Swans Commentary: Letters to the Editor - letter198



Letters to the Editor

(September 6, 2010)


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Sarkozy, Berlusconi: Same Combat: Gilles d'Aymery's Sarko The American and Fabio De Propris's It's A Berlusconi World: Part II

To the Editor:

It was fitting but scary to find Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi holding hands in Swans of August 23. Back in June Sarkozy tried to manipulate the sale of the influential newspaper Le Monde. He threatened to stop payment of state funds meant to improve its print works if his political opponents got control of the paper. Their spokesman reflected: "This type of behavior is deeply reminiscent of Berlusconi. It is surprising that France has come to this."

"What has France come to?" is the melancholic question underlying Gilles d'Aymery's entire article. My own moment of truth about Sarko came several months ago. A tape was floating around Italy of pillow talk between the Italian premier and a whore. The astute sex worker had managed to wear a wire somewhere or other. The French press had a few days' fun with the story. (Not so many years ago it thought Mussolini a great joke.) But the political operator, Sarkozy, didn't waste time laughing. The arch opportunist grasped the essential. Asked for a comment, he looked dreamy, unable to hide his admiration, and drew a conclusion: "All the same, more than half the country votes for Silvio."

This sucking up to their risqué uncle was precisely what Fabio De Propris decried in his compatriots. Fabio, a novelist, enquired into the effect the tin-pot Berlusconi regime had on the arts in Italy. Gilles, a social analyst, was struck (and hurt) by how Sarkozy negated one of the nobler traditions of France: The country's leaders since Vichy, despite demagoguery and political dirty work, had never been vulgar and thuggish. They knew you couldn't stay at the top of a democracy without hypocrisy. However, they never pretended to identify totally with the hypocritical flag they flew in public. In fact, on occasion, to preserve their sanity, they made fun of it -- in public! And the very people they were playing to -- the French public -- instinctively knew it wasn't a flag at all, but a fig leaf that never kept them from knowing what was underneath.

Gilles mentioned Georges Pompidou and how he could make statements that didn't seem to issue from a party politician but from a disinterested thinker. And the mention of Pompidou (Charles de Gaulle or François Mitterrand would also be good examples) brings us back to Fabio and Italy. Leaked conversations between Berlusconi and arts celebrities (and anyone else) have always consisted of anecdotes that in the premier's distant youth were termed "off-color." He has nothing else to say. One can imagine -- but would prefer not to -- Sarkozy's small talk with artists as he twists their arms to enroll them in his political machine.

Georges Pompidou became prime minister in 1962 and soon after agreed to attend a private dinner party where Jean Genet was expected. Genet was a jailbird and a self-professed enemy of France. He was also arguably the greatest French writer of the day. The two Frenchmen didn't converse about Carla Bruni's wardrobe or the next partouze being planned for the Italian prime minister's official residence in Rome. The future president of the French Republic and the convicted thief exchanged quotations from the Greek classics.

Peter Byrne
Lecce, Italy - August 26, 2010


Sarkozy's Oratory: Gilles d'Aymery's Sarko The American

Beloved editor,

I have, as you imagine, carefully read your paper about Sarko l'américain. Just a short remark. Though our president tries to elevate his speeches by climbing on a hidden wooden box, he is not at all a "good orator" as you write. His French is so bad that we have adopted your American neologism "bushism," transformed into an appropriate "sarkozysm." Some of his sentences are so poorly organised that they'd be surrounded with red pen on the copy of any 12-year-old schoolboy, and Yann Barthes, in his Petit Journal on the TV channel Canal + regularly offers a florilège [ed. anthology] of them. Among the most famous ones: « si y'en a que ça les démange d'augmenter les impôts » ("If there are some that it itches them to raise taxes"); « on se demande c'est à quoi ça leur a servi » ("one wonders it is what it is useful to"); and, of course, his famous appreciation of Zola, "I love the Roujon Macquart" (Rou*g*on-Macquart).

Marie Rennard
Annecy, France - August 26, 2010


A Contrarian Opinion: Gilles d'Aymery's Sarko The American

To the Editor:

I would like to comment on Gilles d'Aymery's "Sarkozy The American." Having lived through both of the do-nothing periods of Mitterrand and Chirac I was, like a lot of people in France, hoping for change when Sarkozy was voted in. France is creaking like an old lady that can no longer cope and no one demonstrates for the right reason any more.

