Bastille Day, 2008
The Bastille Day festivities apparently went off very well, thanks to beautiful weather, the presence of Ingrid Betancourt who received the Legion of Honor, flawless performances by the parachutists, and reassurances from both the Joint Chief of Staff and the government that the rift between Sarkozy and his military had been mended. A deluge of material is available online. Here, in no particular order, are some of the events and comments that I found of interest, with an emphasis on the problems in the military, though people who were there might have quite a different impression:
First, some unpleasant news: 297 cars were torched during the night of July 13-14. This is standard now in France on holidays, and is only news to the hapless owners of those vehicles, possibly not even to them.
On the eve of Bastille Day, Le Figaro announced that Elysée had declared Damascus innocent of any implication in the attack on the French post known as Drakkar in Lebanon in 1983, an attack that cost 58 French parachutists their lives (and 239 American Marines whose barracks had exploded three minutes earlier). Elysée claimed it was correcting an "historical error", and named Iran and Hezbollah as the guilty parties.
However, this did not go down well with Jean-Luc Hemar, president of the Association of Veterans of Idron Camp: "We sense a malaise. The shadow of Drakkar will hover over the July 14 celebration. Yes, we must turn a page, but it isn't easy. It's too soon. For our comrades who died there, we cannot say that all is well."
The graduates of the Military School of Coëtquidan, who had adopted Lieutenant Antoine de la Batie, one of those killed at Drakkar, as their symbol, were to parade before the Syrian president. Independent candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan remarked:
Out of pure show-biz megalomania President Sarkozy decided to organize a meeting, on July 14, between the 27 leaders of the EU and those of the Mediterranean Basin. It would have been preferable not to mix everything. It's fine for a headline in Paris-Match; unfortunately it is stained with blood.
How can we accept the fact that, before the box of dignitaries at Place de la Concorde, the French Army had to salute the president of a country - Syria - implicated in the terrible attack on Drakkar in 1983. We are in some way asking the victims to submit to their executioner.
Le Salon Beige posted some excerpts from remarks by Ségolène Royal:
"I denounce the intolerable ordeal inflicted on all French people and the armed forces of our Republic, forced to parade before the inadmissible presence of Bashar al-Assad (...) After the visit by Qadhafi, another dictator is restored to international credibility without anything given in return: no regret over the French soldiers killed at Drakkar, no international Tribunal for the assassination of Rafic Hariri, nor recognition of the sovereignty of Lebanon (...)
LSB's readers lambast her hypocrisy while sharing her sentiments.
An article at 24 Heures gives this account of the "malaise":
Seated in the open military vehicle as it descended the Champs-Elysées, Nicolas Sarkozy was able to measure his unpopularity Monday morning. While he passed his troops in review, before the traditional July 14 parade, an icy silence froze the Parisian crowds, who until that point, had been quite festive. A few boos, several hisses. No applause, at least not where we were. The French president did not delay in rejoining his guests: the 30 heads of State of the new Union for the Mediterranean, seated on the official platform at Place de la Concorde.
This traditional parade of armies gave Nicolas Sarkozy an opportunity to win back his military, whose discontent has broken through their obligatory reserve. The president ventured to issue a communiqué in which he lavished his praise on the uniformed men: "I assure you of all my esteem and my friendship and reiterate my trust in you" (...) These attempts to make amends were urgently needed due to the many tensions of the past weeks. The split between the president and his military is in fact due to an accumulation of factors: the parade before Bashar al-Assad, the elimination of 54,000 positions causing many towns to lose their bases and barracks and to find their populations drastically reduced, the "Surcouf" Affair, when high-ranking officers criticized the president's new defense strategy, the accident at Carcassonne that prompted Sarkozy to insult his officers, triggering the resignation of General Cuche, and the opposing value systems.
This last point is probably the main area of discord. Hedonism, individualism, passion for novelty, attraction to money, are part of the image conveyed of the French president. For him it is difficult to comprehend the military who defend principles that are diametrically the opposite. And they, in turn, do not understand very much about this president who, publicly, insists on his "right to happiness" while they have agreed to sacrifice their lives. It will take more than fine words to close this gap.
Note: The article from 24 Heures is no longer online.
This July 14 marked the launching of Nicolas Sarkozy's much-hyped project called the Union for the Mediterranean. More will be said about this in future articles. Here is a synopsis of the goals of the Union, according to Le Salon Beige:
- Cleaning the Mediterranean Sea of pollution
- Construction of land and sea routes to facilitate travel between the two shores of the Mediterranean
- Reenforcement of civilian protection
- Creation of a Mediterranean solar plan (I assume this refers to solar energy)
- The development of a Euro-Mediterranean University (already inaugurated in June at Portoroz, Slovenia)
- Aid to small and medium-sized businesses.
Finally these quick observations from Le Figaro:
At 10:30 A.M. the president greeted each of his guests, hugging Angela Merkel, warmly welcoming José-Luis Zapatero, exchanging a few words with Silvio Berlusconi and embracing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas.
Ehud Olmert and Bashar al-Assad were seated not far from one another but carefully avoided contact.
At 10:50 a highly publicized event - the parade of the battalion of UN Blue Berets down the Champs-Elysées, that included soldiers from 24 nations. These men serve in the Golan Heights, in Lebanon, and Cyprus. An hour later seven parachutists landed in front of the presidential box. One bore the flag of the UN, another that of the EU and a third the French Tricolor.
As Le Figaro says, the emphasis this July 14 was decidedly international.
At 12:15, Sarkozy was interviewed by France 2 about tension in the military, which he denied categorically: "French soldiers know that when there are individual or collective errors, the chief must punish them," declared Sarkozy in reference to the accident in Carcassonne. "That does not diminish the confidence I have in our armies, but when there is a mistake, I must assume my responsibilities."
Later in the afternoon Nicolas Sarkozy awarded the Legion of Honor to Ingrid Betancourt:
"Welcome Ingrid! Six years in the hands of medieval torturers. Ingrid remained upright and courageous. It's an example and a symbol for all of us. Stay in France as long as possible. You are safe here and we love you."
To which she responded:
"I am aware that I do not deserve this honor. But it makes me happy. Wearing it, I can feel all of your struggles to liberate me. (...) Don't forget the other hostages who are probably being less well-treated than I. I am counting on you Mr. President, Carla and my friend Bernard Kouchner. (...) One day we will have the chance to hold hands and to thank France for all she has done for us."
The photos from top to bottom show Sarkozy shaking hands with al-Assad, the V-formation over the Arc de Triomphe, the parachute landing, and Ingrid Betancourt arriving at the traditional Garden Party.