Tag: Francois Hollande

Waiting for the Barbarians in Paris, Berlin, London

Sunday, 15 November, 2015 0 Comments

«la France sera impitoyable à l’égard des barbares» said French President François Hollande in response to the Islamist terror that left 129 people dead in Paris on Friday night. Hollande’s evocation of “the barbarians” makes Waiting for the Barbarians, written by the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in 1898 and published in Egypt in 1904, seem particularly prescient today.

In a huge square in an unnamed city (Athens? Rome? Constantinople?), the emperor is preparing to present a “scroll” that is “replete with titles” to the designated barbarian leader. Not that the brutal fighter will care. He can take what he wants, anyway, and there will be no negotiations. As Cavafy notes, the barbarians are “bored by rhetoric and public speaking.” Oratory and punditry, laziness and luxury have made the empire cynical and soft and the citizens have lost interest in politics: “What laws can the senators make now? Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.”

Cavafy delays until the last two lines before tossing in the hand grenade. The crowd is, in fact, waiting eagerly for the barbarians: “They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

One can picture a decadent polis, after a lengthy culture war, longing for a radical solution to the empire’s crisis. Cavafy’s bigger point is that barbarians have been at the gates since the dawn of civilization and their presence always poses an existential test for leaders and nations. When the barbarians arrive, when concert-goers and diners are being slaughtered, action is needed. That’s why the supine appeasement Cavafy brilliantly evokes in Waiting for the Barbarians is so loathsome.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
     The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

     Because the barbarians are coming today.
     What laws can the senators make now?
     Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
     He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
     replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
      And some who have just returned from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933). Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


The sound of lesser conflicts

Saturday, 7 February, 2015 0 Comments

High-stakes talks last night between Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and François Hollande failed to produce an agreement to end the fighting in Ukraine. Attention turns now the annual Munich Security Conference in the hope that some kind of deal can be hammered out over the weekend. Meanwhile, the fighting in Mali continues.

At least 10 people have died so far this week in the country’s Tabankort region during skirmishes between the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and the rival Tuareg Self-Defense Group. And in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, French troops killed a dozen Islamic terrorists. This is the world from which Tamikrest has emerged. The Tuareg band, led by Ousmane Ag Mossa, sings in Tamashek as it mixes traditional Malian music with Western blues and rock influences. The sound offers a glimmer of hope in a region wracked by violence and plagued by despair.


The mistress ménage of M. Hollande

Tuesday, 14 January, 2014 0 Comments

The observation that “when one marries one’s mistress one creates a vacancy” is attributed to Sir James Goldsmith. Someone should have passed the quip along to the French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler. She’s still in hospital suffering from depression and shock, three days after Closer magazine revealed that her “boyfriend”, President François Hollande, was having a love affair with a 41-year-old actress, Julie Gayet.

Although Médiapart, the left-leaning online investigative journal created by the former editor-in-chief of Le Monde Edwy Plene, has revealed that the Hollande-Gayet “love nest” was linked to the Mafia, Renaud Revel, who writes a media blog for L’Express, sharply criticizes the embarrassed silence of France’s mainstream media about the affair. “We’re in the middle of a tabloid drama and the media has taken a vow of silence,” he says. “In a mature democracy it would be a given that they would have done their homework, like Médiapart is now doing. What kind of country is it where most media hide behind the sublime argument of respect for a person’s private life?”

Sir James Goldsmith, by the way, had three wives, innumerable mistresses and eight children, two born in the late 1980s to the last love of his life, the well-connected French journalist Laure de Boulay de la Meurthe, a reporter for Paris Match magazine and a member of the Bourbon family. Coincidentally, Valérie Trierweiler is a journalist and she’s under contract with Paris Match. She’s a socialist/socialite, however, not a Bourbon.

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Google bails out France

Wednesday, 6 February, 2013 0 Comments

There they were, François Hollande, the president of France, and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, doing what the leaders of middle-ranking powers do so well: holding a joint press conference, shaking hands while posing for the camera signing important-looking documents. And what was it all about? In short, a €60 million bailout. Cheap […]

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The EU Fab Four sings the blues

Tuesday, 26 June, 2012

Walter Russell Mead: “The ‘Fab Four’ (Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, France’s Francois Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Italy’s Mario Monti) reaffirmed a pre-existing agreement to make some mostly symbolic adjustments to European policy, whomping up an air souffle that the Club Med countries plus France can claim is a “growth” package, but it is mostly made […]

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