Who is Sarkozy, and why are they saying all those things about him?
Lost in the sound and fury of the French riots is the story of one of the main players, Nicolas Sarkozy. The story of the conflict between Sarkozy on one side and Chirac/Villepin on the other has its own drama, although it's been played out on a smaller stage, that of internal French politics. It seems that well before these riots, Sarkozy made some enemies in high places (at least if you believe the following accounts).
Here's some background information about Sarkozy, and some speculation as to what may be at least part of the reason behind Chirac and Villepin's failure to get tougher at the outset of the riots. I have no idea whether this is true--not having my finger on the pulse of French politics--but it is certainly an interesting possibility voiced by those closer to that pulse than I am (via Brussels Journal on November 5):
The French establishment led by the corrupt President Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister, the aristocrat Dominique de Villepin, an appointee who has never held an elected office, begrudged Sarkozy his popularity. The minister was distrusted. He was an outsider, a self-made man who had made it to the top without the support of relations and cronies, by hard work and his no-nonsense approach.
Sarkozy (whose real surname is Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa) is a second generation immigrant, the son of a Hungarian refugee and a Greek mother. “I like the frame of mind of those who need to build everything because nothing was given to them,” he said a few months ago about his upbringing.
The experience of his youth has made Sarkozy not only the most pro-American French politician, but also virtually the only one who understands what second generation immigrants really need if they want to build a future.
More important than the so-called “social benefits” – the government alms provided by welfare politicians like Chirac, Villepin and their predecessors – is the provision of law and order. This guarantees that those who create wealth do not lose it to thugs who extort and rob and burn down their properties.
Sarkozy’s decision to send the police back to the suburbs which had been abandoned by previous governments was resented by the “youths” who now rule there. That this would lead to riots was inevitable. Sarkozy knew it, and so did Chirac, Villepin and the others. Sarkozy intended to crack down hard on the rioters. If the French government had sent in the army last week, it would have been responding to the thugs in a language they understand: force. And the riots would long have ceased.
What happened instead was that Sarkozy’s “colleagues” in government used the riots as an excuse to turn on the “immigrant” in their own midst. Paris is well worth a mass, King Henri IV of France once said. Bringing down Nicolas Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa is well worth a riot, King Chirac must have thought. Contrary to the normal French policy in dealing with trouble makers, the authorities decided to use a soft approach. Chirac and his designated crown prince Villepin blamed Sarkozy’s “disrespectful rhetoric” – such as calling thugs thugs – for having detonated the explosive situation in the suburbs. Dominique de Villepin stepped in and took over the task of restoring calm from Sarkozy. While the latter was told to shut up and keep a low profile, Villepin began a “dialogue” with the rioters. As a result the riots have spilled over from Paris to other French cities. Do not be surprised if this French epidemic soon crosses France’s borders into the North African areas surrounding cities in Belgium and the Netherlands.
As for Sarkozy, the best thing this immigrant son can do is to resign and make a bid for the 2007 presidential elections as an outsider. His popularity with the ordinary Frenchmen has not been tarnished yet. But this could soon change if he remains a member of a Villepin government which is clearly unwilling to abolish the current “millet” system. French patriots do not like to see their country disintegrate into a cluster of self-governing city-states, some of which are Sharia republics.
Since the Brussels Journal post above was written three days ago, it may be that it's already too late for Sarkozy to save himself--or France--from the consequences of letting the riots get out of control. In fact, this morning when I turned on my TV, a CNN reporter was declaring authoritatively (without, of course, citing any surveys or statistics), that (if my recollection of her words is correct) "Sarkozy is now the most hated man in France."
Here's another piece on Sarkozy, this one from this past May. It offers a reason as to why Chirac might want to sabotage Sarkozy's political career, and describes the supposed ways he tried to do so (and how they backfired on Chirac--until now, that is).
Some lengthy excerpts:
The 49-year-old [Sarkozy] had the two most difficult jobs in the French government: Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance. Few held even one of these positions and came out with a favorable public opinion. Sarkozy became the country's most popular politician, with about two-third of the people viewing him favorably.
He was told that crime cannot be reduced, especially given the disenfranchised and alienated Islamic population. As the Interior Minister, Sarkozy put more police on the streets and introduced monthly performance ratings. Crime rate dropped and Islamic violence was curtailed. The man was also told that he cannot take on French labor unions and will never make France more business-friendly. He did - and the economy improved.
The new leader of the Union for Popular Movement party makes no secret of his desire to rise to the top. Running on a platform of lower taxes, flexible labor markets, more freedom for innovation and enterprise, his outlook seems almost American - and shockingly, the French are eating it up.
By the time he was 22, Sarkozy had won a seat in city council. At 28, he was elected city mayor and by 33, the young man was in the French parliament. Throughout much of this time, he was a protégé of Jacque Chirac, even dating his daughter for a while. Yet, a few years later, he ditched Chirac and backed Prime Minister Edouard Balladur for President. Chirac won and Sarkozy lost his position as a Budget Minister, finding himself outside the circles of power.
"The two men hate each other," claimed an insider in an interview with Time Europe. But in 2002, Chirac's government was floundering and Sarkozy was riding high as a popular, charismatic figure. Presuming that he can ride on the wave of Sarkozy's popularity, while at the same time putting the young man in a no-win position, Chirac decided to appoint his former protégé as the Minister of Interior in the middle of an anti-Semitic wave of violence by Islamic youths. Sarkozy responded with policies so brilliant that people around the world began to talk about him as a future President of France. Chirac then moved Sarkozy to another no-win position - Minister of Finance at the time when the economy was not doing as well as most French would want. Once again, Sarkozy was a spectacular success.
Sarkozy privatized much of France Telecom, reducing the government's stake to under 50%. He waived the inheritance tax, suspended the corporate tax and stood up to demonstrations by the mega-powerful labor unions.
Apparently, the French press are getting into the anti-Sarkozy act, also. Sarkozy seems to have been "dowdified" in his inflammatory "riff-raff" comments,for example.
It's a sideshow to the main event, but an interesting and sobering one nevertheless. And in the end, any take-down of Sarkozy and his attempts to deal with the situation would most likely have long-term effects.