Will 2015 be the new 1789?

2015-trends-1728x800_c

Happy New Year, readers!  The most interesting new trend afoot in French politics for 2015 is the increasing prominence of the Association for a Constituent Assembly.  Founded in 2004, this group’s impact is now being felt on policy debates across the Hexagon.  The APUC proposes a peaceful, time-honored means to bring the government of the French Republic back in line with the its founding principles.  Although APUC leaders include a former deputy of the National Assembly, writers for the high-profile Le Monde diplomatique, and academics employed by France’s elite universities, its members hail from all walks of life.  Constitutional “circles” have formed in 19 French cities and their numbers are steadily growing.  Will they succeed in creating enough momentum to prompt a national election?  In order to help Anglophone readers understand the gravity of the French situation, and the relevance this group’s efforts to the inspiring principles of 1789, we’re posting below the English translation of the Association’s call to action.  Click here for the French original, on the APUC website.  This may be a rare chance for us to witness deliberative democracy in action!

Association for a New French Constituent Assembly

This is a call for a grassroots vote of no confidence in our governing institutions. This is a call for the creation of new Constituent Assembly (originally established 1789-1791, but also 1848, 1871-1875, 1945, and 1946).

Fellow citizens of France,

The time has come to make known to the professional politicians that they cannot legitimately represent the people’s interests anymore.

During the last few years, the leaders of France have adopted a technocratic mode of governing that has made matters less and less transparent to those who do not walk the halls of power. They have abandoned the country’s political and financial sovereignty, claiming that the welfare state cannot be sustained, given the need to compete in world markets.  Instead of heeding the people’s legitimate demand for representation and justice, they have thrown their efforts behind an anti-democratic effort to build up Europe. The technocrats currently leading the “political class” are overlooking massive sectors of the population and dismissing calls for greater representation and democracy.

Furthermore, the executive branch has evolved into an autocracy led by a president whose decisions are dictated solely by his own views.  Forgetting his campaign promises, the president has led with an antidemocratic, antisocial iron hand.

The government’s indifference to popular opinion has reached the breaking point.  Who can forget the government’s reaction to the French vote of NO against the European Constitution in 2005?  Despite a resounding majority of negative votes, the referendum’s result was ignored. Organizers of the vote willfully overlooked article 3 of the constitution, which stipulates that “national sovereignty belongs to the people.”

Over the last ten years, the founders of the Association for a New French Constituent Assembly (Association pour une Constituante) have striven to put policy decisions back in the hands of the electorate.  Instead of waiting for the system to fix itself, or watching in vain for the lame-duck Parliament to regain its role in the balance of powers, we call for a grassroots movement to demand that the people’s voice be heard.

Our goal is the creation of a new Constituent Assembly: a corps of elected deputies entrusted with the creation of a new Constitution that would reform governmental institutions to serve the people of France.  We encourage citizens across the country to create local groups of deliberative democracy, in the hopes of organizing a national vote on a new Constituent Assembly.

Citizens, pass along this call to action!  Organize!  To reform the current institutions and redefine the rules governing the political system, we must demand the election of a new Constituent Assembly!

Contact: The Association pour une Constituante:  www.pouruneconstituante.fr

13 rue du Pré Saint Gervais, 75019 Paris

pouruneconstituante@yahoo.fr

Bonnet1 2mo pour Assoc pour une Constituante

Crime or revolution?

While browsing through a Paris used book store in October, I stumbled upon an odd little reference book called Le Crime et la criminologie.  This quirky taxonomy of crimes is extremely well documented, which allows readers to appraise the state of European social science research circa 1960.  Particularly curious for me were articles on “astuce,” victimology, and the mindboggling variety of swindling schemes. Also intriguing is the article “Economic factor” and this  pithy definition of revolution:

“Prepared in advance, organized as well as possible, and executed by the mass of working people in an open and audacious manner, it is called Revolution; but if it is carried out by one or some individuals in haste, with fear and in the dark of night or benefiting from chance circumstances; it is called crime.”

