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LES ECHOS

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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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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