Mine enemy’s enemy

by John Quiggin on November 6, 2005

I haven’t got enough information on the riots in France, to make any useful comment on what’s happening, except an obvious one, that the Chirac government has made an awful mess of things.

In this context, there’s an expectation about that leftists should defend Chirac and his government, and therefore be embarrassed by his failures. The first time this expectation arose was when (thanks to poor performance and co-ordination on the left) Chirac ended up in a run-off against Le Pen for the presidency in 2002. Hence it was necessary for the left to campaign for a strong vote against Le Pen and, necessarily, for Chirac. Then in 2003, Chirac’s government led the opposition to the Iraq war at the UN, by virtue of its permanent membership of the UNSC, rather than because of its great moral standing. Still, the war had to be opposed, and Chirac therefore had to be supported.

But this can only go so far. Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common. There’s little doubt that, if Chirac had the kind of global power that Bush does, he’d abuse it in exactly the same way. Australians and New Zealanders, who’ve seen Chirac and his predecessors throwing their weight around in the South Pacific (long used as the site for French nuclear tests), are well aware of this. The same kind of heavy-handedness is evident in domestic policy and seems to have contributed to the riots.

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1

a 11.06.05 at 6:50 am

I’m not sure where Chirac comes into the race riots. He’s responsible for foreign policy, not domestic affairs. It’s the government – de Villepin and especially Sarkozy – which is responsible.

2

Charlie B. 11.06.05 at 6:55 am

Brilliant (if I may be sarcastic without being guilty of flaming). And piles of comments too! Strangely, knowing nothing about New Orleans did not stop CT and its commentspeople from weighing in with general analyses and views of the President’s responsibility to do something. One problem is that, so near at hand, the extent of criminal involvement (and sheer opportunistic vandalism) are sufficiently evident to vitiate a pure “racism and poverty” analysis… “But this can only go so far” gets my prize for neo-Stalinist parody of the week.

3

Brendan 11.06.05 at 6:55 am

I’m sorry? Since when are we playing ‘my enemies enemy’? Chirac has done some good things, but his motives were almost always bad. Most sane people would agree with his stand over the war, but not even a wide eyed Francophile would pretend that his primary motive in opposing it was the welfare of the Iraqi people.

As for why ‘the left’ would support him: to be honest I have no idea where that comes from. Chirac stands for ‘lower tax rates, the removal of price controls, strong punishments for crime and terrorism; and … privatization’.

Moreover he is a crook, even though Glenn Reynolds says so.

Incidentally, the anti-Arab Muslim propaganda machine is spinning the events in France as being due to the failure of ‘multiculturalism’. But my understand was that France was one of the few European countries that did not espouse multiculturalism but instead had a system far closer to the American ‘melting point’ (cf the debate over headscarves in schools). Does anyone know anything about this?

4

Charlie B. 11.06.05 at 7:00 am

“I’m not sure where Chirac comes into the race riots. He’s responsible for foreign policy, not domestic affairs. It’s the government – de Villepin and especially Sarkozy – which is responsible.” And Bush is responsible for foreign policy, and has nothing to do with responsibility for hurricane responses. What an extraordinary reading of French constitutional arrangements. But who cares? These things only matter when Bush is the subject.

5

Isabel 11.06.05 at 7:30 am

“But my understand was that France was one of the few European countries that did not espouse multiculturalism but instead had a system far closer to the American ‘melting point’”.

I don’t think the French system is anywhere close to the American one: for example, it would be unthinkable for the French to have administrations issuing official papers or information in anything else but French (as opposed to, say, election information in the States). There is one official language that you are suppose to know as a citizen (which is not the case in the US), and there is the expectation that you become a “mainstream citizen”. On the other hand, I think that is true for most European countries. It is my understanding that the English system is closer to the American one in that it allows for separate communities to live their own way, much more so than the southern european countries, Germany, etc (I’m not sure where I would place the Swedes in this, though). But maybe someone else has a more sound knowledge on this.
In any case, it’s obvious that both the French and the English, with their different systems, are having problems with, or aound, their immigrant youths, and so are the Dutch, the Spaniards, the Portuguese, etc. Economical crisis? Cultural crisis? I don’t know, but I’m not so sure it is just a political question.

6

Kevin Donoghue 11.06.05 at 7:47 am

Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common.

Maybe this is true. I would like to see comments from people who follow French politics more closely than I do, but it seems to me that US Republicans have at least as much in common with the Front National. Le Pen is in favour of tough law-and-order policies, the death penalty and restricting immigration. He is hostile to the EU, the liberal elite and the media. I suppose his anti-Semitism and belittling of the Holocaust would rule him out as a Republican Party candidate. Also he has actually practised torture, rather than just being an apologist for it. That might turn off the squeamish. But in most respects surely he is their kind of guy?

I’m not embarrassed by Chirac’s failure any more than I was by Jimmy Carter’s. I am a bit worried about what sort of person the French may turn to for a solution.

7

yabonn 11.06.05 at 7:48 am

You’re being charitable, i think, thinking that considerations about the last election influences the durable neurosis of the american wackos about Chirac – or France. Too elaborate, imho. Think gruntings.

Chirac, as of now, is invisible. The old crook will probably reappear for some presidentializing when things get better -don’t get associated with negative things.

As for the riots, Sarkozy is, imho, part of the problem. During that crisis, he’s in the media everywhere talking about “rabble” : the midget from the rich 16eme arrondissement enjoys his tough guy pose. It’s good for the rightist vote, and good to differenciate himself from the Chirac/Villepin duo -they are at each others’ throats.

That’s quite some gasoline already on the situation of the suburbs – the result of years of mishandling and ignorance of the problem.

From what i saw of the coverage of the riots, the Russian press talks in fact about Tchetchenia, the US about European Arab Muslim Commies from Hell and don’t you feel sorry now huh?, and the Beeb tried to pin this to the veil.

For now, it’s still cars burning because of discrimination, political fuckups and a perceived injustice.

8

Chris W. 11.06.05 at 7:51 am

I agree with your general drift, but:

* This is not Chirac’s government, but Villepin’s (who is officially the “chef du gouvernement”). From Chirac’s point of view, it is a compromise government with “his man” Villepin balanced against his most dangerous rival Sarkozy.
* By virtue of his office, the riots (and, parenthetically, the incident/accident that triggered the first instances of unrest) fall into Sarkozy’s resort. He’s also the one who is rightly attacked for fanning the violence in a number of ways.
* Villepin made some problematic statements, too, but right now he’s capitalizing on the criticism Sarkozy receives. Part of this is mechanical: His (and Chirac’s) enemy being in the crossfire protects Villepin from the attacks that would otherwise be directed at him. Villepin looks inept, but Sarkozy appears to be intentionally playing with fire.
* Having voted for Chirac in 2002 makes the left-leaning French less likely to support Chirac now. Many hate him, themselves and of course Jospin for having “forced” them to cast a vote they’d never have dreamt they’d cast. It seems to me the degree to which half the French citizens detest Chirac is quite badly understood outside France. I don’t think it’s any less virulent than the rejection of the US president by the Democratically inclined Americans. I’ve seen many discussions among French friends in which some virulent criticism of Bush was prevented from descending into a diatribe by someone saying “On a bien voté pour Chirac” — paraphrasing, “we’re not much better, we voted for Chirac after all”.

(Personally, and somewhat cynically, I think that if Sarkozy politically survives this at all, he’ll benefit from his wild-eyed law-and-order language in the long run. His succeeding Chirac at the top job has become, in my view, more likely, not less.)

9

nick s 11.06.05 at 7:52 am

The French debate has been in terms of of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ laïcité. The Gaullist model tries to pretend that ethnic and religious differences don’t exist or matter in public life. (There are similiarities in the Dutch model of ‘tolerance’, which often results in segregation.)

And while it’s false that Chirac has no role to play here, his recent hospitalisation created an opening for de Villepin and Sarkozy to start jockeying for 2007. It’s up to Chirac to end this nasty pissing contest — especially Sarkozy’s comments, aimed at a constituency that probably leans towards Le Pen — before more people get killed.

(As a Token European among Americans this weekend, I did my best to explain that, no, the French government is not commie pinko socialists.)

10

yabonn 11.06.05 at 8:04 am

wide eyed Francophile would pretend that his primary motive in opposing it was the welfare of the Iraqi people

Arm, well maybe not.

But it’s funny that he should be compelled to find a good reason _not_ to go to war. It’s the other guys who should be compelled to find a good reason to go to war, no?

Besides, the inbedwithsaddam is so, like, 2003. Good old days. Them french bomb parts! Bomb triggers! Ammos! Missiles! Intelligence! Passports!

11

bert 11.06.05 at 8:06 am

John says: Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common.

Under a presidential system which gives the head of state much more leeway in foreign policy than domestic affairs, an unprincipled conservative hack with a weakness for indulging in political thuggery wins a controversial election. Keen to bolster his flimsy legitimacy, he exploits a major crisis to pursue a self-serving agenda where hypocritical appeals to high principle mask grubby calculations of electoral advantage derived from nationalist grandstanding.

Phew.

If I loathe Bush more than Chirac it is only because Bush, having much more power, both has more scope to act and does more damage by acting as he does.

