France’s World Cup Win, Elixir For A Nation Hit By Terrorism
The victory of Les Bleus is a real boost for a nation that has been the repeated target of Islamist terror. Still it is not a magic solution to its many divisions.
PARIS — As soon as the referee blew the final whistle, a wave of jubilation spread across all of France: endless flocks of fans, fraternal and joyful, celebrated the victory of Les Bleus, winners of the World Cup for the second time in history, defeating Croatia 4-2 in the final at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
The celebration was all-encompassing, from north to south, from east to west. From Paris — with people gathering on the Champs-Elysées — to Marseille, from Lille, Nantes and Rennes to Strasbourg, Montpellier and all the way to the Reunion island, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, an entire people simply set their quarrels and divisions aside. This moment is all the more precious as it brings together, in all its diversity, a country traumatized by the succession of terror attacks committed on its soil since it began in January 2015 with the deadly shootings at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
France thus expressed its pride and gratitude towards players who came from afar; who, in return, dedicated their victory to "la République." At the start of this World Cup in Russia, the team coached by Didier Deschamps, were hardly the tournament favorite, with a lineup of young (with an average squad age of 26) and relatively inexperienced players. It took plenty of sweat, tears and even suffering for these players — most of whom came from the poorer towns on the outskirts of the Paris region, to make their sense of team spirit and solidarity triumph.
World Cup Champion France, Frozen In Time — © Ulrik Pedersen / ZUMA / OneShot
This moment of collective happiness is a scathing refutation of the rancid theorists of nationalist obsessions based on family names or skin color. For these Bleus, with multiple backgrounds, who draped themselves in French flags, belonging to the national community goes without saying.
And yet, at the same time, the country is not going to be transfigured by this second World Cup title. History has shown the ephemerality of these moments of national unity. The euphoria set off by the 1998 victory didn't stop far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen from reaching the second round of the presidential election in 2002. In 2005, the explosion of rioting in the outskirts of Paris showed the persistence of urban and social divisions. And the spirit that emerged from the nationwide rallies after the Charlie Hebdo attack itself quickly faded as well.
History has shown the ephemerality of these moments.
France won't be transformed by magic. Social inequalities won't just vanish, neither will mass unemployment. The quarrels and polemics that make up our daily lot will soon reappear. Sporting glory is momentary, and cannot suffice to restore social cohesion on its own. But for all that, France would be wrong to deny itself this passing pleasure. In a context of continuing political and social gloom, the national team's victory is likely to boost French morale. It is a sign of confidence in its youth, and such a healthy breath of optimism comes right on time.