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Portrait Of A Reluctant First Lady And The Price Of A Loaded Tweet

Valérie Trierweiler, companion of France's new President François Hollande, wants to keep up her journalism career. She wants to be free to speak -- and tweet -- her mind. But when she took a political slap at Hollande's ex, France was r

Valérie Trierweiler, First Lady of France (Cyclotron)
Valérie Trierweiler, First Lady of France (Cyclotron)
David Revault-d’Allonnes and Thomas Wieder

PARIS - On the day after François Hollande's election last month, Le Monde asked his companion Valérie Trierweiler how she saw her role. "Being a first lady is a second role, and I have to make sure it stays that way," she answered. "My word shouldn't replace the president's, or cause problems for him."

And then she added: "I will be very careful about my tweets, my voice has a new impact."

Trierweiler, a longtime political journalist active on social media, thought about closing her account. But now, just one month later, she has posted a tweet wishing "courage" to the opponent of a legislative candidate Hollande had just publicly supported -- who just happens to be Ségolène Royal, the President's former longtime companion and mother of his four children.

Maybe that is the essence of Valérie Trierweiler: an anthology of assertions as peremptory as they are contradictory; acts that often clash with declared principles. "Paradox makes a woman," says a source close to the presidential couple.

Two clashing images

She is still finding herself and she doesn't shy away from it. On the French public radio station France Inter on June 7, she said that she found the "First Lady" label "quaint," and that she wanted to "renew" it. Apparently the French people she's met had already made suggestions: "France's trump of hearts' and "first journalist" were two.

That the two images clash doesn't seem to shock her: the first hails back to the overused clichés of a first lady fit only to show her pretty face; the second refers to the modern, active woman, protective of her independence, by no means prepared to interrupt a successful career or to take a back seat to her companion.

Until now, she had tried to iron out the contradictions. She decided to continue working as a journalist, but gave up the political beat. In October 2011 she had already stopped hosting the "2012: Campaign Portraits' show on Direct 8 cable televsion. After Hollande's election, she had it known that she would continue working for the Paris Match weekly, but that she wouldn't deal with "French news," restricting herself to cultural reports.

Parallel to this, she explained that she would keep in line with the traditional role of the first lady, "volunteer work with the French people," like Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who continued her singing career while heading a foundation for education and culture.

When a journalist lectures journalists

But it has quickly become clear how hard it would be to juggle all of these roles. On June 4, infuriated by a behind-the-scenes piece about the official presidential photograph on Le Monde's website, she called the editorial staff asking that they remove two pictures that showed her taking part in the shooting in the Elysée gardens. Just before the elections, she had sent a tweet asking her "colleagues' not to "camp in front of the residence" she shared with Hollande in Paris.

A journalist lecturing journalists in the name of the first lady's peace of mind, this was unprecedented. But then on Tuesday, at exactly 11:56 a.m., Trierweiler took it to a whole new level, with a tweet that has landed with a thud in the middle of tightly contested legislative campaign. The first lady has seemingly undermined Hollande, twice over, endorsing the Socialist insurgent candidate running against the anointed Royal, with whom the president had reestablished a solid political alliance after the couple's separation five years ago. What role was Trierweiler in when she sent that tweet?

"I have never seen a journalist calling to vote for a Socialist dissident," said a flummoxed party leader.

For her first column in Paris Match since she acquired an office and advisors at the Elysée, Trierweiler chose to review Claude-Catherine Kiejman's biography of Eleanor Rossevelt. It was seen as a mere hint. One forgets that the book's subtitle was: "First Lady and Rebel."

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Wikimedia Commons/Cyclotron

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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