12

Scott Martens 11.06.05 at 8:10 am

I saw on TF1 – I think it was TF1 – a guy talking about how he expects this to continue until French police end up shooting someone, accidentally or quasi-accidentally, and then things will really get out of control.

Don’t listen to American media about this. The problem is interpreted in France – as far as I can tell from the French news – as a failure of exactly the kind of policy many American conservatives support with respect to its own minorities: pretending that since the law recognises no such thing as ethnicity, and the legal code forbids discrimination, that therefore if people lack opportunity, it’s their own fault; and if they riot, it should be treated as no more than common crime.

Sarkozy hears complaints about crime in the projects – legitimate complaints to be sure, put forward by the residents of those projects – and sends more police to the projects. Unsurprisingly, these same police treat all the residents of the projects as potential criminals. Net result: life gets worse rather than better. This story should sound awfully familiar to Americans.

The French right is useless on any issue related to empowerment. The French left is, regrettably, often not a hell of a lot better. The notion that crime and poor social integration in the banlieue may have more to do with a lack of economic opportunity or any sense of having a stake and a say in French governance than with Islamist and criminal conspiracies seems to be a notion outside of the French political cognition. Instead of actually empowering people, instead of giving them a stake in the existing institutions, the French response is to order them to be more French. In a France where having an Arab last name is often enough to keep you from finding a decent job, this is akin to King Canut outlawing the tide.

13

yabonn 11.06.05 at 8:13 am

On a bien voté pour Chirac

Hih. Done that. I have a friend from US, in the process of getting French citizenship also. I can never resist : “so, which do you prefer : the country that reelected Bush or the one that reelected Chirac?” :)

14

John Emerson 11.06.05 at 9:16 am

Wait a minute! You forgot to say anything about how much Australians drink! You forgot to mention that American has a much higher murder rate than France! You din’t say anything about Katrina or Karl Rove!

Evading the subject as usual.

15

abb1 11.06.05 at 9:24 am

Isn’t all this very much in line with French revolutionary and especially anarchist traditions?

Nos pères ont jadis dansé
Au son du canon du passé;
Maintenant la danse tragique
Veut une plus forte musique:
Dynamitons, dynamitons.

16

a 11.06.05 at 9:51 am

bert:

You left out that both Presidents are implementing policies to enrich the better off at the expense of the rest of the population.

This really is an international phenomenon, as a globalized caste of wealthy are increasingly disdainful of the larger good and, by corrupting the political process, demanding and receiving benefits from the nation-state.

17

otto 11.06.05 at 9:54 am

“There’s little doubt that, if Chirac had the kind of global power that Bush does, he’d abuse it in exactly the same way. Australians and New Zealanders, who’ve seen Chirac and his predecessors throwing their weight around in the South Pacific (long used as the site for French nuclear tests), are well aware of this.”

If the Australians and New Zealanders had the kind of global power that the US does, they’d abuse it in the same way too. Welcome to international relations.

The real difference between US methods for incorporating immigrants and all European ones is not ideologiies of integration or multi-culturalism but rather that in the US if you have well-organised ethnic groups, you soon have Members of Congress, and soon the President is kissing your ring to get those votes in Illinois. In European countries with much higher barriers to entry and much more centralised and bureaucratised politics (true of all of them, without exception), there’s no room for immigrant advancement and incorporation into the political system by good old/bad old fashioned retail politics.

18

roger 11.06.05 at 9:55 am

L’humanite’s headlines said it best about the riots: Sarkozy: pyromane pompier. Generally, Sarkozy seems to be using the riots to step in as an acceptable substitute for Le Pen, in the way that Nixon tried to take Wallace voters. He did show that Villepen has no roots in the right’s parties outside of Chirac.

It will be interesting if the Socialists finally wake up from the various tactical disasters they have been making — especially the uber-elitist support for the constitution, and their refusal to take advantage of the opening Fabius gave them by opposing the constitution. I’m rather heartened that Fabius has joined forces with the alternative left. It will be interesting to see his reaction to the riots and, especially, the aftermath, which will probably be reactionary.

19

Bro. Bartleby 11.06.05 at 9:55 am

Kind of obvious that Europe is a gathers of tribes where blood and ethnicity counts. America is an idea, to be an American you embrace the ideas and ideals found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and no matter the current government, and how much they disregard those ideas and ideals, the ideas and ideals still live. In Europe, no matter how you attempt to revise the truth, the facts remain, your blood and ethnicity determine who you are, and instead of the hope of the ideas and ideals that Americans have, the dreams of Europeans are not forward, but backward, to return to the purity of their ancestors … the Gauls, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, …

20

a 11.06.05 at 9:57 am

“Instead of actually empowering people…”

A fine sentiment but … Which country with a lot of poor immigrants does better? England had its race riots, America has them every so often (not counting New Orleans…), Germany has its neo-Nazis, …

The French are brutally fair in their manner of letting people make their way out of poverty: it is to do well at school, especially in mathematics.

21

Uncle Kvetch 11.06.05 at 10:09 am

In this context, there’s an expectation about that leftists should defend Chirac and his government, and therefore be embarrassed by his failures.

Not to pile on, but this comment mystified me. Yes, Chirac was right about Iraq. But it wouldn’t occur to me for a moment to consider his opposition principled–as someone who’s observed French politics on and off (and mostly from a distance) for almost 20 years, I don’t think “Chirac” and “principled” belong in the same sentence.

With the riots coming less than 6 months after the “Non” vote on the European constitution, I can only imagine the degree of “Something better change” in political discussions in France right now. Fortunately for Chirac, de Villepin & Sarkozy, the current French left seems about as effective in channeling this revulsion as the Democrats are in opposing Bush–i.e., just this side of hopeless.

22

Procrastinator 11.06.05 at 11:01 am

==> wide eyed Francophile would pretend that his primary motive in opposing it was the welfare of the Iraqi people

I know a good many wide-eyed Francophiles who have apoplexies at remarks that French spooks blow up foreign ships in foreign ports and kill foreign jounalists, or who’d be shouting from the rooftops if the Yanks had massacred Hispanics on the streets of Washington in 1961 under the command of a former Nazi police-chief.

Charlie B. was likely right when he said CTers happily waded in against Bush over NO, but are going swithering to give Chirac or the French-state the benefit of the doubt, but he/she/it could have shown to decency of waiting until more than one reply had been posted.

Whatever the whys and wherefores of Zenna and Traore’s guilt/innocence, and the facts behind their entering the sub-station, it’s a distraction. Nicolas “you’re French and French only until you misbehave, when you become immigrant scum” Sarkozy no doubt thinks that all French citizens should adapt to a secular dream based, funnily enough, on European culture.

==> The French are brutally fair in their manner of letting people make their way out of poverty: it is to do well at school, especially in mathematics.

Yup, just as the banning of the hijab public/government contexts wasn’t unreasonable, but when individuals such as the fantastically hirsuit Education Minister suggests, in all apparent seriousness, that beards should be banned if they have a reli… no… *overtly* religious meaning, one wonders if something do-lally has happened.

==> There’s little doubt that, if Chirac had the kind of global power that Bush does, he’d abuse it in exactly the same way.

Sorry, I had to post that ‘cos it makes me larf.

==> Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common.

And the fact that they have a nuclear arsenal not under Dr. Strangelove’s command.

==> America is an idea, to be an American you embrace the ideas and ideals found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and no matter the current government, and how much they disregard those ideas and ideals, the ideas and ideals still live.

This idea was founded when slave were owned, and during the first expansions to evict Injuns from their lands. There may have been an idea that life, liberty and the pursuit of hopi-nests would be nice, but the early USA was seen as being population and ruled by these same Europeans.

23

jim 11.06.05 at 11:09 am

“Hence it was necessary for the left to campaign for a strong vote against Le Pen and, necessarily, for Chirac.”

Scarcely necessary. The French left chose to campaign this way, rather than be irrelevant. One of the more dangerous forms of lesser-evilism.

24

Scott Martens 11.06.05 at 11:09 am

A fine sentiment but … Which country with a lot of poor immigrants does better?

Canada.

25

Procrastinator 11.06.05 at 11:39 am

Oh, I was wondering when someone’d broach the subject of those liberal gay-tolerant, cannibas-decriminalizing, socially-minded Canuckistanis… oh, wait…

And Jim, dontchamean ‘lesser-weavilism’?

26

Scott Martens 11.06.05 at 11:40 am

Procrastinator, you are missing the point about America, a nation of ideals. Take a look at French history: A brutal absolutist monarchy is overthrown by the arch-type popular revolution, which descends into chaos and slaughter, then sets out to conquer all of its neighbours. It fails, and this is folowed by over a century of nativist and classist rule through a relatively democratic but deeply dysfunctional system of government. France has been a land of slavery, ethnic cleansing, large doses of racism, anti-semitism, streaks of unshakeable belief in its own cultural superiority and land grabs big and small – all utterly unacceptable by modern standards of behaviour and some pretty dubious by the standards of the time – as well as treaty violations, dishonesty, self-serving behaviour – the whole lot.

