By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French
The Croft Magazine // This week, Xander Brett discusses the former French President Sarkozy's recent conviction.
7th March, 2021
What a headline: ‘Former French President Sentenced to Jail’. Well, the reality is different. Nicolas Sarkozy received a three-year term on Monday, but two years are suspended and the other can be done at home. Sarkozy, indeed, is still admired by a loyal right. He isn’t a populist leader (his support is based on economic politics, rather than conspiracy) though, like Trump, Sarkozy maintains he’s the victim of a left-wing vendetta. Speaking on TF1 after the conviction, he implored the French people to believe his innocence, saying his words had been ‘cut and pasted’ to fit the narrative. He was referring to a 2014 phone call with his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, during which he sought to help promote a judge in exchange for inside information. The call was on a burner phone set-up under the fictional name of Paul Bismuth. It looks very dodgy, modified or not, but Sarkozy has promised to take his appeal all the way to the European courts.
Luckily, he’s got used to the courtroom already. In 2011, when France intervened to help rebels in the Libyan Civil War, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son went on European television to accuse Sarkozy of accepting €50 million from his father. Gaddafi would finance Sarkozy’s campaign, and, in return, Sarkozy would invite Gaddafi back onto the world stage. A Libyan dictator, with considerable blood on his hands, paying for the democratic election of a French president? It sounds absurd. Yet, was it really coincidence that, just a few months after Sarkozy’s inauguration, a figure shunned by most world leaders rolled onto the gravel outside the Elysée Palace? Perhaps not when, in April 2012, Libya’s former Minister of Oil was found floating dead in the Danube. His diary (mentioning payments to Sarkozy) was acquired by police days before. If it reads like fiction then, according to Sarkozy’s lawyers, that’s what it is. But, according to police and magistrates, who’ve already held Sarkozy in custody (for two days in 2018), the allegations are to be taken seriously. The ongoing investigation may reveal a level of lying and corruption we would struggle to compute.
Two years ago, I took a journey from the Pyrenees to the Strait of Gibraltar. Madrid lies at the heart of Spain, surrounded by desert. You cruise through miles of plains, pass through a vast metropolis, and come out to empty plains the other side. France’s centre is not as sparse, but last week I got a proper impression of just how big it is. France is a different shape, of course, but it’s still much larger than Great Britain. Yet France’s population is no larger and, what’s more, a quarter of that population lives here in Paris. So, unlike in the UK, choosing a second city is rather hard. They seem to have settled on Lyon, and it was here that, last week, uproar was declared: the temporary introduction of vegetarian school lunches, designed to streamline service during the pandemic. It infuriated a population who (well, the majority at least) eat meat at least once a day. “It’s an insult to French farmers!” declared the interior minister on Twitter. Does he recognise the French carbon footprint, a quarter of which comes from animals? Yes. But while British farmers export their beef, the French tend to eat their own. Telling a French farmer there’s less demand for their cattle is news that needs be broken gently… perhaps a bit like telling the world of the waning enigma of Serge Gainsbourg.
« Quoi ?! »
Yes, this week we marked thirty years since his death. Once the envoy of French music – foreign, philosophical and, I’m told, irresistibly handsome – Gainsbourg attracted British attention when he married the archetypal parisienne Jane Birkin. No matter she grew up in Marylebone… that only sparked our imaginations further. Anyone born after Gainsbourg died will be forgiven for not playing this anniversary much attention: he’s no longer an envoy, after all. But the important thing, as far as the media were concerned, was not to let it pass us by altogether. It’s the same with Paris Fashion Week, which is apparently going on as we speak. It’s never a highlight of the city calendar, but with regular mentions, even I know it’s happening. It sends out the right impressions. Paris still is the city of sexy singers and chic fashion… at least let’s pretend it is.
Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett
Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris'.