Ségolène Royal and the War in France’s Banlieues

Ségolène Royal and the War in France’s Banlieues

PARIS -- Are the deaths of two youngsters that sparked several nights of rioting in France last week being exploited for political purposes? Consider only that one of the two lawyers representing the families of the boys happens to be none other than the personal attorney of Ségolène Royal: the Socialist Party (PS) candidate who was defeated by Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election May 6. It will be recalled that just two days before the vote, in an interview with French radio station RTL, Royal warned ominously that Sarkozy's candidacy was "dangerous" and that there would be "violence" -- notably, in "popular neighborhoods" -- if he was elected. It is particularly noteworthy in retrospect that when RTL journalist Jean-Michel Aphatie pressed Royal on the point, asking her to agree that if there is violence it would be illegitimate, she did not reply to the question. "He has to ask himself why he provokes so much [violence]," Royal retorted, "I think he is also responsible."

Could Royal and her allies in the PS be helping to make her grim pre-election prediction come true by transforming what was in all likelihood a banal, if tragic, traffic accident into a political issue? According to the findings of a preliminary investigation into the incident, which occurred in the town of Villiers-le-Bel in the Val-d'Oise district near Paris, the two teenage boys were riding on a minibike at almost 45 mph when it struck a police car moving at nearly half the speed. Nonetheless, in keeping with the language used by the attorneys, the two boys are being nearly universally described in the French media as "victims": a term that in its ambiguity can readily be understood to imply that the officers in the car were responsible for their deaths and that thus fuels the perception that the riots are somehow a justified "response."

Stylized by a headline in the French daily Le Figaro into "the defender of the banlieues" (Nov. 29), it turns out that Jean-Pierre Mignard, the lawyer representing the families, is not only also the personal lawyer of Ségolène Royal, but indeed himself a leading member of the "Royalist" current within the Socialist Party. "During the presidential campaign," the article notes, "he was part of the inner circle around the Socialist candidate." Referring to Royal's post-election separation from her longtime partner, Socialist Party Chair François Hollande, Le Figaro describes Mignard as an "intimate friend" of the couple: so intimate indeed that he is the godfather of two of their children. On Nov. 17, moreover, Mignard became the director of "Désirs d'avenir": Ségolène Royal's campaign organization, which has been transformed into a kind of permanent campaign organization in the aftermath of her election loss. (The name translates roughly as "Desiring the Future" or "The Future's Desires.")

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