December 10, 2018

Letter from Paris: Riots Fuel ‘Yellow Vest’ Rebellion Against Macron’s Reforms, Stir Memories of May ’68

Editor’s Note: We are watching events in Paris today with deep dismay. Nicole Logan’s topical column gives her opinion on the background to the tense situation unfolding there.

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is in a tailspin.  

The crisis started with the fury against the seven-cent tax hike on diesel fuel. The movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) spread like wildfire through the social networks as they blocked the roads all over France. For three weeks in November, the demonstrators congregated in Paris each Saturday. Their confrontation with the police culminated in scenes of violence, which shocked the world: Place de l’Etoile obliterated by the smoke of tear gas, graffiti desecrating the Arc de Triomphe, and a policeman being attacked near the monument.  

Riots have been occurring in cities all over France but are centered on Paris. File photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Since the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde were cordoned off by the police, the casseurs (hooligans) spilled over Avenue Kleber and Avenue de la Grande Armee, where they looted shops and set fire to six buildings. Hundreds were wounded and 412 demonstrators arrested. By the day’s end, a picture of desolation remained with the smoldering remains of 35 cars and streets littered with whatever was used as a projectile by the radicalized mob.

The tension is mounting. The government seems unable to contain it. The gilets jaunes are widening their demands to lower all taxes, raise salaries and retirements as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly. At this point they will not stop short of the resignation of Macron. 

It is an unprecedented, unstructured popular anger directly aimed at the president.  The opposition parties – with much glee – are surfing on this tsunami.

The government is making concessions to meet people’s demands. Unfortunately these concessions always arrive too late. The more the government concedes, the more the gilets jaunes demand, apparently comforted by their success.  On Dec. 4th, Prime Minister Edward Philippe announced a six-month freeze on fuel and utility taxes followed by their cancellation the same evening. And the price tag of this measure? Four billion euros. This was the first admission of defeat by the Macron team – a measure very hard to swallow since it went against its own environmental principles. 

What are the causes of this crisis? Mistakes made by a president attempting to reform the country from the bottom up? Ungovernable French people? Perhaps a combination of both.

During the first 16 months of his mandate, Macron undertook structural reforms  to turn France into a modern and competitive country. These reforms dealt with political institutions, the labor code,  the impressive — but somewhat antiquated — railroad system or  SNCF (Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer), crowded universities  by abolishing a chaotic and ridiculous entrance selection by lottery. 

But French people do not like changes and are attached to their privileges, tax niches and social benefits acquired over decades. An attempt at reforming the system was bound to face an uphill battle .

All these reforms were part of a general plan — a vision — which the president had placed at the core of his electoral campaign and on the basis of which he had been elected. in 2017. He gave himself five years to achieve his goals. 

Unfortunately for him the people wanted immediate results. He wanted to raise the French economy and society from the bottom up and encourage the active population. This was different from a “trickle down” process, but was not perceived as such by the French.  Soon the label,”President of the Rich,” was firmly attached to him.

Macron’s strategy was to consult with trade unions, elected local officials or business people at the Elysée Palace before making any decisions.

Apparently tetanized by the fast pace of the president’s method, the population seemed at first to accept the reforms. But gradually, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new regulations, taxes, or reforms facing them them every morning, its discontent started as an underground rumble until it finally exploded. The last drop was the additional tax on diesel. 

Overall, the French population is justified in its revolt against an unbearable tax burden. France is the world number one champion of taxes with 48 percent of its Gross Domestic Product coming from tax revenues versus 40 percent in the other European countries and less than 30 percent in the US.  One of the buzz expressions among the gilets jaunes is “ras le bol” (meaning “we are totally fed up.”) There are hundreds of hidden taxes in France. For example, did you know that here, one has to pay a tax on “oiseaux de companie” (pet birds)?

The French have a special craving for social justice as shown in their attitude toward the Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune (ISF) or wealth tax. Macron had split that tax between property wealth — which he retained — and financial holdings such as stocks. In order to encourage investments — particularly on green energy — he created a “flat tax” of only 30 percent.  What he did was misunderstood by the public opinion and may be scrapped soon.    

Today Macron’s room to maneuver is very small.  Since the opposition has no leader to replace him, where is the country going?  Cohn Bendit, the hero of May 1968, the largest French uprising in the past 50 years, gave a frightening prognosis, “I see the present movement in France as a possibly the first step toward totalitarianism, headed by an illiberal despot.” 

The situation is evolving by the hour.  More demonstrations of force are already planned …

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on an Historic Day of Respectful Remembrance … and Distressing Disrespect

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note:  We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan after her traditional break from writing while she summers in Essex, Conn.  She has now returned to Paris just in time for the centennial celebrations of the end of World War I, on which she provides an insightful commentary in this column.

Paris was the center of the world on November 11 – the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice of World War I.  Struggling against a strong wind and in pouring rain, 70 world leaders walked toward the Arc de Triomphe on a deserted Avenue des Champs Elysées – a striking image on an historical day.

The ceremony, taking place by the tomb of the unknown soldier, was magnificently choreographed by the French president Emmanuel Macron.  It was solemn and sober.  Not intended to be a show of triumphalism, it did not include a military parade.

The president only reviewed only some of the elite military academies: students from Ecole polytechnique, wearing bicornes (two-pointed hats), and from St Cyr (equivalent to West Point) with their emblematic “casoars” of red and white feathers, as well as students from the air force and naval academies.  The ceremony was to be essentially both an homage to the millions who died and a reminder of the importance of reconciliation and peace.

The timing of the proceedings was synchronized to the minute: at 11 o’clock  all the bells of France tolled, the five Mirages of the patrouille de France flew twice over the Place de l’Etoile in impeccable formation leaving tricolor strands of smoke in the sky.  The sounds of Sonnerie aux Morts (The Last Post) and other bugle and drums pieces added their somber touch. 

Whereas most of the foreign leaders had ridden busses from the Palais de l’ Elysée to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the American and Russian presidents as well as the Israeli prime minister were driven all the way in their cars for security reasons.  The honorable guests gathered under the transparent awning and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Finally the armored car of Donald Trump, in a convoy of 53 vehicles carrying 700 security agents and US government officials, appeared at the bottom of the Champs Elysées.  The American president had a chance for a photo op alone in front of the other heads of State.  

The seating on the first row must have ben a nightmare for the protocol people.  Trudeau was far enough from Trump and protected from him by the King of Morocco and his son.  Trump was next to Angela Merkel.  A few minutes later Vladimir Putin arrived (according to a Russian radio commentator, he had been kept in his car for 20 minutes until the Trumps were settled.)  He took his place next to Brigitte Macron.  Trump broke into a broad smile for the first and only time of the weekend as he greeted Putin.

The visit of the American president to France had started on a sour note.  He distorted what Macron had said  during his November 10 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.  In a furious tweet, he said that he found the French president’s comment about building an independent European military force “insulting.”  In fact, Macron had never used the words “against the US.”

A cultural and emotional program started with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a Sarabande of the Suite No.5 in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and ended with the 17-minute long Ravel Bolero, performed by the European Union Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.  A group of young people of all nationalities read excerpts form diaries written by a few French poilus (soldiers) among the 1.4 million killed during the Great War.  The message was the transmission of memory through the future generations.

Macron was born in Amiens, a provincial town in the heart of the devastated regions of France during World War I.  His four great-grandfathers fought there.  In his speech, the French president spoke with emotion of the battlefields he visited during the seven days prior to the centennial, saying, “I walked on the grey earth where so many soldiers were buried, which is today covered by innocent nature.” 

One of the highly symbolic moments of that week was in the clearing of Rethondes when Merkel (the first time ever for a German chancellor) and Macron sat side by side in the train car where the armistice was signed  November 11, 1918.

In the second part of his speech Macron, portrayed himself as a patriot.  Nationalism, he said, has nothing to do with patriotism and is, in fact, its betrayal.  Withdrawal within one’s borders is harmful for the rest of the world, he added.  The anger of Trump was becoming increasingly tangible as he heard those words, his face frozen in a  pouting expression.  One might describe the speech as outright provocation, but it was well-deserved .

The chasm between Trump and Macron grew deeper in the afternoon.  A Peace Forum had been scheduled at La Villette for business people, NGOs, associations and also political leaders, with the objective of  promoting multilateralism.  The American president chose not to attend.

TV viewers were treated to a surreal split screen: on one side Trump speaking at the American cemetery of Suresnes, near Paris, to honor some of the 116,000 Americans who fell during the Great War and on the other, Merkel giving the inaugural speech at the Forum, in which she supported Macron’s vision of an European army to be created in the distant future.

The American president intensified his flurry of angry tweets after his return to the US and threatened France with increased taxes on its wine exports.  In a November 15 interview held on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the French president commented: ‘I do not answer tweets. I believe in mutual respect between allies.’

How unfortunate that such a solemn commemoration was hijacked by low-level diatribe.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Exhibition Explores Work of American Female Artist in Male World of French Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was the most French of all American artists,” said art historian Jerome Coignard.  She was the only woman – along with Berthe Morisot – to be recognized by the Impressionist movement and therefore permitted to show her works in their annual Salons. 

A rare photograph of Mary Cassatt — supposedly the only photograph for which she ever posed.

For 40 years she developed a personal and artistic friendship with Edgar Degas, which was somewhat surprising considering Degas was well known for his misogyny.  Her long association with the famous art merchant Paul Durand Ruel, especially after he opened a gallery on Madison Avenue, increased the exposure of impressionism in the US.

The Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris is currently holding a retrospective exhibition of monographs by Mary Cassatt titled, ‘An American Impressionist in Paris.’  It is a long overdue recognition of an artist whose works are found mostly in the US, but who is better known in France.  Jacquemart-André is one of the most elegant art galleries in Paris.  It was built in the 1860s as one of the townhouses of the imperial aristocracy in the “plaine Monceau” (an area of Paris in the 17th arrondissement.)

The property is slightly set back from Boulevard Haussmann, and on the upper level, opens up onto a vast courtyard under the watchful eyes of two stone lions.  The magnificent residence, with its eclectic furniture, boiseries (wood wall paneling), fireplaces and Gobelins tapestries, used to attract thousands of guests from the high society.

In the West Wing of the Metroplitan Museum in New York, paintings by Cassatt are hung in a gallery exclusively reserved for the works of other women.  Cassatt might have been upset by this apparent patronization by critics and art historians toward domestic scenes created by women.  She might have deemed it unfair because painters like Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) or Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) are famous for their paintings inspired by the intimacy of the home. 

Art historian Guillaume Morel comments that the many mother and child scenes painted by Cassatt were, in fact, more feminist than it appears at first.  He writes that she may have found herself endowed with a mission to represent scenes to which men did not have access.  Her “maternity scenes” effectively propelled her into modernism.

La Loge (The Theatre Box) by Mary Cassatt.

At the turn of the 20th century, women were tied to their homes, seemingly leading an indolent existence limited to feminine activities, primarily the care of small children.  They almost never ventured onto the public place – like a café, race track or a prostitute’s haunt.  The subject in “La Loge (The theater box)” (1878) is a departure from this tradition: a self-assured woman is by herself looking through her opera-glasses, and apparently unconcerned by the male spectator staring at her from another balcony.

Even in France, the obstacles inflicted on women artists were enormous: they were neither allowed in the Ecole des Beaux Arts nor were naked models permitted in their art classes.  Women could not copy the grands maitres (Old Masters) in museums like the Louvre.

The special talent of Cassatt was to have overcome these obstacles by taking advantage of her place in the privileged class, traveling extensively and establishing contacts with members of the artistic elite such as Isabella Stewart Gardner (Boston), Alfred Atmore Pope (Connecticut) or Henry Walters (Baltimore.)

From a very young age, she rebelled against the formal teaching offered in the few fine art institutions open to women.  She hated the idea of learning her craft through the use of castings and copies.  She showed an intrepid personality when she told her father she wanted to pursue her artistic education in Europe.  Her father admonished her, saying, “I would rather see you dead.”

And her response to her father’s threat?  She went anyway.

Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh into a well-to-do family.  Her father was an investment banker and her mother was educated in a school created by a former chambermaid of Marie Antoinette.  At the age of seven, she sailed for the first time to Europe with her family.  David McCullough, in his superb book titled The Greater Journey, published in 2011, describes the luxury steamers carrying less than 300 privileged passengers, who could afford the crossing in comfortable accommodations in an “interior richly embellished with satin wood, gilded ceilings … and indoor plumbing.”

The co-curator of the present exhibit held in Paris,  Nancy Mowell Mathews, rejects the expression “woman Impressionist.”  She comments, “Mary Cassatt did not paint differently from other Impressionists.  What she had in common with them was her taste for rough sketches, the unfinished feel of strokes and her daring cadrages (framing of the subject) mostly used in photography or  cinematography.”

‘The little girl in the blue armchair’ was painted in 1878 by Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt’s models – mostly members of her family – do not pose in a stilted attitude, but appear relaxed and natural.  In “The little girl in a blue armchair” (1878), the little girl is literally sprawling on a big, shapeless, overstuffed blue armchair.  And so is the small boy looking at us in the painting called, “Woman sitting with a child in her arms. 

‘The Cup of Tea’ is a classic Impressionist work by Mary Cassatt.

“The Cup of Tea “(1880) is an unsurpassed exercise in Impressionist virtuosity.  Fast brush strokes  and the rejection of details are sufficient to render volumes.   The dramatic contrast between the fluffy, pink dress and the black of the solid armchair creates a strong composition.  In 1879, Cassatt was officially accepted in the Impressionist Salon.  The two following decades marked the summit of her career. 

Although Cassatt painted mostly in oils and pastels, Degas had also detected her exceptional talent as both draughtsman and engraver.  Her eaux-fortes (etchings) constitute a large part of her works, while “La Toilette” and “The letter ” (both dated 1891) show signs of japonism.  The engraving process with a pointe-sèche (dry point) is a painstaking and dangerous process since acid is used.

She was the friend of the most influential American feminists and joined their movement for equality, which had started in the US in 1840.  Toward the end of her life, she increasingly devoted her time to counseling American art collectors.  Among them was her close friend Lousine Hvenmeyer, wife of wealthy sugar baron, who owned more than 2,000 Impressionist works. 

After spending 60 years in France, she died in her estate, the Chateau de Beaufresnes in Le Mesnil Théribus, north west of Paris, although interestingly, she never took French nationality.

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Letter From Paris: The (Rail) Battle That Macron Must Win 

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is going through the labor pains of implementing a variety of overdue structural reforms if France is to be brought into the 21st century.  President Emmanuel Macron has tackled this objective at a dizzying speed since his election on May 7, 2017.  The pace of change was so fast that the opposition appeared unable to react until Macron turned to the reform of the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français.) 

Now that process is developing into a major crisis.  Other groups  – university students,  Air France personnel, hospital staff,  garbage collectors, violent clashes at the Notre Dame des Landes “zad” (zone à defenre), etc. – joined the movement.  To overcome the spread of the social discontent  will be the first and decisive test for the French president. 

When the government announced a restructuring of the SNCF , which involved the status of the railroad workers or cheminots, dealing with the unsustainable debt, introducing competition, and the overall modernization of the rail network – the reaction of the unions was immediate and massive.

On March 18, four trade unions – CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), UNSA (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes), RAIL-SUD and CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail) – announced  an innovative and deadly form of strikes: work stops for two days, then trains run for three days.  This schedule will be repeated for a total of 36 days during a period of three months until the end of June … longer if necessary. 

The platform at the Gare de Lyon in Paris on April 3, showing the rail strike’s devastating effect.

The French are bracing themselves for this monster strike, which will be hard for millions of working people, mainly commuters.  The specter of the 1995 strike, which paralyzed France for one month, looms over the country.  The collateral cost of a widespread strike is astronomical with the loss of work days; hotels and restaurants losing more than 30 percent of their profits; and factories momentarily having to close down and lay off employees, and the like.

Facing the angry unions was Minister of Transports Elizabeth Borne, who is a petite, remarkably qualified 57-year-old woman.  A product of the top elite school Polytechnique, part of the socialist government of Lionel Jospin, former head of the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and of the SNCF strategy from 2002 to 2005. Technocrat rather than politician, Borne knows everything, but communication is not her forte

The 150,000 cheminots occupy a special place in France and are at the heart of the nation’s DNA. This is why the government’s efforts to bring reforms have met resistance violence the like of which it may not have anticipated.  The aura surrounding  the cheminots has been significantly fed in popular culture by a couple of films. 

In Jean Renoir’s “La Bête Humaine”, 1938, Jean Gabin portrays a cheminot. He looks quite dashing as he leans out of the steam engine wearing goggles, his face smeared with black dust.  Sustained by a bottle of wine he shares with his jolly co-worker, his exhausting job is to feed the “beast” with coal in the deafening noise of an inferno while breathing  poisonous fumes. The indelible image of this hero inspired the population’s respect for the hard work of the cheminots. 

Jean Gabin as a cheminot in ‘La Bête Humaine,’ 1938.

The other film, which contributed to the collective adulation of the French for their cheminots, is La Bataille du Rail, 1946, played by non-professional actors.  It shows their courage against the Nazi occupants in provoking the derailment of many German trains.

The cheminots are fiercely attached to their special status including retiring at as early an age 52 with a very generous package of  guaranteed employment for life and free transport tickets for the extended family. The government is trying to be reassuring, saying that the changes will only concern the railroad workers hired in the future.  The cheminots will also benefit from a “social backpack” whereby they can take their special status with them in case of transfer to another job.

The SNCF is badly in the red: its debt of over 50 billion Euros increases by three billion every year and the infrastructure is in dire need of investment.  Although showing some signs of disfunction – trains are often late,  major break downs such as the ones which occurred last fall when the Gare Saint Lazare and Gare Montparnasse left passengers stranded for hours – the rail system is still one of the best in Europe.  The French people do not realize what an expensive luxury it is to have such a public transport system.  But this luxury comes at a price: its operation cost is 30 percent higher than the one of other European railroads.    

The cheminots have a visceral fear of the word” privatization.”  The government has repeatedly said that there will be no privatization.  The state will remain the sole share holder and the only change will be that, in the future, the SNCF will be run as a private company, according to directives approved by the European Council in 2001.

The opponents to reforms spread unfounded horror stories about the introduction of competition and problems it caused in other countries.  Besides, the SNCF’s structure, as a public company created in 1937, had already entered that process over the years.  Freight was privatized in 2003.  International lines – like Eurostar (to England) and Thalys (to Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany) – are run independently from the SNCF.   The Italian company Thello runs night trains between Paris and Venice.  All Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV — high-speed train) tracks are scheduled to be shared with foreign companies by 2020, according to the guidelines approved by the European Union (EU) members.

Criticisms have been expressed about the overbuilding of TGV lines at a high cost and at the expense of other lines.  The announcement of  suppression of small lines provoked an outcry from public opinion well-orchestrated by the unions.  The dense network of TER (Transport Express Regional) and inter-city trains dates back to the days after WWII.  It was a time when half the French population lived and worked in the country versus less than only 4 percent today.  Each village wanted its gare (railroad station.)  Obviously, the time has come to adapt the network to the population’s current needs.  Since 2002, the small lines are the responsibility of the 12 “regions.”

Emmanuel Macron is dealing with the most challenging issue of his presidency to date.

With the one-year mark of his mandate approaching, Macron felt it was timely to take stock of  what has been accomplished to date by his government.  His first talk took place on Thursday, April 12, during the midday news.  The president was sitting on a tiny chair in an elementary classroom in Normandy.  In a relaxed atmosphere, the president answered the questions French people – including retirees – were asking regarding the erosion of their purchasing power.

Many people expected fireworks during the second event on the evening of Sunday, April 15.  The fireworks duly happened. 

Two journalists – Edwy Plenel from Mediapart and Jean-Jacques Bourdin, from RMC (Radio Monte-Carlo ) wanted only one thing: to tear Macron to pieces.  Interrupting him from the start, their questions were bundled with disinformation.  Insults and accusations flew.  Plenel went as far as saying, “Mr. President, you only won the election by default and your program was supported by just a handful of people.”  Bourdin treated the president as a criminal — as  he frequently does in respect of the person he is interviewing, bullying them into  a “Yes or No” answer.  When the exchange touched on the veil worn by Moslem women, both journalists blasted Macron for totally opposite reasons.

Macron’s performance was superb.  He kept his cool and managed not only to answer the questions at length, but also to explain the rationale for his policy.  Among all the information he disclosed, one was crucial — starting in 2010, the state will gradually take over the huge debt of the SNCF.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Macron & Merkel: Can This Power “Couple” Lead Europe?

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Sept. 26, 2017, Emmanuel Macron chose the Sorbonne University to develop his grand vision for Europe.  In that seminal speech he was urging his perceived partner German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join him in tackling the lofty goals of European reforms, speeding up the integration of the Eurozone through the creation of a parliament, a ministry of finances, and its own budget.   

Macron proposed to strengthen the common market and reduce the economic inequalities through the  harmonization of taxes, creation of a minimum wage, and reform of the “detached workers” system, which leads to employment of migrant workers at cheaper rates than would likely be available locally — a practice known as “social dumping.”  His approach is based on several principles: a Europe protected by well-managed  external borders and a strong defense; the opening of Europe to free trade, but with due regard for reciprocity, and solidarity among the European Union (EU) members regarding the treatment of refugees.

After an interminable six months, the “Great Coalition” between German Conservatives and Social Democrats has made it possible for Angela Merkel to start her fourth mandate. Barely a few hours after her confirmation as Chancellor on Friday, March 16, she met with French President Macron accompanied by several ministers.  The speed with which she came to Paris shows how important it was for those two heads of state to get to work. 

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical environment allowing them to be the driving force of a dynamic Europe has shifted and even deteriorated during that long waiting period and their task has become more difficult. Merkel is politically weaker.  The continent is now fragmented and the resistance from newly-created groups within the EU has become more aggressive.  Macron will have to downgrade his proposals and make adjustments.

The political context in which Merkel starts her fourth mandate is quite different from the one existing in 2013.  Only 52 percent of the population supported the new chancellor in 2017 versus 73 percent in the earlier elections.  Compared to the consensus Merkel was able to maintain previously, it is harder now for her to keep the lid over dissenting opinions.

Even though they are part of the “Great Coalition,” several ministers stand in disagreement with the chancellor, including Olaf Scholz (social democrat or SPD), vice-chancellor and minister of finances, who believes in tightening the budget; Horst Seehofer  (head of the conservative Christian Social Union or CSU in Bavaria), who was given the  “super ministry” of the interior, who intends to be harsher toward the immigration policy in the name of the reactivated concept of “heimat” (homeland); Jens Spahn, 37, minister of health (Christian democratic union, CDU or Merkel’s own party), who is also a critic of Merkel’s policy on migrants, and Andrea Nahles, leader of SPD in the Bundestag, wants to rush through social reforms in favor of the workers. 

Even more difficult for Merkel will be the meteoric growth of the far right party (Alternative for Germany or AfD).  In  2013 it did not have enough votes to have representatives  in the Bundestag.  To-day AfD holds 92 seats out of 709.   At a recent news cast on the ARTE channel, the violent tone of a AfD member at the Bundestag was incredible.

The “Countries of the North” (as they are now called) — Ireland, Iceland, along with the Scandinavian and Baltic states, as well as the Netherlands — believe in a strict budget and are inflexible about financial and monetary discipline. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of TheNetherlands, speaking for the North countries , declared, “We have to adhere to the Maestrich criteria,” namely to keep the public deficit under 3 percent of the Domestic Gross Product.  On March 27, for the first time in 10 years, France saw her deficit fall down to 2.6 percent.  This was a significant accomplishment:  France is now a credible member of the “club.” 

The North countries ask that Italian and Greek banks clean up their toxic debts.  A “mutualization” of the debt (particularly of Greece’s sovereign debt) and financial transfers are a red line conservative parties from Germany or Holland are not willing to cross.  Like Macron and Merkel, however, Rutte sets as a priority a European Stability Mechanism (EMS) and a European Monetary Fund .

The recent Italian elections on March 8 were a blow for moderate centrists like Matteo Renzi, and the victory of two extremist, anti-system and xenophobe parties: the Five Stars (M5S) at the far left, and The League at the far right.  Italy joins now the eurosceptic countries like Austria and the Visegrad group (the former Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe.)  All these countries oppose the Macron/Merkel policies on trade, finances, democratic values and attitude toward the migrants.

Given this overview of the political landscape of Europe, it seems that the strategy of Macron and Merkel will be to start from the areas of agreement – passage toward Brexit, defense against terrorism, and protection against excessive Chinese investments in the name of the “Silk Road.”

The reactions of other EU members toward Macron’s “jupiterian” style and desire to reform are ambivalent.  In a March 20 interview published by Le Monde, Xavier Bettel  prime minister of Luxembourg said that a “directorate Paris-Berlin is out of the question, but added”  France and Europe are lucky to have him. Even if we do not agree with all his proposals, they are most welcome.” 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Visit to Franco-American Museum in Blerancourt Sparks Review of Relationship Between the Two

Nicole Prévost Logan

La Fayette nous voilà (La Fayette, here we are) are the famous words General John J. Pershing , commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, is supposed to have pronounced  on July 4, 1917 during the commemoration near the tomb of the Marquis de La Fayette at the Picpus cemetery in Paris. The entry of the Americans in World War I was a way to return the favor to the French for being an ally throughout their history. The Franco-American museum in Blerancourt, in a concrete way, furthered this enduring amity.

From the outbreak of the war even before America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, a segment of US public opinion, wanted the country to enter the conflict. Among the Americans living in Paris (there were 100,000 of them at the time), private associations such as the American Field Service,  intellectuals, writers, and artists offered to join the allied cause. Many young people volunteered as ambulance drivers.

Many volunteers served in ambulances like this one on display in the Museum of Blerancourt during the Great War.

