Author name: Claire Negiar

Everyone Has a Role to Play: Farce and Politics in France

If you want to have a good laugh this week, I would suggest diving into the bountiful sea of articles on French politicians’ recent missteps. I will start my overview of recent political stumbling with the right-wing National Front before turning to France’s other parties.

The top of the hit parade features Marine Le Pen.  For all the Front National’s attempts to re-brand itself into a forward thinking, non-racist or xenophobic party, recent incidents show that the characteristics that were evident when her father was at the head of the party remain. Marine Le Pen was recently strapped with a ten thousand euro fine for having disseminated fake flyers. These posters featured an image of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a prominent French socialist, with a sentence he uttered in a speech to the city of Marseille: “Il n’y a pas d’avenir pour la France sans les Arabes et les Berbères du Maghreb” [‘There is no future for France without the Arabs and the Berbers from the Maghreb.’] A line at the bottom of the postcard-sized flyer reads “Votons Mélenchon” [‘Vote for Mélenchon’] along with a translation of the slogan in Arabic, but written incorrectly. As it turns out, the Front National produced the fliers, but neglected to include their party symbol or note in any other way that the whole effort was a parody designed to discredit the socialist politician. While Mélenchon readily admitted that he had made the statement in question, he angrily denounced the lack of taste of the tract, which features a green background, color of Islam, and the use of Arabic characters. As he put it, “I only express myself in French, the language of the Republic. This tract gives a meaning that I never wanted to give to my action.” Although the Front National initially tried to place the blame on some of its own local members, denying its role in the production of the flyers, Marine Le Pen eventually stepped forward to assume full responsibility, going on to compare Mélenchon’s attitude to “des pleurnicheries de chochotte” [‘whimpy whinings’.]

 

As if the French newspapers did not have enough material to use, Marine Le Pen made sure to become their greatest muse with another misstep. This time she claimed the need to re-introduce pork in school cafeterias in cities in which the Front National has gained power. One week after the National Front’s breakthrough in the French municipal elections, Marine Le Pen boldly declared on national radio that “il est interdit d’interdir” [‘it is forbidden to forbid.’] She then proceeded to declare that her party would not accept any religious demands in school menus, as there is no reason for religious affairs to enter the public sphere. However, none of the cities in which the National Front took power had actually abolished pork from their cafeterias. As such, students in Fréjus ate sautéed pork this past Monday for lunch, and those from Hénin-Beaumont were served ham. The students in Béziers will be eating “macaronnade de porc” (pork stew) this week. Jewish and Muslim students are simply given the option of eating turkey or chicken instead of pork—an alternative that even Marine Le Pen would not dare oppose.

 

But the National Front does not solely rely on Marine Le Pen for its miscues. In Hénin-Beaumont, where the party had just won the mayor’s office, the new officials decided to take over the Legion of Honor’s headquarters, which the Legion has been using for the past ten years. The Ligue des Droits de l’Homme is a publically incorporated body that has long enjoyed a high level of respect throughout France. The National Front now claims that, as the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme has political aims, it cannot legally receive subsidies or enjoy their headquarters free of charge. For the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, this act constituted a major “slipping” on the part of the National Front’s secretary general Steeve Briois. Indeed, it is difficult to portray the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme as a political organization in this sense.  According to its local president Alain Pruvot, the Legion is:

“[A] citizen association for the defense of human rights. It takes care of politics, not in the politician sense of the term, but in the sense of the general affairs of the city-state. Our goal is to defend liberties. In this sense, the mayorship is paying us homage when it implicitly recognizes the role we can take on.”

As such, the Front National’s most recent move against the Legion of Honor is heavily loaded and can easily be interpreted as indicating a lack of concern for human rights, a long-standing problem for the party. In response, the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme decided to take on the National Front by creating a “republican vigilance committee”. The committee is designed to be an “observatory for the rights and liberties of each and everyone on the territory of Hénin-Beaumont” and will constitute a “black book” of all the instances of disregard for these rights and freedoms by the National Front. In response, the new mayor of Hénin-Beaumont has denounced what he calls a “hate campaign” led by the Legion of Honor, an institution that he has labeled as ‘trying to receive free headquarters on the taxpayer’s dime.’

