfortable with a docile, Russia-friendly Ukraine and believe life is only worth living under the umbrella of Moscow.

The European Union has allowed someone like me to have never seen Death reaping, to have never been forced to take a gun and kill a complete stranger because I was told to and in my mind, it was him or me. It has sheltered generations of people from the trauma of killing another human being, of having to hide from oblivion and see their entire life reduced to dust. It has taught us that fighting is not the solution as it does not solve problems in the long-term, rather creating resentment and the nationalistic dream of revenge. It has taught us that laying a punch will not make your opponent admit defeat forever, just long enough make you believe you won until he thinks he has become stronger enough to lay the punch back.

On this day, when we remember that more than 20 million people from the USSR have been slaughtered to free Europe, that more than 10 million German, French, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Greek Jews, Muslims, Christians, Socialists, Communists, gypsies, gays and lesbians, young and old, men and women, healthy and disabled people were imprisoned, enslaved, starved, tortured, used as lab rats and systematically killed because they supposedly were not fitting a race, an ideology, a vision of nationalism…On this day, we shall never forget that this is why we build the European Union. So it never happens again!

It is now your mission as well as mine to protect the EU, to believe in it, to remember its true purpose.

It is essential we resist the voices of the destructive forces I mentioned earlier. These forces democracy has to tolerate and live with, the ones that could destroy it from the inside. The ones telling you that Europe is the enemy truly working against you. They are the ones who want to make you believe that the scores are already settled. They are the ones who are calling the EU a dictatorship whilst conveniently forgetting to mention to the rest of the country when the next European elections are or encourage people to vote. They are the ones loving the “political stability” of China and whose constant scaremongering has told us that the uncertainty of elections is bad for the economy*. They are the ones who are trying to discourage you from voting by saying that it is irrelevant. They are doing this because they either have a lot to lose if you were to vote or their nostalgia of a glorious past is blinding them into the reality of the lives our ancestors actually lived and they think the EU is responsible for all modern evil.

The European Union was and is being built, expanded and kept up by democracies which have not created a continent-size dictatorship but put in a place a parliament where only politicians elected by their people are sitting. No one is where they are because they were chosen by an oligarchy.

We are not China where people do not have a say on the future of their country and therefore their own. If austerity happens in China, it will indeed by forced upon them by the system they have not chosen but if austerity is “forced on us” by Brussels, it is only because people vote massively for the right-wing, conservative People’s Party who has been championing all the austerity measures that are making our lives difficult and inequality worse all across the continent. You want things to change? You think they are betraying the true purpose of the EU? As I said, it’s a democracy: change happens if you vote for change.

 

I don’t agree with everything it does but I do believe in Europe because I will never forget why we have been building it, because I believe in democracy, because I believe in working together regardless of our differences, because I am ready to accept these differences, because I believe in its ability to  be a force for good; for peace and forward thinking. And mostly because it has made me a first-class citizen by making me responsible for its future, as well as my future by giving me the right to vote after crashing to pieces the fascism it has given birth to almost a century ago.

* “According to the International Monetary Fund, which said uncertainty surrounding the election would undermine growth forecasts”  – The Guardian: IMF forecast blows hole in George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan.

Remembrance Day: No poppies on the fields of France.

“Just wear a poppy, it’s nothing”, the headteacher said.
“If it’s nothing, why do I have to wear one then?”

One of the most striking and increasingly uncomfortable culture shock I encountered in England was the one surrounding November 11th so as they call it in England “Remembrance Day”.

Let’s start with the poppies. In November 2007, I had been in England for a bit more than a month when I started to be asked, demanded, harassed to wear a paper poppy. I didn’t know why I should but I started to feel like if I didn’t do it, something bad would happen to me. Or that I was bad myself. So I asked what the poppy was about and I was told that the poppies celebrate (?) the fallen soldiers of the battlefields of France and Belgium in WWI. Lovely but why a poppy? Because after the battle (Only one? Which one? Where?), the year after, fields were covered with poppies and that year they were redder because of the blood of the soldiers. How cute!

But that’s complete bollocks!

I am French and I never heard of that. I found out that the whole legend (yes!) is actually from a line in a poem that is read year in year out about that war then I remembered a mention of it in Sting’s Children’s Crusade too:
“Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed.”
I was happy to finally be able to explain that line to Sting-adoring mother because none of us in France has even heard of that.

Personally, I think it could be a genuinely lovely way to remember the fallen soldiers…if it hadn’t become a symbol of England’s militarism.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, I did not wear a poppy as they appeared sooner and sooner in late October so my students would first ask me why, then tell me I just should and finally the low-educated, tabloid-reading one just stated that I was heartless, mean, cruel and uncaring for the ones who saved my country after we surrendered.

And there you have it. I was yet another “cheese-eating surrender monkey” who is too proud to be grateful that they saved my life. That’s actually what many Englanders told me. We surrended (as we always do) and they saved my life (as they always do) and that’s why I should wear a poppy. And that also says loads about the state of England’s mind-set in today’s Europe. We owe them something.

