Crisis After Crisis, Freedom Is Disappearing Drip By Drip

Concurrent emergencies have given rise to 'exceptional' measures that then have a tendency of being institutionalized.

Paris on Oct. 17
Sandrine Rousseau*


PARIS — We are running from crisis to crisis, from the public safety crisis that began with terrorist attacks and led to a permanent state of emergency, to a health crisis that restricts our freedoms in the name of preventing illness. Then comes the economic crisis and its conjoined twin sister, the social crisis. And of course, brewing in the background of all this is another, massive-scale crisis that will leave many other crises in its wake: the climate crisis.

The French Republic and its democracy are repeatedly put to the test by these events. The pattern is the same: political decision-making is centralized, with action coming from war councils or from rulers, ministers and presidents. And the people, for their part, are required to obey — in the name of a higher interest.

They do so without second thought. Who, after all, would go against protection when there is imminent danger? French men and women are understanding, and necessarily so, because otherwise the pandemic would have taken another turn.

The problem is not so much in the management of the emergency but rather the time that follows. These supposedly "exceptional" measures are gradually becoming commonplace, and then they become institutionalized. Engraved in common law, they become the norm.

A regime of exception was put in place following the attacks of Nov. 13, 2015. It became common law in 2017, allowing for allocations to a given area, simplified searches and the creation of "protected zones' where law enforcement has exceptional powers. UN reports have even expressed concern that freedom of expression, assembly and association are being infringed upon.

The state of emergency declared for the COVID-19 crisis came to an end on July 10. It was replaced by a four-month "transitional regime." But now the pandemic is resurging, and the way it's being managed is leading us to a new legal arsenal aimed at controlling private life. We can already hear the arguments: To slow the spread of the virus and the saturation of hospitals, it is necessary to protect people against their will. Allowing drones to fly over cities, limiting gatherings, preventing people from meeting in bars or on the street, postponing family meals... What will remain of the freedom of assembly and association after this attack?

What will remain of the freedom of assembly and association after this attack?

What is known is that anxiety-provoking climates are conducive to the enactment of laws, restrictions and regulations. Sometimes they have little to do with the crisis. COVID-19 serves as a starting point for the enactment of laws, restrictions, and regulations. Sometimes they have little to do with the crisis, for example, this new policing regime that limits journalists from freely practicing their profession during demonstrations.

None of this, however, is inevitable. While emergencies can require immediate measures that deviate from the law, there are two safeguards to preserve the essential: freedom.

First, respect for democracy. Even in times of crisis — especially in times of crisis — democracy is not only exercised from lawmakers in the capital, but also from municipal, departmental and regional assemblies. While they only have partial sovereign powers, the elected representatives are the foundation of our territorial cohesion and the protection against abuse of power in Paris. Marseille must alert us to this. The absence of consultation with local elected officials is a serious attack on democracy.

Strict new measures return to Paris — Photo: Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Whether this order is with good or bad intentions is not the issue. The Fifth Republic and its presidential omnipotence are conducive to this sort of subjugation, but should it be used in this way? No federal republic, no parliamentary regime can take such measures without going through, or at least consulting, the territories and decentralized management.

The second safeguard is to never institutionalize exceptional rules afterwards. Otherwise, each crisis will reduce our liberties, and with them, the very foundations of our republic. If we do not rebuild freedom after this one, then little by little, without even realizing it, we are paving the way for totalitarian management.

If we do not maintain our democratic model, which makes France a country of human rights — and women's rights — then we won't have the strength to defend it later on. This is what a free country is known for: its ability not to renounce its great principles in times of crisis. And this challenge is only just beginning, because the coming climate crisis will put even more strain on our democracies and our ways of sharing life.

We should learn from what is happening now so that we can perfect our democracy, guarantee our freedoms and develop our sense of collective responsibility. Let us seize this moment to reexamine who we are and what our values are, and what makes our French society so dear and so free. Let's use local democracy to form a consensus: decentralize decisions, strengthen the role of Parliament, develop the democratic tools that allow us to fight our own fears, and guarantee independent checks and balances.

If we can do that, these crises will not have been for nothing. They will have helped us affirm what is most essential: our values. To ensure that the future does not push us into darkness, let us reaffirm the values of the enlightenment and safeguard our freedom as citizens.

*Sandrine Rousseau is an economist.

**This article was translated with permission from the author.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!