One of them was Anne Morgan (1873-1952)  third daughter of  John Pierpont Morgan, Sr., banker and art collector.

Anne Morgan

She started raising funds to equip the French army as early as 1915, and in 1917 chose the village of Blerancourt, which was in the midst of total devastation, to carry out her humanitarian aid to the wounded soldiers and civilian population. 

The Aisne department (a department in France is the US equivalent of a county) was one of the worst hit battle fields. It is sadly remembered for being the scene of three bloody campaigns all called Chemin des Dames in 1914, 1916 and 1917 . In April 1917 alone, 100,000 French soldiers died on that front. 

Morgan worked from the barracks she erected on the terraces of the Chateau de Blerancourt – a grand 17th century private residence built by the architect who designed the Luxembourg Palace, for Marie de Medicis.  In 1919, Morgan bought the ruins of the chateau and started its restoration. In 1923, she created the association of the Friends of Blerancourt and the following year founded what was to become the Franco-American Museum.

The restored 17th century elegant rooms of the chateau are quite fitting for the historical part of the museum.  French explorers -Jacques Cartier, Father Jacques Marquette-Cavelier de la Salle, Champlain and others  – left their trace in the geography books of the New World. Their names are still vivid but the lands they discovered – from Canada to Louisiana – have long severed ties with France.  Only the St Pierre et Miquelon archipelago remained part of the mother country.

La Fayette was the first Frenchman to enlist in the War of Independence in 1777. With a great deal of panache, in October 1781, the 6,000 men of Count of Rochambeau, joined the Continental Army of George Washington, later the fleet of Admiral de Grasse encircled the English forces.  The combined effort ended in the victorious battle of Yorktown and the rendition of the British.  

Was its support in the conflict beneficial to France?  Some historians do not think so.  Claude Moisy, former president of Agence France Press  (AFP), journalist and specialist in the political history of the US, is one of them and goes as far as to believe that France was caught in a fool’s game.  

During a talk Moisy gave to the France-England Association in 2007, he described the sequence of events, as he sees it: the US Congress had promised not to sign a separate peace with the English, but it did on November 30 ,1782, after secret negotiations.

The real objective for the American government was to resume, as soon as possible, trade and economic relations with Great Britain.  Washington had dispatched Benjamin Franklin to Paris. He soon became the coqueluche (the rage) of the Paris society and suspiciously close to it. The author describes Paris at that time as a “panier de crabes” (can of worms), crawling with spies and foreign agents.

The final peace treaty was only signed 10 months later in September 1783, with the participation of Holland and Spain.

2018, – the year of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War- started appropriately with the “Cesars” selecting Au Revoir Là Haut, as best film and best director.  It is based on the 2013 Prix Goncourt novel by Pierre Lemaitre. Two soldiers- nicknamed “poilus” during the Great war-  experience the horror of trench war, including being buried alive .  (the writer may have been inspired by what happened to the poet and art theoretician  Guillaume Apollinaire, who was buried alive three times, underwent trepanation and died in 1918.).  The story continues after the war, when the two heroes, traumatized and disfigured by injuries, witness the sordid traffic of war memorials.

The Chateau de Blerancourt makes a charming picture.

The Blerancourt museum  is a lovely, luminous building,, located at about two hours drive north-east of Paris. The World war I activities of Anne Morgan -including her ambulance, uniform, wartime memorabilia and mobile library- are brought back to life. 

The Art department has just been renovated and contains more than 400 works. The collection  includes paintings by impressionist Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent and many others.  The arrival of American troops in St Nazaire was caught in Art Deco style by French artist Jean Emile Laboureur in 1918.  Singer and dancer Josephine Baker, appears on the cover of the “Revue Nègre“.  She was born in St Louis, joined the Resistance and is an idol in France.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Annual ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ Prompts a Peek into Farming in France

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Salon de l’Agriculture (agricultural fair) is the most popular event of the year in Paris.  For two weeks, the Porte de Versailles is turned into an oversize farm   Four thousand animals – bovines, pigs, sheep and fowl – move in for the delight of both children and adults.  It is the largest agricultural show in Europe.

The French are emotional about their relationship with the countryside and never forget that they share a common rural ancestry and that, just a few decades ago, 25 percent of the population lived and worked on the land. The fair is an opportunity for rural and urban communities to get together and have a good time.

Food is a big attraction at the fair.  Thirty seven restaurants offer culinary specialties from each region: trip à la mode de Caen (tripe cooked in cider and calvados), boeuf bourguignon,  tartiflette (Savoyard gratin with Reblochon cheese, cream and pork), Toulouse cassoulet , bouillabaisse and hundreds more dishes, accompanied by the best wines.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets the much-admired cow named Haute at the Salon de l’Agriculture.

Entertainment reaches its height with the competition for the best animal. This year the star of the show is Haute, a 700 kilo blonde cow of the Aubrac breed raised in Aveyron (a volcanic plateau in the south west), whose big black eyes are made-up with mascara.  Haute has a pedigree in the same way as a racehorse and her offspring are already in line to compete in the 2024 fair – the same year that the Olympics will be held in Paris. 

From the air, the French landscape looks like a beautiful tapestry with colored patches of fields, woods and clusters of roofs huddled around a church steeple. Behind this idyllic picture, it is hard to believe that there is a tough world of fierce competition, hard work, and for some, a struggle to survive . 

Among the 450,606 working farms in France to-day, many of them are small with less than 10 hectares (one hectare is equivalent to 2.47 acres.) Their owners find it hard to make a living. The average income of a farmer is 1,525 euros for month and can be as low as 500 euros, which is well below the poverty threshold.  There are many reasons for this. 

Food today represents only 20 percent of a family budget as compared to 34.7 percent in 1960.   The agri-business and chains of supermarket distributors, in order to increase their profit margin, force the farmers to sell their milk or meat at rock-bottom prices.

Farmers are deep in debt because of the necessity to invest but they have ways to show their anger and frustration, such as pouring manure or truck loads of raw eggs on public squares.  Another effective way is for them to launch an operation escargot (snail offensive.) They bring their five-mile an hour tractors on the highways with the expected result.   

European farmers could not survive without financial subsidies from Brussels.  In 1962, the Politique d’Agriculture Commune (PAC – Common Agricultural Policy) was set up by the European Union (EU) to assist and guide the agriculture of its members.  The PAC is the second largest item in the EU budget and one of its pillars.  Methods and objectives have changed over the years.  

For a while, it requested farmers to lay fallow their cultivated land.  Quotas for milk were stopped in 2015 and sugar in 2017.  Today the PAC is putting more emphasis on the development of organic food and protection of farmers against the climatic vagaries.  France is the leading agricultural country in Europe with production valued at 71 billion ahead of Germany (56.7 billion), Italy (54.2 billion) and Spain (49 billion.) France remains the top beneficiary of financial assistance from the PAC. 

Most Europeans are hostile to the use of pesticides.  Brussels wanted to set a 10-year-moratorium on the use of the herbicide Glyphosate.  Macron fought and demanded three years.  Finally Brussels decided on a period of five years. 

In France, Monsanto has become the prime bad guy.  Europeans are also against genetically-modified food and the addition of hormones and antibiotics in meat.  The French are getting very finicky about the traceability of products   A couple of years ago, horse meat was found in prepared food produced in Eastern Europe.  The French public went up in arms.   Since then, on every package or can, the geographic origin of the product has to be indicated.

Macron, during his visit to the Agricultural Fair asked the crowd, “Did you know that that 70 percent of the meat you eat in French restaurants is imported?  It makes no sense when French meat is probably the best in the world.”  The president is not a protectionist but, in his eyes, free trade agreements have to be equally  beneficial for both sides.  At present, the signing  of  the Mercosur Treaty between Europe and four South American countries is stalled, leaving Europeans worried.

It is a “must” for each French president to visit the fair.  Macron outdid all his predecessors by mingling with the crowd for more than 12 straight hours.  Always eager to explain his policies, he did not hesitate to plunge into the fray and engage in heated discussions with angry farmers. 

The day before the opening of the Salon, Macron had invited 700 young farmers to the Elysees palace.  As always, his method was not to promise financial assistance, but help his guests find creative solutions to make their farms more competitive.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: ‘The Donald’ and Europe Grow Further Apart

Nicole Prévost Logan

In February 2017, the European Union (EU) members, gathered at the Malta summit, were flabbergasted by President Donald Trump’s hostile attitude toward the United States’s traditional allies.  One year later the world has adjusted in the opinion of the seasoned diplomat Hubert Vedrine, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002).  The French diplomat commented, “One has to get over our initial disbelief as to the unpredictable and apparently erratic policy of the 45th president of the US.”

The European opinion of Trump is not monolithic.  One has to differentiate between the North and South:  heavily indebted Greece and Germany with a flourishing economy will have opposite opinions.  The same divide exists between East and West: for example, nationalist and authoritarian countries like Poland will view Trump differently from the liberal Netherlands.

The Europeans resent Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement leaving a wide open boulevard for China to become the champion defender of the environment.  Last January, the announcement made by the controversial Ryan Zinke, US Secretary of the Environment, that he would allow oil and gas drilling near almost all US coasts from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico was considered a mistake.  The French oppose the position of Trump’s administration on the use of coal and other fossil fuel as sources of energy.  France has closed all its coal mines and does not even allow fracking for oil or gas exploration in fear of endangering the environment.

President Donald Trump

The recent financial and tax reforms introduced by the US president were characterized as a fiscal war with the rest of the world by economist and professor Philippe Dessertine.   On Jan. 26,  2018 at the Davos World Economic Forum, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), criticized those measures by saying that, subsequent to creating benefits in the short term, they would ultimately impact world  financial vulnerability.  She believes that the increase in both liquidity and the budget deficit, will eventually cause a sudden drop in the stock market.  It is interesting to note that a few days after her speech, the Dow tanked and began a new cycle of high volatility.

French economists commented that lowering corporate taxes to 21 percent in the US – not that far from the 12.5 percent of Irish tax heaven – is placing the competitiveness of countries like France at a disadvantage.  It will take five years of arduous effort by French President Macron to lower French corporate taxes to 25 percent.  The French Minister of Economy and Finances, Bruno Lemaire, criticized these reforms for technical reasons.  He commented that they will penalize European subsidiaries located in the US and also be an incentive for American companies located in France to relocate to the US.

According to French economist Thomas Piketty, 68.1 percent of the US income tax reduction will benefit just 1 percent of the population, thereby increasing the already exisiting inequalities even further.  For Gerard Courteois, editorial writer of the French national newspaper Le Monde, there is an incoherence in the statement,”Make America great again,” particularly in the use of the word “again.”  Does it apply to the boom years after World War II when it actually was a time of high taxes and international trade?

Trump’s foreign policy is scrutinized by French diplomats and geopoliticians.  Vedrine describes the American president’s policy in the Middle East as a disaster.  Trump has created a confrontational axis with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey against Iran and managed to freeze the Israel-Palestine peace process.  Regarding the European Union (EU), Trump’s objective seems to be its deconstruction.  Trump applauded Brexit and asked “Who is next?”  To European satisfaction, Congress has blocked the confirmation of a Europhobe nominee as US Ambassador to the EU.  The post has not been filled to date.

Trump’s diplomacy is not sophisticated.  It is a bully approach, forever brandishing the threat of more and greater sanctions, whether in the Ukraine, Iran or Korea.  Punitive measures are even taken by Trump toward the Palestinians.  He intends to suspend financial aid because they refuse to sit at the negotiating table.

French diplomats prefer pragmatism and negotiations.  Dominique de Villepin, former foreign minister (2002-2004) and prime minister (2005-2007), believes, for instance, that one has to accept the fact that North Korea is a nuclear power and entice that country to join the international community by helping  its economic development .

However, Vedrine says one should not blame Trump for everything.  Being realistic, France and Europe are not at the center of the world today.  If the US is stepping back, it is a chance for Europe to regain its autonomy.  Villepin suggests that Europe needs to break away from US guardianship .

At the annual Munich conference on security, participants showed for the first time their intention to step up the defense of the EU.  Last year Trump had scolded NATO members for not paying their share leading to the irritation of Washington today.  To put a stop to transatlantic polemics, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, wanted to be conciliatory and declared, “The increase in the European defense budget will reinforce the NATO European pillar.”

Judging from this non-exhaustive list of disagreements, relations between Trump and Europe are not particularly warm right now — in fact, one might be tempted to conclude they are well on the way to just plain bad.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Book That Wins France’s Top Literary Prize Raises Chilling Questions About WWII History

Nicole Prévost Logan

Coincidence or not ?

The prestigious French literary Prix Goncourt came out came just a few weeks before the election of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurtz as chancellor of Austria.  Many would say that election marked another step by the European Union along the road toward nationalism.

The topic of the novel is the Anschluss.  With devastating sarcasm the author, Eric Vuillard, puts the magnates of German industry on trial for profiting from the Nazi regime and the Austrian people for welcoming the invading German army on March 12  1938. The title itself is ironic since L’Ordre du Jour – which translates as ‘the order of the day’ or ‘the agenda’ – refers to a democratic assembly, which in the book will soon be abolished by Hitler.

It is a very short book (only 150 pages) printed in an unusual miniature format.  But it is a striking story, beautifully written, leading the reader through shocking scenes in which cruel humor is mixed with great despair.  Vuillard, is also a film maker, which explains the way he stages the story as seen through a camera, with colorful images, a sound track, leading actors and supporting crowds.

The action starts on February 20th, 1933, in Potsdam.  Twenty-four managers of the German industry – Gustav Krupp, Wilhem von Opel, Günther Quandt, Kurt Schmitt and others – are waiting in the ante-chamber of the Reichstag at the pleasure of its president, Hermann Goering.  The 24 grey-haired gentlemen, dressed in formal black or brown coats, with stiff shirt collars and striped pants, resemble the bare trees lining the Spree river in the winter.

Goering is late but the visitors wait patiently.

When he finally shows up, the guests raise like lizards on their hind legs.  Hitler – appointed chancellor just one month before – makes his entry and greets his guests.  At the end of the meeting, as expected from them, the managers obsequiously make their meager contribution of several millions Deutschmarks to help the Nazi war effort.

Vuillard turns the Anschluss into a farce. Using threats, lies, and brutal intimidation, Hitler manipulates the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, making him totally helpless, bulldozed by the Nazi timetable.

February 12, 1938, is the second decisive date in Vuillard’s story.  Hitler has invited Schuschnigg for a secret lunch at Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.  It is an ominous sequence.  When the doors close behind the guest, the reader feels a sense of foreboding.

Overwhelmed by the hypnotic personality of Hitler, Schuschnigg caves in and has to agree to all his  demands: appointment of the Nazi Seyss-Inquart to the post of minister of the Interior;  amnesty of those condemned for the assassination of the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss in 1934; rehabilitation of all national socialist officials.  Having said that, Hitler reaffirms the independence of Austria.  Wasn’t that the ultimate?  asks Vuillard.

On the eve of the planned invasion, Mr and Mrs Ribbentrop (he is the German foreign minister) are invited to dinner at Downing Street.  The author describes in detail the menu of French cuisine and the wine list.  The conversation is light and animated.  All seem interested in tennis and the performance of Bill Tilden, who won the Davis cup seven times.

Toward the end of the dinner, a staff member brings a note to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who becomes preoccupied.  Vuillard writes: “Winston Churchill opens his big cocker spaniel eyes.”  The Chamberlains are getting impatient but, out of sheer British politeness, do not show it.  Guests start leaving but the Ribbentrops linger on, saying endless goodbyes.

The camera jumps to the car where the German couple is now on its way home.  They burst out laughing.  They knew all along what was in the note … German troops have just crossed the Austrian border.

The story reaches its climax when the German forces are ready to pounce on Vienna on March 12, 1938.  The sky is a bright blue but it is freezing cold.  The Panzers are massed by the border but a problem arises — they run out of gas and a monumental traffic jam occurs.  It is hard to pull out a tool kit by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures.

Hitler, who at first was elated by the prospect of entering Vienna with cheering crowds waving small flags and  blond-braided, young girls throwing flowers at the German soldiers, is now stuck on the road along with hundreds of armored cars.  When an army experiences a breakdown en route, ridicule is guaranteed.

Hitler cannot contain his anger and keeps shouting. By dusk, his Mercedes reaches Linz, the town where he spent his youth.  On March 15, the poor Austrian population, abused, but finally submissive, stands in front of Sisi’s palace to hear Hitler’s hoarse voice vociferate insults.  In a referendum, Austrians voted 99.7 percent in favor of the annexation by the Reich.

What happened to the 24 captains of industry we met in 1933?

During the war years, they made an incredible amount of money by employing cheap labor from Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald or Dachau.  They may have died of old age, but their empires live on, stronger than ever … BMW, BASf, Bayer, IG Farbem, Siemens, Tellefunken, Opel, and Thyssen-Krupp.

Exaggerated or not, the fact is that such a novel gives the reader a major jolt.  It is a literary feat, which revives dark moments of history that one should never forget.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Seine is Flooding … Again

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Paris floods crested Friday, Jan. 26, at almost six meters, therefore slightly lower than in June 2016 . They did not even make the ‘Top 10’ among the most destructive floods of the past 100 years. The monster flood of 1910 saw the river’s level rise eight meters and 60 centimeters.  However, the inhabitants in the communities upstream from the city, who have been underwater for days and have now been flooded twice in 18 months, were certainly entitled to call it a natural disaster brought on by the global warming.

The submerged tree and lamp post in the foreground show the depth of the flooding on the Seine.  The Hotel de Ville stands at right in the background while the Ile de la Cité is at right. Photo by Stylvia Logan.

Monumental work has been done in the past century to protect the capital and the resultant price is paid by the surrounding areas.   Paris is such a strategic place that it has to be protected by a system of locks and reservoirs, both up and down stream. Besides, France is endowed with numerous waterways and this is particularly true in the Paris basin.  The Seine’s tributaries — Marne, Yonne, Aube and Loing — flow toward Paris.  In the case of extreme precipitation, these small rivers easily overflow and submerge their unprotected banks.  The small towns of Champagne, Moret or Thomery, only 30 minutes by train south of Paris, had disappeared underwater by midweek.

The banks of the Seine are submerged while the Cathedral of Notre Dame still stands proudly in the background. Photo by Sylvia Logan.

In prehistoric times, the Seine was a shallow stream, indolent and undisciplined, moving its bed all over the place.  The most northern of its secondary beds followed what is today the ring of Grands Boulevards and flowed from the Bastille, along the hills of Buttes Chaumont and Montmartre, and back down to the main channel below the hill of Chaillot.   On the Left Bank, the Seine also had a secondary bed, which used to flow under the modern Boulevard Saint Germain. 

The restaurant ”Calife,” which is moored in the middle of the river near the Pont des Arts, is flooded.  Photo by Sylvia Logan.

Between 1991 and 1993, excavations prior to the building of the new Bercy district, brought to light spectacular remains of human settlements on the banks of the wandering Seine river.  Neolithic pirogues dating back to more than 3,000 years BC are exposed today in the Orangerie of the Carnavalet museum. They are the oldest found in Europe.

The construction of massive stone quays in Paris started in  the 14th century.  In 1991, they became part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

By midweek , as the peak of the floods approached, there was no panic among the city officials, engineers and technicians, but a feverish activity to prevent disaster.  By way of precaution, the RERC running along the river, was closed until the end of the month.  Already the treasures exposed on the lower levels of the Louvre and Orsay museums had been moved to safe locations.  The great danger was that the dense network of cables, pipes and wiring, providing gas, electricity and internet, and lying eight floor deep underground would be reached  by the water.

Crowds gather above the famous Zouave statue on the Pont de l’Alma. Photo by Karen Logan

Curious onlookers have been following the progress of water on the statue of the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma.  The statue was placed below the bridge in 1836 to mark one of the battles at Alma, near Sebastopol, during the Crimean war (1853-56.) 

The Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma has been a point of reference for the severity of Seine floods for centuries.. Photo by Karen Logan

The  coalition of France, England and the Ottoman Empire wanted to put a stop to the expansionist policy of the Russian Tsar Alexander II (1856-1881.) The Zouaves were part of the Algerian light brigade in the days of French Algeria — their bright red baggy pants were famous. 

Down he goes!  As the waters rise, the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma disappears deeper into the River Seine. Photo by Karen Logan

Although not very reliable – since the statue was raised by 40-80 centimeters  in 1970 – the Zouave remains the most popular indicator of the severity of the floods in Paris.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Emmanuel Macron Goes to China

Nicole Prévost Logan

At first sight, the January visit of Emmanuel Macron to meet Xi Jinping might have appeared like the futile encounter between David and  Goliath.  But, in fact, it was a well thought-out strategic move and an illustration of Macron’s personal style of diplomacy.

Never before had any French president gone to China so early in his mandate. He timed his visit to seize the opportunity of a world stage left vacant by most of the players.

He came as an European leader, not as a French one. He stepped into the role Angela Merkel  –– still embroiled in internal political negotiations to create a coalition government — had played for many years.

The trip was put under the symbols of history and culture shared by France and China.  Instead of Pekin, it started in Xi-an, Shaansi province, where the discovery of an imperial tomb made world headlines in 1974.  The tomb contained 8,000 terracotta warriors, horses, and chariots, dating back from the golden age of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD.)

During her several visits to Asia, German chancellor Merkel had openly blamed the Chinese government for its violation of human rights.  Unfortunately, this method did not bring any positive results. 

French President Emmanuel Macron

Macron chose a more pragmatic approach, limiting his criticisms to subliminal  remarks.  According to analysts, his diplomacy can be described as “Gaullienne.”  At a press conference in 1964, General de Gaulle abandoned his aloof and philosophical tone and declared that, to talk with leaders having opposing views, did not mean having to agree with or condone them.

Linguistics can create difficulties since the key words used be the two sides may have different meanings.  Take for instance the definition of “terrorism.”  For Xi Jinping, it mostly refers to the activity of the autonomists Ouïgours whereas for  Macron it means the bomb attacks inflicted on the French population by radical followers of Daesch.

To conduct diplomacy with China is to enter a minefield.  Two examples.  One does not attack China frontally for its action in the South China seas because the Chinese government considers this region as its private turf.  Macron would like China to help with the efforts of the G5 to fight terrorism in the Sahel but it might become a two-sided sword because interference by China in the region is not really wanted.

On the crucial topic of the nuclear threat coming from North Korea, the French president could only reinforce the European Union (EU) position.  He complimented Xi Jinping for becoming the world leader in the fight against global warming, and for being a staunch defender of the Paris Accord.

Fifty CEOs of leading French companies were part of the trip, which was marked by the signing of enormous contracts.  The Chinese government ordered 134 A320 Airbus commercial  planes.  AREVA, the French multinational specialized in nuclear power and renewable energy, signed an agreement China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build facilities for the reprocessing of nuclear waste.  The largest existing plant in the world is located in La Hague, near Le Havre.  Cooperation in the agro-business will be developed.  The Chinese enjoy French beef but since 2011 an embargo had been imposed on the imports following the “mad cow” disease.

The surplus of the Franco-Chinese trade balance amounts to $30 billion in favor of China.  Macron wants too re-equilibrate those figures.  His objective is to widen the types of exports beside foodstuff or cosmetics and include digital technology, artificial intelligence and other sectors.

The silk road sounds like a romantic concept, which makes one dream. but in reality it is pharaonic project where the Chinese plan to invest around $1,000 billions to build a network of rail, maritime, land, or air routes to export its products.  Almost needless to say, this project is worrying many … starting with Macron, who declares that the silk road should be a two-way road.  Historically the silk road was developed in the Han dynasty and its starting point was the town of Xi-an (cf. above.)

During the official visit to Pekin of the French presidential couple, it was impossible not to notice the spectacular redcoat (red is a symbolic color in Chinese, meaning happiness) worn by Brigitte Macron.

Translated into Chinese phonetics, the name Macron means “the horse that dominates the dragon.”  Is that perhaps a good omen for Emmanuel Macron?

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Deaths of Two Icons Leave a Nation in Mourning

Nicole Prévost Logan

From Les Invalides to the Champs Elysees, intense emotion grips France at the passing of two iconic personalities.

Within 24 hours France lost two familiar figures: Jean d’Ormesson, 92, man of letters, and Johnny Hallyday, 74, the popular singer who, for almost 60 years, enthralled millions of fans. The intensity of the emotions was incredible. For a week, politics, wars, economic crises, were suspended and replaced by an immense sadness, which united the nation. No matter how different the two men were, they shared a great simplicity and the gift of connecting with the people.

It is not unusual for the French to express their collective grief in the public place. In 1885, two million people attended the national funerals of Victor Hugo. Simone Weil, the courageous woman who showed exceptional fortitude in her public life by being a pioneer of the right to abortion, received the highest honors by being laid to rest in the Pantheon. In 1963, a human tide surged toward the Pere Lachaise cemetery to say goodbye to Edith Piaf.

Count Jean d’Ormesson

Count Jean d’Ormesson, at age 48, was the youngest “immortal” to enter the Academie Française – a literary institution created by Louis XIII to uphold the French language. He died as the dean of that 40-members council. Son of a French ambassador, d’Ormesson was part of the French aristocracy, with degrees in history and philosophy. He directed the conservative daily Le Figaro, became a prolific writer, publishing a book per year, with the last one completed three days before his death. His smiling face and piercing blue eyes were a familiar sight for the viewers of countless televised literary shows, such Bouillon de Culture, Apostrophe or La Grande Librairie.

An elegant conversationalist, he spoke with wit, lightness, and optimism. His remarks, studded with literary quotes, included gems of uplifting philosophy, such as,”Life is beautiful because we are lucky to die”, and “In the New Testament, the myth of the Wandering Jew is condemned to immortality by Jesus.”

