Exploited By France's Far Right, Joan Of Arc Reborn As Icon For All

A rehabilitated symbol?
A rehabilitated symbol?
Clarisse Fabre

ROUEN — Coming out of the train station, the rue Jeanne d'Arc, a wide street along the river Seine in this northern French city, leads us straight to the Jeanne d'Arc bridge. And between the two, we pass many signs evoking the young warrior's name: a cafe named "Jeanne d'Arc," a church, of course, even an estate agent's sign solidly attached to the gate of a private mansion.

Historian Olivier Bouzy even says that a grill restaurant once dared to establish itself on the Vieux-Marché square, where Joan of Arc was burned alive in 1431. But beyond these nods to the young woman's legacy, what remains in the collective imagination are the National Front's efforts to use her as an ideological symbol of the fight against "foreign invasion."

But the Norman city seems to have woken up from a long sleep. Rouen is raising its flags and is determined to reclaim Joan of Arc from the extreme-right party's grasp. On March 20, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius inaugurated the Joan of Arc History Museum (Historial Jeanne d'Arc) in the heart of the city's Archbishop's Palace, a medieval site with Norman crypts that was nicely renovated for the occasion.

The History Museum recounts Joan of Arc's epic. There's the story that everybody knows: that of the young pious girl born in 1412 who heard voices from the age of 13 and saw the future King Charles VII putting her in charge of an army, leading to the siege of Orléans being lifted in 1429, liberating the city from the English, before she was arrested and accused of being a heretic.

But the museum also takes visitors through the twists and turns of the investigation that led to Joan of Arc's conviction in Rouen before she died on the Vieux-Marché square, on May 30 1431, at the age of 19. The museum also has the remains of the so-called "Officiality" room where her conviction was pronounced, and where her rehabilitation trial took place in 1456.

Joan of Arc sells

Of course, the operation is also motivated by economic and tourism prospects. The History Museum hopes to attract some 140,000 visitors every year to bankroll the 10.6 million euros ($11.5 million) invested in the project. City officials expect visitors from England, of course, but also from all over the world.

The young girl's exceptional destiny, the incarnation of the free warrior as well as the tortured victim, has never ceased to inspire artists and politicians alike. In an area called "Mythothèque" (the library of myths), the History Museum delves into the "historiographic" and political debates around Joan of Arc and tries to shed light on how her representations were constructed.

"Among film directors as well as politicians, Joan of Arc is a polymorphous figure that everybody can claim," says documentarian Olivier Brunet. "We have no portrait of her alive, except for a sketch that's not precise whatsoever. Anybody with a cause to defend just takes possession of her and what she represents for them. Joan of Arc can be a visionary fighting in the name of God or she can be used in a Nazi propaganda film," he explains, in reference to the 1935 German movie expand=1]Das Madchen Johanna, directed by Gustav Ucicky.

Philippe Ramos' beautiful and controversial expand=1]The Silence of Joan (2011), with Clémence Poésy in the lead role, is not part of the selection, a decision justified by an eagerness to please a "general audience." The History Museum didn't include Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) either, despite urging from former Socialist Culture Minister Jack Lang. Considered a mediocre work by critics, the movie is nevertheless significant, says historian Olivier Bouzy, whose advice was sought for the film. "It changed young people's perception of Joan of Arc," he says. "A year after the movie was released, in 2000, many students came to me to study the character. Two of them even ended up doing a PhD."

With a festival dedicated to her memory, 2015 promises to be Joan of Arc's year in Rouen. So much so that it seems to relegate the city of Orléans, forever associated with "the Maid" to a lesser position of importance.

Statue of Joan of Arc in Rouen, near the place where she was burnt at the stake — Photo: Vladimir Shelyapin

Cities in competition

The office of Orléans Mayor Serge Grouard prominently features a 1959 picture of General Charles de Gaulle holding the hand of a young girl dressed in armor. Grouard smiles as if to say that he's not threatened by Rouen's appropriation of Joan of Arc. "We haven't opened a museum, but we have the annual Joan of Arc celebration, between end of April and early May," he notes. "A moment of joy, a spiritual but non-religious celebration. I had the same feeling of union in January during the demonstrations in support on Charlie Hebdo."

Each year, a young girl from the Orléans region is chosen to represent Joan of Arc. To give a more modern touch to the celebration, the mayor explains, the town now includes electronic dance music in the annual celebration. But don't even mention Virgil Vernier's critically acclaimed film Orléans (2011). "I don't identify with it," he says.

This short film follows a young woman who moves to Orléans and makes a living as a pole dancer in a strip club. One day, with a friend, she happens to meet the young girl chosen to represent Joan of Arc at the celebration, wandering outside the city center with her horse, away from the festivities.

"I wanted to talk about the contemporary woman," Vernier says. "A free woman who may also be a victim. The main character has illusions, dreams of going to Paris one day. The strip club is the flag of Joan of Arc."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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