Report April 2014 (Manuel Valls, Jacques Le Goff, Rwanda)

Manuel Valls emerges victorious from Municipal Elections

France, 27 Mar – 09 Apr 2014

Election results mark a turn to the right ++ Death of an ogre: Jacques Le Goff passed away ++ Rwandan genocide: France not prepared to ‘face the truth’?
by Matthieu Choblet

Election results mark a turn to the right

President François Hollande proceeded to reshuffle his Cabinet following the debacle of the French Socialist Party (PS) at the municipal elections. An alteration of the Cabinet`s structure had been awaited for a couple of months, but Hollande finally waited till after the second ballot of the elections to apply the symbolic measure. Indeed, the second round largely confirmed the results of the first (see French Report March 2013/2). While the municipalities have no direct influence on government politics, the elections still mean a severe loss for the PS, which heavily relies on a network of regional safe-havens in times when its politics prove to be unsuccessful on a national level.

Former Interior Minister Manuel Valls, a man well known to Cosmopublic readers, will replace Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister. Valls is popular among voters, but not necessarily among voters of his own party. A right-wing man within the PS, he makes no secret about his penchant for economic liberalism and social democracy. In a survey among conservative voters last year, Valls proved to be more popular than the leading figures of the conservative party UMP.

The main task of the new government will be to apply the so-called pact of responsibility. The pact offers 20 billion euros in tax subsidies to the industry plus an additional 10 billion euros tax cut on other employment related expenses in exchange for a vague promise by entrepreneurs to create new jobs. Also, the new Prime Minister is expected to lead the cabinet with more authority than his unlucky predecessor, making an end to inter-ministerial squabbling. Profiting from the Green Party’s withdrawal from the government, Valls’ first act was to downsize the number of ministers from 20 to 16.

Death of an ogre: Jacques Le Goff passed away

Famous French historian Jacques Le Goff died at the beginning of April at the age of 90. His friends called him an “historian-ogre”, as he often claimed to have an eager “appetite for history”. A proponent of ‘new history’, his academic interest was not confined to high politics, but also encompassed the medieval way of life, the mentality and the daily routine of peasants and simple people. His particular interest lay in the European idea. Consequently, the concern of his book “The birth of Europe” (in the Middle Ages) was to present the Middle Ages not as a dark age but rather as a lively and colourful period without which modern civilization would not have been possible.

Rwandan genocide: France not prepared to ‘face the truth’?

The French government decided not to take part in the 20th anniversary commemorations for the Rwandan genocide. The decision followed the accusations by Rwandan President Paul Kagame that France played a “direct role” in the planning and even in the execution of the genocide. Back in 1994, France had been an ally of the extremist Hutu regime which organised the murder of 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsi within a few months. The Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed incomprehension at the French withdrawal: “France’s decision is unjustifiable”, said the Minister. “We all need to face the truth. We cannot lead ahead in denying the historical truth of the genocide.”

French political elites have a different point of view. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner, who worked for the reconciliation of France and Rwanda in 2010, denies the accusations. „You can blame France for a lot of things, for political errors, for the way it all happened, surely. But ‘direct participation’? I don’t believe it“, retorted Kouchner.

Yet, the unresolved conflict of opinion not only strains relations between Rwanda and France, it is also a burden on the French policy on Africa. When France decided to intervene in the Central African Republic last year (see French Report December 2013/1), the French military allegedly warned the government: “Remember what happened in Rwanda. We thought we were doing the right thing and then in the end we had the whole world against us.”

While many details remained unclear, it is true that the Hutu who later on organised the murder were trained by French forces. Contested reports even indicate that the French government must have known about the planning of the genocide.

* first published on Cosmopublic.eu *

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