All this is every bit as true of American history, but there is a huge difference. Americans really believe theirs is a land of ideas – that America is one and the same as the land under the jurisdiction of the United States constitution and the land where the ideals in it hold sway. When you point out that America has been the bad guy at least as often as the good guy, you are attacking the very essence of Americanness. When you say the same about France, most French people will shrug and say, “Yup, our ancestors were bigoted bastards. Our national glories were usually somebody else’s national tragedies. Our nation is built on top of a lot of blood. So what? We shouldn’t act that way nowadays, but that’s how all nations’ histories look.” France is simply the land where people are French. When France does crappy things, it does not abnegate the essence of Frenchness in the minds of French people, because France is neither an ideal nor a policy, it is an identity.

Americans are not shitting you when they say theirs is a nation of ideas – that is why so many of America’s soi-disant patriots have to deny or minimise every ugly moment and every injustice in American history instead of facing their past. That’s why Michelle Malkin and her ilk feel the need to defend indefensible policies like the Japanese interment in WWII; why the same kind of people have to deny slavery and segregation, or have to reduce or deny the injustices of Americans treatment of its aboriginals, or for those who can’t rationalise those things, they have to imagine them as flaws in American ideals that must have always, intrinsically, been opposed to them. Every real injustice perpetuated in American history undermines America the ideal, and every one done today is even harder to rationalise.

But the shoe goes on the other foot in France. France as an abstraction isn’t diminished by the many awful things done by its policies or in its name. But to live in France – to expect to participate in its society – without fully accepting Frenchness as an identity is as serious an attack on the basis for the state as an attack on US history is on America. France is the nation where people are French, and to have people in it who are not French and cannot or will not become French is a far, far more brutal blow to it than the same situation would ever be in America.

27

Procrastinator 11.06.05 at 11:52 am

I’m sorry, has my criticism of France been too oblique? My comment was mostly certainly not a statement that the #ideals# behind the founding of the US were flawed, go back and re-read. My comment was a reposte to the good brother that Old Europe is always going to pine after a racially pure yesteryear, while the US – being founded by the said same ethnic groups – is somehow better equipped to avoid this (200 years of history notwithstanding).

If Americans can adapt to multi-ethnic societies, why the bleedin’ ‘eck should we not?

28

Procrastinator 11.06.05 at 11:53 am

Now I need a lie down, I’ve written far too much in the past half hour.

29

a 11.06.05 at 12:12 pm

Scott: The French proudly refer to themselves as the nation that gave the world “human rights.” So I don’t think your story that the French are just cynical bastards really holds water.

You should also know that most immigrants in fact do consider themselves French. The parents of the two children who died in the tragedy which started the riots, made an appeal for a stop to the violence by saying, “France doesn’t deserve this.”

Also, your remark of Canada. Can you honestly not think of a few reasons (mix of immigrants, history, ..) why there is a difference in the success ratio, or do you honestly believe this is due to “empowerment”?

30

George Carty 11.06.05 at 12:24 pm

wide eyed Francophile would pretend that his primary motive in opposing it was the welfare of the Iraqi people

No, my bet on the reason for French opposition to regime change in Iraq is “Better Saddam than Shari’ah” (with Algeria as the example).

31

Uncle Kvetch 11.06.05 at 12:25 pm

The French proudly refer to themselves as the nation that gave the world “human rights.” So I don’t think your story that the French are just cynical bastards really holds water.

And as Scott pointed out, they’re far more likely than Americans to acknowledge that the ideals and the reality have often been wildly divergent. So I don’t think that does anything to undermine Scott’s argument.

In fact, I’d like to compliment Scott on that post–he encapsulates a lot of disparate ideas that have been knocking around in my head for the last week wrt France. I think he nailed it, frankly.

32

yabonn 11.06.05 at 12:28 pm

When France does crappy things, it does not abnegate the essence of Frenchness in the minds of French people, because France is neither an ideal nor a policy, it is an identity.

Americans are not shitting you when they say theirs is a nation of ideas –

Jingoism as a consequence of an abstract country? That’s the optimistic point of view, i suppose.

But France is a rather abstract country too : see the attention given to early education (to pass on the values), the soil rather than blood rules for citizenship, the history of Parisian centralism, then history of immigration waves, etc.

But precisely, what you learn in these temples of the republic -schools- is that France has its share of crappiness, along with the ideals.

More generally, a reasoned view of one country’s history seems to be the norm in developped countries. It’s rather the Malkin style jingoism that’s, well, “exceptional”.

33

Matt McIrvin 11.06.05 at 12:36 pm

Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common.

I’m not even sure that’s it. Most of the France-bashing I hear here is from people who don’t have any idea what party Chirac belongs to or what his ideology is. I suspect that if you asked most US Republicans they’d say he’s a socialist.

34

abb1 11.06.05 at 1:02 pm

Certainly ‘American’ is as much an identity as ‘French’. And clearly there’s the ‘idea’ of France as well. It’s just that the French ‘idea’ is older and more skeptical about itself, that’s all; too many zealots in America, and, recently, a lot of overzealous converts.

35

Alex 11.06.05 at 1:11 pm

Of course it’s the Eurabian Intifada! That’ll be why they keep arresting white people… Snark off. There’s one very good reason why people apparently think that the left supports Jacques Chirac – that is that a certain kind of American believes that “not invading Iraq” is a sufficient definition of “left”, and also that “left”=”evil”.

Anyone with any sense knows that Chirac is preserved from being an intolerable rightwing goon only by his unprincipled, morally bankrupt self-seeking.

36

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.05 at 2:41 pm

“In this context, there’s an expectation about that leftists should defend Chirac and his government, and therefore be embarrassed by his failures. The first time this expectation arose was when (thanks to poor performance and co-ordination on the left) Chirac ended up in a run-off against Le Pen for the presidency in 2002. Hence it was necessary for the left to campaign for a strong vote against Le Pen and, necessarily, for Chirac.”

I think the expectation that leftists should defend France (if not Chirac) is because the problems are deeply tied to the socialist system. The high-unemployment (young and Muslim) immigrants are the price France pays while supporting its system for the older and whiter citizens. This pattern long predates Chirac’s involvement with it and cuts to the heart of what successful non-Communist socialism (which is to say the modern left) is supposed to be about.

37

praktike 11.06.05 at 2:46 pm

I don’t think it’s fair to blame Chirac for a longstanding problem, and as others have pointed out it’s Sarkozy’s area of responsibility coupled with the involvement of the French parliament.

38

Bob B 11.06.05 at 2:48 pm

John Quiggin: “I haven’t got enough information on the riots in France, to make any useful comment”

On the motivation of the rioters, try this from the OECD, published earlier in the year before the riots started:

OECD Economic Survey of France, 2005: Policy Brief
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/57/55/35006471.pdf

Quote:

“France has high productivity per hour worked and a sophisticated social welfare system, but it also suffers from low labour force participation and high structural unemployment. This poor labour market performance contributes to a persistent budget deficit which is exacerbating, rather than alleviating, the fiscal pressures arising from ageing.”

“The unemployment rate is currently 10% and has not been below 8% for twenty years, even at the cyclical peak of the late 1990s. There is room for discussion about the precise quantitative effects of strict employment protection and the minimum wage. But these effects, combined with the uncertainty over the cost of dismissal to the employer, and the fact that the minimum cost of labour exceeds the potential productivity of a number of low-skilled workers, appear to be responsible for a large part of the high level of structural unemployment, especially among certain groups, such as youth and the long-term unemployed. . . “

“When comprehensive account is taken of all taxes on labour income (personal income tax, social security contributions including the supplementary social security taxes CSG and CRDS) and income-tested social benefits, it is seen that marginal effective tax rates on labour are very high in France. . . But increases in the minimum wage, the SMIC, such as those that resulted from the reduction in working time, work directly against measures to improve labour demand through reducing costs, although the further reductions in employers’ contributions offset the effect on labour costs, at the expense of public finances. Future increases in the SMIC should be limited to those necessary to maintain its purchasing power, in order not to reduce employability among the low skilled.”

Also, compare the official unemployment rates at July 2005 among EU25 countries as published by Eurostat. The national average unemployment rate for the under 25s in France of 22.2% is high compared to most other EU countries:
http://epp.eurostat.cec.eu.int/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/PGP_PRD_CAT_PREREL/PGE_CAT_PREREL_YEAR_2005/PGE_CAT_PREREL_YEAR_2005_MONTH_09/3-01092005-EN-AP.PDF

And remember that 22.2% is the national average rate for the under 25s so the corresponding rates in those housing estates at the periphery of the big cities in France is likely to be much, much higher.

Both the sources cited here are rather high-profile, authoritative and independent so it stretches credibility to claim no one in the French government knew about the looming problems of France’s dysfunctional labour market. Gordon Brown – Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer – even referred to this early in his pamphlet about the problems of the Eurozone: “Global Europe: full-employment Europe”, published on 13 October:

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/093/BF/global_europe_131005.pdf

39

bert 11.06.05 at 3:12 pm

Scott, I hope I’m not caricaturing your view: if anyone is saying that France is a defining example of ethnic nationalism’s European strain, then they’ve got it badly wrong. If you want a bunch of better examples, visit the Balkans.