During the strikingly sober ceremony, in the courtyard of the Invalides, a small group of guests, representing the world of politics and culture, stood stoically, whipped by a glacial wind. The eulogy given by French president Emmanuel Macron, matched the literary sophistication of the deceased academician.

Johnny Hallyday was a monument in France with an amazing longevity. From the first time he appeared on the stage at age 17, this blond, tall young man became an adulated performer and he remained a star for almost 60 years. For millions of fans, his disappearance meant the loss of a chunk of their own life. Fighting lung cancer for several years, in spite of the terrible pain, he continued performing until the very end. People thought he was indestructible, hence the extreme shock people felt when they learned about his death on Dec. 6th.

Abandoned by his father at the age of eight months, Hallyday did not grow up in the security of a proper family but bounced around from one relative to another. A cousin gave him his stage name.

Facts about his career are staggering: more than 28 million spectators attended the 3,300 concerts he gave in 40 countries; he sold 110 million records. He had a real talent in choosing the best composers and song writers, which allowed him to produce 1,000 songs, many of them in Gold albums.

Johnny Hallyday

Hallyday went through all the styles of music from rock n’roll, pop, blues, soul, country, and hard rock. Among the best known hits is, “Ah Marie, si tu savais, tout le mal que l’on m’a fait” (Ah, Marie, if you only knew how much they hurt me) about a young man, fighting in the WWI trenches and writing to his fiancee.

It is a paradox that, in spite of his love for the US, that country barely knew him. Driving full speed on his Harley Davidson with his buddies from the Midwest to California was one of his greatest pleasures. He sang with Sammy Davis Junior. Michel Berger wrote for him a song called “On a tous quelque chose de Tennessee” (We all have something of Tennesse.) The lyrics recall lines from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

He spent the last 10 years of his life in Los Angeles, Calif., with Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck as neighbors and only returned to France to perform in concerts. Some of his concerts became giant productions of a size never seen before. The absolute zenith of his career was right after France won the soccer World Cup in 1998 when Hallyday flew over the Stade de France by helicopter and was lowered into the hysterical crowd.

The public funeral of Hallyday was an incredible spectacle offered to millions of fans. The cortege moved slowly down the Champs Elysees, led by a white coffin. This was followed by a caravan of black limousines filled with family, close friends and dignitaries and then – even for people who do not particularly like motorcycles – the incredible sight of 700 bikers, who had come from all over France.

On the steps of the Madeleine church, President Emmanuel Macron, paid his respects to the rock star and invited the crowd to bid farewell to “Mr. Johhny Hallyday.”

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Six-Month Performance Review for Emmanuel Macron

Nicole Prévost Logan

Six months into his mandate, French President Emmanuel Macron has been working at a dizzying pace to fulfill his campaign promises.

Hubert Vedrine, former minister of foreign affairs and expert in international and strategic affairs, made the following comment : “Emmanuel Macron immediately embodied the stature of a chief of State. ”

“The French people are impossible to reform”, said Macron during his campaign.  This is why he set out not to reform but to transform France from top to bottom.  First he brought “parity” men/women into the government. 

The “moralization” of the two legislative chambers was his second objective, which meant bringing an end to the opaque system of financial privileges long enjoyed by the deputies.  Like a breath of fresh air, the professional politicians who, since the beginning of the fifth Republic, had been playing musical chairs, faded away .They were replaced by influential members of the civil society, without any political experience.

Emmanuel Macron

As a rule, the French do not really like to work during the summer.  Breaking with that tradition, Macron spent four months talking with the trade unions.  He invited – separately – the leaders of the different groups (CGT, FO, CFDT)  in order to hear their demands and make his own proposals.

The result was amazing.

The loud manifs (street demonstrations), which traditionally are the main tool of the trade unions, rapidly run out of steam.   On the basis of the summer negotiations, changes in the labor code were formulated into executive orders before becoming law.

Macron used the same strategy – divide and conquer – to defuse the revolt of the mayors. 

There are 36,000 municipalities in France.  Some of the communes are tiny with as few as 200 inhabitants, and feel unfairly treated as compared to the large and wealthy urban centers like Paris, Lyons or Marseille. When Macron announced he would drastically slash down the dotations (subsidies) made by the State, the local officials went up in arms. 

What did Macron do? 

He invited 1,500 mayors to the Elysée Palace and developed his plan to help the small communes .

Thanks to his work experience in the financial and business world, he focused on a crucial economic problem: the cost of French labor is not competitive enough. The main reason?  The cost of labor is bloated by the inclusion of “social charges.” Macron plans to have the entire population share the burden by paying a general tax.  The other pillar of his financial program is to stop demonizing capital income by reducing the tax to a flat rate of 30 percent  – a win-win system to encourage the French population to invest.

Emmanuel Macron has been described as having a velvet smile contrasting with the steely expression of his blue eyes. From the youthful, exuberant attitude he projected during the electoral campaign, he has evolved into the image of an authoritarian leader. He delegates the day-to-day running of the country to his prime minister Edouard Philippe, who is doing his job efficiently and with discretion.  This leaves Macron time to address the big picture, particularly regarding the new place of France on the world stage.

On Sept. 26, in a major speech at the Sorbonne, Macron showed his unwavering ‘Europhile’ vision. He proposes a ‘re-invention’ of Europe with action led by countries willing to make changes. To ensure the future of the Eurozone, he proposes a single budget, a ‘Super Minister’ of economy and the creation of a European IMF. He wants a “protective Europe” in relation to workers and consumers. He believes strongly in giving a central role to culture in defining the European identity.

During his visit to Abu Dhabi for the inauguration of the new Louvre museum on Nov. 8, Macron met with “MBS” (Saudi Arabia prince Mohammed Ben Salmane ) and with “MBZ” (Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed)  A feverish round of diplomacy took place in which the president succeeded to  “exfiltrate” the Sunni Lebanese minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia and acted as a mediator in the growing fracture of the Persian Gulf.

On Nov. 28,  after a two-hour speech to 800 students of the Ouagadougou University, in Burkina Faso, the Q and A session turned into an hilarious exchange. “Can you help us fix the frequent power outages on the campus?” asked a student. “But this is not my responsibility,” Macron answered, “Ask your president to deal with this problem.” The reaction of his audience – was at first a roar of laughter then deafening applause. A symbolic detail of the Macron’s visit to Africa was that he was accompanied on his trip by leaders of recent  start-ups instead of the CEOs of large companies such as Areva or Total.

The three-day visit to Africa in late November was an opportunity for the French president to break, not only with the colonial era, but also with the neo-colonial era of Françafrique launched by General de Gaulle in 1960.  At a summit meeting held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where the discussions at the summit meeting dealt mostly with the immigration crisis, Macron initiated a partnership whereby Europeans and Africans should share responsibilities.  Macron did not mince words when he told his audience : “The passeurs (smugglers) are not European, my friends , they are African.”

At a time when Angela Merkel is vacillating and Brexit is looming, the role of Emmanuel Macron in Europe is crucial. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: André Derain: Major Artist, “Fauvism” Champion Featured in Parisian Retrospective

Nicole Prévost Logan

André Derain usually evokes cheerful scenes of sailboats bobbing up and down in the bright colors of a Mediterranean fishing port.

Actually, Derain (1880-1954) is a complex artist, who had a strong influence on the evolving avant-garde movements at the start of the 20th century.  The Pompidou Center is currently holding a retrospective titled, “Derain – 1904-1914. The radical decade.”

The curator of the Pompidou exhibit, Cecile Debray, comments, “Derain is the founder with Matisse of Fauvism and an actor of Cezanne’s Cubism with Picasso.” Never before had the artist been attributed such a crucial role. Derain was not only the link between the masters — Gauguin and Van Gogh — and the next generation of artists, but also an explorer of new sources of inspiration, including primitive Italians, along with African and Oceanic art. 

To quote Gertrude Stein (the writer and art collector famous on the cultural Parisian scene in the 1920s and 1930s), “Derain was the Christopher Columbus of modern art, but it is the others who took advantage of the new continents”

Not interested in the career of engineer planned for him by his father, the young Derain preferred to spend all his time at The Louvre, copying  the classics. He shared a studio with his friend Vlaminck on the Chatou island northwest of Paris where he was born. His first paintings had as subjects the Seine river, its banks and bridges, and the activities of workers. He displayed a distinctive technique of fast brush touches, (slightly different from “pointillism“), innovative plunging views and cropping, which give  his works the spontaneity of photographic snapshots.

“Collioure, the drying of the sails'” by André Derain.

In the summer of 1905, he spent the summer in Collioure with Matisse and was dazzled by the Mediterranean light. Derain defined light as the negation of shadow.  He writes, “Colors become cartridges of dynamite casting off light.”  The room VII of the 1905 Salon d’Automne, called “la cage aux fauves,” caused a scandal, (fauves mean wild animals.)  In 1907, the Russian art collector Ivan Morozov acquired Derain’s paintings from the merchant Ambroise Vollard for the sum of 600 francs.

The following summer,  Derain continued to work with Matisse at l’Estaque, near Marseille. His compositions became more structured, with strong lines, volumes, perspectives and plans.  He still used arbitrary colors.   

‘London’ by Andre Derain.

During two visits to London, he became fascinated by the bustling traffic of barges and tugboats on the Thames. He used the puffs of smoke mixed with the mist to decline all shades of whites. He found a new inspiration in the representation of water and sky. The apotheosis is an almost abstract sunset with the sun breaking through the dark clouds as if putting the sky on fire.

In 1910, Derain is part of the Cubist movement as shown in his representation of the village of Cagnes – an assemblage of cubes with red roofs scattered on a hilly landscape made of geometric lines and volumes of dense vegetation.

The versatility of Derain seems to be boundless. He played the piano, was  a professional photographer, and enjoyed fast cars (he owned 11 Bugattis.)  Using his virtuosity as a draughtsman, he created illustrations for humor publications along with stage and costume designs (for Diaghilev and the Russian ballets.)

The dance” by André Derain.

Before leaving the exhibit, the visitor will be stunned by The Dance, 1906 – a large (185 x 228 cm) decorative composition of three women undulating in a luxuriant forest.  The work is rarely seen, since it belongs to a private collection.  Derain was inspired by a poem by Apollinaire and called it L’Enchanteur pourrissant (the rotting magician) about three fairies looking for Merlin’s tomb. The gestures of the dancers are reminiscent of Egyptian and Indian art, and could have inspired Nijinsky’s choreography. The mysterious vegetation and the hidden meaning of a snake and a multicolored parrot infuse the ritual scene with symbolism.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: To Be or Not To Be [Independent] — The Catalonian Question

Nicole Prévost Logan

The tentative attempt by Catalonia to secede from Spain has failed – at least for now.  But the attachment of the Catalan people to their identity is so strong that the fight for independence is far from over.  The Catalonian regional elections on Dec. 21 are likely to take place in a very agitated, if not violent, context.

The province of Catalonia has just lived through its worst political crisis in decades.  On Aug. 17, the terrorist attack in Barcelona that killed 13 people and injured 113 left the population of that city badly shaken.  On Oct. 1, a referendum showed how divided the population was with 90.2 percent voting for independence … but with a participation rate of only 45 percent.  For several days, the two protagonists – Mariono Rajoy, prime minister of Spain and Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan President – faced off each other, avoiding any dialogue.

Then on Oct.17,  the separatist members of the Catalan parliament announced the declaration of independence by 70 votes to 10.  The situation became untenable for Puigdemont.  He surreptitiously left the country to reappear in Brussels.  For the first time ever, Article 155 of the constitution was activated — Madrid issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont for espousing rebellion and placed the province under strict supervision. 

This map shows the location of Catalonia in Spain.

How does one explain the fierce nationalism of the Catalan people?  It is deeply anchored in their history.  Until the early 16th century, the county of Barcelona was at the center of power in Spain and closely united to the Aragon crown.  After the War of the Spanish Succession, the Catalans had to surrender to the Bourbons on Sept. 11, 1714.  The Catalonians remember that heroic battle by naming that day their National Day, calling it Diadia.  The civil war from 1936 to 1939, followed by 39 years of Franco’s fascist dictatorship, crystallized even further the Catalonians’ dream of autonomy.   

The European Union (EU) is keeping silent and uninvolved in what it considers as an internal problem for Spain.  Doomsday commentators had predicted that other regions of Europe such as Venetia, Lombardy or Corsica, would emulate Brexit. It is interesting to note that  Spain never recognized Kosovo for fear that Catalonia would follow suit.

When democracy was reinstated by King Juan Carlos, a new constitution and special self-rule status were granted to the Basque country, Catalonia and Cerdanya in 1978.  It is hard to understand why Catalonia did not accept the  favorable  terms offered by Madrid.  The ETA (Basque independence movement) did thus putting an end to their armed resistance, which had lasted for more than 50 years.

A visit to Barcelona helps understand the dynamic, feisty, almost turbulent temperament of the Catalan people.  Just mingle with the crowds on La Rambia – the heart of the city – or discover the extravagant architecture of Anton Gaudi in the Sagrada Familia cathedral. 

Catalonia can claim three artists, all larger than life and with strong personalities.  Joan Miro, the abstract artist creator of distinctive playful forms, was extremely proud of his Catalan origins.  Picasso spent several years as a teenager in Barcelona.  In 1905, he found the models for his “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” among the prostitutes of a small street by that name located near the port.  The surrealist Salvador Dali went totally wild with the design of his museum in Figueres, his hometown.

Unfortunately, the project of the Catalan separatists did not take into account the long-term problems.  By early November of this year, 2,000 companies and banks had already left the province: tourism is being affected: the stock market has plummeted, and if Catalonia were to secede from Spain, it could not become part of the EU. 

In the simplest of terms, Catalonia may now, as a result of the most recent developments, find itself in a worse situation than before its declaration of independence.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Sexual Harassment Scandal in US Reverberates Around the World

Nicole Prévost Logan

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded in the Hollywood world, last September, who could have ever expected  the groundswell it is sending around the world, or at least the Western world.  All of a sudden, in the media, the social networks, and all the way up to the highest political spheres of government, it has triggered a deluge of testimonies from women who have been the victims of all forms of unpunished harassment and kept silent until now.  Debates and commentaries are occupying the news by storm.

In Le Monde of Oct. 22,  a headline in huge letters read, La Parole Liberée (The liberated voice.)  A psychologist writes, “Today shame seems to have changed camp.”  What took place in  the workplace,  the street and on public transport, is now being brought out in the open.  This situation has been going on for a long time.  Years ago, my three daughters were boarders in an American high school in Rome.  Their description of the behavior of Italian males preying on women was almost a caricature of what seems to be a national pastime.

A hashtag, crudely worded, #balancetonporc (expose your pig), created by a French journalist living in New York turned viral within five hours.  It is a website where women can talk anonymously and denounce their rapist.  The slogan #moiaussi (equivalent to #meetoo  in the US) provoked millions of reactions.  It is not the creation of a feminist group, but just happened spontaneously.    

In the French workplace, one of five women was subjected to harassment in 2014 but only 5 percent brought their case to justice.  In 2016, 216,000 complaints were registered.  A majority of women plaintiffs lose their job in the process.

Harvey Weinstein

The complicity of men as co-workers or business collaborators contributes to the vulnerability of the victims.  The rapid downfall of Harvey Weinstein can be explained by his failing company and the disappearance of his supporters.    

On Oct. 26, the deputies of the European parliament in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly (by 580 votes to 10, with 26 abstentions) in support of a resolution condemning all forms of harassment.  A legal inquiry has just been launched to investigate the numerous cases involving  5,000 parliamentary assistants (mostly female.)

Bringing aggression and rapes by an influential personality into the open is like a bombshell.  Such is the case of Tarik Ramadam – a Swiss Islamic scholar of Egyptian origin – accused by two women.  Grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, he teaches the precepts of radical Islam from his Qatari-financed chair at Oxford.  One can imagine the ripple effect the recent accusations of rape will have on the large audiences of followers, who consider him as a guru. 

This week the retrospective of Roman Polanski ‘s films was met with demonstrations in Paris.  Although a brilliant movie director,  who showed his last film at the Cannes Festival, his way of denying  and belittling the women accusing him of rape, makes it difficult to separate the artist from the man.

Marlen Schiappa, the French Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men, is working on legislation to criminalize street harassment.  However, like other societal problems, new legislation will not be enough to sanction this unacceptable reality, but when millions of women break the taboos by speaking up, this may bring about real change.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The State of the Continent – A Snapshot of European Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Is the far right forging ahead in Europe?

The political landscape of the European Union (EU) has shifted somewhat to the right during the past few months.  At the core of this trend is the fear of losing one’s identity following the recent surge of migrants.  Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open wide Germany’s borders – and hence Europe’s – has had a lasting impact.  Max Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign  Relations, based in London, has suggested that the trauma resulting from the decision for Europeans can be compared to that of the 9/11 attack for Americans.

Sebastian Kurz

In Austria , the legislative elections, held on Oct. 17,  gave 31.5 percent of the votes to the conservative People’s Party (OVP) led by Sebastian Kurz.  At age 31, Sebastian Kurz may become the youngest ever Chancellor of that small alpine country of eight million people with a robust economy.  He is not xenophobic nor racist and disapproves of anti-semitism.  However, Kurz may have to strike an alliance with the far right Freedom Party (FPO), which finished in third place behind the declining social democrats (SPO).

To understand Austria, one needs to remember a few facts: it  has been subjected to a flux of Kosovar and Bosniac refugees following  the late 1990s conflict in the Balkans;  it has never been a colonial power and does not have a bad conscience with regard to the economic fate of sub-Saharan migrants. According to French political commentator Christine Okrent, Austria has never gone through the process of “denazification” and considers itself to have been a victim during World War II.  The nostalgia of its past as part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire still lingers.

Andrej Babis

To complete this snapshot of European politics, the Oct. 20 and 21 legislative elections in the Czech Republic saw Andrej Babis’ party arrive in first place. The 63-year-old tycoon – nicknamed Trump 2 –  proclaims to be anti-immigration, but pro-Europe and pro-NATO. He shares his ideas with the other members of the central European “Visegrad group” (Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.)

Angela Merkel, after her somewhat disappointing results in the last September elections, is reaching out to the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Greens in order to give her Christian Democrat party (CDU) a comfortable majority. These negotiations may keep her off the front stage until the end of the year.   

In France, Marine Le Pen has practically collapsed after the disastrous debate against Emmanuel Macron on May 3 between the two rounds of the presidential elections. She has become an inaudible adversary in the National Assembly.  Marion, her even more right-wing niece, was clever enough to jump ship last spring.  Marine’s co- president, highly educated Florian Philippot, was ejected from the National Front (FN).  Several legal pursuits for financial “improprieties,” both for her activities as European deputy and in France, are still looming against her. 

After six years of being in the limelight , Marine Le Pen is now in the process of redefining herself. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: (Old Hand) Putin Meets (New Kid) Macron With Surprising Results

Nicole Prévost Logan

The hour-long press conference held jointly by long-standing Russian President Putin and newly-elected French President Macron in the Palace of Versailles on May 29, was a spectacle not to be missed.

Vladimir Putin

Emmanuel Macron

Putin had been absent from the high-powered week during which US President Donald Trump met with heads of state at the new NATO headquarters in Brussels and at the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily. Macron seized an opportunity to invite the Russian president. The timing, location and format of the encounter of the two presidents were a smart move on the part of Macron.

He was not organizing a “state visit” – lest he offended Angela Merkel – but asking the Russian leader to be present at the inauguration of an exhibit marking the 300th anniversary of the visit of Tzar Peter the Great to France. The two presidents met in the grandiose 17th century palace of the French monarchs. Putin would probably find similarities between the ornate rooms and his elegant home town of St. Petersburg.

The visit was organized under the sign of culture and meant to revive the historical ties between the two countries. Macron mentioned how much Peter the Great had wanted to open up his country to the West and learn about its military architecture, crafts, and sciences. Putin contributed proudly an even earlier historical fact – the marriage at Queen Ann of Kiev, daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, to French King Henry I, in 1051.

During the press conference, the supposedly “novice” French president appeared self-assured, and totally in charge of the proceedings. He described how he envisaged cooperation with Russia. His road map for Syria was to guarantee humanitarian aid to the population and emphasize that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line that would be met with an immediate response from France.

Macron added that failed states lead to chaos. Hence the necessity to keep Bachar el Assad until ISIS is eradicated. In Ukraine, he stressed that an agreement should be reached within the framework of the Minsk accord. The objective there is both to stop progression of the spheres of influence of Russia in the region and the escalation of violence. He did not say the word ‘Crimea,’ however, implying that its return to the Ukraine was not on the agenda.

In his statement, Macron declared that during their three-hour-long conversation they covered all topics, including areas of disagreement. As he mentioned the treatment of homosexuals and transgenders in Chechnia, he turned toward Putin and told him to his face, “We will monitor the progress you make in that area.”

During his talk, Putin looked fidgety, ill-at-ease, squirming, and with shifty eyes. He mumbled his comments. He did say though that he would be ready to engage in a dialogue. Then, turning toward the audience of international media, he almost pleaded with them, saying, “You have to convince public opinion that the sanctions are stifling Russia. Tell the world they have to be lifted.”

French journalists raised questions about the spread of fake news on the social networks and in magazines like Sputnik and Russia Today intended to destabilize the leader of the En Marche movement during the campaign. Macron retorted that those people are not journalists and will not be treated as such.

Journalists also asked what the French government was going to do about the hacking of 70,000 documents belonging to then-candidate Macron 40 hours before the first round of the vote. Macron responded that he was not going to dwell on those events, adding, “What I want to do is to move on.”

From the exchanges between the two protagonists, it was clear that Macron was in control of the situation. His message was clear and direct. The days when Putin disregarded the EU as being too weak were now over. The power dynamic was the correct one for Macron to use and Putin understood that.

This was a textbook situation where the two protagonists, although not liking each other, could work out a resolution from which both could profit. Since 1990, Putin — a major player behind the war in Syria — has been shattered by the implosion of the Russian empire. Moreover, since sanctions are hurting his country severely, the give and take of negotiation is therefore possible.

Now, we can only hope that effective action will match the quality of this performance by Macron.

Editor’s Notes:
i) This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.
ii) Nicole is, in fact, now back in Essex, but events in France are currently moving so fast that she’s continuing to write for us from this side of the Atlantic in an effort to keep readers over here up to date.  Merci, Nicole!

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: And Then There Were Two … Candidates Left for French President

Nicole Prévost Logan

Out of a chaotic and divisive campaign to elect the president of France came a surprisingly middle-of-the-road and constructive vote.  Emmanuel Macron, age 39, Europhile leader of the En Marche (EM) movement climbed to the first place with 24.01 percent of the votes.  Marine Le Pen (Front National or FN), received 21.3 percent, both therefore qualifying for the run-off election on May 7. For the FN it was an historical feat after a long struggle, started in 1972, to be acknowledged as an honorable political party.  The turn-out was high at 78 percent of the 47 million voters.

Until the last minute, the outcome was anyone’s guess.  The four candidates – two extremists, one conservator, and one center right – were running in a close pack.  “Fasten your seat belts” said a member of The City in London on the very morning of the elections, expressing the anxiety of the whole world.  At stake were a rejection of the Euro and abandoning the European Union (EU.)  “We were on the brink of world-wide financial tsunami” said one of the BFM radio economists.  Many around the globe greeted the result with a sigh of relief.

For the French voters what was happening had a deeper meaning than the one described in the international press.  This moment marks a painful turning point in French politics by ending the traditional pendulum swinging from Right to Left and wiping out the two main parties – the right wing Les Republicains (LR) and the Parti Socialiste (PS), which had been in existance for 30 years. The two winners were outsiders.  This a wrenching process for the French, who love to criticize, but hate change.

The whole campaign was overshadowed by the “Penelope-gate” and Fillon’s other affaires (troubles) [*See Letter from Paris” published on March 5, 2017.]  Bruno Retaillau, Fillon’s spokesman, commented with some bitterness, “This was not a campaign but a trial”.

On election night, as the numbers came up on the screens, political personalities made brief  comments then left to be replaced by others.  The right wing LR members announced they would transfer their votes to Emmanuel Macron.  Jean Pierre Raffarin, prime minister from 2002 to 2005 under president Jacques Chirac, forcefully endorsed  Macron.  Jean François Copé, former president of the UMP (predecessor of LR)  and minister,  agreed that they had to block Marine Le Pen.  He stressed that he would vote for En Marche but with a sinking heart. Alain Juppe, minister of Foreign Affairs under Nicolas Sarkozy and mayor of Bordeaux, also gave his vote to Macron saying “our country needs reforms.”  François Fillon’s words were the best of his campaign, “The defeat of the LR is mine, I take all responsibility. ”

Jean Luc Malenchon, leader of the leftist movement la France Insoumise (rebellious France), was obviously very upset to have lost.  Unlike the other candidates, he did not give instructions on how to vote in the run-off.  Since seven millions supporters voted for him, this question of transfer of votes will greatly tip the scale.

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will face off in the final round of the French election on May 7.

On election night, Emmanuel Macron shared his satisfaction with the cheering flag-waving crowd in the huge hall at the Porte de Versailles.  His first words were to thank the other candidates.  Such courteousness is usually seen on the Rolland Garros tennis courts between Federer and Nadal, but certainly not among French politicians!

The electoral campaign took a sharp turn after April 23.  All of a sudden, it became a confrontation between the two candidates, a ruthless fight to the finish.  Macron was blasted for celebrating at the Rotonde brasserie on the first night and then for being invisible during the following two days. In contrast, Marine showed her ability as a superb strategist as she pre-empted the field immediately from the Ringis wholesale food market to a fishing trawler in the Mediterranean.

On April 26,   Macron went to Amiens (90 miles north of Paris) , his home town, to meet with the Whirlpool plant workers due to be laid off in 2018.  After talking with the Union representatives, he plunged into the battlefield and was roughed up by the angry crowd for 45 minutes.

