The Unbearable Lightness Of Francois Hollande

How could he think he'd be able to hide a love affair behind a scooter helmet? The French President has lost control amidst the celebrity-charged politics that he helped create.

President François Hollande all smiles last May
President François Hollande all smiles last May
Françoise Fressoz

PARIS — Done, it’s over! There are no longer any barriers between private and public life. We can find it regrettable and fool ourselves into thinking that the old impermeability still exists, as top French politicians are claiming.

But those days are gone — it’s a fact. All the cards are on the table and everything is mixed up, starting with President François Hollande's so-called change of politics and his so-called change of partner.

As a result, there is a growing unease for journalists covering Hollande’s third major press conference. Should we talk about it or not? Three sides are already forming: The “serious” press will ask the president serious questions, about his recent "responsibility pact" with the French business sector and his so-called free-market turn.

The “less serious” press will pressure him to clarify his personal situation, and the First Lady’s.

The foreign press will do both, as it is used to doing in the name of transparency.

Power couples

In reality, the entire press will be united in the same voyeurism — because this voyeurism is shared by society at large. We want to know everything about Hollande, both as a politician and a celebrity: his thoughts, his acts, his bedroom secrets.

We want to be able to laugh, cry, make fun of everything, without realizing how extraordinarily cruel it is to expose these strictly private feelings.

Then comes a more political question: How could François Hollande, in the era of smartphones, Internet and social networks, think that simply hiding his head under a scooter helmet would allow him to have a secret life, as former President François Mitterrand used to be able to enjoy?

Is it naiveté? This is hard to believe. Since the mid-2000s, when he was the leader of the Socialist Party and representative of the French department of Corrèze, he was unintentionally — as were many others — responsible for political life slipping into celebrity culture. His personal life was thrown to the mercy of the public because it was, in reality, closely tied to his political life. He formed the ultimate political couple with Ségolène Royal (former Socialist party nominee for president), before later separating.

If he never became an active accomplice of this celebrity brand of politics, François Hollande actually never really suffered from it. It helped humanize him, splash a bit of romance on a life that seemed a bit too plain.

At the Elysée presidential palace, too, romance is an asset. But to prosper, it requires a minimum of mystery and control — and the president just lost control of everything, overwhelmed by a scenario he never really contained.

This légèreté (lightness) is what might make forgiveness hard for Hollande to obtain, in a context of distrust that makes the presidential function such a fragile undertaking.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!