François Hollande, The President That Never Was

French President Hollande, who announced he will not seek reelection, led a series of mishaps and failures, down to the indignity of his last public speech.

Alexis Brézet


PARIS — For his political farewell — announcing his unprecedented decision to not seek reelection — French President François Hollande could just have well opted for a more lofty tone. Nothing prevented him from delivering a formal and passionate exhortation to the French, leaving his allies on the Left with a kind of spiritual testament. Whip up some energy, pass on the flame. But what did we get instead? A man's sorry attempt to justify himself, speaking with a hollow voice and a vacant demeanor.

This was a sad epilogue to a five-year term that was insignificant at best. It was not so much Hollande's prime minister, Manuel Valls, who pushed him toward the exit as his own personal and political balance sheet, viewed as an unprecedented disaster in the nearly 60 years since the establishment of France's Fifth Republic. Hollande did not even try to save appearances as he bowed again to events, rather than confronting them. He leaves the public arena the way he arrived: ill-at-ease, with his crooked tie and a suit he clearly could not fill.

What will France remember from his reign? Certain images perhaps, showing the singular abasement of the presidential office: The bungled expulsion of an immigrant family, a black-helmeted head of state on his scooter trying to hide a secret love affair, and a book of confessions as told to two journalists, a depressing medley of cynicism and self-satisfaction that reflected his vanity before the gazing media.

There were also symbolic moments, framed in time by the solemn expressions of his last prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and the bravado of his successor Manuel Valls. Moments like his laughable turn of phrase: "Things are better now," ("Ça va mieux") repeated against all evidence. There was the famous "reversing of the unemployment curve" — though signs of decline are yet to be seen — the wrath of rural workers in Brittany or the anti same-sex marriage protests. One recalls the stroppy conduct of cabinet dissenters and ministerial disobedience, the clumsy moves to strip terrorists of their French nationality or the stress and drama of imposed labor reforms. Sure, in fairness, Hollande could not be held responsible for the terror attacks, but at least these did, though only partially, drag him out of his negligent complacency over the Islamist threat.

There is little left to say. France is weakened in Europe and on the world stage. Joblessness is stuck near an all-time high. The deficits and debts are cavorting unchecked. In politics, the Left is in tatters and the far-right National Front has become France's leading party. And to think of his promises when he had said "I, president ..."

One can barely comprehend how a man they said was — and who most assuredly is — armed with a sharp and subtle intelligence, could have sunk to this depth of ridicule and forged a presidency so utterly lacking in grandeur and vision. Historians may seek a conclusion on this, though it is more a matter for psychologists.

The nation, instead, is turning the page, fully aware that Hollande did not renounce a second presidential term last night: No, quite simply, he never really was president.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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