By contrast, while there are strong elements (from the Dreyfus case to support for le Pen) that draw on this tradition, France has an official, sunday-best view of itself as a universal model for mankind. Internationalist and secular, dedicated to reason and progress. As with the common points between the shared chauvinism of the Gaullists and the GOP, there are strong parallels with America’s image of itself (the biggest single difference being of course religion). This shouldn’t surprise us: the self image of both countries and the claims they make on universal validity derive from the same source as their 18th century revolutions. Namely, the Enlightenment.

You suggest that Americans are earnest and sincere in their advocacy of these ideals. With the important qualifier that both the governing elites of the Bush administration and their more reactionary supporters seem to share a taste for exploring the darker parts of the nationalist mindset, I think you’re largely right. Which might lead us to a distinction between America’s self-regarding idealism and France’s: the former tends to be hypocritical, while the latter tends to be cynical.

40

a 11.06.05 at 3:27 pm

“The high-unemployment (young and Muslim) immigrants are the price France pays while supporting its system for the older and whiter citizens.”

I agree with this analysis to a large extent. On the other hand, the alternative – capitalism a la Anglo-Saxon – would seem to create a system where immigrants are only marginally better off, while the older (and whiter) citizens are much worse off. The only measurable benefit would accrue to those marginal few at the very top. So it’s all well and good to cry about what the French system does to the sons and daughters of immigrants, but I do think that ultimately what I’m seeing are crocadile tears from the American right, and the alternative that I see proposed is just a bait-and-switch to a society that is, in fact, far worse.

41

Bob B 11.06.05 at 3:41 pm

Whatever else, on the data, the Anglo-Saxon economies would seem to have stronger GDP growth rates and lower unemployment and inflation rates than the Eurozone.

Fortunately, joining the Euro is not now a realistic option for Britain and the continuing riots in France rather suggest that policy harmonisation would not be as beneficial as it was once cracked up to be.

42

Procrastinator 11.06.05 at 3:47 pm

>> The parents of the two children who died in the tragedy which started the riots, made an appeal for a stop to the violence by saying, “France doesn’t deserve this.

#That# I didn’t yet know, making the whole affair more sad and akin to amok.

>> Australians and New Zealanders, who’ve seen Chirac and his predecessors throwing their weight around in the South Pacific (long used as the site for French nuclear tests)

Considering that at the time Australia was allowing the berthing of US nuclear ships, as well as testing of missiles in her waters, I’d take at least half of this statement with some degree of cynicism.

43

John Quiggin 11.06.05 at 4:41 pm

“Considering that at the time Australia was allowing the berthing of US nuclear ships, as well as testing of missiles in her waters, I’d take at least half of this statement with some degree of cynicism.”

For those of us who weren’t at all happy about this, it only made the similarities between French and US policy more striking.

44

catherine liu 11.06.05 at 4:42 pm

Comparisons between French and American systems always devolve into — this kind of endgame logic — better high unemployment and a more empowered middle class vs. less unemployment and impoverishment of middle class. The strange thing is that both countries have been able to maintain some kind of stability through a combination of state sponsorhip of corporate capitalism and right-wing authoritarianism that brought back “law and order” to countries whose power blocs were radically de-legitimized by the social unrest of the sixties.

45

a 11.06.05 at 4:49 pm

Procastinator: ” Ce sont aussi les parents de Bouna et Zyed, les deux adolescents électrocutés le 27 octobre à Clichy-sous-Bois, qui déclarent: «Nous appelons à l’apaisement et au retour au calme, à l’arrêt de toute violence et au sens civique de chacun, car la France ne mérite pas ça».”

Bob b: US Growth rate is higher largely because its population is growing and because intangibles, such as leisure, don’t have monetary value and don’t get counted into GDP. Yes, unemployment is higher in Europe, but don’t forget that the U.S. unemployment rate would be 3% higher if its prison population were included (I hope I have that factoid right! corrections welcome!). And, no, inflation is not higher in Europe. The most recent year-on-year US inflation rate is 4.7%. The Eurozone rate is about half that.

46

Bob B 11.06.05 at 5:06 pm

Look at the stats annex of The Economist to compare other Anglo-Saxon economies. The higher PER CAPITA growth rate of the US owes much to the extent and better use of ICT investment according to most of the studies I’ve seen.

The official inflation rate of the Eurozone is running at 2.5%. The EU policy debate is over whether that means the European Central Bank should increase interest rates from the present 2% to maintain the Eurozone’s inflation target of a maxium inflation rate of 2% a year – despite the uncomfortable fact of 20 millions unemployed in the Eurozone, with half of those unemployed for more than a year.

47

Eamonn Fitzgerald 11.06.05 at 5:18 pm

Loved the comment that said John Quiggin wins the prize for neo-Stalinist parody of the week with this posting. Perfect!

48

soru 11.06.05 at 5:49 pm

I hope I have that factoid right! corrections welcome!

A previous thread on CT, which should still be on the front page, said 0.1% without anyone disagreeing that I saw.

soru

49

Mathieu 11.06.05 at 6:33 pm

Never posted to CT before – just my 2 cents… There is a form of historical retribution at work here. The Gaullist party of Chirac, Villepin and Sarkozy built its wealth on corrupt practices such as attributing building contracts in exchange for kickbacks. This started when De Gaulle was in power in the sixties and the gentrification of inner cities combined with the arrival of cheap immigrant labour led to the construction of the dismal blocks of estates which encircle all major French cities.

In terms of the population of these outlying working-class areas, it’s worth noting that the dominant force there in the sixties and seventies was the (Stalinist) French communist party. So the question is: why did then-president Giscard d’Estaing, after the oil shock of 1973 and the ensuing economic downturn, enable the “regroupement familial” (allowing the families of the mostly male Algerians-Tunisians-Morrocans to join them in France), instead of facilitating their return to their countries of origin?

Some commentators (see Alain Soral for example) suggest that this could have been a machiavellian ploy to shatter the unity of the relatively multicultural (Italian, Portuguese, Polish, etc.) “banlieues rouges” by bringing radically different peoples with very little in common with the others and – most important – in the context of globalisation and mechanisation – ie no job prospects for the less-well trained “truly disadvantaged” underclass (in the words of W.J. Wilson).

It’s also worth noting that the State Left (if Mitterrand and his Socialists can be called that) bear some responsibility with their cynical use of the National Front bogeyman since the mid-eighties to embarrass and divide the traditional right; and with their dubbing “racist” anyone who argues that the French Republic cannot do its secondary job of integration through education (besides reproducing the elite) if it also makes room for repugnant sexist traditions. I don’t mean wearing a headscarf but rather the dominant position of males in North African societies and attendant practices such as arranged / forced marriages. I also don’t mean to say that French society isn’t racist, just that there have been effective limitations imposed on public discourse which ultimately helped no-one, except perhaps the Far-right’s demonisation of immigrants.

OK, better get off my soapbox!

50

bert 11.06.05 at 6:38 pm

Jerome à Paris: well worth reading.
He makes two points, though, no more than a couple of paragraphs apart …

France made a choice 30 years ago to preserve the jobs of those already integrated, and made it difficult to join that core. Thus unemployment, or unstable employment (temping, short term contracts, internships) touches only those that are not yet in the system – the young and the immigrants, or those that are kicked out – the older and less educated blue collar workers in dying industries. So in neighboroods where you have a lot of young immigrants, the problems are excerbated.

… and …

what is clearly not tolerable anymore is how an underclass (not necessarily only the immigrants, but where they are clearly over represented, and definitely young and undereducated) has been sacrificed and abandoned in the country’s (real and mostly successful) efforts to adapt to increasing international competition.

… which initially struck this Anglo-Saxon as confused and self-contradictory.

There is a logic, though. Globalisation is reluctantly accepted as an unpleasant fact of life. Unemployment is fatalistically seen as an inevitable consequence. State intervention to defend the French workforce is an unquestioned good. Jerome’s criticism is that the protection of the state is uneven, and the underclass need to be embraced.

A different approach, more familiar to those of us in the Anglosphere, would be that the 20% excluded from the workforce are suffering from the restrictions enacted to protect the favoured, and that the labour market should be deregulated. Investment in labour would rise relative to other factors of production, and unemployment would in due course fall.

If economic conditions were benign, Jerome’s approach might tide things over (through public works programmes, subsidies to employers, etc). If political conditions were favourable, a liberalising agenda (of the sort Sarkosy claims to favour) might be pursued. As things stand today, though, my money’s on neither. And more trouble.

51

bert 11.06.05 at 6:40 pm

Sarkozy

52

Bro. Bartleby 11.06.05 at 7:15 pm

I still hold that to be an American one holds to the American dream, and that dream is vested in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. America is a country of immigrants, some willing, some unwilling, a country filled with people who were outcasts in their native lands, who had no pursuit of happiness in their native lands, who had no future, so bravely they left the land of their birth. And who were left behind, the wealthy, the powerful, the upper class, and the timid. Even today, those with little or no hope come to America where there is at least a chance for a better life. So, Americans, this motley amalgamation of souls, cobbled together a document of hope, and as long as we try to live up to this document’s ideals, as long as we take serious the candidates that are entrusted to preserve the ideals of this document, then we still have hope. (sorry Harriet, but we take this matter seriously) So what hope is there for Europe, countries with less than zero population growth, who will in a few generations the pure-breed will become extinct, then any hope for anything resembling the current populations are a mirage. I suppose a quick solution to the current burning of Paris would be to give the Muslim community the casino gaming rights.
Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

53

Hodgepodge 11.06.05 at 7:16 pm

“Loved the comment that said John Quiggin wins the prize for neo-Stalinist parody of the week with this posting. Perfect!”

