2
Apr

Is le tea party brewing in France?

Written on April 2, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed, Political Economy

Steeped in conservative rage and tasting of grass roots, a political backlash has traditional politicians and the news media asking the once-unthinkable: Is le tea party brewing in France?

If it were, it would be populated by the likes of Catherine Mas-Mezeran, a Parisian mother of three who wrinkles her nose at the mention of President François Hollande. She calls him “the Socialist,” which, technically, he is. But if President Obama had the birthers, Hollande now has the baptismists.

 

French President Francois Hollande has made Interior Minister Manuel Valls his new prime minister, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault, who, with other ministers, took the blame for the Socialists' defeat in local elections.

French President Francois Hollande has made Interior Minister Manuel Valls his new prime minister, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault, who, with other ministers, took the blame for the Socialists’ defeat in local elections.

Like others in a growing movement here, she firmly believes an unsubstantiated rumor emanating from conservative circles that Hollande may have secretly renounced his Christianity. “He has rejected his baptism,” she said. “This is really shocking.”

An Elysee Palace spokesman responded, “This rumor is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.”

The movement’s strength in numbers, however, cannot be ignored. Initially a reaction to a same-sex marriage law passed last year, the movement has morphed into the most sustained mobilization of social conservatives here in more than a generation.

A reinvigorated right delivered a devastating blow to Hollande in Sunday’s local elections across the country, prompting a humbled Hollande to reshuffle the French government on Monday. He replaced Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault with Interior Minister Manuel Valls, a politician considered more palatable by some on the right.

Results of the runoff vote showed the far-right National Front scoring its biggest victory ever, taking 11 towns and a major district in Marseille in part by appealing to outraged residents. The left ceded more than 150 other cities to the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Losses by the Socialists also reflected economic doubts and disenchantment with Hollande. But across Europe — a continent often viewed on the other side of the Atlantic as a bastion of liberal thought — several nations are in the throes of their own full-blown culture wars, and perhaps nowhere are they raging quite as fiercely as in France.

Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in repeated protests, many for the first time in their lives. They are organizing assemblies and social-media campaigns even as some angry newcomers run against incumbents on the right whom they consider not socially conservative enough.

A show of strength on French streets in February led Hollande to backtrack on a measure that opponents feared could have helped same-sex couples have children through in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

Scores of social conservatives took their children out of public schools for one day in January to protest new lessons being tested in some French schools aimed at dispelling gender stereotypes. The social conservatives said the lessons could lead to boys wearing dresses and girls playing mechanic, or even masturbation classes for children.

“We are witnessing the rise of a tea party of the French,” Valls warned in the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

A continent already hit by economic upheaval is confronting a wave of bitter societal polarization over a host of issues such as euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage.

In Spain, the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seeking to push through legislation that would greatly limit abortion rights, unleashing a bitter confrontation with the left and reversing the steady march of liberal social policies there since the death of Gen. Francisco Franco. In Poland, a measure that would grant same-sex civil partnerships failed last year because of major opposition, prompting Prime Minister Donald Tusk to say he saw no chances of such unions passing within the next 10 to 15 years.

During Germany’s national election campaign last year, center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked outrage among progressives after expressing doubts about full adoption rights for same-sex couples. “To be completely honest with you, I’m having difficulty with full equality,” she told public TV. Read more…

 

Published on March 31st in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com

Comments

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