Report July 2014 (Strike at Avignon Arts Festival)

Workers on Strike at Avignon Arts Festival

France, 03 Jul – 16 Jul 2014

Start of Avignon arts festival delayed as arts workers dread benefit cut ++ Sarkozy against the red judge: Is France being “berlusconised”? ++ French football team returns home after quarterfinals.
by Matthieu Choblet

Start of Avignon arts festival delayed as arts workers dread benefit cuts

The famous Avignon arts festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year started one day late on Saturday 5th July in the court of the city’s medieval Palais des Papes. The delay was caused by a strike of the arts workers due to government plans to cut back their unemployment benefits. Since many of the arts workers struggle to find a regular occupation in between major festivals, they have little chance to make significant contributions to unemployment insurance. Therefore, they benefit from a particular government scheme for arts workers involving temporary occupation (called intermittent in French) – at least up to now.

Facing the trouble, Olivier Py, director of the Festival, tries to mediate. Back at the Avignon Festival in 1995 he had started the Festival with a hunger strike to get attention for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. However, neither the events in 1995 nor anything else would be a reason for him, to cancel the performance, as it actually happened in 2003 due to a previous strike. “I wish to express my solidarity with the strikers’ movement, but sacrificing Avignon would lead to nothing”, said Py, who has often been at the heart of artistic and political controversies.

The man who once performed naked and whose art has been described as baroque, emphatic and full of allegory, wants this year’s festival to be a place for debates: on the intermittents , but also on populism, gender theories, homophobia and Syria. Meanwhile, the Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti promised that she would carry on further negotiations until December in order to find a fair and sustainable solution for the arts workers.

Sarkozy against the red judge: Is France being “berlusconised”?

Former President and head of the conservative party UMP Nicolas Sarkozy publicly blamed political power and the French judiciary for “exploiting” the law against his person. After a controversial interview on one of France’s most important TV-channels TF1 Sarkozy, who is involved in various legal cases (see first French Report 07/2014), received immediate support from his closest allies. According to his supporters the judiciary’s aim is to “bring down and humiliate” Sarkozy. France is being “manipulated by those shameless socialists” said Nadine Morano, a prominent member of the UMP.

At the center of criticism stands Claire Thépaut, investigating judge responsible for the Sarkozy-file, who was accused of being a “red judge”. She is allegedly leading a personal campaign against the former head of state. Though she has indeed criticised Sarkozy’s criminal policy in the past, her reputation in the judiciary is flawless. “Every time that a public figure is inquired against, we face a disproportional reaction against judges and the judiciary”, complained Eric Bocciarelli, general secretary of the trade union in the judiciary. A socialist added: “I believe that Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to deliver a ‘J’accuse’ (I accuse), but he ended up with a ‘J’abuse’ (I abuse)” – a reference to Émile Zola’s memorable intervention in the Dreyfus affair.

The government however is less inclined to have debates on the principles of justice or historical references. Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll was exasperated: “When you give people the feeling that there are good judges and bad judges, it is the judicial institution as a whole that is called into question.” So, will this conflict set another blow to the Fifth Republic’s institutions? With regard to Sarkozy’s umpteenth affair with the judiciary Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that he did not wish to experience a “berlusconisation” of France.

French football team returns home after quarterfinals

The French national football team’s adventure to Brazil ended with a suspenseful but luckless match in the quarterfinals of the World Championship. While the team’s overall performance was solid (see first French Report 07/2014), Les Bleus did not excel either. The defeat against Germany was attributed to some of the players’ young age and lack of experience, but also to disputable tactical decisions. Should the coach Didier Deschamps have let striker Karim Benzema play every game to the last minute? And was defender Mamadou Sakho really a 100 percent fit to play?

Anyway, the 500-odd supporters who awaited the team’s return at the Airport of Le Bourget had no intentions to blame anyone. “I just want to say thank you to the team and to Didier Deschamps”, declared a happy supporter. “Proud of them and proud of their attitude”, stated another. It will be regarded as the most important outcome of this championship that Les Bleus are again capable of ending a World Cup with neither a tragedy (as in 2006), nor total disaster (as in 2010).

So for those who love that simple but quite entertaining game: See you in 2016 for the European Championship in France!

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