Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chirac's Legacy.

A week ago, Chirac gave a sort of farewell speech to France by announcing the much expected news that he would not run again for the coming presidential elections. It has been interesting over the last week to read the media and how the international press has viewed Chirac’s legacy.

French newspapers offered a mix of polite praise and mild criticism of his 12 year mandate:

Le Figaro said that the reforms undertaken during his presidency had not followed an overall plan, while La Tribune criticized Chirac for not having drawn enough attention to the economy. La Croix argued that the outgoing president could have left Europe with his head held high if it had not been for the failed referendum. (source here)

Very little was said about the allegations of corruption Chirac may face once he steps down. It is funny that the French should seem so forgiving for a man once caricatured as "super-liar" on French television. A remnant of public affection of the French citizen for their king-like president? Maybe… Corruption apart, Chirac’s legacy is not that great:

The editorialist Françoise Fressoz in Les Echos considers that Chirac's presidency was marked by "two political catastrophes: the failed dissolution in 1997 and the 'no' vote in the referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty, both of which revealed the same weakness.”. (Les Echos)

But the foreign press spared him even less. The harshest criticism came from the British press (How surprising!).

The Daily Telegraph:

"Convention demands that we say nice things about people when they retire but, in the case of Jacques Chirac, it is not easy.


He won the presidency in 1995 by running, extraordinarily, as the anti-Establishment candidate - despite first having become prime minister 21 years before. He passed himself off as a beer-sipping populist, despite being the very model of a haughty énarque. The wonder is that the old rogue kept getting away with it.
It is said that, in a democracy, people get the politicians they deserve.
France deserved better.

The German weekly Spiegel concludes:

"Chirac's legacy of 40 years in French politics will not be remembered for many achievements. Chirac himself rarely followed the advice he gave to his people on Sunday evening." (source here)

In the Financial Times (United Kingdom), Martin Arnold writes that Chirac has flip flopped on many issues and that his words have been a lot of hot air:

"Most analysts agree that 'Chiraquisme', apart from supporting farmers, does not stand for much"

The Guardian also noted Chirac’s flip-flopping:

Nicknamed the "weathervane" for his ability to shift as it suited him - he went from championing state control in the 1970s to Ronald Reagan's free-market liberalism in the 1980s, from nuclear testing to eco-champion, eurosceptic to euro-defender

And concluded:

Mr Chirac is most criticised for failing to steward change in France and for calling a referendum on the EU constitution in 2005, then failing to sell the idea to the electorate, who voted no.
In a more cynical tone, De Standaard (Belgium) reminded its readers of Chirac’s cultural achievement:

People even jest that the museum of primitive art in Paris, the Quai de Branly Museum, is the one and only tangible result that Chirac has come up with in his own country. The past few years have indeed shown no ideology, no vision, no mission for the future." (source here)

Only.... the Chinese really paid tribute to Chirac. Some compliment!

So what’s to remember?

The FT has encapsulated Chirac’s legacy in a few good words:

Yet even his critics concede he did some things right. He is widely praised for admitting France's responsibility for deporting Jews during German occupation in the Second World War and in 2003 led 'Old Europe' in opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq and warned of the dangers of American unilateralism."

Although I am personally quite critical of the second praise….


At 05:05, Blogger Tororoshiru said...

Just read in today's (April 22) NYT an opinion by Tony Judt, summing up Chirac's departure's international press coverage mostly in the same way you did:
"On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Chirac’s political obituary is being written in distinctly unflattering terms".
Yet Judt also notes:
"Mr. Chirac is old enough to appreciate Europe’s debt to America — on the 60th anniversary of D-Day he said, sincerely, that “France will never forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally” — but Gaullist enough to oppose Washington’s folies de grandeur. His heir presumptive, Nicolas Sarkozy, is neither. Mr. Sarkozy’s admiration and knowledge of the United States appear confined to its economic growth rate".

I differ from Judt on many matters, but I feel mostly the same as him on this. Don't get me wrong, my personal farewell to Jacques Chirac would be worded precisely as yours (from a former post): "Good riddance!" (...for entirely different motives, I'm afraid).
But.. isn't it ironic that Chirac, undoubledly the most sincerely americanophile president France had in half a century, will be remembered in the US chiefly for his supposed "anti-americanism"?


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