But he stayed.

He talked to the workers, listened to their complaints.  He even had a heated discussion with Jean François Raffin, who is a star in France and won a César (French version of Oscar) in 2017 for his documentary Merci Patron (Thank you, boss.)  It is a satire on the relations between the working class and the super rich employers such as Bernard Arnaud,  CEO of LVMH.  Raffin, like Macron, is a native of Amiens.

Marine Le Pen, decided to drop by the Whirlpool site the same day.  She appeared all smiles, selfie in hand, working the crowds, hugging and kissing, doing small talks.  On an amazing picture she is shown beaming as she embraces a diminutive worker woman, who is in tears.

What happened in Amiens was emblematic of the confrontation between the two candidates in a difficult situation.  The relocation of a profit-making factory to Poland, where salaries are five times lower than in France, is one of the core issues the European Union (EU) is facing.

Le Pen promised the world to the workers, such as keeping the factory in France and, if needed, having it nationalized.  In contrast, the EM leader promised only to assist with the transition to other jobs.  He had the courage to tell an overheated audience that there will be many more similar relocations and one has to adjust to the new economy.

“Çà n’est pas gagné” (we have not won yet) said Macron, getting into his car.  He is right, especially when two people are fighting on different levels — one arousing fear and hatred, the other using pedagogy to propose obtainable solutions.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Erdogan Wins Presidential Superpower in Turkey’s Rigged(?) Referendum

Nicole Prévost Logan

The good news about the victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the April 16 referedum, increasing his constitutional powers to govern, is that  his accession to the European Union (EU) has become more unlikely.  If he wins another referendum on whether to restore the death penalty, that will be “crossing the red line,” French president François Holland said and it will remove permanently his demand for membership from the negotiating table.

The electoral campaign for the referendum took place in a country traumatized by several bomb attacks.  It left little room for the opposition to express its opinions.  Acts of intimidation were observed in many voting booths.

In the Netherlands the campaign to gather votes of Turkish expatriates, was particularly  unwelcome at a time when the country was having its own elections. Unhappy with the decision of the Dutch authorities not to allow the Turkish diplomats off the plane, the Turkish government called The Hague the “Nazi capital of Europe” and their action, “barbarian.”

It pretended to be shocked by Angela Merkel’s violation of freedom of expression because political rallies by the Turks were cancelled in Germany.  The Turkish expats in Europe voted overwhelmingly in favor of the referendum.

On April 13, violent riots took place at a soccer match in Lyon for the Europa League quarter final.  Thirty five hundred Turkish supporters of the Besiktas club had bought tickets. But it turned out that 20,000 more, coming from other European countries, had somehow got into the stadium without disclosing their identity.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the referendum with a 51.3 percent majority.  In the 18 articles of the new constitution, the principle of separation of powers – executive, judiciary and legislative – has disappeared. The president governs by executive orders whenever he wants.  There is no longer a prime minister. The president  designates ministers and high officials, chooses most of the judges. Parliament will be dissolved and all the new deputies will belong to AKP, the islamo-conservator party of “justice and development.” The president could potentially be in power until 2019.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Erdogan lost the support of the middle classes of the three main cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.  A sort of a slap in the face for a man who grew up in Istanbul, was its mayor and considers it as his stronghold, “commented Bernard Guetta, a journalist specializing in geopolitics.  The  European Commission urged Turkey to seek the “broadest possible consensus.”

Anyone who has traveled in Turkey knows that it is made of two different worlds.  The president finds his supporters in the first group:  firstly, poor farmers living in remote areas of the Anatolian plateau without much in common with the population on the coastal regions who have always had contacts  with the West, through trade in the Aegean Sea or the Mediterranean. And secondly, the working class living in the outskirts of the cities.  Their shabby houses are the first ones to collapse during recurrent earthquakes.  The polluted air in industrial areas can reach unbearable levels.

At the other end of the spectrum one finds Roberts College, the oldest American School abroad still in its original location.  It was founded in 1863.  Among its alumni are many of the international elites who have shaped this region of the world .

In the 1950s, Turkey was one of the countries benefiting from the Marshall Plan.  In 1952 it became a valued member of NATO thanks to its strategic geographic location.  This was an invaluable role to play.  But even the relationship of Turkey with NATO is tense to-day.

Dorothee Schmid, head of the Contemporary Turkey program at the Institut Français pour la Recherche Internationale (IFRI), comments: “Turkey advances in the fog.  It is not compatible with international organizations  and its statute at NATO is under question.”

Erdogan  considers himself the heir of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, which  spread as a crescent from central Europe, the Middle East to the Mediterranean shores of North Africa from 1299 to 1922.

The Turkish president may have also be looking  further back in history to the Hittite empire.  In the second milennium BC it was one of the two great powers in the Middle East, competing with Egypt until the decisive battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC against Ramses II.  The cyclopean walls and massive gate flanked by two sitting lions still standing to-day in Hattusas, or modern village of Bogäzköy,  give an idea of the mighty Hittite empire.

The Turkish president  seems to be driven by his thirst for power:  every two years or so there are either general elections or referendums.  The pull toward autocracy provokes an escalade of tension between the ruler and the people.  During the 2011 revolution, the protest on Tahir Square lasted for 18 days and was followed by a tough repression.  Since  the putsch attempt of July 2016, 1,500 military have been put on trial and tens of thousands arrested or lost their jobs.

Megalomania is another trait of the Turkish president.  He lives in a palace 30 times the size of the White House; he is planning to build the longest bridge in the world over the Dardanelles and a mosque so big that it will be seen from any point in Istanbul.

The priority for Erdogan today is to prevent the unification of the Kurds living both in Turkey and Syria.  The ongoing conflict has caused heavy losses in the two camps and much hatred.  The violence has had an impact on the economy.  Tourism has plummeted  down by 30 percent since last year.  “Turkey feels threatened,” says Ahmet Insel, Turkish economist and specialist on that country.

The agreement between Turkey and the EU *regarding the flux of refugees across the Aegean Sea seems to be working out: in 2015, 10,000 migrants crossed the sea as compared to only 43 to-day.  Insel says, “It is in no one’s interest to put an end to this agreement.”  The 3.5 million refugees now living in Turkey seem to be adjusting after going through difficult times.  The Turkish government is even thinking of offering them citizenship.

Marc Pierini, former French ambassador to Turkey comments, “Turkey remains a major actor in the area.”  Nevertheless it is frightening to see the leverage power Erdogan holds over the EU and by way of an almost tangible demonstration of that power, the question discussed by specialists on the France-Culture radio channel on April 8, 2017, was, “How the exacerbated nationalism of Erdogan will impact the geopolitical imbroglio?”

* see “Letter from Paris,” March 19, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Paris, Berlin Need to Work Together as the EU Determines its Future

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the French, Germany can be a source of admiration or of irritation . The Franco-German “couple” has been the pillar of the European Union (EU.)   The couple worked beautifully until the departure respectively of Francois Mitterand in 1995 and Helmut Kohl in 1998.  Today more than ever, the two countries need to spearhead initiatives to bring about a new Europe.

Marcel Fratzscher , president of the German Institute of Economic Research, writes on April 6, “Without a strong France, Europe cannot pull out of the crisis. We need France to play the role of a leader with a vision of the European project.”  Without agreeing on everything, the two countries have a lot to learn from each other.

Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), will run for a fourth mandate next September.  Hans Stark, professor of Germany civilization at the Sorbonne, believes  the Germans have not had enough yet of Merkel and will elect her again, possibly for the last time.  Her hold on the people is still strong as showed in the CDU winning 40 percent of the votes in the recent Saarland elections. The Social Democrats (SPD) tried to form a coalition with the Left (die Linke) and the Greens, but failed.

Merkel is pragmatic in her policies.  For instance she moved from the center to the left (stepping on Social Democrats’ turf) by adopting ideas attractive to the left such as the acceptance of same-sex marriage or opposition to nuclear arms.  In a nutshell, she remains in the center but maintains a slight tilt toward the left. 

Her longevity is explained by her ability to create consensus.  She has to be an acrobat to lead a country made up of 19 States  (Länder), six of them having come from East Germany and 13 from West Germany. 

It was the intention of the Allied forces occupying Germany to create a multitude of “checks and balances” in order to decentralize power by adding to the number of Länder already existing before the war.  Sailing on the Danube one can see the splendid architecture left by the powerful Prince-Bishops ruling Wurzburg or Bamberg länder.  The voting system by proportional ballot creates the need for coalitions and hence a fragmentation of power. 

Martin Schulz

The main opponent of Merkel in next September’s election will be Martin Schultz, who has just been elected as the president of  Social Democrats (SPD) with 100 percent of the votes. The SPD plummeted after the unpopular reforms made by Gerard Schroder  but has now bounced back. Today the CDU and SPD are running neck and neck, each with about 33 percent of the electorate.

The right wing populist party “Alternative for Deutschland ” (AfD)  represents  9 percent of the vote.  It was not founded until 2013.  Since the  end of the war, Germany has had to live with certain taboos and one of them, was the aversion  to any political system reminiscent of fascism or communism.  Today the former East Germany is more populist than West Germany.  By way of example, in the last elections in Saxony-Anhalt, AfD received 25 percent of the vote. 

Germany is an economic success story, but at what price?  The system, called Hartz I-IV, implemented by Gerard Schroder in 2003, consisted of tough labor reforms and imposing sacrifices on the work force at a time when Germany was called the “sick man of Europe.”

But the results were indeed striking:  unemployment went down by half and is now only 5.9 percent,  exports have risen by 6 percent creating a trade surplus of 250 billion, and growth is at 1.9 percent.  Alexandra Spitz, a German professor of economics, published an article in the Harvard Business Review on March 13, 2017, titled, “The Real Reasons why the German Labor Market is Booming.”  In summary, she explains these reasons are that wages have not increased as much as  productivity; collective bargaining between employers and employees is decentralized, and workers have accepted lower salaries and flexible labor conditions.

Some of the French, who have a generous (perhaps, too generous?) “social model,” believe Germans have very low unemployment, but also millions of “poor workers” with many part-time, low-paid and short-duration jobs.  Other French people do not agree and are impressed by the German performance and willing to borrow some of their ideas.

Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Think Tank, notes, “There has been an internal devaluation of the cost of labor because of the “poor workers.”  This policy can be called “mercantilism.”  It was used to boost the competitiveness of both industry and exports.  This caused  a problem for the European neighbors.  Germany is preoccupied with its own national interests and has displayed a lack of cooperation with others.  “Professor Hans Stark argues, “In 2004, the Eastern European countries, which joined the EU had low wage-economies.  This time it was Eastern Europe’s turn to practice mercantile policies toward Germany.” 

“Qualified workers have access to professional training at any time,” Professor Stark remarks. “Those persons, less qualified but having completed their “cursus,” can benefit from apprenticeships.  Those, without any qualification, fall to the bottom of the pile.  German industry is always looking for qualified workers.  In the sectors where labor is not qualified – construction, services, agribusiness – the salaries remain low.  This may constitute a problem for French farmers for instance.”  A minimum wage was introduced in 2015.

Sigmar Gabriel

Sigmar Gabriel, former president of SPD and now German minister of foreign affairs, says, “Let us stop thinking we are the cash cow in relation to the European budget.  We have also profited from Europe, particularly when the 1999 introduction of the Euro presented a devaluation from the Deutsch Mark.”

Germany has been cautious not to increase its military power (another taboo.)  The Parliament (Bundestag) has blocked the increase of the army (Bundeswehr.)  The government  abstained from taking part in the  Libyan campaign.  Now the defense of territory is becoming a priority again.  Four brigades have been deployed to defend the Baltic states from Russia.

President François Holland invited the leaders of Germany, Italy and Spain, to a mini-summit in Versailles on March 6 to discuss European defense.  Soon after, during an informal meeting in Malta attended by several EU leaders, Merkel declared, “There will be a European Union at different speeds.”

Clearly, this seems to preview what Europe may become – a number of core countries of the EU, working together on specific projects.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the First Few Days of Brexit

Nicole Prévost Logan

This was a very good editorial,  civilized and  compassionate.  It avoided throwing oil on the fire, playing the blame game or making doomsday predictions.

On March 30, in le Monde, an editorial appeared under the following title: “An Appeal to London and the 27.”  Actually it was a collective message published simultaneously by The Guardian, Le Monde, La Vanguardia and Gazeta Wyborcza.

One cannot undo 44 years of social, economic and human ties with just a strike of a pen — that was  the four newspapers’ message.   The collateral damage will be felt on both sides of the English Channel.  Three million Europeans live in the UK and more than two million British expats live on the continent. The fate of those five million people is at stake.  

The authors of the editorial suggested the Brexit process should be started on a positive note and tend to the status of the expatriate nationals right away, before starting the negotiation process.

But the day after Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, parted emotionally with the Euroskeptic David Davis British envoy,  the head-on confrontational negotiations started in earnest.

Like a chess player, Theresa May decided that attack was the best strategy and she put the central demands of the UK on the table: first, treat simultaneously the details of the “divorce” and the future of commercial relations between the UK and the European Union (EU); second, organize the future of security cooperation. 

Europe shot back in no uncertain terms.  Angela Merkel said Germany wanted to tackle other matters first and so did Francois Holland,  Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator for Europe.  The basic position of the Europeans is that no negotiations on free trade should start until the UK has left the EU totally and become a third-party country. 

The European Union (EU) wants discussions to proceed “per phases,” starting with “reciprocal and non discriminatory” guarantees as to the status of the Europeans living the UK and the 60 billion Euros already obligated by the UK to the budget of Europe. An extremely sensitive point will be for the UK to abide by the decisions taken by the European Court of Justice located in Luxembourg.

As far as the negotiations concerning the future relations between the two parties, some topics promise to be particularly stormy, particularly the “social, fiscal and environmental dumping” or whether to preserve the “financial passport” allowing the City of London to sell financial products on the continent.  The Europeans oppose discussions per economic sector, as wanted by Theresa May, and bi-lateral agreements to be signed between the UK and any of the EU members. 

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

On March 31, Donald Tusk, gave a crucial six-page document to the 27 members of the EU laying down the essential principles of the negotiations to come. The text should be formally accepted by them on April 29 at a summit meeting in Brussels.

Obviously the presidential elections in France will have an impact on the negotiations.   Marine Le Pen applauds an event which will make Europe more fragile.  At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche party) feels the access to the Common Market  has a price and should be balanced by contributions to the European budget.  François Fillon  (Les Republicains or LR ) supports a firm attitude toward the British demands. He thinks that the Le Touquet agreement needs to be modified and the borders moved from Calais to Dover.

The ideal scenario would be to have the parties agree on these first phases so that discussion on the future should be tackled by the beginning of 2018.

The tone of the difficult negotiations has been set.  It will be a roller-coaster ride for months to come.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: One Man’s Opinion: ‘How to Save Europe’

Nicole Prévost Logan

“The sixty years since the Treaty of Rome, on March 25, 1957, have not been a long quiet river for Europe”, commented academic Robert Frank.  This is an understatement.  Today, the disaffection for the European Union (EU) has reached such a point that the need for its re-foundation is considered a matter of survival.

A good place to start the soul-searching process is by reading a gem of a book, written by a former diplomat and one of the most influential French scholars on foreign affairs today.  The book has the merit of being very short but so dense in meaning that every single word deserved to be pondered over. The book is called Sauver l’Europe and was published on Nov. 21, 2016.  The author, Hubert Vedrine, born in 1947,  was a collaborator of president Francois Mitterand from 1981 to 1995 and served as minister of foreign affairs from 1997 to 2002 under president Jacques Chirac.

First, the author makes a diagnosis regarding what went wrong.

  1. The EU has been working against nations instead of with them.  A federalist Europe, with a superpower in Brussels, Vedrine thinks, is a utopia.  Unlike the USA, Europe is made of nations with different cultures, languages and history.  “There is no democratic path to federalism for Europe.”
  2. The “elites” in Brussels have grown increasingly disconnected from the people.  There is a perception that an accumulation of treaties are drowning the public without acknowledging the opposition.  In the collective memory the worst grievance was when France and the Netherlands said “no” in a referendum about the 2005  constitutional project.  Two years later that project was repackaged and forced through in the treaty of Lisbon.  (Note: this is not entirely true because the second text included several positive modifications)
  3. Over the years, Brussels, has interfered too much  into the people’s lives in imposing annoying regulations:  how to make cheese, set the size of bananas or of the shower heads.  Europe cannot take care of everything. The key word is “subsidiarity.”  It means that competence not attributed to the Union by treaty should  belong to the member states.  Vedrine writes, “Europe was built upside down and should undergo a drastic cure of subsidiarity by simplifying the autistic hypertrophied regulations. “
  4. “Sovereignty” is a hard-won concept one should be proud of.   The final objective of Europe is not to dissolve the sovereignty of the member states but add to it.
  5. Many critics of Europe confuse the EU and globalization.   One by one, French factories have disappeared, for not being competitive enough.  One of the first ones to close was Moulinex.  In 2001 everybody went up in arms against the loss of jobs at the small plant of Normandy .  In 2016, when the Whirlpool plant was relocated to Poland, outsourcing had become the norm.  Whether the phenomenon occurred inside Europe or in Asia, the impact on people who lost their jobs in France was the same.
  6. With the wild expansion of Europe to 27 (nine new members entered the Union in the single year of 2003), it has become hard to run a such a cumbersome structure, especially when some of the states give the priority to their national interests.  This is particularly true with the populist attitude of the Visegrad Group – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – which showed no solidarity with the rest of Europe at the time of the refugee crisis.
  7. The arrival of more than 1.5 million refugees in 2015 and also in 2016 has shaken a system unprepared for such a brutal surge.  The huge number of immigrants created an unavoidable confrontation between different ways of life, the loss of identity, exasperated by fear of terrorism,
  8. The adoption of the Euro has meant further constraints for the 17 members of the Eurozone.  The 1992 Treaty of Maestricht set two basic rules; the general government deficit should not exceed 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the public deficit should not exceed 60 percent of the GDP.

In the opinion of Vedrine, the solution to the problems listed above is not for more integration and certainly not more enlargement. One needs to mark a pause, to listen to the people and to re-center Europe on the essential. One should return to the values of the founding fathers.  Remember how Jacques Delors, who was president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995, called the EU a “federation of States-Nations” .

To prepare for the celebrations making the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, issued a White Paper offering several scenarios for the 2025 horizon. One of them was to “allow the member-states to move forward, if they wish, in very specific areas. ” The goal is that no one should feel excluded.

On March 6, 2017 the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain met for a mini-summit in Versailles to discuss a Europe à plusieurs vitesses (going at different speeds.)  This was a format never seen before and maybe a preview of what lies ahead.

The American economist Joseph Stiglitz advocates an éclatement (breaking up) of the Euro group into four more flexible zones, until the conditions for more integration are met.”  The opinion of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and OCDE (Organization of Cooperation and Economic Development) and other economists is that the EU had gone to too far on the method of austerity.  The priority now is to create sustainable growth, rather than reduce the deficit .

The most ambitious  proposal for European defense so far has been made by the Robert Schuman Foundation.  It calls for Germany, France and the UK to sign  an intergovernmental treaty for defense and security of the EU.  Let us show more solidarity and agree to share the burden of military expenses before pronouncing empty words like “European defense.”

The author of “Save Europe” points to the mistakes  made by Angela Merkel: abandoning nuclear, after Fukushima, without enough preparation for what to do next; extending a “generous but too personal” invitation to the refugees to come to Europe and single-handedly signing an agreement with Turkey.

Vedrine wants the European way of life  to be preserved.  Even though many complain, there is in Europe a douceur de vie (gentle pleasure of life) one should treasure.  Let Brussels set objectives and the States go their own way .

A recurrent slogan in the campaign speeches of Marine Le Pen  (and of other anti-European populists), is to put la patrie (homeland) first.  By demonstrating that it is possible to keep one ‘s sovereignty, to show it is not a sin to be a patriot and at the same time be a European, would be an effective way to obliterate her arguments. 

On March 29, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, received with emotion the letter from the British Ambassador, marking the departure of the UK from the EU at the outset of the Brexit.  It was, however, both reassuring and encouraging to read this the upbeat remark in Sauver l’Europe , “The idea of a continental partnership between the UK and the EU, expressed by the Brussels-based Bruegel think-tank, could solve many problems.”  

Let us hope this concept is pursued.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Europe Sees The Netherlands Come to its Rescue

Nicole Prévost Logan

Thank goodness for The Netherlands!  

Their March 15 vote for their House of Representatives was exactly what Europe needed at this point – the reassuring voice of a founding member of the European Community (EU) expressing its belief in Europe while being open to the world. The result was greeted with a sigh of relief by pro-Europeans. It was another sign — after the victory of the Green Party-backed Independents in the Austrian elections of December 2016 — that populism and rejection of Europe are not inescapable. 

A brief look at history will help better understand the elections of The Netherlands and realize how coherent the Dutch position is.  During its “Golden Age” in the 16th and 17th centuries,  Holland was an opulent merchant class society marked by Calvinist ethics of discipline and frugality.  It stood out as being tolerant toward religions and a place where liberty of conscience was inscribed in the constitution.

The founding of the Dutch East India Company opened a maritime and commercial empire, becoming a hub of finances and trade. The first ever stock exchange was created in Amsterdam.  Erasmus (1466-1536), the humanist Renaissance scholar, gave his name to a most successful student exchange program established in 1987.

Someone described The Netherlands of that time as having high literacy and low interest. Rotterdam, until recently the largest port in the world, is still number one in Europe.  What was tolerance has developed into permissiveness and it is one of the dominant traits of the Dutch people today.  Finally, that small country, located well below the sea level, has shown incredible courage in carrying out its Pharaonic fight against the elements. 

“The Netherlands is the country, which has the most to lose from the Brexit” says Marc-Olivier Padis, from the Terra Nova Think Tank.  It shares with the UK an attachment to free trade policies and also to the unhindered circulation of goods and capital within the European Common Market.  Holland’s agriculture, horticulture and dairy industry have always profited from Europe’s Political Agricultural Policy (PAC). The reason the Dutch voted “No”  to the 2005 referendum on a European constitution was because they  worried about the seemingly uncontrolled expansion of Europe, especially with Holland being the largest of the small countries in the continent.

The participation in the March 15 elections was incredibly high at 77.6 percent.  The ballot system by proportional representation produces multiple parties.  In order to be able to govern, any of the 28 parties has to join a coalition with others. 

Here is a snapshot  of the votes showing the changes since the 2012 elections.  The winner was Mark Rutte (VVD), former prime minister, head of the conservative liberal centrist party with 21.3 percent votes and 33 seats. He lost eight seats.  In second place, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Greet Wilders, obtained 13.1 percent and will have 20 seats. Two pro-European parties, Christian democrat Appeal (CDA) and centrist reformer (D66) won 19 seats each.  Those two may share an alliance with Rutte.    

Rutte said he would not join Wilders again, as he had done in 2012.  The Labour party Social democrats (PVDA) collapsed going from 29 seats to only nine seats.  The radical left also did not perform well.  One notes two interesting developments: a young 30-year-old had a spectacular rise — Jesse Klaver has a Dutch-Indonesian mother and a  father of Moroccan origin.  His party, Groenlinks (GL)  or green- left, will secure 14 seats.

A new party, Denk, meaning “think”, headed by Unahan Kuzu, received 2 percent of the votes and will have three seats.  It is 100 percent Moslem.

Wilders, the “peroxide candidate,” leader of PPV, the only extremist party,  gained five seats.  He progressed but did not win.  “We are the party, which did not lose,” he commented.”  He is well-known for his outrageous attacks against Islam.  He wants to outlaw the Koran , close all mosques and expel the Moslems.  As a consequence, he is under constant threat.

For the past 13 years he has been living in a safe house with  a “panic room,” is under police protection round the clock and rides in an armor-plated car.  “I would not wish my life to anybody”  A “buffer zone,” to use the expression of German journalist Michaela Wiegel, isolates Wilders in the parliament. 

The Dutch elections took place at a time of high tension between Ankara and Europe.  The Turkish minister of foreign affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu was about to land in Rotterdam as part of a political campaign among the Turkish diaspora of  2.8 million.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objective is to gather the Turkish population’s support prior to the April 16 constitutional referendum on his increased powers.  After Erdogan called Holland the Nazi capital of the West and kept hurling other insults, Germany and Holland had the courage to forbid the Turkish officials from entering their territories.  Rutte was very firm and impressed the voters scrambling during the last minutes before the polls.

Today Dutch economy is so healthy as to make its neighbors drool with envy with 6 percent unemployment and an economic growth rate of 2.1 percent.  The government reacted quickly to the recent economic crises in 2008 and 2010-11.  In 2012, it was even able to generate a trade surplus.  Its rigorous austerity program was so efficient as to lower public expenses down from 65 to 45 percent.  The reforms were not imposed on the people but accepted by them in a form of consensus.

The main issues at stake are not so much economic nor social but a fear of losing one’s cultural identity and also anxiety about security.  Therefore immigration and the challenge of integration are at the core of the people’s concerns. 

Holland is a multicultural society with a surge of a Turkish and Moroccan immigration — something which has occurred during the past 50 years.  Half the population of Rotterdam consists of recent immigrants.  The Dutch have been working hard at establishing good relations with these populations: 70 associations act as go-between; a minister from a reformed church in Rotterdam just gave a sermon in a mosque; Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam, is of Moroccan origin, and is strongly against the radicalization of Islam.