I’m hoping the irony of calling something neo-Stalinist for not sufficiently parroting one’s prefered line was intentional. Either way, it gets an A+ from me.

54

Peter H 11.06.05 at 8:33 pm

That the OECD has issued a report this year blaming France’s unemployment problems on its excessive coddling of workers is not exactly news. The OECD has long issued reports blaming labour market rigidities (rather than weak insufficient aggregate demand) for Europe’s high unemployment, and it has helped shape the conventional wisdom in this regard, even among “liberal” media outlets.

It should be pointed out that the evidence in support of the OECD’s thesis has been questioned (see here, here, and here.) For example, all the complaints about the high cost of labor in France ignore the fact that labor’s share of the business sector has declined by 10% of GDP since 1980! The kinds of reforms the OECD wants to see implemented would certainly further reduce workers’ bargaining power, but would be of questionable value in reducing unemployment.

55

jim 11.06.05 at 8:37 pm

Let me just add that the latest London Review of Books, cover date 3 November, has a very good article on the Abbé Grégoire, which is relevant to this discussion, despite the Abbé being dead for nearly two centuries.

56

y81 11.06.05 at 8:44 pm

abb1, it’s not often that I encounter someone more erudite than I. What poem are you quoting?

57

Steve 11.06.05 at 8:54 pm

How is it that France imports immigrants from North Africa because it has a shortage of labor (that’s the story, right? North African immigrants do the work that the native French are unwilling to do?), AND that immigrated labor is barred from working by the racist French, and thus have an unnaturally high unemployment rate? If those immigrants remain disproportionately unemployed, why in the world are they being allowed to immigrate? And if the French are too racist to allow them to work, why are those French allowing them to immigrate?

Steve

58

Mathieu 11.06.05 at 9:31 pm

Um, not sure if my previous comment is appearing or not? Anyway, in response to Steve (56) the answer is simply that France imported cheap labour during the 30 golden years (“trente glorieuses”, 1975-1975) when the heavy industry and construction sectors were booming. Now that economic conditions have changed the least qualified sectors of the population (overwhelmingly made up of immigrants and their children) find it difficult to get work – just like poorly qualified blacks who moved to Northen cities in the US and lost their jobs in the 1970s wave of restructuration / delocalization.

59

John Emerson 11.06.05 at 9:40 pm

This is the globalized reserve army of the unemployed.

60

John Quiggin 11.06.05 at 10:24 pm

“A previous thread on CT, which should still be on the front page, said 0.1% without anyone disagreeing that I saw.”

I haven’t had time to check on this, but it seems implausibly low. The prison/jail population is equal to around 2 per cent of the US labour force, and it seems likely that a large proportion of its members would be unemployed if released, and that in areas of high unemployment those who got jobs might displace others. I’d guess the impact is likely to be of the order of 1 percentage point.

This piece has some interesting discussion of the employment problems of parolees, but bemoans the absence of useful stats.

61

Tom Lynch 11.06.05 at 10:52 pm

62

Kenny Easwaran 11.07.05 at 1:49 am

Regarding the prison/unemployment comparison – I believe the statistic that was cited said that 781 of every 100,000 individuals (adults?) in the US is in prison/jail (I’ve never understood the distinction between those two, so I don’t know if I got it right). I’m not sure what percentage of the population is counted as the workforce, but if we assume that prisoners are approximately just as likely to be in the potential workforce as the general population, then that would be almost 1%. Soru must have accidentally misplaced a decimal point, which is quite easy to do. (As for the assumption about workforce participation among the incarcerated – one might argue they’d be more likely to be in the workforce, since they’re disproportionately males aged 18-35; one might argue they’d be less likely to be in the workforce, having disabilities, prior arrests that prevent them from being hired, or if you think they’re just lazy poor people who don’t want jobs. So perhaps 2% is actually closer.)

63

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.07.05 at 2:06 am

RE: Jails/Prisons

Jails are typically used for incarcerations of less than one year and/or misdemeanors. They are also used for transfers or holding. Prisons are typically used for incarcerations of more than one year–felonies. (This is true of most US states. There may be some exceptions).

It appears we are in day 11 of the guerilla rioting. It isn’t just in Paris anymore either. It really sucks.

64

abb1 11.07.05 at 3:04 am

Y81, I am not an erudite by any stretch of imagination; I was reading a book last week (in English) and it was there – by one Marie Constant, called “Dame Dynamite” (or “La Dynamite”, I’m not sure). Apparently these folks carried out a number of dynamite blasts in Paris 100 or so years ago. ‘Propaganda by example’.

65

abb1 11.07.05 at 3:07 am

Or, sorry, I see now that someone already found it.

66

Scott Martens 11.07.05 at 3:25 am

Procrastinator, it wasn’t the criticism of France that I was criticising – although it is unjust too. France is the state with the least pining for a racially pure past of any nation in Europe. My point was that America’s ideals do have something to do with this.

A, the reason why things turn out so differently in Canada is because being Canadian entails neither an ideological commitment nor a kind of identity. Canada isn’t that different. It came into being with a large entrenched, unintegrated minority underclass. Not one quite so deprived as American blacks, but there is a reason why they were characterised as Les Nègres Blancs d’Amérique. Canada is simply the state that exists in Canada; Canadians are those people with a stake in it. Being so close to America, being so far from the UK, having come into being with so little homogeneity, being a state that came into being as an administrative convenience rather than a revolutionary regime or as an ethnic nation-state, it can’t have any different basis.

I didn’t say that I think the French are cynical bastards. That you do suggests that you are American and fit my model perfectly. The point is not that French people have no ideals, they do. It is that their ideals are not understood as necessarily being essential to being French. Frenchness exists apart from those things. What they want from immigrants is for them to be French. What Americans want – or at least say that they want – for immigrants is ideological agreement.

Yabonn, I think we agree on the facts but less on the interpretation. I did not say, and do not want to imply, that France is an ethnic identity. Clearly it isn’t. One Frenchman in three has at least one foreign born grandparent. My first experience of France was Strasbourg, where practically no one is ethnically French, but where everyone is nonetheless totally French.

Yes, France is an abstract country just like America and all other countries. But what that abstraction contains is very different between France and the United States. France’s schools try to turn people into Frenchmen. Because the abstraction that underlies the nation is an identity, it’s schools try to instill that identity and emphasis conformity to it. This does not contradict teaching the ugly bits of French history. American schools do not try to instill conformity to an American identity as much as they instill ideological accord. As a result, a very distorted American history is taught in the public schools – one that minimises or rationalises away much of the bad that happened. Freeing the slaves is taught as the fulfillment of American ideas, not simply as the abolition of an unjust institution. The Mexican War is taught in a particularly doubtful form: as America taking control of lands Mexico was too poor to develop itself. WWII is taught almost without mention of the Eastern Front, but as an American crusade to defend its values. This is very different from how French students study French history.

Bert, no, I am not trying to make France out to be an ethnic nation-state. Quite the opposite: In contrast to, for example, the Belgians, French is an identity that can be assumed.

Take a look at that “Sunday-best” French self image and what it contains. It means things like the Declaration des droits de l’homme, but it does not particularly mean the constitution of the Fifth Republic. The Declaration of the Rights of Man is an excellent example: It is not called the Declaration des droits des Français. The US, in contrast, has the American Bill of Rights. The ideals that the French hold are ideals that they feel are global and are independent of being French. American ideals are not the same in that respect.

I’m not suggesting that Americans are more or less earnest in the ideals they hold than the French. Rather, Americans hold those ideals to be an intrinsic part of what it means to be American, while being French is not a matter of ideological accord but rather a matter of a common culture. I’m not even suggesting that one is necessarily better than another. Both exist, both have their advantages and both have their flaws.

67

bert 11.07.05 at 4:51 am

Scott,
Very thoughtful set of responses, and a lot to agree with. I’m not quite so sure of a crystal clear distinction between US national idealism and French international idealism though.
There’s a large area of the French mindset that ties the idea of a universal model to that of national greatness. (One example, possibly not the best to make my point: De Villepin’s ridiculous Napoleon fetish.) On the other side of the coin, before the Bill of Rights came the Declaration of Independence: “… self-evident, that all men are created equal …” Drawing on this tradition, Bush’s second inaugural, which was pretty sweeping.

68

dave heasman 11.07.05 at 5:03 am

US prisons/unemployment
““A previous thread on CT, which should still be on the front page, said 0.1% without anyone disagreeing that I saw.”