 

But the Front National is not the only French party guilty of blatant and flamboyant missteps. With President François Hollande’s recent trip to Mexico, the French population was reminded of his dismal lack of ability in foreign languages, undoubtedly symbolic of a problem existing on the national scale. While trying to echo General de Gaulle’s speech in Mexico in March 1964, Hollande declared: “Le Géneral de Gaulle avait eu la formule qui est restée dans tous les esprits de faire que le Mexique et la France restent ‘la mano dans la mano’.” [‘General De Gaulle had the formula which stayed in the minds of all so as to ensure that France and Mexico would remain ‘la mano dans la mano’.] Perhaps the French President did not realize that he kept a French word “dans” in his own formula, rather than the Spanish equivalent “en”? It is as though he had declared that the French would remain “mano in the mano” (or “hand in the hand”) with the Mexicans. Such a formulation does not exactly have the same effect or glamour that Mr. de Gaulle conveyed sixty years ago when he properly wished for France and Mexico to remain “la mano en la mano” (“hand in hand”).

 

The Socialist party is also comical despite itself: with the appointment of Manuel Valls as prime minister, French newspapers had a field day with puns on his name:

Vals“Manuel de survie” (‘Survival guide’, a pun on the PM’s first name, which means ‘guide’ or ‘booklet’ in French); and Ayrault Valse (Ayrault being the Prime Minister who is being replaced by Mr.Valls.) The latter pun is on the word ‘Valse’, meaning a ‘waltz’ in French, but which also happens to be a homonym for the Prime Minister’s surname. The daily newspaper Metronews went with “Valls mène la dance” (‘Valls opens the dance’), a pun on the French expression “mener la dance,” to ‘lead the dance’ or to ‘run the show.’ Although amusing, these puns show how French newspapers have intentionally been making a game out of their country’s politics.

Such parody is indeed their forte. Le Figaro, arguably France’s largest daily newspaper, even created a fictional series called “Fiction Politique: Le coup du Père François” (‘Political fiction: Father Hollande’s trick”) in which president Francois Hollande decides to dissolve the national assembly. Running about ten episodes, this saga dramatizes French politicians in absurd, imaginary situations for purely satirical purpose. French newspapers and political magazines have also been approaching many of the government’s shortcomings and incompetent actions with a bitter, dark sense of humor. In particular, the right-wing magazine Le Point is particularly virulent in its criticisms of the government: its very title this week was “Vite, on coule!” (‘Quick, we are drowning!’) placed over a headshot of president Francois Hollande and his new prime minister, Manuel Valls. Sans titre1It boldly declares: “the leftist government’s capacity for blindness is limitless. It never learns lessons from the past. It refuses to see even the most evident realities.” Le Point has even coined the expression “catéchisme néo-con” [‘neo-shit catechism’] to refer to the Socialists’ doctrine which it satirically sums up as ‘let us spend and borrow more, and all will be better.’ The very use of the word ‘catechism’ marks the idea that, for Le Point, the socialist party’s policies are grounded in rank ideology rather than economic or social realities.

However, it is the Guignols de L’info, a band of puppets representing French celebrities and politicians, that takes the cake for irreverence and laughter-inducing skits. Developed by the French TV station Canal +, the puppets spare no one from their line of fire, from the Paris Saint Germain football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to Belgian rapper Stromae, to Francois Hollande, and Dominique Strauss-Khan. One rather comical example was a parody for Stromae’s now world-famous ‘Alors on Danse’ song:

Original

[Qui dit proches te dis deuils car les problèmes ne viennent pas seuls
Qui dit crise te dit monde, dit famine dit tiers-monde.
Qui dit fatigue dit réveille encore sourd de la veille
Alors on sort pour oublier tous les problèmes.
Alors on danse]

Parody 

[Qui dit perdre les élections te dit dégage de Matignon,
Who says losing the elections, says get out of Matignon