In England, I discovered Remembrance Day is not about WWI anymore. Well, it’s not only about WWI but it’s definitely not about remembering the horrors of the war like we do in France. When I talked about the differences between the two days in France and England, I discovered how little they knew about the war itself, how little they were made to understand the reality of the front. That’s because Remembrance Day has become a moment to “remember all soldiers that died for the country” and the poppies are “to show respect to all soldiers that died for the country”. The day and the flower have become terribly heavily emotionally charged. And the fact that the money you spent to get the poppy goes to army charities is making it virtually impossible not to wear one. This is a symbol anymore, this is a sign. Wearing it shows something about you as person.

Everyone on TV from presenters to guests, whence-ever they are coming, to members of audience or the crew…even animals on their collars have to wear one or the network will face with thousands, hundreds of thousands of aggressive, threatening complains from viewers. Before, you had to wear one on the day itself but now, within a couple of years, it has changed and you have to wear one for the entire week before too.

I lost count of the times I was heckled, shouted at, called a “foreign cunt” and told to “go back to my fucking country” as I was not wearing one because I was “showing disrespect to the UK.” I was even once called into the headteacher’s office because some parents complained that I wasn’t wearing one. Three of my family members fought to death during WWI so a stranger can call me a “French twat” for not wearing a piece of paper.

The poppies and Remembrance day have lost their meaning because they have been used and abused. They have become something religious you have to abide by, no one really knows why but there is some kind of morale, and physical something, pressure to do it.

I began to wonder: why has something so pretty as a poetic metaphor as the poppy to remember the dead become such a commercial, patriotic whip to sort out the good and bad among people?

Since 1945, the UK and the US have been seeing themselves as the world peace-holders which, oddly, means that they have been hawking and going to war everywhere in the world, with a wide degree of success but mainly, failures. Expect for the Falklands and the Korean war, the two countries cannot boast any actual victory.

However, today, the UK is facing with greater difficulties making itself heard throughout the world, with greater challenges to the world order they established in 1945, with greater dissent to which they always respond with mention of The War. “We saved you from the Nazis!” Like every former hegemonic power which defined its position in the world by war but is now struggling, the UK’s psyche has become extremely militaristic as they go back to what made them powerful and they endlessly reminisce on a glorious past full of victories. It’s been over 60 years but they still mention The War, even though very little can actually talk about it.

England has been at war virtually non-stop since 1945 but its attitude has not changed towards it: it still sees war as a positive force. Only violence, threats and intimidation will get you somewhere. It also rules its idea of capitalism, burning and harming everything in sight. However, it was easy up to the late 20th century to just say war is good because it makes powerful but today how do you make death acceptable? We found “collateral damage” to justify the murder of civilians (so that’s dealt with!) but how do you bring a population to accept its own men and women to die in foreign land? If war is good, it should not be source of such much pain for us, people think.

So you have to rise war and the army to some kind of new religion: you don’t question its premise, you don’t disagree with its servants and you make martyrs the ones who fell as they were fighting for it. The pain is for greater good.

How do you make it mainstream? That’s when war propaganda gets in the pictures. In England, it is working full-blast and, unfortunately, since 2007, Remembrance Day and the poppies have become pillars of war propaganda along with the whole rhetoric:
*They are providing dictators with weapons and money yet, all the wars fought by the US and the UK are in the name of “freedom” and “liberty”, against “oppressive regimes” who are “killing innocent people”.
*Open the tabloids and you will find that other countries’ soldiers are called “soldiers” whereas anyone fighting for England is a “hero”.
*Showing respect for the heroes who died is showing respect for your country. “Showing”, we said, display it, make it obvious. Being silence for a minute or three is not enough, we want red on collar.

“Poppies for our heroes” is all over the newspapers, TV and traditional media outlets because it is what Remembrance is all about nowadays and what the huge display at the Tower of London is all about (they are actually going “on tour”, by the way).

War will save you, fighting it will deify you, supporting it will absolve you from being a coward so wear the freaking poppy!

In England, the army has become a religion and all soldiers are role-models. Even the Secretary for Education said that the only way to restore discipline in schools was to allow “our heroes” to teach without any degree or qualification. In the English mind-set, being soldier puts you above, makes you god-like. They are never wrong, the reality of the army and their behaviour is chocked by the rising of soldiers to example of selflessness, courage, strength and devotion. They will fight for the great and the good against the evil, they are the keepers of our democracy, they will make us, the country proud.  If only we could all be like them.

Talk to people in England about the wars they are religiously remembering on that day and they will not be able to distinguish WWI from WWII, they think the French lost both, that Hitler started both, that the European Union is responsible (true story), they mistake Iraq, Iran and Israel. The kids do not know much about WWI or WWII, just that England won and all soldiers were heroes and that’s all that matters because propaganda is not about facts, it’s about hammering, emotions and symbolism.

The English are behaving with war like a lot of Christians still do with their religion: they don’t really know what is about but were told to believe in God, go to church, believe the priest, do as he says and give money to the institution. Mostly, it’s about showing that you believe, the church don’t care if you do, what they want is you to show it, to display signs of belief. Poppies are now the sign of belief in the army and the war in England.