“I haven’t had time to check on this, but it seems implausibly low. The prison/jail population is equal to around 2 per cent of the US labour force, and it seems likely that a large proportion of its members would be unemployed if released”

And this doesn’t include the people staffing the prisons, who, anecdotally, don’t appear to have glowing job prospects if made redundant..

69

Procrastinator 11.07.05 at 6:08 am

>> Procrastinator, it wasn’t the criticism of France that I was criticising – although it is unjust too. France is the state with the least pining for a racially pure past of any nation in Europe.

Yes, mea culpa. But

>> My point was that America’s ideals do have something to do with this.

Did I not say that?

>> Ce sont aussi les parents de Bouna et Zyed, les deux adolescents électrocutés le 27 octobre à Clichy-sous-Bois, qui déclarent: «Nous appelons à l’apaisement et au retour au calme, à l’arrêt de toute violence et au sens civique de chacun, car la France ne mérite pas ça

Smug git. Despite my never studying French, I caught the gist of that. I did realize that Traore and Benna had been fully aware of the risks and that there was no claim… other in some febrile minds… that they had been deliberately hounded to their deaths by police. Does that count.

70

Procrastinator 11.07.05 at 6:19 am

>> Of course it’s the Eurabian Intifada! That’ll be why they keep arresting white people… Snark off.

Today’s Independent contained a comment which made me smile – talk of an Intifada is absurdly misleading. Firstly, the rioters or far from being all Muslim (although, more than half are from Islamic backgrounds). Secondly, they have no sense of political or religious identity and no political demands. Their allegiance is to their quatier and gang. Their main demand, as far as can be established, is to be left alone by police and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, to continue with a life of low-level violence and drug trading.

71

a 11.07.05 at 7:11 am

Scott: I’m both French and American. And I do think your generalizations about the French and Frenchness, as well as about Americans and Americanness, are off-base, the platitudes one reads by those with little experience of the matter and which don’t stand up under any kind of examination.

72

otto 11.07.05 at 8:19 am

“And this doesn’t include the people staffing the prisons, who, anecdotally, don’t appear to have glowing job prospects if made redundant..”

But they are in a growing industry! Their job, and promotion, prospects are fine.

73

Procrastinator 11.07.05 at 8:29 am

… as well as overtime dealing with uppity 82 year olds at part conferences.

74

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 9:49 am

I would argue that there is one other aspect of French identity that is different from America and even more different from other European countries.

By this I mean of course the unremitting French hostility to native cultures in France that are not French. The French government and French society in general are determined to destroy all other linguistic groups in France. It’s easy to contrast the French treatment of the Basque language with its counterpart in Spain. Look how little German survives in Alsace-Lorraine. Breton and Catalan are likewise dying, and this is official state policy, in contravention of European directives and treaties.

This is uniquely French, and uniquely pernicious. The origin of this is usually presented as state control, with other languages and cultures being seditious, but there is more to it. There is a strong effort in France toward centralization (France is easily the most centralized European country), and I think this centralization originates from a lack of confidence in French culture. High French culture must be defended and all other competitors eradicated.

That’s why I can’t take it seriously when France tries to protect European languages against English. If the show were on the other foot, France would be extremely zealous in wiping out other languages.

75

Uncle Kvetch 11.07.05 at 10:23 am

By this I mean of course the unremitting French hostility to native cultures in France that are not French. The French government and French society in general are determined to destroy all other linguistic groups in France.

Hektor, I think you’re grossly overstating the case here. You should at least acknowledge that the situation wrt regional languages and cultures in France has changed drastically (and for the better) since the 1980s. Perhaps the changes have been insufficient in the eyes of regional activists, but it’s simply not true that the current French state is still operating under the hypercentralized model of old.

This is uniquely French

Hardly.

76

Procrastinator 11.07.05 at 10:26 am

>> although it is unjust too

Unjust to criticize Sarkozy? He’s the only French person whom I criticized. The other objects of my ire were the apologists for France’s more crappy acts. Although I also criticized the French #system#, I immediately turned tail and defended it (after a fashion) in face of unfair comparison to some American ideal.

77

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 10:48 am

Uncle Kvetch,

Why isn’t there a Basque departement? Mitterand and Chirac both promised one years ago. Why aren’t schools in Corsican allowed? Why is it that there are no provisions to learn in Breton in French public schools? The French constitution is not in accordance with the European Treaty on Minority Languages, and the French government refuses to accede to that treaty.

None of this is an accident. It’s a characteristic of the French state, along with its excessive centralization.

Compare this to its neighbors, like Spain, Germany, and Belgium. All of them are _far_ more decentralized than France. Centralization and a powerful unitary state is French policy and always has been. I agree it is loosening a bit now, but far more work is needed.

Uncle Kvetch, name me a European state that has a more intolerant attitude to its minority languages and more centralization than France. I dare you.

78

Bob B 11.07.05 at 11:12 am

The official handle is: L’exception francaise.

79

Matt McGrattan 11.07.05 at 11:20 am

hektor:

The UK has some ambivalent attitudes to minority languages within the UK.

The ‘Celtic’ languages have received quite a bit of support since the 1970s but other minority languages receive much less.

Scots is still (largely) scorned — although this has changed a little since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, which actually renders part of its own website in Scots.

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/language/scots/

I have no idea what the situation is with respect to the various languages spoken by travelling people inside the UK, but I can’t imagine the situation is supportive.

80

Uncle Kvetch 11.07.05 at 11:23 am

Hektor, you’ve lost me. I didn’t say you don’t have a case, I said you were overstating it. Do you honestly not grasp the difference between “France has implemented [Policy X] to a greater degree than any other country” and “[Policy X] is uniquely French”? I was simply pointing out that the claim that there’s something “uniquely French” about either the suppression of minority languages or a highly centralized state is, well, absurd.

The last 20 years have seen a level of regional governance instituted between the département and the centralized state. A first since 1789. I’d say that’s pretty significant; you disagree. Even if we differ on the degree of change, I think you have to acknowledge it.

Why is it that there are no provisions to learn in Breton in French public schools?

Since the Deixonne law (1951) and subsequent implementation measures, Breton language and culture may be taught for one to three hours a week in public education if the teacher is willing and able to do it. Therefore, extra teaching hours are offered outside the curriculum. In addition, there are some public and Catholic schools which have adopted bilingual streams or are totally bilingual. […] Bilingual sections at public education institutes can be created upon the request of at least fifteen parents with the consent of the mayor. The most favourable authority towards the promotion of Breton is the Finistère département, which allots money (2.000.000 euros for 2002) every year to the maintenance of bilingual classes and the development of learning materials. The director of the Académie of Rennes launched the idea of drafting a cultural charter for all public schools, which should promote the cultural identity of Brittany in teaching, not only by integrating a regional interpretation to subjects already taught, but to also enhance the possibilities of teaching Breton.

Call it inadequate if you like; as with the regional governments, there’s certainly an argument to be made that it is. But your blanket statements do nothing to promote this discussion.

81

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 12:14 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

The regional governments in Brittany attempted to incorporate the Diwans into the public school system. They were prevented by:

“An attempt by the French government to incorporate the independent Breton-language immersion schools (called Diwan) into the state education system was blocked by the French Constitutional Council on the grounds that, as the Constitution of the 5th Republic states that French is the language of the Republic, no other language may be used as a language of instruction in state schools. The Toubon Law states that French is the language of public education.” (see Breton language, wikipedia).

So whatever Breton education was occuring in France in the public schools is now illegal. Note that is mentioned in the report you link to.
This clause in the French consitution is in contravention of the European treaty, and is unique as far as I can tell in Europe. I maintain that suppression of minority languages and cultures in France is the official policy of the French government and widely supported by the French elite, and is thus uniquely French in contrast to other European countries, where this is not the case.

I notice also that you can’t name a single European state that has worse policies. I think the point is clear.

Frankly, uncle kvetch, I don’t understand why you are such an apologist for the French policies. They are out of step with the EU for sure and even in some cases the US.

Matt McGrattan,

The comparison with the UK is instructive. The state has radically decentralized relative to the past: Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales all have their own parliaments, though of course Paisley has shuttered Stormont for the moment. Scotland even has some slight tax-raising powers. Wales has two official languages (Welsh and English), and Scotland provides government support and schooling in Scots Gaelic. NI provides government support and public schooling in Irish and English and some support for Ulster Scots.

The support for Scots is lacking and there should be more support for the Celtic languages, but there is no comparison with France. It’s like night and day.

82

Uncle Kvetch 11.07.05 at 12:40 pm

So whatever Breton education was occuring in France in the public schools is now illegal.

This doesn’t follow from the previous paragraph. From what I’m reading, while it’s true that the Diwan schools were not fully incorporated into the existing public education system, they weren’t abolished either.

The International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language reports that as of May 2004, “there [were] some 8,170 children in Diwan, public and Catholic schools.” It goes on to state that

Diwan’s attempt to be recognized as a public school has been blocked by the high courts of France who hold up Article 2 of the French Constitution: “French is the language of the Republic.” That means it must be used no less than half of the time as the language of instruction or lunch/recess in public schools.

Note that is mentioned in the report you link to.

What…that the teaching of Breton has been made illegal, either by the Loi Toubon or by the Constitutional Council? The report says nothing of the kind.

