November 08, 2018
Macron under heavy fire
EmmanuelEmmanuel Macron's series of troubles is not ending. The latest uproar is about him paying tribute to marshal Philippe Pétain for his role in France's victory in WWI. Pétain later became the leader of the antisemitic French Vichy regime, legitimising France's collaboration with Nazi Germany. This included collaborating in the deportation of Jews. Pétain spent the end of his life in prison. Only the far right demands his rehabilitation.
This latest controversy was triggered by a WWI remembrance ceremony next Saturday in honour of eight marshals, including Pétain. The army had been demanding it for a long time. With the Elysee palace well aware of how divisive the issue is, reports Le Journal du Dimanche, the decision was made to hold the ceremony, but without Macron. Macron defended his position with comments to the effect that he does not forgive anything but does not erase anything from France's history either, and that the press is creating gratuitous controversies. This is when the trouble started, and big time. Macron's comments drew fierce criticism from politicians and Jewish leaders, and the reactions went viral on social media. François Mitterrand had provoked similar outrage when it came out that he had been placing flowers on Petain's tomb on the anniversary of the armistice for years, a habit Jacques Chirac was quick to end when he came to power.
Is there a political motive behind this? It is hard to gauge, but either way it could have political consequences. Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National (RN) is currently the only party mentioning Pétain in any positive way. Macron's statement could be seen as an opening to RN voters. It has certainly angered supporters on the left. On social media there are some who proclaim they will never vote for him again. Jean-Luc Mélenchon predictably tweeted that this time Macron went too far.
There is mounting outrage against Macron. Angry drivers as well as pensioners have confronted him during his public appearances on his tour of the WWI battlefields. Thousands of drivers are expected to block roads across the country on November 17, a grassroots protest organised via social media. Expect the grievances to continue gaining momentum. Macron may have won the battles with the trade unions over labour law reforms, but the outcome of this new angry wave is far less predictable.