Qui dit échec dit humiliation dit encore plus nul que Fillon
Who says defeat says humiliation, even suckier than Fillon

Qui dit viré dit déprime dit lexomil  et aspirine
Who says fired says depressed says lexomil and aspirin

Tout seul dans ton salon a traiter Hollande de con
Alone in your salon treating Hollande of ‘con’ [asshole]

Alors tu Valls
And so you Valls [Waltz]  ]

As a matter of clarification, Matignon is the Prime Minister’s dwelling and Fillon was the prime minister under Sarkozy. The Guignols have Stromae singing to the beat of ‘Alors on Danse’ with satirical and irreverent lyrics sounding like the original ones. All French speakers, and many non-French speakers as well, would understand the reference to Stromae’s song, even if they do not understand the puns and inside jokes of French politics.

dsk

The Guignols also feature Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF who had to step down from presidential contention because he was entangled in a sex scandal. In the clip, he is in a bathrobe, declaring that he knows a socialist who received an “even bigger spanking than Hollande did.” When the puppet anchorman asks him “who?”, he answers “Me. Often, at night, I like to receive a good old lesson” and proceeds to naming his private part, “Francis,” who, he adds, with the daylights savings time, is “up earlier.”

 

In the past several of weeks alone, an avalanche of incidents has given French newspapers, magazines, and television stations the opportunity to laugh at the expense of many of the country’s leading public figures. The political climate in France is ripe for these opportunities, and if it were all a scripted reality show or soap opera it could hardly be funnier or more puzzling than reality itself.

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Cyprus: Between East and West?

(Note: This is the second of two articles by Stanford student Claire Negiar that together contrast the situations of two geopolitically divided islands: Saint Martin and Cyprus)

Cyprus and Saint Martin – two very different islands sharing one key property: both are split by their “mother countries,” Greece and Turkey in the case of Cyprus, France and the Netherlands in the case of Saint Martin. However, these two islands have known very different fates over the past several decades, which are worth exploring in greater depth. What makes Saint Martin successful in its division, while Cyprus has remained in a stalemate since 1974? Why have France and the Netherlands been able to coexist and build an amicable system despite the division, while Greece and Turkey still struggle over finding an agreement for Cyprus, with Nicosia remaining the last divided capita around the globe, the only militarily-divided city of Europe, and a seeming vestige of the past?

The earlier colonization of Saint Martin has given time the chance to blow over some of the initial tension that resulted from this dual presence, enabling the emergence of a stable border and the near-assimilation of the people of Saint Martin into a common identity. In many ways, however, the population of Saint Martin is much more diverse that of Cyprus, where the indigenous population remains starkly split between Greeks and Turks. Yet in such diversity, a degree of unity is also found. The difference in geopolitical tension may also be related to the much greater distance separating the island from its mother countries: if Saint Martin were as close to France and the Netherlands as Cyprus is to Greece and Turkey, would the two have been more inclined to have resisted their gradual relinquishing of control? Or is it that they do not see Saint Martin as enough of an economic asset, while Cyprus has just discovered great gas reserves that both Greece and Turkey desperately want to exploit?

On Saint Martin, over time the majority of the island’s population essentially became European, identifying closely with France and the Netherlands, but on Cyprus the colonial power, Britain, had “nothing to do” with the local population of Greeks and Turks and hence was never able to achieve such results. With the initial annexation of the island by the British Empire, the “Cyprus dispute” corresponded to the conflict between the people of Cyprus and the British Crown regarding the Cypriots’ demand for self-determination. The dispute was however soon shifted from a colonial to an ethnic register between the Turkish and the Greek islanders. The international complications of the dispute stretch far beyond the boundaries of the island of Cyprus itself, also involving the guarantor powers (Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom alike), and eventually the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. To what extent has the presence and interference of several international organization complicated the conflict rather than helping smooth it over?