The Netherlands should be considered as a model for the other EU members. Unfortunately, many of their qualities are not to be found in other countries.  It is hoped that the position and demands of the Dutch are heard in a restructuring of the EU, possibly to unfold in the next few months. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The ‘Centre Pompidou’ Turns 40  

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Musée National d’Art Moderne (MNAM), better known as the Centre Pompidou – that crazy structure  with tubes, exhaust pipes, chimneys and metal rods in bright primary colors – is celebrating 40 years of existence.  Its revolutionary architecture oriented toward multidisciplinary activities, which turned it into what virulent opponents called  a “supermarket for the arts,” scandalized visitors at first, but is now the benchmark for art museums around the word.

In 1969, President Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude, wanted to create an institution accessible to everyone, innovative enough to arouse the curiosity and the interest of the general public.  He wrote in Le Monde on Oct. 17, 1972, “It is my passionate wish for Paris to have a cultural center like the ones they have created in the United States, which have thus far been an unequalled success.  It would be one that is both a museum and a center of creation where the visual arts take residence with music, films, books, audiovisual research, etc.”

The project was conceived soon after the May 1968 student contest, which shook French society to the core.  A location was found in a vacant parking lot in the dilapidated working class district of Beaubourg.  Construction lasted five years from 1972 to 1977.

Young architects – Italian Renzo Piano and Englishman Richard Rogers along with Italian Gianfranco Franchini – won the international competition and designed a project breaking away from the tradition of solemn museums.  Their innovative design consisted of a metal structure with six levels of flexible and open-plan floors.

The Centre Pompidou features a revolutionary design, which includes the external escalator known as the “caterpillar.” Photo by Nicole Logan.

The anchor of the assemblage was a giant pillar supporting a network of metal beams and interlocking parts.  The external escalator, enclosed in glass, zigzags its way up to the roof-top like a caterpillar (hence its nickname) along the face of the building.  The color-coded functional pipes – blue for the air, yellow for electricity, green for water and red for circulation – give a playful appearance to the construction.

The idea was to integrate the museum within its urban environment.  The facade is all glass and there is no threshold between the outdoors and the Forum or heart of the center.  Whenever the exhibits are too large to be set up inside – as was the case with the 1979 Dali retrospective, which attracted 800,000 visitors – they spill over the gently sloping piazza or the nearby Stravinsky Fountain.

President Valery Giscard d’Estaing inaugurated the building on Jan. 31, 1977 with high officials and celebrities in attendance.  Adding to the pageantry , the Garde Republicaine arrived on horseback , holding Andy Warhol-creation-like banners. Forty eight hours later, the Centre Pompidou opened to the general public.

The 40,000 visitors could not hold their excitement as they rode the escalator to the upper terraces, well above the roofs of Paris.  The organizers were afraid the building would collapse with the unexpected size of the crowds.  Looking at the metal structure, someone supposedly commented, “Why didn’t they take down the scaffolding?”

The permanent collections of modern art, spanning the period from 1905 until the 1960s, are on the fifth floor.  The plan layout allows for the easy flow of visitors between rooms of all sizes.  The walls are stark white.  A wide hallway leads to huge windows opening on a reflecting pool and a free-standing, 25 ft. high mobile by Alexander Calder.  Montmartre is in the background .

The art lover will see just a sampling or five per cent of the phenomenal collections owned by the museum, which includes works by Sonia and Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger,  Mondrian, Matisse, Picasso, Yves Klein, Juan Gris, Goncharova,  Larionov and many others.  One room is dedicated to Marcel Duchamp and includes the famous bicycle on a kitchen stool (MOMA has another copy), and the hard-to-understand Neuf Moules Mâlic, (generally translated as Nine Malic Moulds) 1914, which was a preparation for la Mariée mise à nu par ses celibataires (the bride stripped naked  by her nine bachelors).

Contemporary art, starting in the latter part of the 20th century, is displayed on the fifth floor. At present an exhibit entitled “Kollektsia” includes 250 works from the USSR and the new Russia from 1950-2000, donated by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.  Fascinating videos bring back the world of the 1960s in the Soviet era.

One video shows Nikita Khrushchev in a heated discussion about modern art with the public at the Manege. Another video shows  the government’s bulldozers  destroying the open-air exhibit hurriedly organized by the dissident Russian painters.

The Centre Pompidou, as an institution offering cultural activities at all levels, includes two special departments.  One is IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music.)  Founded by composer Pierre Boulez, it is a research center, using advanced technology working on ways to visualize music.  On the other hand, the Public Information Library or BPI is an enormous facility with resources in a multiplicity of media.  It is open to all and offers wonderfully convenient free access to its shelves.

The production of the Centre Pompidou, during the past 40 years, has included major retrospectives establishing links between artistic capitals such as “Paris-Moscow” or “Paris-New York,” hundreds of monograph exhibits or surprising sights such as the grand piano of German artist Beuys made of felt hanging from the ceiling.

The $64,000 question is, will the Centre Pompidou be able to sustain this feverish pace or will it ultimately run out of steam?  There is no question that the curators are fully committed to ensuring that this latter scenario does not happen.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Another Presidential Race, But French-Style This Time, Filled With Pride, Passion, Power, Intrigue

Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidential campaign in France is undergoing a series of twists and turns, often spectacular, sometimes violent.  Traditional politics are going through a crisis and may come out rejuvenated from the turmoil.  The rest of Europe is watching the developments with anxiety because its future is at stake.

By the end of February, five candidates were still in the race: François Fillon, winner of the right wing primary and candidate of Les Republicains or LR (The Republicans), Benoit Hamon, who won the Socialist primary, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, gauche de la gauche (far left), Marine Le Pen, president of the ultra right wing Front National (National Front) and Emmanuel Macron, independent, and head of the party he named, En Marche! (Let’s go!)

And then there were five … from left to right, the candidates still running in the French Presidential election are Jean-Luc Melenchon, Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

“Penelopegate” has been covered with glee by the media around the world.  It all started with the suspicion that François Fillon had been paying his British wife Penelope for fictitious jobs as his ’employee’ for more than two decades.  Until the three independent investigating judges have determined whether she did work or not, Fillon is presumed innocent.  But whatever they find, the damage has been done to the candidate, who had run on the ticket of a man of integrity.

Actually Fillon is not entirely to blame, he is just a product of the system. The main problem in France is the opaque system of generous perks granted the legislators.  A deputy receives about 13,000 euros monthly (base salary and allowances) and an “envlop”of 9,100 euros to pay for a maximum of five assistants parlementaires (parliamentary assistants).  The British receive twice as much and the Germans 130 percent more.  Members of the US Congress receive 10 times that amount and are allowed a staff of 18 people.  By hiring his wife and two children,  Fillon was using the privilege of nepotism to the hilt, which is increasingly unacceptable to public opinion.

He appeared even more blatantly as a member of a privileged caste when answering questions on the media. His defense strategy went through several stages.  At first he appeared arrogant, bristling at any questioning of his entitlement and of his wife’s right to work (with the tax-payer’s money).  Second stage: “I offer my apologies but I have done nothing wrong.” Third : “I am the victim of a conspiracy intended to destabilize my campaign ” . Fourth: “only Bercy (where the ministry of finances is located) can be the source of all the accusations.” His last resort was to ask his lawyers to discredit the financial prosecutor as not being competent to handle the case.

Marine Le Pen is in more trouble with justice than Fillon and has a number of pending lawsuits against her. She is clever enough to uses this situation to reinforce the admiration of her unshakable supporters.  She is being sued for using the European parliament’s budget to pay her assistants parlementaires who should be working in Strasbourg, not in Paris.   Her other cases include fraud linked to misappropriations of funds during electoral campaigns.

In a recent three-hour-long TV talk show, she displayed her skills as a sharp, articulate and smooth speaker.  Answering questions fired at her from all sides.  Winning arguments was no problem for her.  It is hard to understand how she manages to appeal so easily to people with her populist ideas while omitting to point out the financial and economic disastrous consequences her program would have for France.

The conditions were now favorable – the right and far right candidates being embroiled with justice, a divided socialist party not likely for the first time since 1974 to reach the final ballots – for Emmanuel Macron to continue his meteoric ascent.  And he is using that open road with passion.  On Feb. 22, he accepted with enthusiasm the offer of a coalition from the president of the centrist MoDem (democratic movement).  This was a perfect fit between François Bayrou, a politically-wise older man, and Macron, a 39-year-old, brilliant, highly educated, former minister of  finances and economy, although never elected.  Bayrou declared, “My priority will be to guarantee the moralization of French politics,” a promise which could not be more topical.

Macron’s style is very different from the  other French politicians.  He smiles a lot and is warm and friendly.  The project he just laid out is not harsh and does not sound like a punishment. For a man as young as he is, what he proposes is surprisingly down to earth and realistic.  His priority is to modernize the system, simplify the  regulations, and decentralize the decision process.  He introduces many innovating measures, which may go against the entrenched privileges of some French.

He is counting on the suppression of 120,000 posts of civil servants to reach his goal of a 60 billions economy.  Nothing like the choc therapy proposed by Fillon to eliminate 500,000 posts.

As a good economist, he has two sound proposals: one is to lower corporate taxes from 33.3 percent to 25 percent to be in sync  with the average European rates.  Another proposal  makes a great deal of sense: stop penalizing people for making investments.  By lowering high taxes on their capital, the French may stop hiding their savings under their mattresses.

To tackle the endemic French unemployment, he intends to make sure that the allowances are linked to the efforts demonstrated by job seekers to find a job. 

Macron unveiled his project to an audience of 400 journalists on March 2.  The other candidates were very quick to pull his project to shreds.  Vicious messages circulated in the social networks trying to demolish him, particularly for having worked for the Rothschild bank. No French president has ever been able to carry out even a small portion of Macron’s proposed  reforms.  The fight will be ruthless.

Fillon’s situation is becoming more unsustainable by the hour.  An indictment is probable. A growing number of his team have jumped ship.  He is determined not to quit the race.  The name of Alain Juppe, who came second in the primary, is being mentioned as a substitute.

Only 50 more days until the first round of elections on April 23, and still no way out of the crisis — probably one of the worst France has ever lived through.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A European in Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Jan. 27,  Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the White House during Donald Trump’s era.  The prime minister’s red dress matched the US president’s red tie and they both seemed  determined to cheer each other for the wonderful things they were about to accomplish together.

On the eve of Brexit, it was crucial  for the British visitor to obtain US support. For Trump,  it was a chance to welcome the UK as a “privileged” partner, to stress how the latter will benefit from Brexit and become a model for Europe in freeing itself from the “Brussels consortium.”

Actually, at this point, the US is not in a position to be much help for England. It is a matter that will have to be worked out directly between the UK and the European Union (EU.)   Beyond the posturing, the British prime minister was trying to reconcile her vision of a “global England” open to the world with the protectionism policies launched by Trump.

The task for May is incredibly complex since she has made clear her intention not to sever all ties with the continent while implementing  the “hard Brexit”and also to avoid a “cliff edge” situation.  She will need all her political acumen to surmount the obstacles coming from all sides and negotiate the best deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets US President Donald Trump.

The “divorce” process has not even started and already dissenting opinions are being heard, even in her own camp.  On Jan. 3, Sir Ivan Rogers, the permanent British representative to the EU,  resigned after sending warning signals, and was immediately replaced  by “euro-skeptic” Tim Barrow, former ambassador to Moscow.  On Jan. 11, the Minister of Immigration, Robert Goodwill, proposed to impose a tax of 1,000 British pounds on EU workers. The business circles protested and the government backed down.  Andrea Leadson, Minister of Agriculture,  had to reassure farmers that the hiring of seasonal labor would not come to a stop.  Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer disagreed  with the minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and proposed a departure “a la carte” from Europe. 

On Jan. 24, the British High Court voted by eight to three to route the Brexit process through parliament.  This decision created another hurdle for the prime minister. The House of Commons passed the text overwhelmingly.  The House of Lords will be next.    

The worst enemy of the UK in the Brexit process is the timetable.  Once triggered, Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon will take two years to be implemented and, of course, will have to be approved by all the EU members.  After that, it will take five or possibly 10 years for Britain to be legally able to conclude free trade bilateral agreements with other countries.

On Jan. 17, May gave a major speech at Lancaster House in which she spelled out the main points of her program.  This was followed a few days later by the publication of a White Paper containing a road map.  Control of immigration is a central preoccupation for the UK government.  It is understandable,  given the fact that that, from 2015 to 2016, 650,000 immigrants entered the country  (including 284,000 coming from the EU).  Britain had opted out long ago of the Schengen Zone, which allows for free circulation of goods, people, services and capital .

Right now Britain is a member of the European Customs Union and of the European single market. * Being a member of a single market like the EU, created by the 1957 founding treaty of Rome, comes with many constraints such as the harmonization of regulations, compliance with certain standards and the required contributions to the EU budget (Britain has already  committed 40 billion euros for the period 2016-2020.)  The European Court of Justice (based in Luxembourg) enforces those regulations and this explains May’s particular dislike for that institution.

In case of the departure of Britain from the EU,  there are alternatives to its present trade arrangements such as the ones used by  Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, which are not part of the European Customs Union.  Three of them are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which puts them close to the single market. Another example is Turkey, which is not part of the EU single market, but benefits from a special free trade agreement with Europe.  After her visit to Washington, May met with President Erdogan in Ankara to discuss these matters as well as a post-Brexit trade and military partnership.

One  of the most contentious issues of the Brexit is the future of The City.  For 30 years, it has been the financial hub of activities for the huge European market of 500 million people.  By leaving the single market, The City will lose its  “European passport”  and its say over the new regulations issued by Brussels every year.

Guy Verhofstadt, called “Mr. Brexit” at the European parliament, denounced the “illusion that it is possible to leave the EU while retaining its advantages.”

Michel Barnier has been appointed by Jean Claude Yunker, president of the European Commission, to head the negotiations with Britain.  This was a good choice.  Barnier is a man of consensus, experienced and pragmatic, according to The Telegraph.   Economist by training, he has held several posts as European Commissioner of various departments including finance, banking and defense. Interestingly, it was Barnier who supported the adhesion of Britain into Europe in 1972.

*for more on Cameron’s negotiations with the EU, which led to the June 23 referendum, see Logan’s article published by VNN on March 5, 2016.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: How France is Coping With the Ongoing Terrorism Threat

Nicole Prévost Logan

Two years after the “Je suis Charlie” massacre, how does it feel to be in France today with the threat of terrorism?  

Numbers seem to speak for themselves: France, which is the most visited European country, saw a decrease last year of almost 50 percent – equivalent to 84 million – tourists last year while website commentaries lament empty hotels, restaurants and museums.

This observation is not quite accurate and, besides, does not take into account the complexity of the situation. In the first place, France has not become a dangerous war zone and people here still enjoy themselves: restaurants are full at lunch time, the new Paris Philarmonie orchestra is booked solid for months and there are more fantastic art exhibits – such as the Shchukin collection – than ever.

For the French, the threat of terrorism is not measured primarily by the dollar amount lost through a decrease in mass tourism (which is not the country’s vocation in any case.) There are many other serious considerations relating to the effects of terrorism on French politics and society, or the measures taken by authorities to protect the citizens.    

The cover of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ two years after the horrific attack on the magazine’s office in Paris.

In recent years, the French have been deeply marked by terrorist attacks with 237 people killed between January 2015 and July 2016. These range tragically from the murder of cartoonists; the bombing of the Bataclan night club, several bistros and restaurants; a truck plowing through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day; to the gory assassination of 85-year-old  father Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit on the altar of his small Normandie church in front of two elderly nuns.

The impact on France’s national consciousness of the November 2015 terrorist attacks was enormous. As the two chambers of the parliament met in a joint session in Versailles, every single deputy stood up and sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise, a solemn event not seen since 1918.

François Hollande has been literally traumatized by the terrorist bombings. The president was immediately on the scenes of the attacks, even before the areas were made secure. For him, the defense against terrorism was a brutal awakening and a priority. The political price he had to pay was very high.

Under the intense pressure of the moment, he proposed a law on the déchéance de la nationalité (loss of nationality) for terrorists. This proposal caused havoc among the leftist segment of the French population. The president never recovered politically. Recently, when he announced his decision not to run again for another five years, Hollande declared, “I was wrong to make that proposal”.

The terrorist threat has become part of French people’s daily life. Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology, recently published a book titled, “How to Live in the Terrorist Era,” in which he gives practical advice on what to do in case of attack. Defense against terrorism is a major topic for the candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. .

France has come a long way since the affaire Merah in March 2012. The young Mohammed Merah had appeared all smiles on TV screens after killing seven civilians and military in the Toulouse area. At first believed to have acted as a “lone wolf,” he  turned out to be part of a whole network of siblings, relatives and friends. During the past five years, the French authorities – Intelligence, police,  judiciary and military both inside France and abroad – have made spectacular efforts to adjust to the terrorist threat, which is changing its modus operandi almost daily. 

Today the police wear bulletproof vests, carry attack weapons, and not only have the right, but also the duty, to intervene in the case of a terrorist threat.  The Direction Générale de Securiéte Interieure or DGSI (equivalent to the FBI) has stepped up its action, thwarting  90 percent of bombing attempts every year. In the past few months, it has dismantled sleeping terrorist cells in Marseille and Strasbourg.

France is the European country with the largest Moslem population. The latter is overwhelmingly considered to have nothing to do with radical Islam.  However, subjects which used to be taboo before, such as the relationship between extremism and religion, are now openly debated. Recent books also contribute to the change in thinking.

Gilles Kepel, an authority on the Arab world and Islam, demonstrates in his book, La Fracture, (‘The Divide’) that the only way to understand extreme Islamists is to analyze in depth their ideology. One should make an effort to understand  their strategy, which is to divide society, by teaching from a very young age, hatred against non-believers and the West, through brainwashing and conversion of an increasing number of people in both mosques and also in prisons. Keppel writes, “Prisons have become the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration or French elite school ) for Jihadists.” 

In the fall, journalist David Thomson  published “Les Revenants” (those who returned) about the young men – and women – who joined ISIS or Islamist State in 2012 at the outset of the Syrian civil war. They would announce their plans openly on You Tube  and traveled freely through Turkey toward their final destination of Rakka. In 2013 -14 their number grew exponentially. With the loss of territory in The Levant , ISIS has changed its strategy and many of the “revenants” have gone underground and become “Jihadists of the keyboard,” to use Thomson’s expression.

Is it the end of the tunnel ? Probably not and the threat remains, the experts concur. We can be thankful, however, that the Intelligence services and police have become more successful in cracking down on radical Islam.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Extraordinary ‘Shchukin Collection’ on View in Paris Attracts Massive Crowds

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is the first time ever that the masterpieces of the Russian art collector Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin have traveled abroad as a collection.  Until now only separate works have been seen in the West.  In the 1979 “Paris-Moscow” major retrospective at the Pompidou Center – a huge exhibition from Soviet state museums –  there was no mention anywhere of the origin of the art works.

It was not until  2010 at the “Matisse Malevich” exhibit held at the Hermitage Amsterdam that the French canvasses were identified as follows: “Origin: Museum of Modern  Western Art, formerly from the collection of Sergei Shchukin.”  So, it is a first to see more than half of the entire collection in Paris today.  Almost unnecessary to say that the astronomical insurance cost covering such important objects could only be afforded by Bernard Arnault, the 14th richest man in the world and CEO of LVMC (Louis Vuitton and Moët and Chandon).*

The Fondation Louis Art Museum in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris where the Shchukin exhibition is currently on display.

The thrill of seeing for the first time works from well-known artists – Monet, Derain, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and others – explains why the exhibit is attracting such huge crowds, happy to be in familiar territory.  The well-organized flow of people meanders through the Frank Gehry’s whimsical structure of glass panels seemingly billowing in the wind.  At each of the four levels, one catches spectacular vistas of the Eiffel Tower and Paris with its cluster of skyscrapers in the Defense business district or the vast wooded expanse of the Bois de Boulogne.

The wealthy textile merchant Shchukin was – with his friend and rival Ivan Morozov – the most illustrious Russian art collector at the turn of the 20th century.  He went into exile in France after the 1917 revolution and died there in 1936.  His collection was nationalized  and later divided between the Pushkin museum of Fine Art in Moscow and the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and then vanished into Siberian storage.  During the Cold War, the works were returned to Moscow, but remained in boxes.  By the 1960s, they gradually reappeared.

Shchukin was an avid and methodical collector.  Following the example of his older brothers (in a family of 10), he started collecting in the 1880s.  He acquired  paintings from the leading art merchants in Paris, such as Ambroise Vollard, Durand Rueil or the Swiss  Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.  He had an exceptional ability to detect talent.  For instance, by including the constructivist Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1905, he revealed how well he understood the importance of Cezanne (26 paintings) as the spiritual father of modern art.

The organizers of the exhibit reproduced the way the canvasses were hung in Shchukin’s Moscow residence in a touhe touche fashion, that is touching each other all the way to the ceiling.

‘Pink Studio’ by Henri Matisse, 1911.

He had a special relationship with Henri Matisse and became his sponsor, commissioning  many of his 57 paintings, among them La Danse, the largest (8’6″x 12’10”) and most beautiful version of which is today on view at the Hermitage.  The painting had caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne of 1910.  The Desserte dominates one of the rooms at the Vuitton exhibit with its decorative floral shapes and fruits scattered on a rich red background of a table dropping vertically and merging with the wall. 

‘Peasants picking apples’ by Natalian Goncharova, 1911.

His acquisition of Picasso’s works (54 canvasses) is particularly interesting.  At first  he was repelled by them, particularly by the cubist period.  Stephane Guegan, French art critic and curator at Orsay, wrote, “Shchukin compared the analytic cubism of Picasso to buckets of crushed glass.”  But gradually, he grew to appreciate the brutal forms,  such as Femme tenant an eventail (woman holding a fan) 1907.  He shared with Gertrude Stein the attraction for the preparatory studies to the seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 .

‘Woman with a fan’ by Pablo Picasso, 1908.

Shchukin was eager to show his works and educate the public.  He turned his residence into a museum that was open several days a week.  Among the visitors were the members of the Russian avant garde. They were  stunned by what they saw.  In less than 10 years not only the talented young Russian artists assimilated Western  art but were able to grow from it and create suprematism, neo-primitivism, cubo-futurism, etc. 

The Vuitton exhibit offers a sampling of the works by the extraordinary generation of Russian artists on the eve of World War I : Casimir Malevich, Larionov, Tatlin, Klioune, Rodchenko and the acclaimed female artists: Goncharova, Popova, Rozanova, Exter, Popova, or Udaltsova. 

Shchukin heirs did not try to receive financial compensation for the art taken away by the Soviet government.   All they wanted was to restore their grandfather’s memory,  the recognition for his genius and avoid breaking up the collection among different owners. 

One century later they may have fulfilled their wish. 

Editor’s Notes:
i)   This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

ii) *see Nicole Logan’s previous article published on ValleyNewsNow.com, Jan. 22, 2016.
iii) ‘Icons of Modern Art – The Shchukin Collection’ is on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is housed in a Frank Gehry building in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France through Feb. 20, 2017.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Transition Like No Other … A French Take on Trump

Nicole Prévost Logan

We Americans are always interested in knowing what the world is thinking of us.  From my listening post in Paris, I can say that for months the Europeans have followed the US presidential elections with fascination.

With only a few days left until Jan. 20, everyone here is watching the transition between a cerebral Democrat president and a “sanguine, non- principled” Republican president-elect, to quote professor Jean Louis Bourlanges during the popular Sunday morning radio talk show Esprit Public. The four participants in the discussion – all representative of the French intellectual elite and well-versed in American affairs – describe what is happening as totally unprecedented.

President Obama is cramming his last days in office with long interviews, articles in magazines, laying out policies to regulate the environment, drilling of oil, or family planning.  Furthermore he just made two important foreign policy decisions.

On Dec. 23, the US abstained in the UN Security Council vote on the 2334 resolution instructing Israel to stop any further settlements on the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  This represents a striking change from President Obama’s position during his eight-year mandate, especially when, on Sept. 15, he approved the largest ever military assistance package of 38 billion dollars and committed the US for the unusually long period of 10 years.

The reaction here was, why now?  Why so late?  French analysts suggest that Obama wanted to get even with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his repeated snubbing.

For instance, on both official visits of the American president to Israel, “by coincidence,” the Israeli government announced the building of more settlements.  But the real slap in the face took place in March 2015 when the Israeli prime minister gave a speech to the joint session of the US Congress, short-circuiting the White House.  The abstention at the Security Council  might be a way to express remorse for the failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an effort to set a garde-fou or safeguard for the future.

On Dec. 30,  President Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian “diplomats” for interfering in the US elections by hacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  His outrage at a foreign power for influencing a democratic process was such that he had to resort to a tool reminiscent of the Cold War.

President-Elect Donald Trump.

As to Donald Trump, the French are literally baffled by his behavior.

He is making a point of dissociating himself from Washington while anticipating his role as president in making political and economic decisions by tweets.  “Trump, Tweeter in Chief” writes Sylvie Kauffmann, in Le Monde.  She adds, “When you have room for only 140 characters, you have to be brief and forget nuances.”  Tweeting is apparently catching on as a form of communication.

Thierry Pech, CEO of think-tank Terra Nova, made the Esprit Public live audience laugh when he described former Mexican president Vicente Fox’s reaction to one of Trump’s announcements.  He sent his own tweet saying  “your f—ing wall, we are not going to pay for it.” Former French ambassador to the United States, François Bujon de l’Estang, commented that “carrying out diplomacy by tweets is like an oxymoron.”  He added, “tweets are the degré zéro or lowest level of diplomacy.”

All eyes are turned toward the US right now.  Europe, like the rest of the world, is bracing itself to see how the key players of the planet are going to manage world affairs, since the rules of the game  have changed.  Traditional diplomacy is now replaced by tweets.  Social networks are turning out to be more effective than propaganda in shaping the public opinion and hacking is widely used as a political tool.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Like UK’s Cameron, Italian PM Matteo Renzi Gambles His Future on a Referendum … and Loses

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Dec. 4, 2016, 60 percent of Italians responded “No” to the referendum question on constitutional reforms posed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. His aim was to modify the electoral laws, thus reducing the role of both the Senate and regions, and thereby enhancing his own power. This was a dangerous attempt at undoing the safeguards built into the 1948 constitution and intended to erase all traces of Mussolini’s fascist regime.

