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Talks with Mircea Malița: on French events

Virginia MIRCEA

style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: ''; mso-fareast-font-family: ''; mso-ansi-language: RO; mso-fareast-language: RO; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">In '68 a protest broke out which was explicitly rooted in a doctrine - a motley doctrine, it's true, but one with a comprehensive message of revolt against institutions, against the establishment, of regaining all liberties, including the erotic one. Now it all started out from a law paragraph.

Disquieting events are taking place in France. Students' massive protests over a legislative text they find unacceptable, a general strike to prove solidarity with the students, clashes, arrests, Sorbonne besieged, services paralysed. Is it a reiteration of the '68 revolution?

The analogy is valid up to a point. In '68 a protest broke out which was explicitly rooted in a doctrine - a motley doctrine, it's true, but one with a comprehensive message of revolt against institutions, against the establishment, of regaining all liberties, including the erotic one. Now it all started out from a law paragraph. An apparently minor fact. This is rather suggestive of the chaos theory, where a tiny change generates huge effects. It's the flapping of a butterfly's wings which, over the ocean, gives rise to a tornado. Although seasoned with street protests, for the time being this is only a legal dispute. The Government offers arguments to substantiate the decision. The measure they identified is constitutional. They want to talk, to negotiate, to explain, but they bump into a brick wall. You drop the law, or else we will go on protesting.


In France, taking contentions to the street seems to have become a tradition. It's a specific move, the protest in the open, noisily and furiously.

France is indeed the country of rebellion, the one which since 1648 has been using the term "sling" to express opposition (the "fronde"). It is the country of revolutions, of uprising. De Gaulle believed the French people to be "hard to govern." This is worth taking into account as well. But then again, each event is like a window: it unveils more in-depth trends, themes that are more difficult to overlook. In this case, we need to step into the realm of economic philosophy and of the major contemporary processes.


Isn't this somehow closing a commonplace conflict, giving it a scope which it doesn't actually deserve?

Indeed, the topic at stake here may seem commonplace. As a legislative measure, it paves the way for private companies to hire young employees, but at the same time it adds the possibility for these young employees to be sacked within two years, if they don't meet professional requirements. The intention is good, commendable even. Unemployment is a plague that has been burdening the French society for decades now. Ten per cent is huge. For the 15 to 24 age category, it reaches 24 per cent. The US rings the alarm if figures get over five per cent. This is a small step being taken in view of making things easier: a number of unemployed people, particularly young ones, have better chances to find a job.


Apparently students don't see it like this. They only notice the temporary character of their new condition. They are not guaranteed from the very start that general employment contract that secures their job stability. This is discrimination, a breach of their rights.

Which brings us to more general considerations. The time of the Western welfare States of the post-WW2 era has gone. They no longer have the means to cover the huge social security expenses, including unemployment aid, public health, public education, pension rights for an ageing population, which France has superbly and generously offered. The key political philosophy concept for the French is "the State," which must ensure citizens' protection at all levels. But Liberal capitalism shifts the focus, the responsibility on the individual, who lives under the market competition circumstances. Other countries have reached the conclusion that in order to be dynamic and productive, an economy must have a mobile and available workforce, subject to the rules of free market. There is domestic protectionism in terms of the labour market. In other countries an employer is not hindered by legal texts when it comes to getting rid of an inefficient or incompetent employee. But where the law guarantees employee immovability, then employees will cling on to the respective job. If we look at it in terms of basic rights, this may seem legitimate, but for modern economy this is a paralysing factor. Unless it is flexible, the economy becomes a loser.


It is true that economists around the world fail to understand the French uprising. An American magazine was writing that "protesting students in France believe that, if they march long enough and burn enough cars, they are making a better future for themselves. They should be so lucky."But the scope of the French protests indicates that the Government's measure has touched a sensitive spot of the French society. Students will not accept to be a "Kleenex" generation, the disposable tissues you can use and then throw away. Their reluctance as to a Liberalism they call "ultra-Liberalism" was clearly and unequivocally expressed in the referendum on the European Constitution, to which they said no. So it was predictable that they would now react in the same manner. As a politician, when you know what's ahead, don't you make the necessary preparations, discussions, debates, consultations, approval of various bodies and so on?

I am not the advocate of the official position. Anyway, there is this ill-timing of politicians' decisions (and we learned this from the "European constitution" experience) and the objective shared around Europe and evident in the Lisbon agenda ("we will win the race of world competition!") which cannot be achieved within a rigid economic tradition. The contrast between France and England is tale-telling. There, a Socialist, Tony Blair, spoke about "a third way," in which Socialism discarded some of its economic prejudices, some of them seen as utopian. And look at the results now. The "third way" was emphatically rejected by the French left. Unemployment in UK was five per cent in mid-March, therefore offering a lot more opportunities at a social level. Everybody speaks about innovation, all the research and education is targeted at innovation. But innovation requires the freedom to innovate and to act. Just count the number of documents and approvals one needs in order to start up a business in the US, in UK, in France and other European states, and then look at the number of patents registered in these countries. You may call the reduction of bureaucracy and rigidity whatever you like, but you will see that this is what the dynamics of a society depends on. It's not a matter of doctrine, it's a matter of common sense.


Regardless of the issue at stake in France, political parties are involved. The left has played its trump card, counting on the wearing out and vulnerability of the Right while in Power. But there's no knowing whether this erosion will be a lot lower than expected, if the right manages to keep its position.

Indeed, this may be a draw, with teachings for each side. Protests will not escalate unless additional causes come up: violence and repression. But exams are drawing near, people will have difficulties accepting not to travel by subway or living in such uncertainty. I don't believe there will be a new '68; an alarm, at most. On the other hand, if this goes on, out of that stubbornness that defines all their symbols and battles, we should not forget that wounds may turn into gangrenes.

by Virginia MIRCEA

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 36


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Institutul de Proiecte pentru Inovatie si Dezvoltare The National Centre for Sustainable Development