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Better Know A District: Graffiti, Defacement, and the French Presidential Elections in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris

April 21, 2012

Translation of sticker over Sarkozy's eyes: “What banker ever complained about universal suffrage?” Sticker by Diktacratie*, an organization that is skeptical of claims to democracy, claiming that the current system doesn't really represent everyone.

It just so happens that my stay in Paris coincides with the final week running up to the first round of the French presidential elections. As you might imagine, the news in Paris is flooded with coverage and speculation. There are very tight laws in France about giving equal media coverage to all election candidates, so mentioning any aspect of the election necessitates also mentioning all the other aspects in equal measure. This makes for daily newspapers that look like textbooks. For example, one small commuter newspaper that I picked up while waiting for a friend offered a “comparative table” of the campaign platforms of all ten candidates. This involved a ten-row table, with so many columns, that it ran over three pages (some sample columns: Immigration, EU Debt Crisis, Environment, Work and Labor, Housing, Crime and the Legal System)—all of it in tiny, tiny print.

As I was passing by the métro station of Lamarck-Caulaincourt (in the well-hidden, wealthier part of Montmartre on the other side of the hill behind Sacre-Coeur), not-so-jeune sarkozistes were handing out copies of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Lettre au Peuple Français (Letter to the French People), a 30+ page document released earlier this month, in an effort to regain some of his popularity by apparently seeming intimate, personable, and reasonable. The title-page of the document features a hand-written opening, that reads: “My dear compatriots, / Nothing is more beautiful in a democracy / than the love of one’s country” (Mes chers compatriotes, / Il n’est rien de plus beau en democratie / que l’amour de son pays). There’s this odd mix of romantic pastoralism, thinly-veiled sentimental nationalism, and intimate address that makes the first page either disarming or galling, depending on your political préjugés.

But perhaps the most interesting indication of what’s going on in the elections is the kind of graffiti and defacement that has been happening to the official postings of this Sunday’s scrutin (ballot/poll), which is always displayed publicly in front of the entrance to any polling station. I’m staying in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, near the métro Jourdain. Just up the hill from the Belleville area of Paris, this is a neighborhood that has long been populaire (i.e., a mixture of working classes, under-classes, and other under-privileged folks—along with a smattering of wealthier BoBos who usually profess political solidarity with these groups), multi-ethnic, and staunchly left-leaning politically (pro-socialist, pro-communist, anti-capitalist, etc.). The locals of the area around Jourdain have made it rather clear how they feel about these candidates:

François Hollande, Socialist Party. He may be the official socialist candidate, but he's clearly not much loved here. He's the most moderate of the left candidates, in many respects.

François Bayrou, democratic movement. A self-styled centrist. Often deplored by both the left and the right as a vote-splitting wedge candidate. He seems to be neither loved nor despised, here.

Hollande next to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (another far-right, anti-immigration candidate). Neither of them have gotten much love, although the manner of their defacement is a bit different.

Mélenchon next to Sarkozy. The contrast is hard to miss. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is affiliated with the Front de Gauche, a party far further to the left and vociferously pro-labor, pro-open-immigration, and pro-redistribution of wealth.

Nicolas Sarkozy. Someone has rotated the "F" in his slogan turning “La France Forte” (Strong France) into “La France Morte” (Dead France). There is little love lost here.

Marine Le Pen, of the National Front. The most right-wing of the parties out there. Frankly nationalist, anti-immigration, even campaigning to suspend jus solis citizenship policies. No love for her in this neighborhood.

Translation of sticker over Le Pen's eyes: “We elect the best liar, in order to submit ourselves to his/her dictatorship.” Sticker by Diktacratie*, an organization that is skeptical of claims to democracy, claiming that the current system doesn't really represent everyone.

Le Pen and Sarkozy. Apparently the two least popular at this polling station. Right-wing and right-er-wing.

Eva Joly, of the Green / Ecology ticket. Like Mélenchon, pretty much untouched. She's been making a name for herself in the last couple of weeks, going out of her way to highlight corruption in the current administration.

* Note: Based on their website, Diktacratie is also vociferously pro-Chavez (Hugo Chavez, of Venezuelan fame), so…that may shape the way that you read their political interventions.

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