In France, November 11th is to actually remember the people who died but also why. It is a private matter because it’s mourning at the end of the day so you don’t do ostentatious. Black is the colour and there is no need for more symbolism, death in itself is enough. Some visit and clean graves of people who died. Many never found bodies at the time so every city, every town, every village has a cenotaph in its centre to the Unknown Soldier. In Paris, an unknown soldier was actually buried under the Arc de Triomphe where the president will display a wreath. Because it is also bank holiday, which it is not in England. I always liked to point that out to the students who liked to say that the French were all bastards that did not care. “We care enough to actually allow people to get off work so we can mourn and remember. Unlike you”. They hated it but that shut them up.

Seriously, this is a very important day in our calendar but like Germany or Belgium, we have a different thinking. When it comes to war in general, we hardly see it as a positive force, we are weary of it. I think it’s because we know the price of defeat. When you only have bleak outlook, it’s easier to reflect and ask yourself: What is the point?

But also, we are conditioned to look at it with care. When I was a child, we looked at images of war propaganda, analysed them and looked at them for what they are, saw the message behind them and were told to be careful with messages of blind faith towards something. We study WWI and WWII at length in school. It used to be about dates but now that many letters, journals and written testimonies found then hidden or censored by the state at the time are coming out, we see the war for what it really is: not this sexy, attractive, manly idea of brotherhood and fighting with pride like the propaganda has always tried to make it look like.

When I was at school we had two very old men talking to us about what they had experienced in the trenches of Verdun and the fields of Somme. They were not soldiers, they were forced to be. They told us how they were just like us but one day the army would barge in their classroom or bedroom to take them away because they were 14 or 15 and “France needs you”. We were silent, no attempt to be funny or clever, we asked questions if we were interested, remain mute if we were not because we felt the solemn of the occasion.

They told us about the reality behind the posters we see in the books of tall, strong soldiers in glittering uniform fighting in the sunset; or the articles in the newspaper mentioning how many German soldiers were killed by the great French army that day.

In France, at school, prior to November 11th, we remembered the Battle of Verdun, for instance, where French and German soldiers lived for month in narrow, two meters trenches they dug themselves in the fields, sleeping in the mud and cold water next to the corpses of other soldiers who had been blown in half by lone grenades or sudden attacks in the middle of night. We hear about the soldiers alone, far from their loved ones, surviving without clean water, with barely any food and plagued by Spanish Flu. We read their anguished letters revealing human beings far away from the strong men on the posters, rather men scared, frightened, that cried every night, killed themselves and begged their family to get them out of her. We talked about how they would go to prison and maybe get shot to be made an example of in they ran away or refused to go to the front.

We saw pictures of them: kids like us, young men like our fathers, we see the mutilations, the bodies deformed, hurt by the explosives. We see the agonising pain on the face of the ones who inhaled mustard gas, their body covered in blackened blisters that leaked pus and blood. It was not about glorifying them, stripping of the humanity like they do all too often in England but showing human beings torn apart by the war. We are made to remember that it must never happen again.

The Battle of Verdun lasted more than 9 months and every single family in France has someone who fought or even died in that battle. In my family, three people died in the mountains of Jura during the war. Up to 542,000 French soldiers and 434,000 German soldiers died in Verdun alone. In nine months. That’s up to 3400 every single day!

We could be proud of that battle, we could picture it in endless films showing the bravery of soldiers fighting for their motherland but history is not made of pretty stories to emulate people or make a country feel better about itself. The truth we learn is that battles like this are useless butchery where innocent men, sons, brothers, fathers, 16-year-old boys are used by the army and are made to kill each other in the name of nationalism, for purposes they know nothing about.

These men, not soldiers, but simple everyday men who were forced to be soldiers for four years were all telling us that they had no idea why they had to fight. They were told the Germans were evil and they had to be killed because they were evil Germans, end of but then the Germans they encountered turned out to be just like them, as human, scared and fragile as they were. We are taught to see the similar patterns in the Middle East today where propaganda attracts young Muslims to “fight for their faith” just to realise once they arrive there that they are actually nothing but canon food for extremists who have ulterior motives.

November 11th in France, Germany, Belgium and all countries on the continent that had to suffer from it is made to avoid this happening again. We are showing the kids how far hatred, xenophobia and autocratic despotism can go in brutality. I always felt this cultural shock between war-going England that encourages people to support war and us, in Europe, trying to learn lessons from millenniums of aiming to crush each other dead.

This is what the European Union with all its flaws and problems is built on: the blood of the innocent men who died because leaders wanted pay back and revenge which they justify under patriotism and the religion of war as a mean to solve problems. Which England still believes in.

“Just wear one to show that you gave money”, the headteacher also said, trying to appeal to some kind of common sense that was foreign to me. I told him I was not the kind to fake cough when putting £10 in the basket at church so everyone could see it. I told him I would wear it if it meant something to me because it still means something to people and wearing for the sake of it would be insulting. I told him I was sending money to France every year to pay for some flowers we put on graves every year. That shut him up. Not the parents or the kids, but he did not come back to pressure me with that travesty.

In seven years, I never wore a poppy.