I think this is food for thought, especially given recent efforts–in Spain and echoed in the USA–to project Lenin as a role model for modern youth.  https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/ *

Just as a revolt does not a revolution make; the slogan “bread and peace” is more ominous than some folks may recall.
____________________________________________________________________________________

“Préparée à l’avance, organisée autant que possible, et exécuté par toute la masse ouvrière d’une façon ouverte et audacieuse, elle s’appelle Révolution; mais exécuté par un ou quelques individus de façon hâtive, avec peur et sous l’ombre de la nuit ou des circonstances propices: elle s’appelle crime.”   Yamarellos et G. Kellens, Le Crime et la criminologie, 2 vols. (Verviers, Belgium: Marabout Université, 1970), 177.

*Thanks to Dave Andress for bringing the Jacobin article to our attention.  As he notes: “Is it conceivable he thinks Lenin won an election, as opposed to closing down the 1918 Constituent Assembly by force on the first day it met?”

Christmas in Kyiv, by Alexandra Fedynsky

Tires in Kyiv summer 2014

EuromaidanThis article, about recent events in Ukraine, is one in a series by a young friend and student of French at Notre Dame, Alexa Fedynsky

I first visited Maidan in December 2012, just in time for New Year’s Eve. Snow covered everything. My brother and I struggled against the cold each time we ventured outside. Despite the bone-chilling weather, people were preparing for the upcoming holidays as they do year after year. We had to push our way through the throngs of people on the metro, bicker with shop owners for various goods, and wait in line with fellow tourists to visit monuments. On one of our excursions, we saw an advertisement for a Maidan concert to ring in the New Year, which was to feature many famous Ukrainian bands, most notably the singer Ruslana. We arrived just in time to hear her sing, and after her show she counted down from ten kicking off the New Year. At the stroke of midnight I was surprised to see, after a brief moment of hugging and cheering, everyone standing straight and singing the national anthem of Ukraine. Despite the social atmosphere of the evening, people displayed the pride they had for their country, forgetting the festivities for a moment. The concert then proceeded as normal: more rock songs, dancing, and champagne drinking. The next day I flew back to America feeling the pride of Ukraine. Staring out the window onto the green Ukrainian countryside, I knew I wanted to go back.
One year later, the Ukrainian government was getting ready for Christmas again. Government employees began to set up the giant Christmas tree in the middle of Maidan, along with tinsel and ornaments. However this year’s “celebration” was to differ greatly. By setting up this tree, the government strove to disperse the massive crowd which had gathered to protest against President Yanukovych and his failure to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Instead of government workers setting up holiday decorations, protesters took charge, throwing flags and banners across the scaffolding. Around this time began the whispers of nightly attacks by the Berkut, the special police force of Ukraine. In response, people set up barricades around Maidan and Khreshchatyk, using tinsel and decorations as part of the foundation. These barricades withheld most attacks, even withstanding the bloody weekend of February 21, where the Berkut murdered over 100 protesters. After this bloodshed, the president fled, and Euromaidan seemed to be a success. In a symbolic, as well as fearful gesture, the tents and barricades stood until well past the inauguration of the new president–a remembrance not only of the lives lost but also the common struggle the Ukrainian people have shared for centuries.
I arrive this summer, with barricades all around. The smell of ash engulfs people walking up the stairs from the metro. Pedestrians watch where they step, the sidewalk missing large sections of cobblestone. During the revolution, protesters had picked up the stones to throw at the Berkut. The giant Christmas tree scaffolding, strewn with flags and banners of support, imposingly stands in the center of Maidan, surrounded by large green army tents. These tents maze through the entire Maidan, as well as a good portion of Khreshchatyk, the stakes hammered into the concrete of the street. Narrow pathways wind around the tents, mostly empty except for the occasional “protester.” The people there now represent various demographics, from the stranded Eastern Ukrainian unable to return home, to the overly-emphatic Western Ukrainian student, to those who leech off the self-sufficient city. Few cars drive down the once busy street, the tents taking up almost all of the road. Despite all of this, I still sit for a nice lunch right on Maidan–ironically a Crimean restaurant–where service is completely normal only a few months after the tragic events of both Maidan and the Crimean takeover. Tourist sites remain open, allowing me to see the inside of the grand St. Sophia for the first time. In the midst of important events, be this New Years celebrations or a life-changing revolution, daily life continues. In spite of this tragic event the hope of freedom and happiness remains, clear in the conversations and interactions among people. And one day soon, the crowds around Maidan will gather, singing the national anthem of Ukraine, both as a sign of unity and once again, celebration.
Christmas in Kyiv Summer 2014