I notice also that you can’t name a single European state that has worse policies. I think the point is clear.

As I stated very clearly, Hektor, I wasn’t arguing that France didn’t necessarily have the worst record in Europe in this regard. (Although the suppression of language rights for the Russian-speaking minorities in former Soviet republics, esp. in the Baltics, might be on a comparable scale. Frankly I don’t know enough about the details.) I was arguing about your characterization of this as a fundamental distinction rather than a question of degree. Minority/regional languages have been suppressed all over Europe for centuries and in many places they still are. France may indeed be the worst culprit at the present moment in this regard. It doesn’t follow that there’s something distinctly, or, in your own words, “uniquely” French about suppressing minority languages.

Frankly, uncle kvetch, I don’t understand why you are such an apologist for the French policies.

And I don’t understand why you are hell-bent on establishing the unique awfulness of those policies. Since we’re clearly speaking past each other, let’s call it a day, shall we?

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Scott Martens 11.07.05 at 1:05 pm

Hektor, in terms of open hostility to native cultures other than the national one, France’s history is far, far from unique. Turkey is currently a far worse offender. France has gotten a bit better in recent years, mind you, but if we were going to bring up historical offenders, Franco’s Spain was a lot worse than France ever was. And Germany is not exactly a star of tolerance either – how many Sorbs are left? Greece has treaty obligations towards ethnic Turks, but has been orders of magnitude more hostile to all its other minorities than France ever was. And, post-communist Eastern Europe is worse in this respect than the communists were. The communists were like the Americans: You could speak your language – you could even have schools in your language – and you could be as much of national minority as you like, as long as all your distinct institutions all preached communism. But Eastern Europe’s current treatment of, for example, gypsies is a great deal worse than anything France ever did to any of its domestic minorities.

France has a bad record in this respect, but a far from atypical one.

A, I guess we have to beg to differ. But consider two things:

-When France annexed Algeria, what were the conditions for becoming a French citizen? It wasn’t race – not even in the 19th century. It wasn’t swearing allegiance to the Third Republic, something every naturalised American has to do. It wasn’t forswearing Islam either. It was becoming one of the évolués – which meant speaking French and acting French and forswearing any allegiance to Algeria.

-Does anyone ever call Le Pen and his ilk unfrench? In America, people are called unamerican all the time when their ideology differs sharply from the mainstream. It is a serious insult in America, the suggestion that whatever you think not only has no place here, but that it makes you no longer a part of the same people. Does this happen in France? I have talked to plenty of French people about politics, people who have expressed plenty of disgust and different political currents in French. I’ve never heard anyone call the French Communist Party unfrench, nor the Front National. In America, I’ve heard practically every political current called unamerican at some time.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 1:21 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

Since you have made mistakes of fact here, let me be clear, and then we can call it a day.

From the report you linked to:

“The decision by the
State has left all regional language bilingual education in
France open to attack from reactionary forces seeking to
enforce the arbitrary law that French is the only language of
the Republic. One example of the ’knock-on’ effect of the
state’s decision has been the threatened closure of the St
Nazaire Diwan school by the Mairie of St Nazaire which
felt that it could not continue to support a school and a
method of education deemed ’anti-constitutional’ by the
State (5).”

That means that all bilingual education is open to legal attack in French public schools. This is most definitely a problem.

Frankly, Uncle Kvetch, you don’t know what you are talking about in the Baltics, and it shows. The linguistic situation in each of the three countries is very different.

Lithuania is 83+% culturally Lithuanian, with Polish (7%) and Russian (5%) minorities. There are public schools in Russian there, and no significant political issues over language.

Latvia is 58% Latvian, 30% Russian, 4% Belarussian, etc. Here there are significant issues because Latvia did not automatically allow people who moved in during the Russian occupation to become citizens. People are required to take a Latvian-language exam to become citizens, and many people, particularly older Slavic-speakers, refuse to do so for a variety of reasons. This citizenship is the main issue, not linguistic rights. Unlike in France, the state supports Russian-language schools where Latvia is taught as a subject. Recent legislation has mandated that at the 10th grade and above, 60% of subjects must be taught in Latvian. Unfortunately, in Latvia, Russian-language rights are associated with the threat of Russian invasion and the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union. However, even in Latvia there is far more state support for minority languages than in France.

Estonia is 68% Estonian and 26% Russian, with a smattering of others. There are Russian-language schools in Estonia, supported entirely by the state. The deadline for all secondary schools to teach primarily in Estonian has been pushed back to 2007, and may be pushed back farther. Unlike in Latvia, there are provisions to opt out of this. There is also the question of Estonian citizenship for many Russian speakers, like in Latvia. The political issues surrounding this are similar to Latvia. There is still more government support for minority languages in Estonia than in France.

So, let’s be clear. France has the worst policy in Europe on this issue. Centralization and destruction of the minority languages have been priorities of the French state since the Revolution, and are enshrined in the French constitution. Except for short periods of time, it seems like France has since the revolution, almost always been the worst culprit on minority language rights. This isn’t some passing fancy for France. There is something uniquely French about its approach to centralization and suppression of minority languages. I would suggest you read your history and political science on this.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.07.05 at 1:33 pm

That means that all bilingual education is open to legal attack in French public schools.

Yep. What it does not mean, however, is that “there are no provisions to learn in Breton in French public schools.” Nor does it mean that “whatever Breton education was occuring in France in the public schools is now illegal.” You stated both those things. In both cases, you were wrong. You haven’t acknowledged either error. And yet you’re accusing me of making “mistakes of facts.”

Frankly, Uncle Kvetch, you don’t know what you are talking about in the Baltics, and it shows.

That’s funny, I could have sworn I wrote that the situation in the Baltics “might be on a comparable scale. Frankly I don’t know enough about the details.” Clearly I need to be smacked down for such cockiness.

Frankly, Hektor, you’ve made it clear that you’re incapable of discussing this subject without getting hyperdefensive and descending into invective. You’ve obviously got some kind of bee in your bonnet about France and I’m not all that interested in knowing about it. Bye now.

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bert 11.07.05 at 1:41 pm

I never understood the practise of using public money to resurrect dead languages. Perhaps Hektor Bim (Tomb Hiker, anag.) can explain it to me, at intemperate length.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 1:42 pm

Scott,

Turkey is a legitimate point. I would argue two things: Turkey isn’t a European country (at least at this time), and Turkey was actually heavily influenced by the French model. Interestingly, it does allow some minority languages to operate as long as they are spoken by non-Muslims. So Armenians and Greeks can get minority-language schooling, but Kurds and Arabs can’t. Of course, Turkey will almost surely have to ratify the European conventions on minority languages to join the EU, which means its record will become better than France’s.

The historical examples I don’t worry so much about, because they failed and the policies are widely perceived by the countries themselves (Spain, Germany) as failures. Note that much of France views its policies of language murder as a success!

In Germany today, there are something like 20-30,000 Sorbs, and they have the right to send their children to Sorbian-language schools paid for by the state and use the Sorbian language in communications with the government. Note that this is also true for Turkish speakers in Greece. Of course, the Albanians and Slavs get the shaft in Greece.

The treatment of Romani in Eastern Europe is indeed a travesty. But all of these countries do provide for minority language instruction of at least some languages. There are Romani-language schools in Romania, for example.

You are right that Turkey and Greece have been historically extremely intolerant toward their minorities. However, even they provide more language rights than France does. Amazing, isn’t it?

France is unique in that it officially recognizes no minority language groups at all. All the other countries at least recognize some of them and provide for schooling in the minority language.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 1:54 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

The court ruled that all bilingual education was effectively illegal. That it continues shows that the legal situation is still fluid and the ruling is not being completely enforced. But the standing now is that they are illegal, and there have been efforts to stop the bilingual teaching in schools.

From UK:

(That’s funny, I could have sworn I wrote that the situation in the Baltics “might be on a comparable scale. Frankly I don’t know enough about the details.” Clearly I need to be smacked down for such cockiness.)

No, what you need is to be educated, so that you don’t make wishy-washy statements with no informational content. You didn’t know the situation in the Baltics, so why mention it? If anything, you should be happy. At least now you have some knowledge of the situation in the Baltics, next time it comes up.

Bert,

None of the languages we are talking about are dead languages. They are living languages, spoken by many as their mother tongue. I suppose you could make the case for Cornish, but since there are now people with Cornish as their first language, it is a living language.

What we are talking about here is the destruction of living languages. That is, what we are talking about is the practice of taking living languages and killing them, thus turning them into dead ones. This is usually against the will of the speakers of said languages.

You are undoubtedly in favor of using public money to support some living languages, so why don’t you tell me what criteria you use to distinguish between the living languages.

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bert 11.07.05 at 2:16 pm

Hektor, you’re a good guy for not taking offence.
Actually I favour a free market in languages.
Today’s language subsidies serve interest groups (and particularly the leaderships of those groups) who make themselves active on the subject. In the UK there are public sector jobs explicitly reserved for a small caste of people initiated into a dialect that was dying twenty years ago and which few would have mourned if it had been left to die. I far prefer the idea that people can understand and communicate with each other in a shared tongue. I think it is barking mad to balkanise our societies by subsidising Babel.
Having said that, my experiences relate to the UK. I’m ready to concede that elsewhere in Europe suppression of minority languages may go hand in hand with suppression of minorities. If you have examples to hand I think there’s a good chance you’ll share them. And if anyone else wants to get back on topic, fire away.

