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09/06/2005

The victory of Euro-nihilism

The French no is the manifestation of a movement that cuts to the heart of Europe. By André Glucksmann

Let's not kid around. I strongly advise people like me, who were in favour of the yes, not to underestimate the French no. It is the manifestation of a movement that cuts to the heart of Europe. The majority no appears to be a protean, contradictory mobilisation, coagulating disparate fears and frustrations, cheekily pooling the prejudices of the extreme Right and the ultra Left.

In fact, this confused and popular pell-mell is a sign of vigour. Unconcerned with the rifts that divide it, the no is united in its opposition. It rejects en masse: it is anti-liberal, anti-American, anti-immigrants from the South, and above all from the East. It rejects the cosmopolitan Brussels bureaucracy and declares war on Polish competition and Baltic predators, not to mention the future invaders from Turkey. The no stands guard on the frontiers of the old European Community. In this way, the official referendum on the constitution slowly turned into an officious – and retrospective – referendum against the enlargement from fifteen to twenty-five member states. The French who abstained in large numbers during the European parliamentary elections were already Euro-sceptics. The same ones who recklessly promoted the no on May 29 have now become Euro-nihilists. The hour of fraternity is over.

On an even more serious note, the phobias that cemented the no are kept alive by the official defenders of the yes. Was it not President Chirac who, during the European quarrel about going to war in Iraq, had the arrogance to say that Eastern Europeans had only one right: "to be quiet"? French diplomacy is bent on creating a "European power" to stand up to the American "hyper power". This dream is not of a European Europe, but of a French Europe. And the backbone will be Paris-Berlin-Moscow. Brussels and Warsaw will just have to behave, and they'll be the ones to pay for the failure of the referendum.

Putin over Bush! How can one reproach French voters for being more logical than Monsieur de Villepin? No one is ignorant of the fact that the majority of states in the Europe of twenty-five refuses to play Moscow and Beijing off against Washington. So to hell with the twenty-five! Opting for a Chiracism without Chirac, the socialist tenors of the no – Fabius and Emmanuelli – redouble their hasty geopolitical efforts with populist arguments, evoking the spectres of dumping and de-localisations. Faced with a 'Polish plumber' who is taking our work and an Estonia that is taking our factories, let's opt for Yalta 2, and slam the door in the face of young democrats from Eastern Europe!

Liberty is a scary thing. "Liberal" has become the supreme insult in France. The constitution? For defenders of the no it's a liberal straight jacket, and for the apostles of the yes it's a barrier against liberalism. The liberal is the enemy. We're paying for decades of lies and illusions. France lives in a globalised market economy, yet our language is socialist and national. It's no wonder voters go along with this discourse. The French president recently declared before a spell-bound audience: "Liberalism is as dangerous an ideology as communism, and like communism it will not prevail"! "France from above", combining both yes and no, calls on people to resist the ogre of liberalism. The "people" summons its courage and resolves to strike down the monster, sacrificing the yes of the elites on the altar of its own silliness.

Some will answer: Ten percent unemployment, eleven percent of the population below poverty-line, that explains the blossoming of xenophobic and nihilistic impulses, that is what justifies the hatred of parliamentary government or the call to denounce Polish workers. No! Far from being economic and social, the crisis is essentially mental. Taboos are disappearing. All that previously blocked the hatred of others, of foreigners, is fading away. During the campaign I heard socialist leaders stigmatise the workers of other European countries in a way only the extreme right had done before. I saw Jean-Pierre Chevènement rail against the "Brussels oligarchs", while affirming the Putinian origins of his language. I heard delirious eulogies of French soil with distinct tinges of the past, although it is the most shameful element of our history.

Extremist impulses have acquired a varnish of respectability through the intercession of the socialist leaders of the no. At Maastricht in 1992, the divided electorate on the Right almost brought Europe to a halt. Now it's the Left's turn. The figures speak for themselves. In France, 40 percent of the electorate are anti-European or anti-democratic. Fabius brings the rest. The tone and style of two months of strictly ideological campaign, dominated by the fetish antinomy of the 19th century, have adopted the outdated Manicheanism of revolutionary phraseology. The pivotal question was whether this constitution is "social" or "liberal". People liked to oppose "free and undistorted competition" on the one hand and "social protection" on the other. This translated as: either the free market jungle or protective statism. The dead overtakes the living and tosses fifty years of European construction to the wind.

For a half a century, the programmes of both Christian Democrats and Social Democrats blended economic efficiency and social security, seeking to unite liberty, prosperity and solidarity. In far more miserable circumstances than those of today, it was this gamble that pulled Western Europe from its ruins and made it the second-largest economic power in the world, and the first in terms of its citizens' well-being. All that is over. Neither in Germany nor in France are the Leftist parties ready to defend the challenge of the "social market economy".

Resurrecting from antediluvian anathemas, the chairman of the German SPD, Franz Müntefering, thunders against the "locusts" of international capital that pillage productive work, in the hopes that his anti-American and anti-capitalist vituperation will help ward off the anticipated electoral disaster. The turnaround of Gerhard Schröder, the ex-"bosses' friend", is similar to the 180 degree turnaround of Laurent Fabius, the opportunist, liberal French prime minister of former times who is the very opposite of a Bolshevik

The success of the French no and the demagogic drift of the European socialists both result from a common moral and mental decline. If there were any new political force worth the name, such a bankruptcy of intelligence and generosity would only have local repercussions, such as the defeat of the SPD-Green coalition in Germany, or amusing twists like the ridicule of French-French narcissism. Unfortunately, no political force either in Berlin or Paris has recognised that the major event of recent months was the "orange revolution", and the emancipation of 50 million Europeans who rose up against post-communist despotism. The European identity is being shaped by the wind of liberty blowing between Kiev and Tbilissi. France, the land of human rights, has now got cold feet, and stands cowering while proud people take up the words it no longer uses, although they are written above every voting office: liberty, equality, fraternity.

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The article originally appeared in German in Die Welt on June 1, and in French in Le Figaro on June 2, 2005.

Andre Glucksmann is a philosopher and author of "Master thinkers" (Harper & Row,
1980).

Translation: jab.
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