To better understand Renzi’s action, one should remember the omnipresent Italian dislike for a strong, centralized government. It was only in 1871 that the Risorgimento (meaning ‘rising again’) led to the unification of the country with Rome as its capital.

Beppe Grillo – the comedian turned populist – was quick to seize the opportunity and had his “Five Stars” party join the coalition opposing the referendum .

After the long “reign” of Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister in his 80s and the two-year-government of Mario Prodi, aged 70 and a long-time European Union (EU) economic commissioner, the Italian population must have found the arrival of 41-year-old former mayor of Florence as quite refreshing. Pleasant, laughing a lot and described as, “a young man in a hurry,” by a French diplomat, Renzi got along well with all the world leaders (too much so for my taste as he became close to President Erdogan of Turkey and supported that country’s accession into Europe.)

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  (Photo from Press-TV.)

Renzi’s resignation may trigger political instability given the state of financial crisis in the country. Italy is one of EU’s founding members and its third largest economy, but the Italian economy is lethargic and in a state of stagnation. The public debt is 120 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, well above the level of 60 percent allowed by Brussels. In fact, Italy is called the mauvais elève (flunking student) of Europe.

After the Greek debt crisis, a number of financial mechanisms have been put in place in Brussels under the respective leaderships of Germany and France. They include a Banking Union to assure the safety of the private sector and more stringent requirements imposed on the banks under the “single rule” book.

Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank (ECB), supervises the 6,000 main European banks. In order to boost the growth of Europe, the ECB has been pouring 80 billion Euros per month into the monetary market, buying back poor quality obligations. Renzi has often been in disagreement with these new rules and refused to be tied by institutional constraints, particularly when they come from Brussels.

The specific problem with Italy is that its banks are undercapitalized and hold about 360 billion of “toxic” loans comparable to the US sub-primes in 2007-08. Several of the largest banks are on the verge of collapse. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) – the oldest bank in the world, founded before Christopher Columbus – is in the worst shape and on Dec. 9, the ECB forbade Renzi to ask his government for a 20-day-prolongation of a four billion Euro financial assistance package.

Renzi’s relations with Brussels have been tense and he frequently refused to go along with its policies, blocking negotiations. For instance on Nov. 11, he did not agree with the decision made by the other EU members to protect themselves from cheap imports from China.

He also deemed insufficient the funds granted Italy to cope with the flow of refugees. (that request was justified though, since 500,000 refugees have entered the country in the past two years, and 171,000 since the beginning of 2016.) He was criticized by the other EU members for “sabotaging” the Brastislava talks last September about the European response to Brexit.

Referenda can be dangerous, particularly when the initiator bets his or her future on them.  In the case of Italy, however, it might have been a good thing. The departure of Renzi will likely bring more cohesion in the EU to face the many problems ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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She’s Back! Nicole Logan is Here Again With Another ‘Letter From Paris’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan and her Letter From Paris column!  Nicole stayed longer than usual in Essex this year in order to see the outcome of the election and celebrate Thanksgiving.  She has now returned to Paris and here is her first column of the 2016-17 series.  We know this will please the many readers who have been asking about Nicole’s welfare and (perhaps even more intensely) the future of her column — it also pleases us greatly. Welcome back, Nicole!

In the Wake of Election Surprises Everywhere, Where is France’s 2016-17 ‘Saison’ Headed?

Debates, elections, referendums, reshuffling of governments- the political landscape of the European Union (EU) is shifting.  It would be a mistake however to place the events under the simplistic label of “populism,” a trend following the startling votes supporting both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  It is more accurate to describe the ongoing turbulence in the EU as a stand taken by its members toward the future of Europe.

Au revoir, Francois

Au revoir, Francois Hollande

On Dec. 1, the decision of president Francois Hollande not to run again in next May elections, caught everyone in France by surprise.  After many months of tergiversation, Hollande, with the abysmal 7.5 percent score in the polls, made the logical — but still wrenching — announcement during an unprepared TV news hour.

It was an unprecedented move in the fifth Republic, creating , a “lame duck” a la française situation for the next five months.  What a contrast with May 2012, when, on Bastille Square, I had watched the euphoria of the population when Hollande was elected!  The new president made a point of arriving by train instead of flying, like an ordinary citizen.  A delirious crowd was celebrating the end of eight years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rule.

What went wrong with this “ordinary” president?

Specialists pondered over the assessment of his policies.  Many of his reforms, particularly to boost the economy like  the CICE (Credit d’Impot de Croissance et d’Emploi) or the Macron law, will survive him.   His mandate was highlighted by the signing of the Paris accords on climate change, the armed forces deployment against Islamist radicals on  the African continent, and the firm measures taken to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

But Hollande’s  political management was a disaster, commented Thierry Pech, director of the Terra Nova foundation.  Although intelligent and highly educated, the president lacked a visionary plan and the ability to give a direction to his programs.  He wanted to carry out reforms but never explained them in advance.

The battle to pass the el Khomry labor law was emblematic of his shortcomings.  His objectives were sound:- facilitate the laying off of workers, reject the rigid 35 hours per week Socialist taboo, and relax the rules concerning work on evenings and Sundays.  Unfortunately he presented the law proposal as a done deal and resorted to “49-3” or executive orders, which irritated the deputies in the National Assembly.  He frequently kowtowed to the anger of the street.  When the el Khomry law was finally voted on, it had been gutted of much of its content.  The scourge of high unemployment remained throughout  his mandate.

The campaign toward the May elections started with the primaries of the right and center parties.  Francois Fillon was catapulted into the lead of Les Republicains (LR) with 66 percent of the votes versus 23 percent for Alain Juppe who had been expected to win.  Nicolas Sarkozy , coming in third position, was eliminated.

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Fillon, several times a minister and prime minister under Sarkozy, conducted a discreet but intensive campaign for three years, using social networks rather that the traditional media.  His program is quite conservative: reduce the number of civil servants by 500,000, decrease unemployment allowances, complement the social security benefits by increasing the share of private health insurance.  He advocates a free market economy.  In foreign policy, he has a pragmatic attitude to relations with Putin, wants a strong Europe and to control the flow of migrants.  By preempting part of the program of Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National , he may be in a good position to beat her.

Fillon’s victory represented only 40 percent of the total electorate, so there is still plenty of ground to cover. Next will come the Socialist primaries.

Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the economy in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, is running as an independent.  Only 38, he is a brilliant  young man who had had a versatile career, including one year with the Rothschild investment bank.  On Dec. 9, the boisterous gathering of 16,000 supporters marked the start of the movement he is calling, “En marche,” under which he promises to modernize the labor market in order to create jobs and eliminate the old divide between right and left.

The battle has just began.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris – No, Now It’s Essex!  A Brave, New Museum Opens in DC

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

Editor’s Note:  Our popular writer from Paris, Nicole Prevost Logan, is back in Essex, CT, for the winter.  She does not normally write for us from Essex, but this year, she is making an exception and will be continuing to contribute articles to ValleyNewsNow.com and LymeLine.com during the winter months.  Here is her inaugural column from Essex about the opening of  a very special museum in Washington DC.

The Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will take place in Washington DC this coming Saturday, Sept. 24.  The NMAAHC, the 19th and newest of the Smithsonian museums, was established by a bi-partisan Act of Congress in 2003.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes from http://newsdesk.si.edu/photos)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes / Smithsonian Institution.)

The massive structure occupies a prime location next to the Washington Monument and contrasts with the 555 ft. slender obelisk.  The dark bronze-colored metal lattice that covers the ‘Corona” also stands out from the white marble classical architecture of most of the other museums standing on the National Mall.

It has been a long struggle for the supporters, such as Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), to make the project a reality.  They needed to overcome the resistance from several senators who advocated another location. The final approval  was more than a triumph — it might be considered a miracle.  It succeeded in making a strong statement as to the importance of Black history and culture in the American nation.

The lead designer was David Adjaye, son of a Ghanaian diplomat and the lead architect Philip Freehon, who died in 2009.  Founding Director Lonnie B. Bunch III is the visionary and driving force of the project.  During some of the many interviews he gave to the press and to a variety of audiences, including select ones like the Aspen institute, he explains the building process and his objective with a very contagious enthusiasm.

The NMAAHC is not intended to be a Holocaust museum, he explains . Its mission is to show the pain but also the joy and the creativity of African-Americans.  A daunting fund-raising goal of 450,000 million dollars had to be reached.

The three-tier effect of the construction incorporates elements from African culture, such as the Yoruban crowns from Nigeria.  Inside the building, high tech designs and the enormity of the space will make it possible to be versatile in organizing several exhibits simultaneously.

The collections had to be created from zero.  It required a treasure hunt into the attics, trunks and basements of the population.  To date 35,000 artifacts have been collected.  A segregated train from outside Chattanooga (TN) was lowered by crane and the museum built around it.  All traffic stopped on Constitution Ave. when an oversized truck delivered the control tower from a federal prison.

Artifacts showing the terrible fate of the slaves are very moving.  Such is an amulet created by the Lombi tribe in the form of a shackle.  More tragic still were the shackles for children.

But fun and the world of entertainment are also present in the displays , such as Louis Armstrong and his trumpet, Lena Horne or Marianne Andersen . The film archives will be essential to build up history, from Harriet Tubman to the human rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Washington insiders , the opening of the new museum is the hottest event in a decade.  More than 150,000 special tickets have been distributed to dignitaries while long lines of visitors gather at the entrances of the building to purchase tickets for general admission after the opening.

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Letter From Paris: The Grand Palais in Paris to Old Lyme — CT Impressionist Exhibits Both Sides of ‘The Pond’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Talking with Jan Dilenschneider is entering a beautiful world of marshes, rushes swaying in the breeze, ponds reflecting the sky,  and clusters of trees taking on the many hues from the painter’s palette contrasting with the softness of the wild flowers.

Dilenschneider is a Darien artist who has recently been making inroads on the Paris art scene. She was one of only a very few artists to participate in the “Art Paris Art Fair” held in March 2016 at the Grand Palais and, in a switch of continents, she will have a solo exhibition at the Sill House Gallery of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in October of this year. For an artist, whose work so closely resembles Impressionism, to exhibit her paintings in the same year both in Paris and in Old Lyme – the home of the American Impressionism –  is a remarkable and very special event.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

For the past three years, Dilenschneider has shown her work in Paris at the upscale Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier in the Marais district, close to the Picasso Museum. I was treated to a private showing of Jan’s paintings by the gallery’s owner, who knows her well.  Then I had the pleasure of meeting Jan personally at the Grand Palais.  Thanks to the badge Challier obtained for me, I was able to enter the giant steel and glass 1900 structure through the cavernous entrance reserved for the exhibitors. 

The Paris artistic calendar is overcrowded and art professionals are scrambling to find a time slot.  The “Journal des Arts” describes the artistic events taking place in the spring as a “galaxy in fusion.”  The last weekend in March is particularly in demand.  It was therefore a real breakthrough for “Art Paris Art Fair” to be able to establish itself under the nave of the Grand Palais at that time.  The Fair has a special format — only galleries can participate, not individual artists.  This year, 143 major galleries from from 22 countries around the world showed their collections.  All media are allowed, including sculpture, design, photographs or digital art.

"Trees with broken color" by Jan Dilenschneider

“Trees with broken color #2,” oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″, by Jan Dilenschneider.

As I approached the Challier space, several potential buyers were looking at the gallery’s collection.  A striking blonde woman was standing in front of one of her paintings – an icy white and blue landscape – being interviewed by a French television team from the Canal Sat network channel “Luxe.”  It transpired the woman was Dilenschneider and after the TV crew left, she and I started chatting and did so for a long time.  I immediately liked her as a person and was attracted to her sunny personality.  Her passion for nature was contagious.

“Any work starts from the abstract, and the abstract is never far under the painting,” she explained, adding, “Each artist makes a contribution to art history.”  In one of the handsome catalogues the Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier has published relating to her exhibits, she writes, “If I were to have lunch with four artists, I would choose Wolf Kahn, Henri Matisse, Franz Kline and Michelangelo.”

In a video series named “Nec plus ultra,” produced by the “Magazine de l’art de vivre” of TV 5 Monde, Dilenschneider is shown caught in the throes of her creating process.  She paints with gusto, happily digging into the colors lying heavily on her palette.  She uses spatulas, all sizes of brushes, and even squeegees to diversify her technique.

Painting is her way of meditating, which she says she can do eight hours a day.  Even when she is not painting, she is taking photographs from trains, at airports … wherever she is, to be used in her future work.   

Dilenschneider has a remarkable way with words and writes, “I become the water, I become the trees, I become the birds and reeds — but I don’t need to tell you [that] — my paintings already do.  Living on Long Island Sound, the beauty of the world is my inspiration.”

She wants to make people enjoy the beauty of nature and is happy to use her privileged situation to make an impact.  With the help of her influential husband, whose communications counseling company is based on the 57th floor of the Chrysler building in New York City, she has created the “Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts.”  This year she rescued a Syrian artist, her husband and two sons.

Although she has been painting since the age of 17, she has not exhibited her work until recently.  Thus, she has long been a hidden treasure, which now finally all can enjoy.

Editor’s Note (i): Dilenschneider’s exhibition at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts opens Friday, Oct. 7.

Editor’s Note (ii): This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Madrid and the Incredible Wealth of its Museums

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The silent crowd stands with emotion as it would in a cathedral, keeping respectfully a few feet away from “Guernica” – the huge (11 by 27 ft. ) scene painted by Pablo Picasso in 1937 after the bombings by the Nationalist forces led by General Franco of the Basque village of Guernica.

A weekend spent stomping the art collections of Madrid is mind-boggling. Spend six hours a day and you will only have a glimpse at the Thyssen museum, the Prado, the house studio of Sorolla and the Reina Sofia modern art museum.

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza and his son Heinrich had an unusual flair when they selected outstanding works of art in the 1920s and 1930s to create one of the world’s richest private collections.

Some of the early masterpieces at the Thyssen include, “The portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni,” (1480), which is a beautiful example of Florence Quattrocento, showing the idealized profile of a woman. “A young man in a landscape” was painted by Vittore Carpaccio, probably from the Venetian school. Nature is codified, each animal has a symbolic meaning related to good and evil.

In his “Jesus among the doctors” (1506), Durer – the most important representative of German Renaissance – the 12-year-old Jesus is surrounded by a group of old men. Some of them have been touched by grace, some have sin written all over their ugly faces, hands like claws threatening the child. In The “Portrait of a lady” (1530?) painted by Hans Baldung Grien – the remarkable disciple of Durer – the influence of Cranach the Elder is noticeable in the rendering of the decorative elements of the dress, necklaces and large hat with feathers of a supremely elegant model.

Flanders – or modern Belgium and Netherlands – was part of Spain in medieval times and the Prado has many Flemish paintings, which reflect the highly sophisticated culture of the trading towns like Ghent or Bruges. Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David or Hans Memling are the best representatives the 15th century “Northern Renaissance.”

Contacts were frequent between artists who traveled from the “Low Countries” of Northern Europe to Italy. Unlike the Italians who painted with tempura and an egg base applied over a thin layer of wet plaster,”gesso,” Flemish painters used oil directly on panels of wood without knots, such as mahogany or oak.

The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

The “Garden of Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch is one of the highlights of the Prado — it is a display of amusing, bawdy or frightening details intended to give a didactic message to the population of his time. The Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir (1480-525) offered panoramic views, with details at times naturalistic, at times fantastic. Instead of using linear perspective, which Florence artists had mastered at that time, his way of showing distance was by drowning the landscape in bluish colors.

One room of the Prado is turned into a gallery of family portraits of the Spanish dynasty of the Hapsburgs. An equestrian painting of Charles V (1500-1558) at the battle of Mulhberg, by Titian, shows the most powerful sovereign in the world. His kingdom went from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Velasquez painted many of his descendants: Philip II, Philip III, Philip IV and his son, the young prince Balthazar Carlos, riding a frisky horse. His death, at age 17 from small fop was a tragedy. And there is poor Charles II, the end of the Hapsburg dynasty, a total mental and physical disaster because of repeated consanguine marriages.

“Las Meninas” (ladies in waiting), also by Velasquez, is one the most famous paintings ever. It is a complex composition, which has puzzled art historians through the centuries. At the center stands the five-year-old infanta Margareta Teresa, Philip IV’s daughter. Velasquez is looking at us and working on a huge painting, which he never painted. The infanta’s parents are not far away and we see their reflection in a mirror. There are two sources of light, which is quite unusual. In 1957, inspired by the masters of the past, Picasso tackled the deconstruction of “Las Meninas,” particularly of the dog.

Velasquez (1599-1660) was the leading painter of the Spanish “Golden Age,” during the Baroque age which lasted until 1690. As a court painter, he had an immense influence living and working in the el-Escorial palace and was not only honored as an artist but also as the curator of the Kings’ art collections.

The love for animals is strong in Spanish painting. Just two examples: “Agnus Dei”, by Zurbaran (1640) showing a lamb with its four legs garroted is probably the most heartbreaking sight in the Prado, with the animal accepting his fate. The other one is a dog by Goya. In an undefined brownish background of sand and sky, a dog is looking in panic at his master as he is being pulled down by quicksand.

It was not until 1840 that Spanish art began to be known in France. The Pyrenees constituted an insurmountable barrier separating Spain from the rest of Europe. In 1835, French King Louis Philippe sent Baron Isidore Taylor to Spain to acquire some Spanish paintings intended for the future Galerie Espagnole or Spanish Gallery at the Louvre. After his visit to Spain in 1865, Manet said, “the scales fell off my eyes.” The Spanish influence on Manet and Courbet is clear, especially their use of black.

Beside the works of the well-known artists like Miro, Dali or Juan Gris, the presence of Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945), Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923), Santiago Rossignol (1861-1931), and Ramon Casas (1866-1933) at the Reina Sofia museum attests to the importance of Spanish contemporary art.

'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It hangs today in the Reine Sofia Museum in Madrid.

In the attic of the old convent of Grands Augustins, near the Seine, Picasso completed “Guernica” – probably the most important artistic statement of the 20th century against war. The Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1939 left 500,000 dead. Dora Maar, his companion, photographed each stage of the work , leaving a unique document on the creative process of the artist.

The composition is a frieze, powerful, fluid, easy to read and devoid of any narrative. The horse and the bull – the main actors of the bullfight about which he was so passionate – are treated like human characters. The horse underwent many changes from deep suffering to the defiance he shows in raising his head. The bull is aloof and protective of the population. The dead warrior lying on the ground has the profile of Marie Therese Walter, his previous companion. To balance the duo of bull and horse, Picasso created a screaming mother, head thrown back, with a tongue like a dagger, her dead child hanging limp from her arm.

Painted in May and June of 1937, “Guernica” traveled the world, stayed several years at MOMA at the request of Picasso, then returned to Spain in 1981 and hangs today in the Reina Sofia museum of Madrid, never to be moved again.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Moderate, Radical Islamists in France — a Difficult Cohabitation

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Introduction 

For years the buzz word in France has been “amalgam.” On ne doit pas faire l’amalgame entre Islam modéreé et Islamisme radical. (One must not confuse moderate Islam and radical Islamism.)  After the repeated terrorist attacks in France and Belgium and with the discovery of other jihadist enclaves, it is hard to keep making that distinction.  The voice of moderate Muslims has been barely audible lately.  Until they start speaking with a stronger voice, the cohabitation within our democratic and secular society is becoming more difficult.

Belgium

Belgium was the last victim of terrorist attacks when, on March 22, 34 people died at Zaventem airport and at Malbeek metro station (close to the European Commission offices) combined.

Why Belgium?  For the past two decades, it has been a divided country between Flemish and Walloon languages and cultures.   It remained without a central government for 18 months.  How can such country produce six parliaments and six governments? asked David Van Reybrouck, a Dutch-speaking Belgian writer in Le Monde dated March 28.  The author of the article adds with irony, “… and the icing on the cake is the creation by the government of a Commission communautaire commune” (joint Commission of communities.)

It was in Molenbeek that the four and a half month-long chase of Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the Nov. 13 Paris attack, ended.  Molenbeek is one of  the 19 Brussels municipalities — it has a population of 93,000 with 80 percent of them Muslim, 56 percent of them unemployed and 24 mosques.  After the closing of the coal mines and the steel plants in northern France in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the workers  emigrated to Belgium.  Molenbeek is a typical agglomeration of a second generation Maghreb population – more specifically of Rifains, coming from the Rif mountains of Morocco.  It constitutes almost a self-ruled community, many of whose members are related and even siblings.  No better safe haven for people running away from the law. 

Belgium has been described as the “ventre mou” (litterally the soft belly), in other words, the weak link, of Europe. Patrick Kanner, one of the French ministers made the chilling remark, “but there are tens of Molenbeeks in France “.

France on the front line

France is, in fact, on the front line of the confrontation with radical Islamism.

The weekly Le Point‘s issue of March 24 describes the long history of France’s interaction with the Arabs. It started with the 732 AD defeat of the Saracens at Poitiers by Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne. Then came The Crusades and subsequently Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798.  The French began their conquest of Algeria in 1830 and made it a part of France.  The country gained its independence after the bloody war of  1954-1962.  France established protectorates in Tunisia in 1881 and in Morocco in 1912 until 1955.  At the present time, France has become the “gendarme” across the Sahel region, ready to deploy its forces to stop extremist groups. 

Gilles Kepel, professor at Sciences Po and an authority on Islam, has  just published “Terreur dans l’Hexagone – Genèse du Dhihad Français,” in which he stresses the deep-rooted antagonism of the North African population for the former colonial power and the existence of a specific French jihadism.  Acts of terrorism in France are accomplished by individuals with French nationality. The country holds the sad record of having the highest number of jihadists in theEuropean Union who have gone to Syria. 

Eiffel-Tower-322x252Kepel, sees a correlation between politics and the spread of Islamism in France.  He remarks that, during the 2012 elections, François Hollande benefited from 93 percent of the Muslim electorate voting for him.  Kepel believes, as most other Islam scholars do, that the problem our society is facing is cultural.  He criticizes the unpreparedness of the political elites for the ongoing debate about religions.  He deplores the fact that insufficient public funds have been allocated both to research and Middle East studies.

Mohammed Sifaoui is a brillant French journalist born in Algeria, who is quite forthright in expressing his opinions.  He advocates a relentless reprisal against the preachers of violence in the 2,000 mosques and Koranic schools of France.  Sifaoui’s opinion is that we have to abandon the attitude that only the FN (Front National party) has a right to fight back against the Islamists.  Besides, he says, we should stop treating these people as victims from discrimination.

Daesch

After the fall and occupation of Fallouja in Irak in 2014, Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi became the self-appointed ruler of the Islamic State organization or Daesch. (The “ch” sound stands for “sham” meaning Levant in Arabic ) The objective of this organization is to re-create a caliphate reminiscent of the golden years of  the 661-750 AD Ommayad and 750-1258 AD Abbasid caliphates. The totalitarian organization banished the Wahhabism and any other doctrines of Islam and has broken all ties with Al-Qaeda.  Al-Baghdadi gave his founding speech at the great mosque of Mossoul, dressed in black like the Abbasids. 

Mathieu Guidère, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toulouse 2, a learned scholar in geopolitics with a PhD in the Arabic language, believes that the objective of Daesch is to build a state, anchored solidly in a territory, with the elimination of the 1916 Sykes-Picot borders.  Its aim is also to break up the cohesion of Europe.  So far, we are still only at the initial stage of “collateral terrorism,” comments Guidère. 

The riposte

Alain Bauer, professor of  applied criminology at the Conservatoire  des Arts et Metiers, former advisor to Nicolas Sarkozy and Manuel Valls on security and counter-espionage, says, “The problem is that we seem to have too much information and not enough analysis.  We still do not have the ability to connect the dots.  We have a brain and two ears and four ears will not help ” He concludes, “What we need is a return to Human Intelligence.”  Bauer and Guidère agree that there should be a European Intelligence agency but several states oppose it for fear of losing part of their sovereignty.  The creation of a PNR (personal name register) still awaits a vote.

Euro 2016 – the European soccer championship – will be held in France in June. This means, on the one hand, a great deal of excitement for millions of spectators, but on the other, an equal — or even greater amount — of nervousness for the security forces.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Immortal Chekhov Rises Again in Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Chekhov will never die!

This winter four of his plays appeared on the Paris stages: two short one-act plays (“The Swan” and “The Bear”) at the Studio de la Comédie Française, “Three Sisters” at theTheatre de la Colline and “The Cherry Orchard” at the Theatre de l’Ile Saint Louis-Paul Rey. I chose the latter.

The first time I saw a play by Chekhov was at the Moscow Art Theater (MXAT) in downtown Moscow in the mid 1960s. The production and the reception by the public were electric. In those days, theater was the only possible evasion from a drab and controlled life for Soviet citizens. The audience knew by heart and relished every single line beautifully spoken by the adulated actors. Period clothes, settings and furnishing provided an authentic reconstitution of life in a run-down country estate.

What is amazing is that Anton Chekhov’s plays, written under the Tsarist regime, lasted through the Soviet era, although he depicted members of the idle bourgeoisie, about to disappear from the surface of the earth. Other playwrights were not so lucky. Some of the controversial plays – Bulgakov’s for instance – did not make it through censorship and were suddenly removed from Moscow stages.

Chekhov’s universal message explains why his plays still attract huge audiences around the world — in different languages and re-adapted by directors. His “inward-looking” realism came from a traditional line of dramatic art founded by Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938), one of the greatest founders of theater staging and philosophy of all times.