90

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 2:28 pm

Bert,

A free market in languages would mean that the government would not support media in any sense. It would not pay for schooling, would release no reports, and would own no media outlets. I don’t actually think you favor that at all, though I might be misinterpreting you.

If the government pays for schooling in only one language and allows only one language in its courts and all other interactions with it, then it obviously isn’t a free market at all, is it? In that case, the government is subsidizing one language at the expense of others. That’s pretty clearly a highly managed market.

I guess I wasn’t misinterpreting you. What you favor is government-supported death of all but one language, not a free market.

As for your specific example, I’m not sure exactly what dialect you are referring to. If you mean Welsh, what is it a dialect of? Finally, I think it is pretty clear that in the UK a suppression of Irish went hand in hand with a suppression of Irish people. That’s also historically true for Welsh, Cornish, and Scots Gaelic as well.

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Sebastian holsclaw 11.07.05 at 2:33 pm

“In that case, the government is subsidizing one language at the expense of others.”

What a classic. Government could equally be seen as merely reducing its internal costs.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 2:38 pm

Sebastian,

How is that different from the government doing all of its business only with one company? Don’t you think that would be a managed market, if the government only ever dealt with one company?

You and Bert might favor one-language policies, but I suggest you argue for them directly. They aren’t language “free markets”, that’s for sure.

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Peter Clay 11.07.05 at 3:07 pm

So let me see if I understand the argument here: states, and therefore by extension the European Union, should conduct official business in all languages for which at least one citizen has that as their first language?

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Procrastinator 11.07.05 at 3:14 pm

Scots is still (largely) scorned—although this has changed a little since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, which actually renders part of its own website in Scots.

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/language/scots/

Crivvens an’ help ma boab. Scots claik ma dowp. I counted, at most, six words there in Scots. The rest is simply the babble one hears in Leith at closing time. Badly spelt English.

‘e Parlie wuid hev bin beter scrievin’ it in Fryslan.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 3:18 pm

Peter,

No argument of that sort has been made. What you are describing is a maximalist position, which no one I have heard of subscribes to.

First of, we are talking about states – I said nothing about the EU. That’s a separate issue, though obviously related.

Usually the discussion is of indigenous languages, not the languages of immigrants. So Arabic in France wouldn’t qualify, for example. Secondly, provision of minority languages in government is usually related to demand. All of the languages we are discussing here have large numbers of speakers and have organized themselves to demand more language rights.

96

Bro. Bartleby 11.07.05 at 3:37 pm

AP Cincinatti Inquirer, French President Chirac’s comments about French “ghettos”.

“President Jacques Chirac, in private comments…. acknowledged that France has failed to integrate the French-born children of Arab and black African immigrants in poor suburbs who have been taking part in the violence, according to Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, ….Chirac “deplored the fact that in these neighborhoods there is a ghettoization of youths of African or North African origin” and recognized “the incapacity of French society to fully accept them.” Chirac said unemployment runs as high as 40 percent in some suburban neighborhoods, four times the national rate of just under 10 percent, Vike-Freiberga said.”

So, in the end, incapacitated by racial ‘stock’ … and so it goes.

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Jussi 11.07.05 at 3:43 pm

hektor:

“If the government pays for schooling in only one language and allows only one language in its courts and all other interactions with it, then it obviously isn’t a free market at all, is it? In that case, the government is subsidizing one language at the expense of others”

I’m not sure how you meant this, but foreign languages are of course allowed before French courts, and no interpreter is required if the judge understands the respective language.

French universities also increasingly offer courses in English, in order to attract foreign students – and the courses of course are subsidised by the French state.

Did I misunderstand you somewhere?

98

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 3:54 pm

Jussi,

If you are a French citizen, you are not allowed to interact with the court in Basque, for example. If you are a Spanish citizen, you can, because Basque is recognized on the Spanish side as an official language.

Perhaps this has changed recently, but that certainly was true a couple of years ago.

Note that French universities will offer courses in English, but they won’t offer them in Breton, for example.

99

Jussi 11.07.05 at 4:37 pm

hektor:

“Note that French universities will offer courses in English, but they won’t offer them in Breton, for example”

Do you think they might, if they thought is was viable? They acepted English, didn’t they?

100

Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 4:47 pm

What does viable mean here, jussi?

Breton is a language that is older than French, and has been spoken in Brittany for over a thousand years. Seems pretty viable to me.

But I don’t demand university education in Breton. Let’s start with primary education in Breton, which the French state seems allergic to.

101

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.07.05 at 5:04 pm

“You and Bert might favor one-language policies, but I suggest you argue for them directly. They aren’t language “free markets”, that’s for sure.”

I would have no trouble arguing for them directly–especially in an immigrant-driven society like the US. But the analogy with one business is extremely thin. It is certainly more efficient for a government to do business in a single language. Acting on that fact is not a ‘subsidy’. Teaching in that language is an efficency, not a subsidy. Conducting transactions in that language is not a subsidy either. I agree that the market analogy as a whole isn’t all that exciting for governmental language analysis, but you totally pervert any small use it might have had with the subsidy talk. The market side of the analogy is on the demand side if it is useful at all. The most useful economics analogy is likely to be “network effect”.

With the discovery of the little bomb factory, it has been revealed that there is at least a little bit more organization to these riots than has been previously recognized. That isn’t a good sign for the immediate future.

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Hektor Bim 11.07.05 at 5:18 pm

Sebastian,

Ok, so we agree that the language of markets isn’t very useful for government language policy. Since it isn’t that useful, I don’t know why we are still talking about it.

Government-mandated language use (which is what public schooling in a single language is) is a huge “market” distortion. Effectively it is a subsidy, since the government forces you to use that language for a significant part of your existence.

This isn’t a network effect case of “I use MS Windows because everyone else uses MS Windows.” This is a case of “The government forces me to learn and use MS Windows.”

Mostly, I was reacting to the laughable idea that there is a free market in language usage, when the state only supports one language and forces people to learn and use it.

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bert 11.07.05 at 6:10 pm

Confucius say, Man who respect language know when to shut up.

104

bert 11.07.05 at 6:58 pm

Three people arrested for blog-based incitement to riot.

Three different bloggers, different parts of the country, their sites closed down, their political affiliations to be investigated, now facing a five-year stretch for “incitement to commit aggression against other people”. No word on what they actually wrote.

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Peter Clay 11.07.05 at 8:20 pm

Hektor: sure. It’s the much more reasonable position of “if enough people can demand language X, language X should be used”. I don’t think it’s sensible to ignore the EU when talking about European states, given that it operates a legislature and a superior court system.

However, your point about “indigenous” versus “immigrant” languages is highly relevant to the ongoing riots. If enough people are born in Bradford and grow up with (say) Hindi as a first language, is that an “indigenous” language?

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Q 11.07.05 at 8:34 pm

A lot is being made of the racial divisions in France as a cause for the disturbances, but of course there are many causes and racial division in France is not a recent phenomenon.

The EU enlargement (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) last year is a key trigger for these events. What has changed particularly is the transfer of jobs by multinational companies from France to other newer EU countries in the East like the Poland and Czech Republic. These countries have low labour costs and attractive tax incentives for inward investment. This is causing rising unemployment across all sections of the economy.

Consequently we must watch in the future we may see a similar state of riot and anarchy in other inflexible western economies, as in the strike-laden 1970s.

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mathieu 11.08.05 at 4:17 am

Uh, so bring in Thatcher and Reagan to sort out those pesky striking unions?

These French peripheral areas have precisely been depressed since the 1970s when poorly qualified jobs were delocalized to cheaper and less unionized places… That’s why these kids have never seen their fathers or their older brothers work. Just like kids in any other Western “black hole” (Castells) or urban ghetto.

The language question is actually quite relevant – Algerian-French linguist Mohamed Benrabah (author of a book on language policy in Algeria) once said that it’s because these kids are caught in between two languages that they have this conflictual relationship to the host dominant culture… well, I guess 50-60% unemployment does not help either.

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Hektor Bim 11.08.05 at 9:13 am

Peter,

Good question, and I’m not sure if I have the answer to that. After all, the language issues in Estonia and Latvia are largely due to the fact that they both have a large linguistic minority that was imposed on them through forced immigration during an occupation. (Not all Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia came after WWII, but the vast preponderance of them did.)

I would say it is really a question of time and will. If, using your hypothethical example, there were a large group of immigrants to a country who maintained cultural cohesion and wanted schooling in their native tongue, it would be hard politically to gainsay them after it became apparent that there were a voting bloc with clear aims. My impression is that this is actually rarely the case though. For example, most North Africans in Europe aren’t terribly interested in retaining whichever dialect of Arabic they grew up with, as far as I can tell.

I know in the US, there were numerous German-speaking schools in the Midwest and Spanish-speaking schools in the West. These ended for political reasons as far as I can tell. The German-speaking schools were shut down because of WWI.

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