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in⋅vo⋅ca⋅tion: (n) the magic formula used to conjure up a spirit; incantation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

le Parti socialiste: from l'Internationale to Mitterrand

A couple of weeks ago, at around 7 pm in the afternoon (or should I say, 19H a la francaise?) I was walking out of a class with my french friend, Laura. We walked down the stairs and into the main Sciences Po hall. There is a large, wooden bench in the middle of the hall - much like those benches you see in churches, pretty rustic (I only recently find out that is called a "peniche". This really explained why so many Sciences Po things are called Peniche, I think there's like a newspaper by the same name but anyway). As we reached the large hall, I saw a mass of students, congregated around the massive bench. There were many Sciences Po guards, confused students, and others flashing their Sciences Po IDs and I realized it was probably a protest.

During orientation, our french teachers explained to us that the best way to guarantee access to university facilities during demonstrations was with a Sciences Po ID.

I stood in front of the mass of students and my friend, Laura, found a way through the crowd and got us out of there. The students who were protesting were singing and my friend Laura looked at me and said "They're singing the International!".

The International is one of the best-known revolutionary hymns of the world. Although Belgian by origin, it was the national anthem of the USSR until 1944 and it has always been associated with workers, anarchists, marxists, and socialists. My political science teacher has told us that the Socialist party usually sings it after every meeting or at least, they used to.

The students that were assembled in the main hall belonged to Sciences Po's Socialist party, a collegiate branch of France's Socialist party. It's exciting to know that at a school where the elites play, the Socialist party also has its say.

The raison d'etre of their peaceful protest was the Minister of Immigration's new crusade: national identity.

After a couple of disastrous weeks for Sarkozy's political party, the government has decided to draw everyone's attention to a bigger problem: the french republican identity.

Regional elections are less than five months away and Sarkozy's party, the UMP, has been losing conservative votes due to political scandals (from sex tourism to nepotism), what better way to bring back the right-wing electorate than with a well-orchestrated (and possibly, racist) appeal to french identity and values?

The Socialist party has rightly denounced the government's new "debate" as a political maneuver to bring back its extreme-right electorate which has been defecting to the Front National, France's extreme-right party led by Jean Marie Le Pen. The debate on national identity is not sincere, in their opinion, and it is politically-motivated to mobilize their electorate.

All french politics aside, what really impressed me of the whole affair was seeing the presence of a leftist political party amongst the elite. In Nicaragua, the elite is usually right-wing. At my school, being leftist wasn't something popular or something you could share openly. Of course, there's no way I could draw an effective example between Nicaragua, a country that experienced a "marxist-leninist" revolution in 1979 and suffered the consequences of it all through the 1980's (and still today), and France, a developed country with a completely different political tradition. However, I do think the difference between the two is interesting. Here, at one of the best schools in the country, socialists proudly chant the International at their protests. For a long time, I felt being leftist, among my milieu at least, was taboo.

I've also been doing quite a bit of research on the presidents of the Fifth Republic (basically, France after the Constitution of 1958, which is their most recent constitution) and I've gained a lot of respect for the Socialist party and for Francois Mitterrand. I recently read his biography and I, kid you not, cried at the end of it. There's something very compelling about someone who runs for President and loses 5 times, and finally wins at some point. I think this is the case with my country's president, Ortega, and with Brazil's president, too. It was the case with Mitterrand as well.

I think I'm going to work on another presentation on socialists in France now. For some reason, I am always interested in socialists. I remember when I took AP Euro and my favorite part of the whole class was the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution (remember the NEP?). Oh, socialism...

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