Jacques Chirac: The Art Of Being Vague

The tributes have been dripping in heavy praise: former French president Jacques Chirac and mayor of Paris, the great statesman; the man who said no to the US-led war juggernaut into Iraq; the man loved for being loved. Many of these should have raised the odd eyebrow here and there. “We French have lost a statesman whom we loved as much as he loved us,” claimed current French president Emmanuel Macron.

When greatness is tossed around as a term in French commemorations, there is always a sense of merging the corporeal flesh with the non-corporeal state. The person thereby “embodies” France, inhabiting that rather complex shell that passes for a state. But the comparisons are all too loose and ready, showing an awkward accommodation.

Eulogies are often the poorly chosen instruments to express the mood of an occasion rather than the reality of a life. Given the crises facing the European Union, the pro-European sentiment of Chirac was cause for nostalgia. (He had encouraged a United Europe of States rather than a United States of Europe, moving France away from the Gaullist credo of self-sufficiency.) “Europe is not only losing a great statesman, but the president is losing a great friend,” claimed Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission in a statement. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt saw his Europhilia and interest in Europe as the making of the man, “the real statesman that we will miss.”

Terms of amity were also reiterated by former French President François Hollande, whom Chirac had described in previous political battles as “Mitterrand’s labrador”. “I know that today, the French people, whatever their convictions, have just lost a friend.” Smaller figures of history were also effusive in their praise: Boris Johnson, current British prime minister flailing in the Brexit imbroglio, expressed his admiration for that “formidable political leader who shaped the destiny of his nation in a career that spanned four decades”; one term UK prime minister John Major also doffed his cap.

Where Chirac excelled without question was in his role as political hypocrite (a kinder term would be political gymnast, or a weathervane, as he was sometimes associated with). Mayor of Paris for a touch under two decades, two stints as prime minister and two presidential terms suggest ample opportunity to master it. It also suggests shifts, adjustments and moving across hardened political divisions, the pragmatist rather than the polemicist.

His costumery in that regard could be exquisite. He could readily give the “le bruit et l’odeur” address in 1991 yet become the anti-racist option in the 2002 election, in which shell-shocked progressives were urged to vote for the crook rather than the fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In foreign affairs, he did something memorable: fabricate the image of France as suspicious of war and interventions, a peaceful state above reproach and self-interest. This enabled him to lead the anti-war effort against Iraq mounted by the United States and Britain in 2003.

The populist jab is worth noting for its current relevance: the terror of an overcrowded Europe, the fear of tax-payer funded marauders – often of the swarthy persuasion – that has been played upon from Nigel Farage in Britain to Viktor Orbán in Hungary. Imagine, posed Chirac, the humble French worker with his wife who sees next to his council house a father with three or four spouses with some twenty children all supported by welfare. “If you add to that the noise and the smell, well the French worker, he goes crazy.”

He was also a creature of a brand of politics that would wear against the regulations. Mountainous ambition will do that to you, and the rust on Le Bulldozer was bound to be discovered at some point. In 2011, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence on two counts of embezzling public funds, something he did during his time as Paris’s mayor. The specifics centred around the creation of fake jobs at his RPR party and suggested no grand scheme of self-enrichment. Even after his conviction, Chirac the amiable, Chirac the admired, was a theme pressed home by his lawyer, Georges Kiejman. “What I hope is that this ruling doesn’t change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac.” Kiejman had little reason to worry.

Jacques Chirac2
Jacques Chirac

While hardly virtuoso, he advanced the uncomfortable question of French complicity in Nazi crimes, the otherwise great untouchable subject of post-war identity. The measure was significant, sinking, at least in some way, the notion that the French republic somehow retained its purity in abolition during German occupation and Vichy rule. That rule had resulted in a mutant political creation and monster; France the Republic could not be blamed, having ceased to exist. As former French President François Mitterrand claimed, rather unconvincingly, “In 1940, there was the French state, this was the Vichy regime, it was not the Republic.” Mitterrand, as with many in his position, did not feel an urging to join the French resistance till 1943; prior to that, he had been a civil servant in Vichy.