Like everybody I am disappointed, but Sarkozy's reforms cannot be blanketed as all bad. France needs flexibility in hiring and firing -- as, apart from anything else, no one will take on workers because they can't be fired except for serious crimes like theft. People keep their jobs because the employers cannot afford to fire them and most small companies are forced into liquidation because they can't downsize. Lower pensions and increase retirement age -- in fact the reforms are basically equalizing the system that until now offered special terms to civil servants and government workers.

I agree the health care is one of the best in the world but it also needs to be reformed and some of the useless parts could be privatized. As it exists it is not at all equal; for example, salary earners can visit half a dozen doctors free for different opinions and lots go on paid health holidays while independent workers and artisans pay the greater part of their treatment.

I would not call it Islamophobia to ban the burqa. In France one must do as the French do. Equality, fraternity, and liberty apply when you become French. Not only feminists think the burqa is counter to equality and freedom but most French Muslim women are against men imposing such an uncomfortable garment on women. Just think about it -- If the Ku Klux Klan wore head coverings in the street they could not be identified and prosecuted for crimes and murders, and neither can the unidentified wearers of the burqa.

Karen Moller
Venice, Italy - August 26, 2010


A Call for Clarification: Gilles d'Aymery's Sarko The American

Hey Monsieur d'Aymery,

Did Georges Pompidou really write that "fascism is not that improbable; it is actually, I think, closer to us than totalitarian communism"? Do you have the source? Because, if he actually wrote this, the man was prophetic enough in light of what your article revealed and the reality we all are experiencing in France.

I wish to take exception with your characterization of Sarko being a good orator. How can a vulgar man be a proficient orator? Would you dare saying that Berlusconi or Bush Jr. are [or were] good orators?

Allez, bon vent!

Alouette Arouet
Paris, France - August 28, 2010
Gilles d'Aymery responds:

Georges Pompidou did write it, indeed. Please see the first sentence of the last paragraph of the last page of his book, Le nœud gordien (Plon, 1974, page 205). It reads: « Le fascisme n'est pas si improbable, il est même, je crois, plus près de nous que le totalitarisme communiste. » (The original edition had no ISBN. The book has been republished by Flammarion in 1992 -- ISBN-13: 978-2080646705. Check it out.)

You are adding to Marie Rennard's take on Sarkozy's poor oratory skills (see above). I respectfully disagree with both of you. Sarko may not be an orator to our liking or our definition of oratory, but he does speak to the hearts of a lot of French (not necessarily the ones we would associate with) as Berlusconi does and Bush has done in their respective countries. So did Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, etc. The oratory may not be appreciated by cultured people, but it is powerful and embraced by a large segment of the populace (cf. Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and all the demagogues that roam our lands).


Ngo Van's IN THE CROSSFIRE: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary (from the Bureau of Public Secrets)

To the Editor:

Ngo Van's book was translated by Ken Knabb, Hélène Fleury, Naomi Sager & Hilary Horrocks, and published by AK Press -- 296 pages, 70 illustrations. $19.95.

Although the Vietnam War is still well known, few people are aware of the decades of struggles against the French colonial regime that preceded it, many of which had no connection with the Stalinists (Ho Chi Minh's Communist Party). The Stalinists were ultimately victorious, but only after they systematically destroyed all the other oppositional currents.

This book is the story of those other movements and revolts, caught in the crossfire between the French and the Stalinists, told by one of the few survivors.

Ngo Van's IN THE CROSSFIRE is one of those rare books like Voline's The Unknown Revolution or Orwell's Homage to Catalonia that almost single-handedly unveil moments of hidden history -- sublime moments when people break through the bounds of the "possible" and strive to create a life worthy of their deepest dreams and aspirations.

For more information on the book, including online excerpts, see:

To order the book, see:

Ken Knabb
Berkeley, California, USA - September 1, 2010
Bureau of Public Secrets
"Making petrified conditions dance by singing them their own tune."


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Published September 6, 2010
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