Sunday, 6 May 2012

Impassioned Politics

I was on the RER the other night when the train stopped for a couple of minutes longer than expected at one of the stations. Standing on the platform and wearing a CGT jacket was a man with long grey hair and a beard brandishing a copy of L'Humanité with a picture of Sarkozy on the front.

"This man," he declared, "This man has the face of a dictator. How can we rely on him to represent us?" Seeing that I was watching him with interest, he came up close to the train window and held up the paper so that we could see more clearly through the glass. "Don't vote for him, Madame," he said.

Then he moved up to the open door of the carriage and repeated his entreaties to a group of people who had just got on the train. Then the alarm sounded, telling us the train was going to leave. As the doors slid shut and we slipped away from the platform, several people applauded.

A similar thing happened on the metro late last night. The train drew into the station and a man bounded towards the doors to get off. As he leaped onto the platform, he turned to the whole carriage and called out, "Don't forget to vote for Hollande!" and disappeared.

At the beginning of the election period, I was almost relieved not to have a vote. It wasn't a particularly inspiring campaign and I would have had a hard time picking a candidate. In the past few weeks, though, it feels as though the whole country has been caught up in election fever. Not only are the French passionate about politics and not afraid to show it, as the incidents above prove, they also confront the arguments with intellectual confidence. 20 million people watched the 3-hour debate between Sarkozy and Hollande that was shown live on multiple television channels between 9pm and midnight last week. And even in a time of crisis where there are no easy solutions, people still believe that politics can change the world and are prepared to act on their views. It would have been fun to have been part of that.

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