On July 16, 1995, Chirac noted how “the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French by the French state.” In July 1942 in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, 13,000 Parisian Jews were arrested by 4,500 French police in preparation for their murderous end in Auschwitz. “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome asylum, on that day committed the irreparable.” The country had broken “its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”

Court historians will be kept busy wondering about the man’s ideologies and beliefs. They will ponder legacies left, and things unachieved. Structural and social divisions, for instance, remained unaddressed. With Chirac, appearances and demeanour had their distorting effects. Chirac, wrote French journalist Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, sported a “forceful manner” that concealed “terminal policy indecision”. While leaving no lasting legacy, he had one up over the current, struggling leader. Despite being a chateau-owner, in the pink as far as the bourgeoisie was concerned, and married to an aristocrat, he had the common touch. For Professor Pascal Perrineau of the Paris School of International Affairs, he was a president who jogged and rode a Vespa, and appreciated for that fact. His lasting skill, however, was to immortalise the art of being vague in politics.

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  1. Jacques Chirac was right to speak against France’s role in WWII…much much more should have said.

    Mitterrand was a Hooded One.
    French Police are part of Octogon.

    Jacques Chirac was against bombing Yugoslavia in 1999….he was pro-Serb thru the 1990’s.
    German Council on Foreign Relations pushed France in to it’s policy mindset, but atleast. Chirac spoke up.

    After all a Politician is a politician.

  2. When Chirac left his post in 2007,he was unpopular, having hardly 20% of popular support. When he became prime minister in 1986, under Mitterand presidency, he initiated a neoliberal policy, beginning by a large campaign of privatizations that had been nationalized by Mitterand after 1981, especially the arm maker MATRA and TV channel TFI. He initiated a series of dismantlement of the State expressed by the “Devaquet reform” of national education opposed by student movement and the murder of Malik Oussekin by French police. To seduce Le Pen voters for presidential election of 1995, he became racist with his “bruit et l’odeur” stigmatizing North African immigrants in France. After his election as president in 1995, he initiated nuclear tests in French territory of Murerowa contributing to the pollution of ground and liberating radioactivity in the atmosphere.

    After his election in 1995, he initiated a new policy of dismantlement of the rail and the security social by Juppée Plan, opposed by the workers through huge strikes which paralyzed the country during three weeks, obliging the government to capitulate and to renounce.1995 strikes were still graved in the memory as the last battle of the working class against the savage campaign of dismantlement of welfare state in France
    Two years after his election in 1997, he dissolved the National Assembly and summoned for new election after which his party has lost the majority paving the way to socialist Lionel Jospin.

    In 1999, he engaged France in NATO military campaign against Serbia in order to achieve the dismantlement of Ex Yugoslavia
    To be elected president in 2002, the privatized channel TF1 owned by his friend Bouygues, began six months before the election a campaign centered on the theme of fear with manipulated images of propaganda showing falsely an aged man being attacked by North African young. This campaign centered on the fear had as main objective to rise up the popularity of Far right wing party of Jean Mary Le Pen who was Chirac’s challenger in the second round of presidential election of 2002 allowing this one to be elected with a huge score of more than 82%, a turnout worthy of the name of “Banana Republic”

    During Paris’s riots in 2005, he repressed the rioters by imposing curfew
    Of course France didn’t participate in Iraq invasion in 2003 but after the assassination of his friend, the Lebanese prime minister and rolling in money, Rafik Hariri, Chirac was behind Cedar Color revolution constraining Syrian troops which were present in Lebanon from the beginning of the civil war in 1975, to withdraw. Chirac was also behind the setting up of the Special penal international for Lebanon aiming at toppling Assad regime in Syria

    Chirac was the example of corrupt politician who has been soaked in many case of corruption amounted to millions Euros. He escaped all procedures aimed at trying him ahead a tribunal. He remained unpunished while ordinary citizen is put in jail for some 100 Euros.
    Chirac’s death is instrurmentalized by the macronie and his propaganda mass media for one main purpose : mobilizing the conservative forces in France by seeking their political support in the battle to confront the future social struggle opposing his neoliberal policy aiming at dismantling of the social security and the regime of retirement inherited from the liberation and the National Council of Resistance(Conseil national de la résistance)

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