Iran, ’68 and all that

June 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Michelet, in his famous history of the French revolution relates the story of an aristocrat disguised as a peasant, fleeing Robespierre’s Terror for the safety of what it is now Belgium. Feeling peckish while still in France, he entered a tavern. When invited to order, he eagerly called for a twelve egg omelette, and thus sealed his own fate. Unmasked as a toff, he was dispatched back to Paris to, one suspects, an unpleasant fate.

Such a story springs to mind after a recent article covered here at Presseurop. British Airways, it seems, is doing so badly that CEO Willie Walsh has sent out an invitation to the company’s 40,000 employees that in order to “fight for our survival” employees should go without wages for up to a month. Walsh strangely believes he can lead by example by proudly announcing that he will forgo his own July intake, a modest £62,000 pounds out a total of £743,000 per annum “basic”. This is nearly seventy times more than the annual wage a member of cabin crew pockets. However, Walsh still expects “volunteers” to turn up by June 24 and share in his vast sense of personal sacrifice.

There is something so charmingly naive about Walsh’s idea that it has a whiff of the Ancien Régime about it. And who says Ancien Régime in 2009 suggests that our crisis ridden time is ripe for revolt. But wait. Since last year’s May 68 commemorations, it seems that not a week goes by without someone wondering if we’re not entering a new patch of historical turbulence. Witness a recent piece in the New Statesman by Andrew Hussey, in which he focuses on Olivier Besancenot’s NPA (Anti-Capitalist Party) apparently the darling of French youth, and very much a party that sometimes wittily exploits the great abyss that lies between the great and good’s perceptions of life’s trials, and those of us muddlers on planet Earth.

Witty, but not nearly so captivating that Besancenot could talk a single seat out of France’s fed up electorate in the recent European elections. The answer might be in the party’s name. NPA might be anti-captalist, but the moniker fails to suggest a direction forwards. A look at its manifesto and what you get is the long road back – a call to salvage the remains of the walfare state, in other words a sixty year old post World War 2 consensus. Nothing wrong with that as such, but hardly surprising then that French writer Julian Coupat should have said in an interview with Le Monde that NPA has got something of the “Stalinist grey” about it.

It may be all journalists’ dreams, and yet, all these 68 headlines suggest there’s a longing out there for the intoxications of the past, the dangers of doing over a cynical old order. Among the moody young, there’s definitely much apprehension as to what that unlikely philosopher Johnny Rotten once called the “third-rate reality” we live in. Right now, there can’t be anything more redolent of a third rate reality than what Iranians bore witness to last week, when a creaking power most probably frauded its own re-election. There’s something so compelling about watching millions of protestors in the streets of Teheran asking for their vote back that we would rather forget that the people’s champion Mir-Hossein Moussavi, as several commentators have pointed out, has also got a big streak of Stalinist grey running through his soul. Now that the mood in Iran sours, as the regime looks to be brazening its electoral theft out, Libération editor Laurent Joffrin is apologising for the left-leaning French daily’s jumping-the-gun “Teheran Spring” headline last Saturday. And yet, couldn’t all these Iran and 68 fantasies suggest that here in the west there’s some as yet inarticulate sense that our freedom is also thwarted? Maybe. In the meantime, though, in the absence of any credible alternative, our leaders can go on ordering giant omelettes.

Gerry Feehily @ Presseurop

Photo : Hamed Saber

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Berlusconi laughs all the way to the polls – Presseurop

June 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Berlusconi laughs all the way to the polls – Presseurop

If you’re from the left, you might have reasons to dislike Silvio Berlusconi. A provisional list could include recent pronouncements against a multi ethnic Italy, backed up by draconian anti-immigration laws, the fact his coalition partners the Northern Alliance press for preferential seating for “native” Milanese. All this must be fairly obnoxious to anyone with progressive instincts.

Then there’s the eternal question as to the source of his personal fortune, his ownership of 50% of the national media, his recurring abuses of power. And yet no amount of financial dirt and dodgy deals has failed to make him so unpopular that he can’t win an election or two. His approval ratings rarely go below 50%, and as Italy votes for the European elections today, his Populo della Liberta stand to win 45%, if polls are accurate.

This is no doubt deeply frustrating for the Italian left. But it doesn’t quite explain why left-leaning journal La Repubblica has taken Madame Berlusconi’s pending divorce to heart, publishing ten questions to the Calviere about his supposed relations with eighteen year old starlet Noemi Letizia. Without much effect it would seem.

No doubt there’s something ridiculous, if not embarrassing, and maybe even illegal, about what might be a 72’s year old’s passion for a Lolita. But in what way does it advance the left’s cause? Sex scandals have a habit of working in both political directions. And yet over a decade ago not even Bill Clinton’s enemies in the Republican right benefited from the Monica Lewinsky affair. However, it seems no coincidence that since then, even on this side of the Atlantic, we have had to endure cheese and ham pieties about the blissful marriages our candidates enjoy. As if it were any of our business.

Berlusconi complains his critics attack him on Letizia because they have no “political ideas”. This is disingenuous, since he has been instrumental in trivializing Italian politics, via his TV stations, and the gaggle of bimbos he has put forward on the Populo della Liberta’s ticket for the coming elections. And yet he has a point. As political analyst Ilana Bet-El argued recently, “we are the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930’s and yet the left is nowhere”. Mainly because it no longer knows what its values are. What follows then is that in an ideological vacuum, it has erected itself as a guardian of morality. No surprise then that that other guardian of morality, the Catholic church, should have recently waded in exhorting the prime minister to be “sober and sombre” in his manner. Sombreness, usually appropriate for funerals, is certainly not the air Mr Berlusconi will adopt as he buries an increasingly sanctimonious left.

Gerry Feehily

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