Back too normal? We’re not all as « Charlie » as we were. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there was a brief moment of national union. Politicians briefly left their entrenched positions for a moment of fraternisation in the no-mans-land of patriotism and from left to right, across the political spectrum, everyone was « proud « to be French– Where in some countries it comes as second nature to sing the national anthem and fly the flag, in France the good old red white and blue can be like a red flag to a bull for some – the good old republican tricolour, symbol of France and the colourful incarnation of our eternal republican values : Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité or Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – as if any translation was necessary. Republican values, French values and universal values. Why have a flag for universal values ? Yes, our dear old flag has been very visible over the past couple of weeks, even those on the far left have been flying it as if to reinforce their allegiance to the republican Trinity and even to display their national pride.
Over the past couple of weeks, the French have been flying their flag in the same spirit as the Americans or the British. This nation, where just over 10 years ago, flag-flying was reserved for football supporters or those « misguided » few attending rallies for the far right Front National – for years, the good old French tricolour was the property of the far right – to fly the flag was to subscribe to the racist ideology of the Front National – the flag was marked with the indelible filigraine imprint of the Occupation, the Vichy Republic, anti-Semitism; bloody colonial wars – flying the flag was very suspect, any display of tricolour allegiance was synonymous of a subscription to the far right.
Look back at footage of Socialist party rallies, up until 2006 and you won’t see a single French flag – it wasn’t until the 2007 French election campaign, when the socialist candidate, Segolene Royale started to wave the flag at her rallies, that the French left began to grapple the tricolor away from the far right and retransforming it into the rallying national republican symbol that it once was.
The French don’t do patriotism in the same everyday, second nature vein that the Americans do. For sure, the French are proud to be French, but they don’t do it in a lighthearted vein. You can’t just say « I’m French and that’s cool. » The French won’t say « I love my country. » They won’t run up the flag in their back yards. They won’t sing the national anthem with hand on heart. Ask a Frenchman in private if he is proud to be French, and he might say yes, then ask the reasons why and he will cite you oenological, gastronomical, philosophical and cultural reasons why being French is better then being anything else. We’ve got Camembert, Château Margaux, Voltaire, Jean Paul Sartre and Jean Paul Gaultier – good reasons to be French, but that doesn’t build a nation.
I get the feeling that since the Charlie Hebdo massacre there has been a lot of rapid and misplaced nation-building been happening. The French are looking at their national soul.
I suppose you have to look how each nation builds its soul to understand. The Brits have the weight of history. As Britain gears up for the celebration of Magna Carta, the nation’s historians are flexing their democratic muscles to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the first English « bill of rights » or was it just a few angry barons very much annoyed at a lack lustre king doing away with their aristocratic privileges? Of course what was the French revolution? It didn’t start with Parisians rioting in the street – the catalyst came when Louis 16th decided to trim away a few noble privileges to fill the bankrupt state coffers. The French nobles of 1789 didn’t want to pay taxes, so Louis XVIth had to call the French parliament to force through legislation to get the nobility the bear their share of the national financial burden, and the rest is history. I suppose all good revolutions star tat the top and not at the bottom – I suppose revolutions are like gastric flow, what might start off as a burp then works itself down through the lower body only to finish off again with another burp – though of a different nature (and odour)