Friday 26 May 2017

A new step forward in France, by Carol Drinkwater

We have a new President.
The whole world has learned by now that France has voted for Emmanuel Macron, the youngest man to step into this role since Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon III.
Born in Paris on 20th April 1808,  Louis-Napoléon became President on 20th December 1848.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew and heir of Napoléon I, was the first head of State to take the title of President and he was the only President of the Second Republic. Barred from running for a second term, he organised a coup d'etat and took the throne as Emperor of France on 2nd December 1852.  He remains the longest serving Head of State in France since the French Revolution, and died in exile in England in 1873 after the fall of his Empire in 1870.

Emmanuel Macron steps into the role of President at the age of thirty-nine and six months so just a tad younger than France's last Emperor, making Macron the youngest President in French history.  Does his age matter? Yes and no. His youth and energy are seen here as a breath of fresh air. His beautiful wife Brigitte Macron is over twenty years his senior making him, I believe, a man with an individual spirit who follows his own path, his own destiny. I watched a clip of their wedding recently and was charmed by the way he spoke so openly about embracing their age difference. I find it quite remarkable when one considers the chauvinism so often shown in politics.

I, we, hope that this mindset will bring courage and a new way of thinking to French politics. Most here are saying that the country is in dire need of reform. Yes, there is much that needs to be addressed - our very high unemployment figures (around ten per cent), the weight of bureaucracy in the public sectors - both are two concerns regularly cited.
Another urgent issue is national security. We are a country that has been living in a state of alerte rouge since January 2015. Over the last two years, France has been the victim of several monstrous terrorist attacks. In these last two and a half years, close to 300 people have been murdered during or as a result of these attacks. Macron's opponent, the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, has been suggesting measures which would alienate the large Maghrebian (north African) population here in France, would close down our borders, take us out of Europe and do away with the euro. Fortunately, Macron has opposed all these proposed policies. During the televised debate between Macron and Le Pen just days before the second and final round of voting, Macron stood firm against her accusations when she shockingly threw the word 'traitor' at him because he had visited Algeria and stated that France did not behave well during its years as an imperialist power there and that some of the acts perpetrated against French colonial citizens were crimes against humanity. It took great courage and integrity to stand firm on national television, peak viewing, to repeat his position. I agree with Macron. Like him I also believe that until France takes responsibility for its past, healing and social meshing cannot take place.

I have written about France and its Algerian history in other History Girls posts:  and

The terrorists who perpetrated the appalling attacks here, from Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 onwards, are, or were, members of and trained by ISIS/Daech. They are not necessarily directly related to France's colonial past except that many of the disenfranchised north Africans living, in most cases, in very difficult conditions on the outskirts of French cities have been easy pickings for the terrorist organisations. These second and third generation French citizen youths are without work, living on the fringes of our society, despised and looked down upon by a percentage of the population and their rights and needs are not always being met. How easy then to lure them into acts against the establishment, to stoke up within them the hatred and anger necessary to commit such atrocities. The solid impenetrable establishment does not want to hear that France owes a great debt and more than an apology to the citizens of its colonial past. Macron's words were not easy to hear for many and were outrightly denied by others, such as Marine Le Pen.
It is a breath of fresh air to hear a politician say that his nation must take responsibility for its crimes before any future can be built. I applaud Macron for not buckling at the possibility of losing votes because of the position he had taken.

My new novel, THE LOST GIR, to be published in just over a month on 29th June in the UK is set in two locations and several time zones. At its heart it is a contemporary story which begins the night of Friday 13th November 2015 in Paris. That night there were six terrorist attacks all within the eastern quarters of Paris. Over 200 people were murdered many of them youngsters attending a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall near Bastille.

How did this book come about? The evening of the terrorism in Jan 2015 really affected me and set the tone for my response to the 13 November attacks. My husband was in Paris when the Charlie Hebdo attacks took place. He was working at his office which in those days was one street away from the CH offices. Naturally, I was terrified when I heard the news before I knew the precise location. Once all was revealed, I learned from Michel, my husband, that he had worked with one of the illustrators who was murdered that late afternoon.
The fact that it was a colleague, someone just one step away, a man working in the arts, not a close friend of Michel's but a respected colleague, this really shook me up.
Freedom of speech, freedom to believe whatever one chooses as long as it does not cause harm to others, freedom to love whomsoever one chooses, as long as we are not talking about minors or unwilling partners. These are at the heart of French values, a cornerstone of this society. 2015 was a turning point for me in that I recognised how living in France has transformed me. I also realised that speaking out and mourning publicly for the victims was essential. I felt that I had to stand up and be counted.
THE LOST GIRL was in gestation, I see now, even before the night of 13th November.
That evening I switched on the television to see the news which is not something I am in the habit of doing. I was standing with my mother in the living room and together we watched the events unfolding. I was weeping. Mummy said to me, talking particularly about the young who were trapped as hostages within the Bataclan where two gunmen were shooting, picking off audience members one after another in cold blood 'Everyone of them is someone's daughter or son. Mothers are waiting everywhere to hear the news.'
My story was seeded, although I did not know it that evening. Several days later, I put aside the novel I was at work on and began to write ...

Kurtiz is an Englishwoman, a renowned photographer who has become estranged from her actor husband. Their marriage fell apart when their sixteen-year-old daughter, Lizzie, went missing from their London home four years earlier. Out of the blue, there is a sighting of Lizzie in Paris. Kurtiz's husband, Oliver, firmly believes his daughter will be at the Bataclan rock concert and he goes there in search of her. Kurtiz is waiting in a nearby bar for news, for a meeting, for a craved-for reconciliation.

THE LOST GIRL is a love story with plenty of drama. At its heart it is a tale of new beginnings, of second chances, of learning to forgive and to seize the moment and live.

France has voted, not for extremism and fascist knee-jerk reactions, not for closing down its borders, but for new beginnings, for building upon the knowledge that within its recent past, the nation, the ruling powers, have committed crimes. With an open heart, the long slow journey towards healing and creating opportunities for those who have been left out in the cold, can begin.
I am feeling optimistic.

I wrote this blog and posted it at the beginning of this week. A day later, Manchester in the United Kingdom was hit. A suicide bomber waited to explode his foul ammunition on young people preparing to make their way home from a rock concert. First,  my sincere condolences to those who have lost members of their families. R.I.P to those who lost their lives. I pray that those who were injured may recover speedily. Lastly, huge respect to the citizens of Manchester who handled the abomination with such compassion. During my time researching The Lost Girl I spent a month watching filmed material of the events of that night in Paris and the long harrowing days that succeeded it. One of the most remarkable things I took away from all that I watched was the generosity of the Parisians, the French. Blood was given, doors left open. Everyone was on hand to help do their bit to counter the ugliness of such an atrocity. In all the war zones I have visited for my work and travels, for the research for The Lost Girl and for all that I have read over these last few days from Manchester, I have been deeply moved time and time again by our ability to express compassion and generosity to others who are suffering. Man's indomitable spirit. Our kindness, our desire to reach out and offer a hand to another in need. I hope these qualities come across in my novel and I sincerely pray that these are the energies that will overcome these appalling waves of terrorism.


Sue Purkiss said...

Wonderful post. I look forward to reading your new book.

Unknown said...

A most thoughtful & well put together piece....we should all take note...thank you for stating so clearly what we should try & put into action. If France can lead the way maybe there is hope for our world...I hope so with all my heart.