The_cherry_Orchard‘The Cherry Orchard,’ created at MXAT in January, 1904, was Chekhov’s last play. Six months later he died in his Yalta “white house.” Obliged to live far away from Moscow, in the warmer climate of the Crimea because of his tuberculosis, it was hard for him to give long-distance stage directions to his high-spirited wife, actress Olga Knipper.

In the play, Liubov Andreevna Ranevskaya, her daughter Ania, age 17, and adopted daughter Varia, age 30, just returned to Russia from five years spent in France. The family was crippled with debts and the creditors were forcing the sale. A retinue of servants, some of them providing a light touch of vaudeville, and penniless hangers-on, are part of the large household.

The main character is Ermolai Alekseevich Lopakhin, full of energy, ideas, and, apparently money. He is trying to convince Liubov Andreevna to sell the estate with the cherry orchard to a developer who will build small houses for vacationers. But she is not interested in money; if things do not work out, she will return to Paris and live off an inheritance. Lopakhin was a slave or “soul” owned by the Liubov’s family. This former muzhik is now rich and ambitious.

His antithesis is Petr Sergueevich Trofimov, the eternal student who lives in a world of noble ideas, philosophy and poetry. He tells Lopakhin, “Soon you will be a millionaire. Sharks are needed also.” Such archetypes exist in many countries.

The Theater of Ile St Louis is the smallest theater in Paris with only 50 seats. The full cast of 12 characters barely fitted on the tiny stage and looked like giants. The set was limited to two benches and the period clothes to the slim laced-up boots of the women. When, at the end of the play, the spectators heard the chain saw felling the cherry trees and noticed the very old servant forgotten in the locked-up house, the emotion was intense.

I went on feeling that emotion while walking along the rushing grey waters of the Seine river.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Divided Europe is Too Weak to Resist Turkish Pressure

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The European Union (EU) is going through what most consider the toughest times in its history. The surge of migrants, not only from the Middle East but also from South East Asia and Africa, has provoked an untenable human crisis on the continent. It is threatening the fundamental principles on which the (EU) was built. In desperation, Europe turned to Turkey for help and became the prey of an authoritarian government whose main objective is to force its way into the EU.

More than ever Angela Merkel has become the homme fort (the strong man) of Europe. She is the only one among the 28 heads of state of the EU to have taken a clear stand on how to manage the migrant crisis – albeit without a well-thought-out plan. The general opinion here is that, as a good pastor’s daughter, she has been motivated by a sense of moral duty when she opened her arms to the migrants at the end of 2015.

German Chancellor Angela merkel shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the historic agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the historic agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

On the flip side, her methods have irked many Europeans such as her several one-on-one talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The day before the crucial March 7 meeting in Brussels, she met Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davitoglu for a six-hour long discussion, which lasted late into the night in an hotel near the Commission. The only officials present were Jean Claude Junker, president of the European Commission and Netherland Mark Rutte, president of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council).

The French daily Le Monde described what happened in an article titled, “The night when Angela Merkel lost Europe.” On the morning of March 7, diplomats and EU officials were stunned to discover the text of the pre-agreement. None of them had been in the loop, not even Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who had talked to every single EU leader state seeking to create a consensual policy.

To speak in the German Chancellor’s defense, however, one should stress the pitiful lack of solidarity between the 28 EU members. From the start the Visegrad group (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic) – a remnant from the former Iron Curtain countries – closed their borders to the migrants. Other East European countries like Bulgaria and Rumania are also opposed to mandatory refugee quota.

The chancellor felt betrayed when, on Feb. 24, Austria called a meeting of the Balkan states to stop the influx of migrants. Greece, the Balkan country most affected by the migrant crisis, was not invited. Neither Brussels nor Berlin was notified. David Cameron is too embroiled with his Brexit issue to get involved.

France has its own problems — it is still recovering from the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, it does not want to help the right wing Front National by opening its borders too much and it is busy fighting radical Islam in five countries of the Sahel. The “Franco-German couple” was described by some people as “moribund.”

As regional elections were approaching, Merkel made a 180 degree turn by tightening her immigration policy. It was back to realpolitik lest public opinion forgets that she is a tough politician.

The German elections on March 13 did reflect the growing opposition to the influx of migrants. The populist parties made substantial gains in the three Landers, both in the affluent West and in the remnant of the poorer RDA : in Bad Wurtenberg the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) gained 15.1 percent and in Rhineland Palatinate 12.6 percent. In Saxe-Anhalt , AfD placed second, right behind the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) with 24.3 percent of the votes.

Daniel Cohn Bendit, former “green” euro-deputy commented, “What is important is that 55-60 percent of the German population still supports Angela Merkel’s policy regrading the migrants. Such scores would make many politicians green with envy.”

On March 18, the negotiations between the EU and Turkey toward the final agreement looked like a haggling process with a “toxic but needed partner,” to use the words of Pierre Servent, military expert. Immediately the text raised violent criticisms across the board.

The plan concocted by Davitoglu is complicated, requiring extremely challenging logistics to implement. The objectives are to stop the drownings, curtail the despicable activities of the passeurs (smugglers), legalize entry into Europe of persons entitled to asylum and send back to their countries of origin the “economic refugees.” From now on all the migrants arriving in Greece – whether “real” refugees or not – will be shipped back to Turkey. Then, for one Syrian refugee leaving Europe, one Syrian refugee will return to Europe through an humanitarian corridor.

Turkey will be the central player of the plan, which it will co-steer with the UN Frontex agency. For this job Turkey expects to receive another three billion Euros. Some commentators describe the whole process as a mass deportation. Legal experts find the plan to be a violation of human rights as written in the European constitution and in the 1949 Geneva convention on the right to asylum.

The task is herculean, commented Jean Claude Yunker. A heavy responsibility is being placed on Greece. Judges, translators, and up to 4,000 people will have to be hired to process the human flow. France and Italy worry that the migrants, in order to avoid Turkey, will look for other access routes to Europe .

Turkey demanded two sets of compensation for services rendered: simplification of visa requirements for Turkish individuals traveling to Europe and acceleration of Turkey’s acceptance into the EU. At first the European negotiators wanted these topics to be red lines not to be crossed. They had to be satisfied with the inclusion of a few caveats in the text — 72 criteria for obtaining a visa; only one chapter open for the membership discussion and not five as Turkey wanted.)

It is to be expected that Europe will drag its feet to accommodate Turkey. After 52 years, its position on Turkey still has not changed — it does not think Turkey belongs in Europe.

The migrant crisis has left Europe weaker, not very proud of itself and more divided than ever.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Trump Phenomenon – a View From Europe     

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note: With a pivotal day happening today in respect of the Republican Presidential Primary, we feel this latest article by our columnist from Paris is perfectly timed. Nicole Prévost Logan lives in Essex, CT, during the warmer months and winters in Paris, France. For these reasons, she is ideally placed to write a commentary on the ‘Trump Phenomenon’ through European eyes … but with American understanding. She also she has a lifetime of diplomatic service behind her and we venture to suggest that she understands the complexities of foreign diplomacy significantly better than several of the current US Presidential candidates!

Public opinion in Europe continues to follow the US 2016 elections in real time. The interest went up a notch after “Super Tuesday” — for election analysts, it is a campaign unlike any other. They describe it as a contest between moderates and radicals rather than between Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump’s performance intrigues every one and is being closely scrutinized by both seasoned and brand new election-watchers.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Trump does not fit in with the traditional image of a GOP candidate. Commentators here label him as a “national populist” combined with a vision of the American dream, i.e., you too can become rich like me. French ambassador Bujon de l’Etang writes that Trump is not a real Republican since he advocates an interventionist government which would take such protectionist measures as taxes on imports.

Journalist Andre Bercoff, interviewed on France-Inter, described Trump’s campaign as an “Uberization” of the society — or elimination of the middle man and rejection of the Establishment and along with that, of course, Washington.

According to the French observers, Trump is a demagogue and as such, does not want to leave anyone by the side of the road. His discourse is full of contradictions and vascillates, depending on the situation.

Just a few examples … he wants to build a wall to stop mass immigration from the south but not at the expense of the Hispanic votes, and besides, he is now leaning toward selective immigration in order to attract brains.

Is he pro-life or not ? The answer is yes and no.

To win over the workers, he will help them by stopping the outsourcing of jobs. He feels the middle class has not profited from the growth of the economy stating that only 1 percent of the population did.

He does not seem to have worked out a foreign policy with any resemblance of the subtlety of diplomacy.

Thus far, his black and white remarks are rather frightening.

His tax plan is a mixture of unrealistic and sound ideas. He thinks that hedge fund managers should be taxed more and forced to repatriate the billions of dollars they have stashed away in off-shore accounts. He declared that couples earning less than $5,000 per month should not be taxed .

How long will Donald Trump be able to keep his lead in the race ? If he does, would he have a lasting power? An analyst here commented that Silvio Berlusconi (the former Italian Prime Minister) – a very comparable politician – lasted eight years in power.

Trump is the mirror of the rising populist movements in many countries: Viktor Orban in Hungary, increasing populist opposition in several German ‘Landers’, 40 percent of favorable votes for the ‘Front National’ in France, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and many others. The surge of migrants is the main cause of the closing of borders within the European Union (EU).

Professor Nicole Gnesotto, Board President of the National Defense Graduate School, “It would be a catastrophic scenario if the next presidential elections were to bring populist leaders in the US, France and Germany.”

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Cameron Obtains (Some) Concessions From Europe in Effort to Prevent ‘Brexit’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

After 30 hours of negotiations at the European Council on Feb. 18-19, British Prime Minister David Cameron could claim some measure of victory in terms of the new concessions he obtained from the European Union (EU) to make Britain’s special status even more favorable. It is clear that he had to appear victorious in order to impress his electorate and convince Eurosceptics in his country to change their mind and vote against the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union — dubbed ‘Brexit’ — at the June 23 referendum. Cameron is obliged to hold the referendum as part of his election platform.

As he left, Cameron declared “I do not like Brussels.” A French analyst commented that was a strange way to convince his own people not to leave Europe. Although the talks lasted through the night, the process was, in fact, surprisingly rapid. There are two possible reasons for this: Cameron believed England’s economy would lose more from a ‘Brexit’ than Europe, so he had to be flexible in his demands. Furthermore, the British prime minister was fortunate to benefit from the presence of a Europe busy with more serious problems such as the migrant crisis or the surge of populism.

Since 1973 — the date of its entry into the European Union under the pro-European government of then Prime Minister Edward Heath — the United Kingdom has had one foot in Europe and one foot out: it is not part of the Eurozone, nor of the Schengen space and it did not adhere most of the fundamental principles inscribed in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. For a long time, it benefited from a special status within the EU.

British Prime Minister David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron

The demands Cameron just presented to the European Council were therefore intended to reinforce that different treatment regarding social benefits for migrant workers, independence of ‘The City’ (the financial center of London) from European financial regulations, refusal of a “Supra State” infringing upon British sovereignty, and the right to refuse further integration of the EU.

The debate over a possible ‘Brexit’ is asymetric. For England, Europe is basically a profitable market for more than 40 percent of its exports. For the core and early members of the EU – Germany, France, Benelux, Italy – the arduous construction of Europe over decades since the 1950 European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC) is an ideal and has long-term objectives.

For Europe, to part with England would have dangerous consequences by creating precedents regarding the other 27 EU members’ requests. Cameron’s suggestion to use “red cards” to give the right to national parliaments to oppose the decisions made in Brussels if they could gather 54 percent of the votes was turned down, lest it lead toward the unraveling of the European structure.

The reactions and the final comments of the main players at the negotiations were mixed.Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, called the text of the agreement “honest.”Donald Tusk,Head of the European Council, approved “a done deal.” Germany’s President Angela Merkel was putting all her energy to block a Brexit, overlooking the big English deficit (larger than that of France) and departing from the harsh words she had for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the height of the Greek debt crisis.

French President François Hollande acted as a mediator during the proceedings and also fought against the Brexit. Cameron was taken aback by Hollande’s determination to set as a red line a right of veto by Britain over the decisions taken by the Eurozone. England has only a “droit de regard” (a right to look), in the same way as the other 19 non-Eurozone members.

Cameron does not want “The City” to submit itself to European regulations and lose its beneficial tax position. The “single bookrule” of the Central European Bank (ECB) should apply to Britain without making any exception, stressed Hollande. However, England is obtaining a “discount” on the funds it paid the ECB to help with the Eurozone crisis. A letter, co-signed by the 200 largest British companies, warned Cameron against ‘Brexit.’ When the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced he was a partisan of “Brexit,” the English pound lost 2.4 percent against the US dollar – its lowest level since 2009.

For 20 years, from 1993 to 2013, the foreign-born population in Britain has more than doubled from 3.8 to 8.3 million.In the London area, 39 percent of the population is of foreign origin. A few thousand workers from Eastern Europe were expected but, in fact, 850,000 Poles arrived.This explains why Britain is protecting itself from the recent waves of immigration .

By a bilateral agreement signed at Le Touquet in 2003, England and France placed the border at the Gare du Nord railroad station in Paris. This is where all the border controls take place before boarding the Eurostar train to London. But the Le Touquet agreement did not foresee the 2015 and 2016 arrival of close to 6,000 migrants on the French side of the English Channel (called La Manche by the French) near Calais. What if ‘Brexit’ became a reality? Would the border move to Dover on the English coast? That is perhaps a strong argument against ‘Brexit’!

A frequently acrimonious attitude between England and Europe does not reflect the deep ties they share. Many British people own houses or come for the weekend to le Touquet. Go to a town market in a Perigord village and one is surrounded by people speaking English. For the two million British people living on the continent, ‘Brexit’ is a very real threat.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: To Primary or not to Primary, That is the Question … for the French

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is an interesting time when the US has started the Primary process and the French Socialists are debating whether to hold Primaries before the 2017 presidential elections.

The French public is following with great interest the twists and turns of the American campaign and was fascinated with the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.  It is surprisingly well informed (mentioning for instance the exact number of delegates each primary will bring to the national conventions).  For a non-American, such a campaign is a real spectacle.

What is appealing to Europeans is the town hall format with a grass roots approach — the open debates when the candidates are bombarded with questions on a wide spectrum of topics.  Besides, the European public likes a democratic process allowing candidates to be chosen by the people and not imposed from the top.

If primaries are systematic in the US, it is not the case in France.  The primary system is already in place for the right wing party Les Republicains or LR, and also for the center, (UDI and Modem).  But it is not with the left.

Thierry Pech, general director of the Think-Tank Terra Nova.

Thierry Pech, general director of the Think-Tank ‘Terra Nova.’

At this time there is an ongoing debate as to whether to make primaries the norm in left- wing politics. This debate reflects the division within the Socialist Party (PS).  Thierry Pech, general director of Terra Nova, a think tank, has been most vocal since 2011 in advocating the adoption of a primary by the left.

The PS is divided since the “Frondeurs”  (rebellious ones) have  become a splinter party.  Furthermore part of Europe-Ecologie les Verts or EELV (the Greens) have deserted the PS.  The fracture within the left appeared quite blatantly during the Feb. 10 vote at the Assemblée Nationale on the inclusion in the Constitution of the dechéance de la nationalité  (the loss of  nationality) for terrorism acts.  Half the Socialist deputies voted against their own government’s proposal.

Recently, the Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, caused quite a stir when she slammed the door and resigned from the cabinet over her disagreement on that very topic.  Within 24 hours, she was giving a lecture at NYU!

On Jan. 11, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ex-green European deputy (hero of the May 1968 uprising) and Thomas Piketty, 44 (nominated as the best young economist of France in 2002), headed a group of politicians and intellectuals who  published a manifesto in the daily Liberation.   The manifest called for a primary in order to reanimate a political debate of ideas.

Jean-Louis Bourlanges

Essayist and science professor Jean-Louis Bourlanges

“The quarrel about having a primary …” said Jean Louis Bourlanges, professor at Sciences Po and essayist, ” … reminds me of what Churchill said: democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”  Bourlanges continues, “The Socialist militants are less and less representative.  The proposition is like poker-liar: one pretends to have ideas, then one incarnates those ideas within a person.”

Many Socialists are opposed to the prospect of a president involved in months of campaigning while he should be concentrating his attention on governing the country and jumping into the fray as late as possible.  For the time being, François Hollande is waiting and will not declare his candidacy until he sees a reversal of the unemployment curve.

On Feb. 11, the Elysée announced a government reshuffle. The objective was to remedy some of the internal division of the PS by bringing three ecologists into the cabinet and widening its base. The parity – 19 men, 19 women – is maintained.  Jean Marc Ayrault-  prime minister until two years ago – returns, but this time as minister of foreign affairs. Except for the positive asset of having a German-speaking and pro-European new prime minister, the changes in the composition of the executive were met with disappointment and criticism across the board.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Aleppo — an Orientalist’s Nostalgia

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Agatha Christie stayed there.  So did T.E. Lawrence, King Faysal from Iraq and General de Gaulle: at the famous Hotel Baron in downtown Aleppo, Syria.  At that time, Aleppo was an exotic and cosmopolitan city where Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian cultures coexisted.

A photo of the Citadel at Aleppo taken by Nicole Logan in 1957.

A photo of the Citadel at Aleppo taken by Nicole Logan in 1957.

The medieval citadel, with the most impenetrable “glacis” ever built in history, dominated the town.  Aleppo was a bustling place, which I was able to witness first-hand during a drive from Ankara to Beirut in 1957.  Vienna was just a comfortable train ride away on the Orient Express as early as 1913.

But all this was before the Syrian civil war.

Another photo of the medieval Citadel, which is now in ruins after repeated bombings, from the author's 1957 trip.

Another photo of the medieval Citadel — now partly in ruins after repeated bombings — from the author’s 1957 trip.

Aleppo, like many other historical Syrian cities, is being crushed by daily bombings.  The devastation is concentrated on this region with the intent of cutting off the road to the north toward Turkey.  Today the Bab el Faraj – one of the main squares – is in ruins; the 11th century minaret of the Omayyad mosque lies on the ground among fallen stones; in July 2015, a bomb placed in a tunnel destroyed part of the citadel.  The second largest metropolis of Syria is now a pile of rubble.

In a few magical pages, Mathias Enard, winner of the 2016 French Prix Goncourt for his novel entitled “Boussole” (compass), brings back to life the colorful Aleppo of a bygone era.  His hero, Franz Ritter,  is a Viennese musicologist fascinated by the Orient.  He belongs to the group of  “Orientalists” –  archaeologists, linguists, historians, architects, diplomats, spies – writes Enard, “found side by side at Hotel Baron dabbling in the pleasure of  Arab grammar and rhetoric.”

Enard’s rambling style, oozing with culture, takes the reader from Austria – the outpost of the West on the edge of the Ottoman empire – to the Middle East.  Besieged by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1529, Vienna was threatened for the last time by the Ottoman Empire in 1683 in its final effort to flood the Danube valley.

Refusing to draw bitterness from the century-long tug-of-war with the Turks, Franz the hero of “Boussole” believes in cross-pollination between the Western and the Oriental worlds.  As a musicologist he is able to detect in the works of Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg or Debussy, the influence of Arabic music’s harmony with its microtones and absence of tonal structure.

"The Moroccans" by Henri Matisse.

“The Moroccans” by Henri Matisse.

There has long been a tradition of literary and artistic attraction by the West toward the Orient.  But it is Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign to Egypt (1798-1801), which opened the floodgates  and made the 19th century West smitten with the Orient.

John Singer Sargent's "Smoke of Ambergris",

John Singer Sargent’s “Smoke of Ambergris.”

And so were French poets like Chateaubriand or Arthur Rimbaud.  Painters found inspiration in the Arabic world of North Africa or the Levant.  John Singer Sargent’s 1880 “Smoke of Ambergris” – the emblematic jewel of the Clark museum in Williamstown, the 1909 Vassilly Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 3” and Matisse’s “The Moroccans,” are but a few examples of the East and West symbiosis.

The “Orientalists” could be found around some of cultural centers like the French, German, English or American Institutes in Syria, Lebanon, Beirut or Baghdad.  They were a privileged group, somewhat disconnected from the real world.  With some sarcasm but much honesty, the author acknowledges that the “Orientalists” took advantage of the comfort provided by the law and order of the police state of Hafez el Assad, father of Bachar.  The “Orientalists” lived their dream, Enard writes, “under the amused look of the Syrians.”

At the present time Aleppo is at the epicenter of an imbroglio of violence and destruction and caught in the middle, tragically, are the refugees.

Why do we not take a brief pause and return to a more peaceful time when wars and religious intolerance were not destroying societies?

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Europe and the Migrant Crisis

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the month of January 2016, 55,000 migrants have crossed the Aegean Sea, or 21 times the number that made the same journey in January 2015. In 2015, a total of 856,000 arrived in Europe, 90 percent of them coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, there is an urgency in the face of this inexorable phenomenon, which is bound not only to continue but also to increase. It is expected that with the spring’s milder weather, there will be a surge of four times that number. The net result — Europe has a window of six to eight weeks to manage the crisis.

Everybody agrees on what should be done to stop the flow of refugees: end the war in Syria; defeat ISIS; provide financial help to the countries that have taken in the most refugees, i.e., Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; police the Mediterranean by destroying the derelict boats ferrying the migrants and put a stop to the profitable business of the smugglers. But there has been an absence of a leadership in carrying out a common plan of action.

At the outset of the crisis Angela Merkel was the only one to offer a clear strategy. For her, Turkey was the key country to work with since three quarters of the migrants pass through its territory. She even made the trip to meet President Erdogan in Antalya. She supported the European Commission’s decision to pay Turkey three billion dollars for keeping 2.2 million refugees. The Turks demanded that amount every year, Europe settled for a bi-annual payment. Driving a hard bargain, the Turks demanded that Europe wave its visa requirements for Turkish nationals traveling to Europe. Ankara even asked for the resumption of the process of adhesion into Europe – a demand the European Union is refusing unanimously today as it has for 52 years..

Last September, Merkel announced she would welcome 800,000 refugees in Germany but she had not predicted the ensuing surge and her policy has backfired. She has become increasingly isolated as those countries, at first favorable to her policies, started closing their borders, practicing more restrictive policies toward the migrants, and expelling the ones not qualifying for the status of “refugees.”

After the alleged mass rapes of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, German public opinion has become increasingly hostile to the presence of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men not used to mixing with women in public places. This event was reminiscent of the plight of many German women at the end of the Nazi period. “The collective memory of outrage has overcome the compassion for the migrants,” declared Michaela Wieger, the French correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, on a radio talk show Jan. 30.

ARTE, the Franco-German television channel gave an overview of the migrant’s situation on Feb. 2. The three-hour- long documentary takes the viewer from Calais to Montenegro to Spain.

The situation in Calais in northern France is a festering problem. The number of migrants, who live in abysmal conditions, has grown from 2,000 a year ago to 6,000. Their lifeline is provided by humanitarian aid. The mood is explosive and turning ugly. The migrants are endangering the safety of the Euro-tunnel, which has been turned into a fortress.

The picture so far is positive in Germany, which finds in the migrants a much needed source of labor. The town of Passau, Bavaria, which is situated on the Danube, is the hub of communications. This is where the trains full of migrants converge. In an efficient manner, the new arrivals are greeted, trained and encouraged to learn German. In Leipzig, workers are building wooden homes that can house 60 people. The houses come in a kit and can be assembled in one day. A German firm has outsourced the construction of containers – turned into living quarters – to a Polish factory. The units cannot be built fast enough to meet the demand. However, all the people interviewed in the ARTE program say that they have already reached their saturation point and will be unable to absorb more migrants

There is consensus today that the priority for Europe is to protect its external borders. Greece is described as the number one “hotspot” whose job is to screen and process the migrants. This task is colossal and it is understandable that Greece cannot cope. Being reluctant to impose its own sovereignty, Brussels has decided to give the country three months to improve its work. If it does not, a large contingent of European Frontex officials and additional reserves will be sent as substitutes.

In addition, the EU may decide to deactivate Article 26 of the Schengen treaty. This will mean the suspension, for at least two years, of the free circulation of persons, goods and capital between the 28 member states.

Brussels would hate to make that very serious decision.Schengen has been called an “accelerator of growth,” since its creation, says Wieger, but it was intended to function in normal times, which these clearly are not. The cost to reestablish internal borders will reach at least 100 billion Euros a year.But, more importantly, the “Schengen Space”is one of the main pillars of Europe.Indeed, it is a core principle.

“The problem of migrants is, in fact, in front of us,” commented Sylvie Kauffman, senior editor of the French daily Le Monde. “Next, we will have to face massive flows of economic refugees from Africa, due to its demography”.

It is a difficult time for Europe, and for the French in particular, to abdicate sacred principles such as the right of asylum and to see the very existence of Europe threatened.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Marmottan Monet Museum Offers Rare Glimpse Inside Villa Flora

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is a well kept secret that Switzerland’s private foundations own a wealth of art works. Swiss law does not require them to be registered commercially and offers them favorable tax and legal conditions, creating thus a “paradise” for art collectors. The Villa Flora, in Winterthur near Zurich, is one of the richest of these family foundations. Since the museum is under renovation this winter, its contents found a temporary home at the Marmottan Monet museum in Paris and currently form the Villa Flora exhibition subtitled, “A Time of Enchantment.”

In 1898 Hedy Hahnloser inherited from her father, a well-to-do textile industrialist, a large house and moved in with Arthur, her husband. For a short time, Arthur practiced ophthalmology in the clinic he installed on the property but soon the couple became fully engaged in the passion of their life, which was to create long-lasting friendships with painters and to collect their works.

Over the years, the rambling house was turned into a studio and an art gallery — every available space was used to place the paintings. Hedy had always been interested in arts and crafts and in the English movement by that name. She decorated her house’s parquets and wainscots with the geometric designs characteristic of the 1897 “Viennese Recession” led by Gustav Klimt.

