June 12, 2005


Ps_logo_2 An attempt to unite the various factions in France's Socialist Party that supported a No vote against the proposed European Constitution has failed. In the wake of Socialst Party chief Francois Hollande's imposition of a purge of No supporters among the party's leadership and secretariat for having opposed the party's official Yes position on the Constitution-- a purge opposed by three-quarters of the Socialist electorate, according to public opinion polls -- there had been a lot of talk about a unified front of the party's different tendencies that had opposed ratification of the Constitution at the coming emergency party congress scheduled for this fall. (For a guide to the actors in this little drama, see my earlier post on "A Suicidal Purge by France's Socialists.")

Melenchon The Socialist Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon (left), leader of the party's left-wing Nouveau Monde tendency and one of the most visible campaigners for the No vote that carried the May 29 referendum on the Constitution -- a huge defeat for the party's leadership, whose Yes position was rejected by 69% of the left electorate -- had proposed a "joint motion" on party policy by all the party's anti-Constitution elements at the upcoming party congress. Melanchon had said that the Socialists who were for the No vote "had a duty to present to the Socialists an alternative to the bunkerization [represented by the purge] in which a loser leadership has cloistered itself." This joint policy motion would have been the vehicle around which a coordinated challenge to Hollande's leadership of the party could have been organized.

But, Le Monde reported yesterday, Melanchon's proposal of a united Arnaud_montebourg_3 front against Hollande has been rejected by the deputy (i.e., member of parliament) Arnaud Montebourg (right), the extremely ambitious leader of the more moderate Nouveau Parti Socialiste tendency, which is much more proceduralist and reformist in its approach than Melanchon and his left-wingers. And, while Montebourg and his clan were opposed to ratification of the Constitution, they took no part in active campaigning against it out of "respect" for party discipline and the divided party's Yes position. In rejecting Melanchon's united front proposal, Montebourg's group said that a party civil war "pitting one bloc against another makes no sense."

Fabius_2 Only an alliance bringing together all three of the main party tendencies that supported the No -- the group loyal to party right-winger and former prime minister Laurent  Fabius (left), the most prominent victim of Hollande's party purge; Montebourg's reformist clan; and the party left, led by Melanchon and deputy Henri Emanuelli, a former party chief -- could have had any hope of displacing Hollande as the party's leader. But the only thing these three factions have in common, besides their pro-No position, is that they detest Hollande, Strauss-Kahn, and Lang. On policy matters, they are quite divergent.

What's the significance of this little ballet? It means that no serious challenge can be mounted against Hollande and his principal allies in persuading the party to adopt the Yes position  (Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Jack Lang, part of the Old Guard party leadership known as the "elephants"). Nor could such a challenge have any hope of succeeding at the coming party congress. Hollande is now indisputably safe and secure in his leadership of the party -- leaving him free to continue preparations to impose himself as the party's presidential candidate in 2007.

Did Montebourg cut a back-room deal with Hollande? Or is it simply that Montebourg -- who has a capacious ego and a reputation for not playing well with others -- didn't want to be second fiddle in a coalition in which the left wing Melanchon-Emmanuelli group commanded the support of a significantly larger number of dues-paying party members (around 25% of the party) than Montebourg's own faction, and so Montebourg preferred to go it alone and grab the spotlight for himself where he can? It's too soon to know the answer to that one -- but it will become much clearer as the party congress in November approaches.

However, while this action by Montebourg means Hollande no longer has to face the specter of a revolt that could dethrone him as party chief, he still faces an equally serious problem: the referendum on theFrancois_hollande_ii_1  Constitution showed just how out of touch the colorless Hollande (left)  is with the broad, non-dues-paying Socialist electorate. Socialist voters were overwhelmingly disgusted -- first, Hollande's frenetic campaigning for a Yes vote arm-in-arm with hard-line conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (the leading candidate of the right for president in '07); and second, with the subsequent party purge that, so far, has been Hollande's only concrete reaction to the disavowal of his leadership (and of the party) by the broad mass of Socialist voters, whose support he'll need to become the party's '07 standard bearer, and whom  the party will need to defeat the right in two years, regardless of who emerges as its eventual presidential candidate. To that profound political crisis, Hollande not only appears to have no answer -- he also seems deaf and blind to it.

FLORENCE AUBENAS HAS AT LAST BEEN FREED IN IRAQ:    Florence_aubenas_1 The journalist Florence Aubenas of the Paris daily Liberation, and her Iraqi guide Hussein Hanoun (both at left), have been freed after five months of captivity at the hands of Iraqi terrorists, it was announced early this morning in Paris. Their liberation after an agonizing 157 days of detention, during which the pair's whereabouts were unknown, followed an intensive and broad public and media mobilization in France to demand their liberty, which was organized by Liberation and its director, Serge July, and by Reporters Without Borders and its director, Robert Meynard.  This campaign received the support of all major French media, whose editors and publishers met weekly to plan actions and coordinate the campaign -- a creative exercise that included many innovative public acts and demonstrations involving tens of thousands of ordinary French people, show biz stars, and athletes, as well as an extensive TV ad campaign. During newscasts, all the networks had a logo in the upper corner of their screens with the names of Florence and Hussein and the number of days they had endured imprisonment by their kidnappers. The leaders of France's Muslim community, of both its fundamentalist and more moderate wings, were likewise quite active in seeking the release of Aubenas and Hanoun, making trips to Iraq to speak to religious leaders there in the hopes they might be able to persuade the captors of the journalist and her guide-interpreter to release them.

Journalists everywhere are relieved and gratified by the liberation of Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi colleague -- all the moreso because, among my friends who are fellow journalists in Paris and know her, Florence Aubenas has a reputation as a gifted, sensitve, independent-minded, and passionate journalist and a first-rate human being as well.

Congratulations are particularly in order to our friends at Reporters Without Borders, the vital, Paris-based international organization for the defense of journalists that is ever-vigilant in supporting reporters who are harassed, censored, imprisoned, or detained -- whether by governments or by terrorists. I'm a great fan and supporter of their work, and have been for years. This month, the organization is Benchicou2 highlighting the case of Mohamed Boualem Benchicou (right), the editor of the Algerian daily Le Matin (a daily newspaper that has been forced to close). He was given a two-year prison sentence for being too outspoken and has been held in El Harrach prison for the past year. You can find more information his case (in English) by clicking here. The Algerian government has embarked on a major campaign of harassment, censorship, arrest and imprisonment of journalists it doesn't like. But  the sentence given to Benchicou -- whose health has deteriorated severely due to his imprisonment -- is particularly severe.

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