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The second of the videos we’ve been producing with Ross Domoney, Daniel Murphy and Eric Amalraj as part of our Par(is) Unknown series.
In the hours before the first round of the French elections, as the voices of European reason and liberalism anguished and then sighed with relief, we took to the streets of Paris: from its edge to its core, the French capital exudes fear and resentment. For so many, the election is distant, irrelevant, unable to change a life for which there is little to celebrate.
Over the next few days, I will be in Paris with good ol’ friend Ross Domoney, working on a brief series of video dispatches from the stressed streets of the French capital:
Glare at your TV screen, flick through your feeds, blink at your flashing updates and you will soon immerse yourself in what is meant to be an election like no other, an election that is supposed to determine the future of France and even Europe as we’ve known it so far.
Keep it at that, and you could easily believe the election is fought at the TV studios, between the four gladiators fighting for the soul of the Republic. But out in the city things are, as always, more complicated. In the days leading up to, and following the election, we ask urbanites about their fears and their hopes. As the country grips itself for the mother of all battles, we delve into the city’s streets and its metro carriages to brush out its psyche.
So here we are. France, from all places: the visceral land of hope for rebellion across our old continent, the mythical mecca of the 1968 uprising, the formidable, always hopeful page-turner―in the Arts, in Politics, in all The Stuff That Matters―has come to this sorry state, a mimic of political life that is not. On the screens, the feeds and the updates, four candidates battle it out for the ultimate Republic-trophy: an archetypal fascist, a caricature of a corrupt politician, an “independent” savior of the kind that has flourished in the ever-growing detachment of politics and the everyday, and a seemingly refreshed old-cut leftist who promises not to make a Tsipras of himself. Back in Athens, we had followed these words in some astonishment, wondering what the man himself might think of becoming synonymous to retreat and betrayal, a name equating subservience and defeat. Over here, under the glaring Parisian sun, the distance from Athens puts it all under perspective―a peripheral capital that battled it out but lost, the first victim in liberal democracy’s war on itself. For some time now, liberal democracy has moved the war from its peripheries, to its semi-peripheries, now bringing it squarely back to its own heartland.
So here we go. On the eve of the trip some person in uniform is shot dead at Champs Élysées: a death as full of symbolism as it can possibly be, and as devoid of any actual meaning. Lone wolf assaults on the symbolic guards of the Republic have become a symbol of the Republic itself. This morning, more persons in uniform, of the khaki variety this time, stand guard at the airport, arriving passengers filtering through their cordon, and are any photos allowed? Why of course not, the essence of the security theater includes the self-awareness of its need to stay both highly visible and creepily disguised: imposing, but never quite immersing itself in the everyday life of a city that, against, despite and beyond the politics of fear and division keeps marching on.