Monday, April 23, 2012

The French barometer

I had a houseguest this weekend who was in Toronto to vote in the French presidential elections.  I was somewhat shocked that he would travel 4 hours each way to vote and even more so when I found out that the second round of voting is in a couple weeks and he will travel here again.  The French had a turnout of 80% for the vote which is more than Canada has had ... ever?  I guess the French take their politics more seriously than we do here since this is actually a lower turnout than they have had in the past.  I sure wouldn't travel that much to vote as I have a hard enough time finding the will to vote when I just have to walk two blocks!

A lot of people are using this election as a important marker for political movements across Europe.  The far right National Front party candidate came a solid third place which isn't good enough to get onto the final ballot but certainly shows that there are a lot of people taking an isolationist, blame the others stance.  The National Front wants to withdraw from the Euro and go back to the franc and has a lot of the same rhetoric we see in other extreme right wing nationalist parties in european politics.  I think these parties are really dangerous to stability and encourage divisive, damaging thinking - blaming foreigners and surrounding nations for problems are poor decisions but the crazy anti-immigration platforms we can see in all kinds of European nations are frightening.  

It is easy and convenient to blame all of your problems on 'those people who are different' and unfortunately that sort of scapegoating seems to be rapidly rising in popularity across the pond.  Canada hasn't really developed a party like that, probably because although we have our crazies who blame the immigrants for everything there is a pretty strong public sentiment supporting a multicultural society; we actually don't have that many people who have been here more than five generations or so.  The US certainly has plenty of extreme nationalism in its politics but you find it quite firmly entrenched within the Democrats and Republicans; they have no need for fringe right wing nationalist parties.

It is a worrying trend.  As economic uncertainty increases people seem to be drawn to extremists with messages of hate and who rely on scapegoating vulnerable minorities... I wonder how much of the worldwide trend towards socialism, multiculturalism and peace is rooted in constant economic growth and increasing prosperity.  Unfortunately it seems like there is a very strong correlation there.


  1. That's pretty neat, having someone over to vote in the French election. I watch a bit of French TV to maintain the language so lately it's been all election all the time. The first round is always good fun, besides the national front (who are really quite tame nowadays, back in the 70's it was full of actual nazis) you could also pick from a communist, 2 other communists who didn't think the first communist was communist enough, and a conspiracy theorist who thinks France should hurry up and colonize Mars already. All of these distinguished candidates enjoy very strictly enforced equal access to television time during the month or so before the election, and no shunting off the kooks to the 3 AM time slot either.

  2. Yeah, it certainly isn't true that France only has radical right wing parties and candidates... they certainly have their share of radical left wing candidates too. How do so many politicians who want to colonize other celestial bodies get taken seriously anyway?

  3. Nice blog, very interesting.

    I didn't realize how strange it could be to spend a weekend travelling to vote. One of the reason was to contribute with my vote to make France a well recognized leading country deeply socially oriented. What a disillusion!

    Anyway, I just wanted to comment your paper on one anecdotal aspect. You mention about the National Front a "worrying (increasing) trend" . It is so true that a significant part of France is xenophobe and/or afraid and/or misinformed but there is actually no extreme right increasing trend. Just look at the same french election 10 years ago. There we had the National Front and a smaller dissident one. In total, 16.86 + 2.34 = 19.2 % of the people have voted for the extreme right wing. It is more than now: 17.9% (I can't easily compare the absolute values as the turnout was very different in 2002 and 2012).

    I don't understand why the media in France keep commenting on an extreme right tsunami passing over the country. There is simply no wave, the background level is unfortunately extremely high which is already worrying enough (meaning that fear, disappointment and obscurantism are now strongly anchored in the french society). Not sure it is the same for the rest of Europe.