Brotherly love in the classroom, or how to teach Les Misérables

Gavroche

This summer I wrote an article on how to keep the “unfamiliar light” aflame in the teaching of Les Misérables. What follows are my favorite parts:

VI. Problems and opportunities

This last point reveals the main problem of studying Hugo’s commitment to revolutionary ideals in Les Misérables: it is inconsistent. Despite the militant preface and the moments where people help each other, Les Misérables ends with a comforting vision of Christian death en famille. Parts of Valjean’s dying speech sound like the words of a wealthy industrialist, not a repentant ex-convict: he dies happy, knowing that his son-in-law now owns not only his fortune, but also the manufacturing secrets that made the Montreuil-sur-mer factory such a success. Through their tears, the Baron Pontmercy and wife Cosette embrace the bourgeois happiness this will bring. As Brombert notes, “not a word is said about social conditions, while private property is justified, indeed sanctified.”*

Faced with this disappointing ending, the teacher has some choices. One can explain it as a result of Hugo’s socio-spiritual milieu (Brombert), side-step it by labeling Hugo a “divided person” (Ewing), or turn it into a discussion of privilege. Although economic privilege is at stake here rather than race, the basic principles could easily be extended to the American case. Consider Kristof’s bleak article on the working class in the American west. It concludes on a decidedly Hugolien note: “the essential starting point is empathy.” For a more political discussion, consider the explosive revelations found in White Privilege: “The economic power system is not invisible—everyone knows that money brings privilege. But the myth persists that all have access to that power through individual resourcefulness. This myth of potential economic equality supports the invisibility of the other power systems that prevent fulfillment of that ideal” (Wildman and Davis). By narrowing his vision to one exceptional person, Hugo brushes the unfairness of capitalism and privilege under the rug.

The author seems to have lost his nerve by the end of the novel, and the recent adaptations have done even more to muffle the political potential of Les Misérables. Critiqued for its “push-button emotionalism” and “lurid melodrama” on opening night, Les Miz has nevertheless been packing theaters around the globe since 1985 (Nightingale and Palmer). Can one blame Tom Hooper, director of the 2012 film, for following such a lucrative lead?

Faced with this media onslaught, students might be invited to rewrite the end of Les Misérables. Maybe they could make it answer to the preface. Perhaps Marius might remember his father’s sacrifice, or see the ghosts of Enjolras or Éponine lighting a path forward? Using creativity may be the best way to restore urgency to Les Misérables. It might allow some students to feel brotherly love, if only in the classroom. What happens next will be up to them.

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Thermidor Fun Fact Day Forty-One: A child of the Revolution becomes its Historian

What nineteenth-century historian had a special connection to the Revolution, due to the fact that he was born in a disused church (une église désaffectée) in Paris, and grew up in the building housing a printing press where his folks worked making assignats among other things. [A hint: He expresses sympathy for the ordinary working man in Le Peuple (1846).]
a. Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)
b. Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877)
c. Jules Michelet (1798-1874)
d. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Thermidor Fun Fact Day Thirty: David’s painting and the myth of Marat

Today is the 221st anniversary of Charlotte Corday’s assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, left-wing journalist and politician, author of the newspaper L’Ami du peuple. Marat’s fame would doubtless have waned years ago, if not for the gorgeous portrait by Jacques-Louis David called La Mort de Marat (1793). Produced by order of the Convention in response to the groundswell of anger after Marat’s murder, in David’s masterful hands Marat looks younger, more handsome, and healthier than he really was. He symbolizes the people’s triumph over adversity. That is why David represented Charlotte Corday as ………. in the painting.

a. crucified behind the martyred Marat

b. lying at the feet of the martyred Marat

c. peering in the window at Marat in the bathtub

d. absent

Thermidor Fun Fact Day Twenty-Eight: The potent issue of state finances

On July 11, 1789 Louis XVI dismissed the Finance Minister Jacques Necker, who returned to his home near Geneva, Switzerland. The public reaction to this was ….?
a. indifference. Everybody knew he deserved to get fired.
b. great anxiety and concern. This was outrageous, and dangerous for the country!
c. ignorance. Ordinary people did not know what happened behind the closed doors of Versailles.
d. enthusiasm. Good riddance to foreign influences.

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