Russian mountains and the French election (29/3/2022)

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Did you know in French the word for rollercoaster is “montagnes russes”? The name dates back to the time someone had the bright (dumb?) idea to go down hilly slopes at high speed for fun, around the Ural mountains in Russia.

One of the earliest modern rollercoasters was in Paris, in the quartier of Belleville in 1812, by the aptly named company Les Montagnes russes. The name stuck in French and several other languages, although it did not in English.

These days watching the news is a bit like going up and down those Russian mountains. With pushbacks and counterpushbacks, the war in Ukraine doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

Vanity Fair had an article with a quote from an expert that tv audiences “get bored after 6 weeks” and start to tune into something else. This may be true in most places, but in Europe and in France, it reminds us all of just how small the continent is.

From the center of Paris (metro Chatelet), driving to Kviv in Ukraine takes a mere 26 hours. And a good 1.5 hours of that just involves getting out of dense traffic to the outskirts of Paris. (I’m not even kidding, traffic in the Parisian region is dreadful.)

Russian mountains and the French election (29/3/2022) 1
Courtesy of Google maps

And with the events going on in Ukraine, you could almost forget that it is less than 2 weeks till the 1st round of French presidential elections on April 10th.

As much as we would like to ignore the election, we should probably cover a few basics. There are 2 rounds to the French election, the first on April 10th, and the 2nd on April 24th.

The 1st round whittles down the list of candidates down to two, who then face each other in the 2nd round runoff. President Macron (centrist) seems like he will make it to the 2nd round polling at around 28%, so the big question is who is going to validate that 2nd ticket:

Now this may be quite boring, but bear with me, I shall explain the French concept of “faire barrage” which has been taking place in presidential elections in France for the past 20 years.

Currently holding 2nd, 3rd, and 4th spots we have:

  • Marine Le Pen (17%) – Ultra right
  • Jean-Luc Melanchon (14%) – Far left
  • Zemmour (11%) – Ultra right

All three have been quoted several times over the past few years admiring “Poutine”, and I think you get the idea, their ideas are somewhat “extreme”.

Ensuite, we have:

  • Valerie Pecresse (10%) – current president of the region Ile de France – Right
  • Yannick Jadot (7%) – Eurodeputy – Ecologist Left
  • Fabien Roussel (3%) – Communist
  • Anne Hidalgo (2%) – current mayor of Paris – Left

Yes, there is actual communist party in France. Then there are 2 candidates that we know rather well in the Parisian region, Valerie Pecresse (right) and Anne Hidalgo (left), and an Eurodeputy named Jadot who seems not to know what countries are in the EU.

All four are polling rather dismally for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most of all for this concept of “faire barrage” or “building a dam”.

Going back in time, the date was 21 April 2002, when an earthquake hit the French election process. To give you an idea of what a shock it was, the French political expression “21 avril” has its own Wikipedia page.

On that date, Ultra right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen (father of Marine) made it to the 2nd round of the presidential election, instead of the favored candidate, then-Prime minister Lionel Jospin.

Like in every fairytale, the French electorate banded together to “faire barrage” to block the ultra-right candidate. In the 2nd round, 82% of the electorate voted for President Jacques Chirac, a high score never seen before and never seen again.

Since then, every presidential candidate is asked if he/she is prepared to “faire barrage” and throw his/her support behind the more moderate candidate. Even the communist candidate, Fabien Roussel was asked this question a few days ago, and without hesitation, said that he would support the incumbent.

So the problem for French voters remains the same: with polling showing this year that spots 2-4 are going to the ultra-right and far left, the rest of the population has to get behind 1 candidate, to have at least 1 moderate candidate in the 2nd round.

I should note that the barrage has been getting weaker for the past couple of election cycles. That spread between the final 2 is getting smaller and smaller, as the ultra-right shows strong gains.

So the big question is, will the barrage hold? Stay tuned.

In other news:

  • The Eiffel tower has grown 6 meters (approximately 20ft) taller a couple of weeks ago. Yes, while the Tour Eiffel does expand and contract every winter, this time around is actually due to a new antenna being added to the top.
  • The NY Post points out that it is cheaper to visit Disneyland Paris than it is to visit a U.S. Disney theme park, even when you count the price of the flight. By the way, this year Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
  • The French government last week awarded a 96-year-old American soldier with the French Legion of Honor, for his role in the Battle of Bulge during WW2.

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