Dear Monsieur President: Hard Advice On France's Future For François Hollande

Essay: Dominique Moisi, a special advisor at the French Institute of International Relations, has a few words of advice for president-elect François Hollande. His first plea: Let's not waste the next five years.

Celebrating Hollande's victory (romytetue)
Celebrating Hollande's victory (romytetue)
Alexenia Dimitrova

Dear Mr. President...It has been a tough ride, but you've won, thanks in part to your energy, tenacity and confidence. These qualities are essential for winning power -- and even more so, for exercising it.

Your responsibility is huge and can be summed up by a slightly provocative plea: "Please don't let us waste the next five years." Neither France nor Europe can afford it. France because it lacks self-confidence, which is feeding populist shifts and protectionist fantasies; Europe because, today more than ever, the European Union is not the problem but the solution. It needs an open, inventive, creative and modern France -- a France that, instead of being a source of worry, is one of hope and recovery.

So please do not set the wrong goals, means and methods in the first weeks of your presidency. France cannot afford the luxury to take the wrong track for two years before pulling itself together. Like the vast majority of the Western world, our country has been living far beyond its means for decades. It has to start over, a clean slate.

The challenge is as much an ethical one, as it is political, economical and social. Without extending social justice, dramatically changing our lifestyles would be simply unacceptable. Fairness and realism go hand in hand. Alas, justice cannot be the sole objective in our globalized, competitive real world. In northern Europe, where countries today serve as our role models, there is no contradiction between social justice and economic liberalism.

Just the right dose of state intervention

In between deterring the rich and humiliating the poor, there is a middle ground that is found through moderation and common sense. France needs dynamic, innovative companies that are able to conquer global markets. The state cannot act as a proxy for them. Its role is to protect the weak and encourage the creativity of its most dynamic citizens, their efforts and their enterprises. And it cannot, by itself, kick-start the economy.

Admittedly, France and Europe, like the United States, need major investments in their infrastructure. There are many fields where our level of innovation, compared with the ones of new emerging Asian countries, is no longer competitive. But in 2012, when you take into account the state of our finances and the reasonable and necessary constraints of the European Union, dreaming of simply implementing a big French or European "New Deal" is simply not realistic.

It's precisely because a country cannot save itself with government intervention alone that it is an error to place the emphasis on border controls. The best protection is to win back our self-confidence by putting the focus on creativity, competitiveness and excellence. In that sense, there are lessons to be learned from the hugely successful German automobile industry.

Defining our place in today's world

During the French presidential campaign, there was an unhealthy obsession with the German model as an ideal (are we even playing in the same league?), matched only with an otherwise total indifference toward the rest of the world. During the lone debate last week between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, the word "China" was not mentioned even a single time – watching this spectacle, you might have thought that we were in another era. It was as if the fear of Islam, or the denunciation of how this fear is exaggerated, was the only thing that mattered, instead of having a meaningful discussion about today's world, of which neither Europe nor the United States is the center.

Understanding today's new world requires a diplomacy based on respect, a mix of open-mindedness and good listening, which is the best protection against isolationism and nationalism.

In short, more than ever our country need courageous long-term reforms. Reconciliation is a legitimate objective, one that puts an end to vindictiveness and the ideological slippery slope the country was on. France needs a teacher, someone who is patient, humble and full of common sense; someone who is able to bring France together, to reassure its citizens and -- at last -- set the nation on the path of reform.

Read the original article in French

Photo - romytetue

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

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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