A trip to Paris in 1908 was for the couple a total immersion into the frantic artistic scene of the French capital. Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubism, while the Fauvist movement was at its pinnacle. The natural flair of the Hahnlosers in selecting art work was sharpened by their contacts with art merchants like Ambroise Vollard and Gaston Bernheim.

During that trip they met and struck up a friendship with Felix Valloton (1865-1925), who became a close friend, spent much time at the Villa Flora and also introduced them to the artistic circles of Paris. They remained friends until his death. For the Swiss couple to welcome artists and hold Tuesday coffees became a way of life.

One can compare their creative and welcoming home with the boarding house in Old Lyme, Conn., where Florence Griswold invited American Impressionists. Or consider Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo who, like Arthur and Hedy, opened their “salon” on 27 rue de Fleurus to artists and writers. And in yet another example, in the late 19th century, Russia also had its own artist colonies, which grew around enlightened members of the nobility. The best known was Abramtsevo, near Moscow, created by the industrialist Savva Mamontov.

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L'Embarcadère) de Cannes, 1928-1934

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère) de Cannes, 1928-1934

The Hahnlosers’ collection contained works by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, the symbolist Odilon Redon and many others. But it is the abundance of Nabis’ art, which made it quite unique.

It was a post-impressionist movement in the mid 1890s. “Nabi” means prophet in Hebrew and Arabic. The leading members of this group — Maurice Denis, Felix Vallotton , Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard — considered themselves as the prophets of a new era in the arts. Each one had his distinctive style, but there was always a message behind their way of depicting reality, whether it was religious, intellectual or emotional. They were versatile artists, working in oil, and also lithography, wood cuts, satirical drawings, and book or poster illustration.

Vallotton stylized his subjects and used the technique of “aplats” or flat areas of contrasting colors with sharp outlines. There is a feeling of enigmatic emptiness in his works. “La Charette” or cart drives away on a deserted dirt road, two slender umbrella pines contrast with the darker mass of trees bordering the road.

man&woman
Le provincial,” pictured above, shows a couple in a cafe. One barely sees the profile of the elegant woman wearing a huge hat. The feather on the hat and the ruffled blouse are the only bright notes in this scene of a non-communicating couple in the male chauvinistic society at the turn of the 20th century.

Vallotton’ masterpiece is “La Blanche et la Noire” (The White and the Black). A white woman is lying, unabashedly naked, on a bed while a black woman is staring at her with insolence and a sort of inappropriate familiarity, a cigarette is sticking out of her mouth. The painting is reminiscent of the “Olympia” by Manet but with a different underlying story.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bonnard’s paintings have an effusive and warm quality. His colors are luminous, his brush strokes seem unbridled, full of life. He is inspired by the intimacy of domestic scenes — “Le Tub” is a picture within a picture thanks to the mirror placed at the center of the composition. A plunging angle reveals Marthe, his wife and beloved model, near the tub.

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Bonnard cherished his villa in the Var, not far from Cannes. “Le Thé” is a peaceful scene of young women having tea . He plays with an array of hat colors. The vegetation seems to overflow into the porch. On “Le Debarcadère” or pier, young people lean over a railing, as if frozen in the contemplation of the rough Mediterranean waters.

This is indeed a rare opportunity to see an exceptional private art collection created by two extraordinary citizens, who according to the exhibition’s guide, lived their lives by following a simple mantra, “Living for art. Collecting. Such was the raison d’être of [this] couple.”

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Exhibition Explores the Elegance, History of Louis Vuitton’s Luggage

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The exhibit “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” (Fly, Sail, Travel) at the Grand Palais takes the visitor to the elegant world of travel in the early 20th century.  It is a retrospective of the luggage, which created the Vuitton dynasty’s fame.  Every  item is beautifully crafted of wood, cloth and leather, such as the famous “sac Noé” created in 1932.

caroussel_grandpalais_460x550_v02These luxurious objects make travel by air, train or sea glamorous and modern. The visitor rides an old-fashioned, wood-paneled train and feels transported into the “Out of Africa” world of Karen Blixen, as the Kenya savannah speeds outside the windows.

Several pieces of the Vuitton family’s private luggage — first seen by the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) — are scattered  on sand dunes, evoking the beautifully photographed scene of a couple riding  in the desert near the Pyramids in the 1978 Agatha Christy’s movie “Death on the Nile.”

A huge sail reaches all the way to the ceiling.  On the deck of a yacht are displayed a wooden trunk,  fragrant with camphor wood and rosewood; a “wardrobe” trunk whose drawers and hangers contain  an elegant passenger’s apparel;  a gentleman’s  personal case complete with crystal flasks; and fancy hair brushes.

Luxury goods – labeled as “consumer discretionary” in Wall Street jargon – are an important sector of the French economy.  They combine traditional savoir-faire acquired over many generations (the Maison Vuitton has existed since 1835; the Maison Hermes since 1837) with the creative talent of artists and decorators along with  the highly complex robotic machinery used to fabricate, clothes, bags, shoes and more.

At Hermes, silk screen scarves are made from raw silk spun under the constant scrutiny of a worker; artists, assisted by colorists, create the designs.

For decades, not a single famous woman – from Jacqueline Kennedy to French actress Catherine Deneuve – has been seen without the iconic Chanel purse.  The making of the little black purse, with its gold chain, and its distinctive padded outer shell stitched in lozenges, requires the skilled delicate work of 17 people.

The world of fashion and luxury objects could not exist without money — lots of money.  In 1987, the merger of Louis Vuitton fashion house with Moët et Chandon and Hennessy champagne – produced the LVMH multinational conglomerate.  It brought together 90 of the most famous brands of wines and spirits, fashion and luxury goods, as well as perfume and cosmetics.  Dior is the major shareholder with 40 percent of the shares.

Bernard Arnault is CEO of both Dior and LVMH.  He is the richest man of France and holds the fifth largest fortune in  the world — his worth is about 30 billion dollars.  When Arnault arrived in Shanghai for the opening of a new Vuitton boutique, he was received like a head  of state.

It is not uncommon for a tycoon to be a philantropist and an art collector.  In the late 19th century, two Russian businessmen were instrumental in bringing French art to their home country — Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin introduced Impressionist art to Russia after a trip to Paris, and similarly, Ivan Morozov was a major collector of French avant-garde art.

Arnault won a resounding victory over his rival Francois Pinault when he was able to build his art museum on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  (Pinault “only” owns a few islands of Venice.)  In order to promote artistic creation, Arnault built a museum, which he called the Fondation LVMH — it was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry.  At the time of its inauguration in 2014,  it was met with a mixed reaction but gradually it has become part of the landscape. It did help rejuvenate the dilapidated  Jardin d’Acclimatation, a 100-year-old zoo and children’s attraction park, beloved by the Parisians.

Gehry created a wild structure of huge, curved glass panels flying in all directions, like spinnakers blowing in the wind.  To create an area of 125,000 square feet of molded glass, 100 engineers were employed who were supported by Dassault Systèmes, the leading French company specializing in aeronautics and space.

The inside structure, called the “iceberg,” is erratic and disorients visitors. Several intricate levels and vertiginous staircases lead to the upper terrace offering  a view over the Bois in which the skyscrapers of La Défense district appear to be framed by the glass panels.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Welcome ‘Le Grand Paris!’ New Geographical Region Becomes a Reality

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On January 1st, 2016 the “Metropole du Grand Paris” became official .  This new territorial organization, named Etablissement Public de Cooperation Intercommunale (EPCI),  includes Paris plus parts of three departements Hauts de Seine, Seine St Denis and Val de Marne– with seven millions inhabitants.

What is the Grand Paris ?  Why is it a necessity?  Is it a decisive step forward? Does it have models in other countries?  What are the  problems it is facing ?  Anyone curious to learn how France works and what lies in the future might be interested in having a look at this new concept.

The project was born in 2007 under President Sarkozy’s mandate.  When the Socialists came to power in 2012, they immediately modified the initial proposal.  But the authors of the project kept plodding away.  Its official status represents a progress toward the long term objective, which is to be ready for the Olympic Games in 2024 and the 2025 World Fair, in the event Paris is chosen.

The French capital is choking inside the beltway and something had to be done:  the town of Paris is too small and too expensive even to accommodate the middle class; suburbia, which used to provide a labor force in the former industrial economy, is hit today by unemployment ; this same suburbia feels isolated because of inadequate public transport (if you drive into work you might spend hours in bouchons or traffic jams on the highway).  The RERs (Regional Rapid Transit) are overcrowded and often unsafe.

reseau-de-transport-grand-paris-1

In the new project (see map above), the backbone of public transport will be the Grand Paris Express, six new lines of totally automated trains circling the Paris agglomeration  and connecting, for the first time, the suburbs.  For instance it will be possible to go directly from Boulogne at the west of Paris to Marne la Vallée  (the location of Euro-Disney) in the east.

Until now any change has been hampered by administrative complexity – layer upon layer of  authorities, like a millefeuille  – (a well known and sinful pastry).

The Grand Paris will  include 132 communes.  Mayors wield enormous power in France.  That power is particularly obvious at election time when building permits seem to multiply.  The mayors will have to learn how to live together and adapt to the new administrative structure, which now includes other layers of the bureaucratic millefeuille, namely the departements and the regions (this year they have been reduced from 22 to 13), piled on top.

France is essentially a centralized state.  Culture, finance, education of the elite,  research and development, luxury shops,  are heavily concentrated in Paris and the Ile de France.  Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, General De Gaulle are the great historical figures who left their imprint in the centralization process.  What we are witnessing today is an explosion of the center.  It is even likely that the boundaries of the Grand Paris may expand.

The Grand Paris will be made of ‘clusters’ (in English in the French text) to bring Paris to par with New York , London or Tokyo.  According to the official description of the project, “Greater Paris relies on seven thematic competitive clusters.”  The list includes : Air Space, Trade, Sustainable City, Digital Creation, International Trade, and Life Sciences.  A financial center already exists in the Defense district, which looks like a mini-Manhattan. ,

Saclay, 20 kilometers south of Paris, is the most impressive and modernistic of these clusters.  Until recently an agricultural land, it is now the hub of Research and Development.  Many élite Grandes Ecoles, like Polytechnique,  have  moved there, as well as 23 universities and the headquarters of major companies.  Its emblematic building, spreading over the fields like a giant flying saucer, is the Synchroton Soleil with its accelerators to study light.  Pierre Veltz, an engineer and former head of Saclay, is confident that it will become an European Silicon Valley.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: COP 21, Part II — Reaching Consensus was a “Tour de Force,” But Much Work Still To Do

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

cop21-logoAt 7.26 p.m. precisely on Saturday, Dec. 12, Laurent Fabius, president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 21 , choking with emotion, announced that an  universal accord had been reached.  The several thousand people in the audience rose in a standing ovation and started congratulating each other.

After two sleepless nights, the “facilitators” wrenched out an agreement by consensus from the 195 Convention’s members.  The suspense lasted until the absolute final minute when Nicaragua tried to interrupt. It was too late — the president had already snapped down his gavel.  The conference could very well have been a failure – it had to overcome a block from the oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia –  but on that last day, there were no grim faces, as had been seen in Copenhagen, only a general enthusiasm. 

Credit should be given to the involvement of the French organizers.  For two years they traveled several times around the world to meet every leader.  President François Hollande was talking to president Xi Jinping just one month before the start of the Convention.  All paid homage to the professionalism of Fabius who seemed on a mission throughout the process. “You did an amazing job,” commented John Kerry,  while  Al Gore added, “This is the finest diplomatic performance I have seen in two decades.”

In a nutshell, the agreement reads as follows: 

  • its main objective is to limit the increase in temperature to “well below” two degrees by the end of this century 
  • developed countries should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gas and the developing countries should “mitigate” them 
  • Article 9 stipulates that “developed country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries” 
  • the agreement, which will be ratified in April 2016, requires an annual payment of 100 billion Euros, with a revision every five years

President Barrack Obama is expected to use an Executive Order to avoid the likely opposition of the Republican majority in the Congress; in the absence of coercion and sanctions —  a mechanism of control by satellite (France is financing the “MicroCarb” satellite) — provides an attempt at transparency and ongoing verification by a committee of experts thus making the agreement de facto binding.

Never before has there been such an awareness of the threat caused by global warming. The vagaries of the climate and the fact that 2015 is the warmest year in recorded history contributed to this sense of urgency.  Today any debate about climate skepticism has become obsolete.  

What makes the Paris conference different from all the ones before is a groundswell of positive intentions.  For the first time the main polluters of the planet – China, the US and India – are on board and are determined to make the agreement work.  Already 187 out of the 195 countries have announced their voluntary contributions.

Today the action of society as a whole is crucial.  It is important to note that, at the Bourget, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private associations and a number of organizations  were working just a few steps from the UN “Blue Zone” for government officials  (at the Lima, Peru, COP, they had been “exiled” 15 kilometers away).  Giant screens in the hallways made it possible for the general public to follow the proceedings, breaking away from the closed door policy of the past.

After the initial euphoria felt on Dec. 12,  a number of questions remains unanswered, some of the objectives are unclear – no date was set as to when to reach the greenhouse gas neutrality nor when to end the use of fossil energy, no price was put on carbon – and the unfairness of many decisions has become apparent – such as the financing  and the sharing of responsibilities between the “North” or rich countries and the developing countries — or to put it another way,  who pays whom and for what?  Until now Europe, and France in particular, have been paying a great deal.  A country such as Russia has not paid one cent so far.  Are China and India – the big polluters of the planet – still considered as part of the developing world and expected to be on the receiving end of hundreds of billions of Euros?

Nicolas Hulot, militant environmentalist and an icon in France, deemed  the agreement very positive even though it was not perfect.  “Such a movement of solidarity around the planet has never been seen before,” he stated, adding, “There is a momentum, which needs to be seized and followed by action.” 

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Letter from Paris: COP 21 Tackles Climate Change in Challenging Times

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

All eyes are on the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change taking place in Paris from Nov. 29 to Dec. 12. The “Conference of Parties” or COP, have been held every year since COP 1 in Berlin, in 1995.

In the middle of nowhere, in an industrial and non-descript vacant lot – a preview of what our world will become if the conference does not bring concrete results – the Bourget site has been turned into an ephemeral city of tents, movable partitions and kilometers of carpets. The recyclable constructions will all disappear at the end of the conference. More than 3,000 journalists are covering the event.

The circumstances were exceptional, barely two weeks after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. France is living under emergency rules and the danger is still present. More than 120,000 police, army and special forces are deployed throughout the country. Terrorism and global warming were on a collision course. It was a huge challenge for France to organize the conference. The highways and part of the beltway were closed to facilitate the arrival of the thousands of visitors. The Parisians had braced themselves for total chaos … but it turned out to be the most peaceful two days in a long time.

The inaugural day was quite a show of protocol. There was first the greetings of the 150 leaders, followed by photo-ops and smiles. Elham Aminzadeh, the vice-president of Iran, dressed in her long robes, walked past the French president and prime minister to shake hands only with Segolène Royal, French minister of the environment. Then everyone scrambled to find his or her place for the giant “family pnoto.” Leaders of Israel and Palestine or of Russia and Turkey had to stand apart to avoid a diplomatic incident.

This year the heads of States spoke at the outset of the COP. It was believed that their declarations of intent — powerful but brief (three minutes each) — would galvanize the public and give a boost to the working sessions to follow. One sensed a definite will to reach the objective of limiting the global warming to below two degrees by 2100. “Greenpeace could have signed Francois Hollande’s speech,” commented Jean Francois Julliard, the director of Greenpeace France. Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi announced his country’s support of an ” International Solar Alliance.” China is becoming the world first producer of renewable energy. The liberal new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is changing his country’s attitude about the environment.

Early in the conference, 11 developed countries, including the US, France, England, Germany and Sweden, made the solemn commitment to contribute 250 million Euros for a transfer of renewable technology to the poorest countries.

In the 1970s, the advocates of ecology were not taken seriously and pretty much disregarded. Things have now come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which so few countries ratified or from the 2009 COP 15 of Copenhagen, which ended up with a weak and non-binding text.

At the midpoint of COP 21, its president, French minister of foreign affairs Laurent Fabius, exhorted the participants to seize the momentum. He urged delegates not to wait until global warming becomes irreversible.

The pollution of the atmosphere is measured in particles per million or “ppm.” To-day it is 400 as compared to 250 in the pre-industrial era. In Peiping, pollution is 25 times higher than that of Paris on it worst day.

In 1990, the developed countries (also labeled as the “North”) produced 14,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the emerging countries 7,500. In 2012, the North had slightly reduced its emissions to 13,000 and the “emerging countries “, called G77 + China , ( actually numbering 134 now), almost tripled their emissions to 20,000. It is ironic that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is still included among the “emerging” countries.

The main stumbling block at the COP 21 is whether the developed world will have to pay 100 billion Euros per year to the other countries even though they are profiting from the technology it created. Besides, if one has to wait for the “big emergents,” headed by China and India, in the name of “climate justice,” to catch up, the planet will be gone by then.

In the early evening of the inaugural day, I saw a convoy with blue strobe lights, going against traffic in a one-way street in front of my windows. Who could that be, I wondered? It turned out it was President Barrack Obama driving toward the very secluded three-star Ambroisie restaurant on Place des Vosges. In the elegant dining room, under crystal chandeliers, the president, John Kerry and their party seemed to have a great time with Francois Hollande and his cabinet ministers.

Nicole Prévost LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: ‘Francofonia’ Explores German Attitude to Louvre Art During Occupation, but with Broader Message

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Like irritating mosquitoes on a hot summer afternoon, three fighter planes of the German Luftwaffe fly over a majestic and impregnable Louvre museum.  This is the opening image of Francofonia, a documentary reflecting on art and the courage of men fighting to protect it against forces of destruction.  A most appropriate and needed interlude at this particularly tense time for the humanity.

Although labeled a documentary, Francofonia – a Russian-German-French production – is part newsreels, part fiction, part poetic images. The film, directed by the well-known Alexander Sokurov, won an award at the September 2015 Venice Film Festival.

Count Wolff Metternich, a German officer of Prussian origin, walks down a vaulted hallway. He is there to meet  Jacques Jaujard, the French director of the Louvre.  The two men are stiff and on their respective guards.  Metternich asks Jaujard, “Do you speak German?” “No,” responds Jaujard, “The answer is, I am very French.”

A scene from 'Francophonia.' Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

A scene from ‘Francophonia.’ Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

Ironically both men are on an identical mission.  In 1939, most of the Louvre’s art work, including the “Victory of Samothrace” – the museum’s most illustrious treasure – was removed by the staff and hidden in the cellars of French castles.  Metternich had done precisely the same thing with the collections of the Cologne cathedral before the start of the war.

With an element of pathos, Sokurov imagines the visit of German military to  the Louvre.  Did they realize it was an empty place except for Assyrian winged bulls and other monumental sculptures, which might have been left on purpose to act as the watchdogs of an idea?

Two iconic guides take us through the deserted Grande Gallery.  A fat-bellied Napoleon, behaving like the host, points at the David’s painting of his coronation.  “This is me,” he says proudly. But  it is with irony that Sukurov shows “Napoleon crossing the Alps” by Delaroche as an undignified and tired man riding a mule  rather than the dashing rider imagined by David.  Our other guide, Marianne, wearing the distinctive Phrygian bonnet, repeats over and over  “Liberté,  égalité, fraternité.”

Sukorov accompanies us through an empty museum filled with the memory of treasures now gone.  A hand touches the diaphanous finger tips of a statue;  Clouet’s delicate portraits come alive;  and so do Millet’s peasants, sitting  by the fire, their deeply-lined faces showing their exhaustion.  The greyish, almost sepia, quality  of the photographs adds to the eerie feeling.

The camera moves in and out of the Louvre and depicts difficult scenes, which demand pause for thought.  A tanker is struggling in the fury of the Baltic. Will the works of art it carries in its containers survive or be crushed by the waves?  The frozen body of a well-dressed little girl lying on a street during the siege of Leningrad evokes the human suffering caused by war.

Francofonia is a complex film, which can be read on several levels.  It came on the Paris screens not long after the blasting of Palmyra and other archaeological sites by Daesh (ISIS).  The message is crystal clear — art, which is the legacy of our civilization, is too precious to die.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the Aftermath of Friday the 13th

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.10.55 PMThe Nov. 13 attack was not the end of it.

The Parisians lived through a first somber weekend listening to the non-stop sirens of police cars. On Nov. 18, RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion), assisted by hundreds of special police forces launched a massive assault in St Denis, barely one kilometer from the Stade de France and next to the 12th century basilica of the kings of France. At four in the morning and for seven hours the tiny street became a war scene of incredible violence. Explosions shook the shabby buildings so much that walls and floors collapsed.

Two suspects, a woman and a man, unidentified for almost two days, were found in the rubble. Terrorist Salah Abdelslam was still on the run. Every day the police uncovered new details about the terrorists — in Montreuil and in the 18th arrondissement. On Nov. 23, a belt with explosives was found on a sidewalk in Montrouge, south of Paris. The Belgium connection intensified, particularly in Melenbeek, a town with a mostly Moslem population and 85 mosques. One week after the French attack, a major terrorist threat forced the Belgian capital to shut down for several days.

How are the French coping? They feel “80 percent anger and 15 percent pain,” commented Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Fondation. One feels outraged that petty delinquents, often on drugs, would commit such atrocities. A mood of mourning and solidarity spread throughout France.

We are now in another era, prime minister Manuel Valls declared, and we will have to learn how to live with terror but must not give in to it. The French people have heard this sobering message and are behaving with great dignity, albeit with nervousness. At no point did the citizens feel an infringement on their personal freedom. Public debates , such as the Friday night TV show “Ce soir ou Jamais”, are more heated than ever.

There was a temporary disconnect between the politicians and the general public. During a stormy session at the Assemblée Nationale, Les Republicains (LR) (new name of UMP) gave a hard time to the prime minister. Catcalls and jeers made his speeches barely audible. The right wing daily Le Figaro explained how Christian Jacob, leader of the LR parliamentary group, instructed his party to calm down. On the following day, the behavior of the deputés was exemplary as they voted unanimously to prolong the Etat d’urgence (state of emergency) for three months.

To reassure the population, the government took several security measures including the creation of 10,000 posts in the police and border control personnel. A major change in the Code Pénal was put in place to facilitate searches of private homes and house arrests, as well as preventive arrests without the intervention of a judge. Close to one thousand searches were carried out last week, which is more than during a full year under normal circumstances. To enhance the efficiency of the police, the definition of legitimate defence is being altered.

The Patriot Act, signed into law by the US Congress on Oct. 21 2001, developed surveillance on the whole nation and the gathering of “metadata.” It is very different in France, since the new administrative and judiciary steps, taken by the Executive, are targeted at a concrete enemy of about 11,000 dangerous individuals, registered on the “S” form, living in the midst of the population, practically next door. In the US, the task of protecting the country is shared between the Justice Department, the Homeland Security, the FBI and the 50 states. In France, overall responsibility lies with the Ministre de l’Interieur – at present Bernard Cazeneuve.

When it became known that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was finally identified in the St. Denis assault, a co-author of the terrorist attack of Nov. 13, had been on the loose for several months, it literally infuriated public opinion. Flaws in the surveillance system became obvious. That man was well known by the Intelligence officials, had taken part in four out of six recent aborted attacks, and, at one time, was convicted to 20 years in prison. He made several round trips to Syria and apparently passed easily through porous airports, including Istanbul.

Close to one million migrants have entered Europe since the beginning of the year and there is no end in sight. Should the Schengen principle of free circulation of people and goods within the European Union (EU) be suspended? The Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thinks that, to abandon Schengen, would be a very serious threat to the survival of Europe.

But many disagree with that opinion.

The “Schengen Space” was created in 1985 for five countries and intended to function in peaceful and normal times when the external frontiers were real. That is not the case any more. How can Greece, financially broke, stop or at least control 80 percent of the migrants who have landed on their shores?

The European Commission is trying to alleviate the situation somewhat. One decision is to apply the PNR (passenger name record) even on EU nationals entering the continent. The other is to intensify the controls of arms and assault weapons’ spare parts coming mainly from the Balkans. The idea of depriving bi-national jihadists of one of their nationalities is also being considered.

On the diplomatic and military scenes, the repercussions of Nov. 13 have been huge. It seems to have caused a major turn- around in the main powers’ policy – a 180 degree shift, one might say. No one wanted to admit they were making concessions, but they did. Suddenly Putin recognized that the Russian plane had indeed been blown up over the Sinai desert. He changed course and started limiting his air strikes to Daesch (ISIS) and no longer to Syrian rebels. In a recent interview in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace, John Kerry did not mention the ousting of Bachar al-Assad as a preliminary condition to negotiations. The French, who had been the most hawkish among the warring countries prior to 2012, skipped Assad’s removal as well. It is concentrating the action of its Rafales on Rakka, the self-proclaimed capital of Daech. At this point, none of the main powers are willing to put “boots on the ground.” The only boots one has seen so far are Kurdish boots.

This will be a marathon week for François Hollande: Cameron on Monday, Obama on Tuesday, Merkel on Wednesday and Putin on Thursday. His objective is to build up a single coalition against Daech.

Intense soul-searching and analyses by experts are going on to try and understand a conflict to which we have never before been exposed. Can we win a war against terrorism? No, said former minister of foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin. We cannot defeat this invisible enemy, which we have helped create.

What is Daesch really and what does it want? To destabilize our society by increasing the divide between Moslems and our secular values, says Gilles Keppel, professor at Sciences Po and a specialist on Islam. Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut believes that Daesch is not just reacting to the bombings. He says that by nature it is a conquering culture and today it is on a crusade to destroy the West.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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