With the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état’s installment of a pro-Enosis (the union of Cyprus and Greece) president and the responding Turkish invasion that same year (formally condemned by UN Security Council Resolution 1974/360), Turkey occupied the northern part of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. As the Greek and Turkish Cypriots had been interspersed across much of the island a significant amount of “ethnic cleansing” and relocation  subsequently occurred. Northern Cyprus soon unilaterally declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a sovereign entity that lacks international recognition—with the exception of Turkey, with which the TRNC enjoys full diplomatic relations. The United Nations has since created and maintained a buffer zone (the “Green Line”) to avoid any further inter-communal tensions and hostilities. This zone separates the Greek Cypriot-controlled south from the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north, passing directly through Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital since the fall of the Berlin Wall, though many also view Jerusalem as a divided city as well (a poll conducted in June 2013 found that 74% of Israeli Jews reject the idea of a Palestinian capital in any portion of Jerusalem, although 72% of the public regarded it as a divided city).

Ethnographic_distribution_in_Cyprus_1960 (1)

I visited Nicosia and walked by the wall and along the divide in 2003, which was the first year it was open to the public: it seemed to me like an odd vestige of the Cold War, frozen in time, absurd in the twenty-first century with the graffiti, the barbed-wire, and the sand bags at its foot, yet standing there still.

Another crucial factor is the intense cultural difference between the Greek and the Turkish populations. This split looms large in my memory as well. As a ten-year old child, I walked past the checkpoint from the Turkish to the Greek parts of Cyprus, and as soon as I reached Greek territory I was handed a small bottle of traditional Greek liquor, Ouzo. The two sides of the island seemed like a microcosm that revealed patterns of a much larger, global scale. Caught between the Western World and realm of Islam, at a crossroads of civilizations, Cyprus is split between the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, and Sunni Islam.

Cy-map

According to a Eurobarometer report, Cyprus is one of the most religious states in the European Union, alongside Malta, Romania, Greece, and Poland. What is more, it is linguistically divided between its two official languages, Greek and Turkish, which do not even share the same alphabet. (English is, however, well spread across the island).  This deep cultural divide makes the situation much more difficult for Cyprus than in the case of Saint Martin, where the two sovereign powers, France and the Netherlands, share many cultural similarities and have a long history of mutual understanding, unlike the two countries which ‘share’ the island of Cyprus. Walking between the Dutch and French sides of the island of Saint Martin, the biggest difference is scale: while the Dutch side boasts very large hotels, nightclubs, casinos, and cruise-ship tourist populations, the French side is home to smaller-scale hotels, restaurants, and in true French form, a few topless beaches. As I remember it, walking between the Greek and the Turkish sides of Cyprus was more like changing worlds: while the Greek side boasted a variety of international brands and had the lively feel of a capital city, the side-streets in the Turkish part of Nicosia were dominated by variety of repair shops selling hardware, pipes, and steel. There were more little stores, with a less touristy and more industrious ambiance, and the crux of the energy was concentrated around the very lively Souk. We visited a Turkish hammam, or public bath, located in a converted Catholic church, where the women and the men were sent to different parts of the edifice. We also enjoyed a honey-filled Turkish variation on a crepe in a  lovely courtyard. It was pleasant, but all the time I remember feeling a distinct sense of unease, my ten-year old, pale and blonde self, walking around in these streets, feeling quite out of place. While the Greek side seemed open for leisure and tourism, the Turkish side seemed made for the local inhabitants.

This cultural rift lay at the heart of many debates after Turkey posted its candidacy to the European Union. Indeed, while Greece and Cyprus are members of the European Union, Turkey was and is still seen as a much more controversial candidate, due in part to fear of interethnic and inter-religious conflict between Christian Europeans and immigrant Muslim Turks, as well as concerns that Turkey would not integrate harmoniously into the European political system, as perhaps evidenced by the situation in Cyprus. The lack of resolution of the Cypriot conflict has long burdened Turkey’s candidacy, and if Turkey is serious about its integration of the union, it will most likely need to come to a better settlement with its Greek counterpart on the island. Equally problematic is Greek Cypriot recalcitrance on reunion. A 2004 UN-organized referendum on reunification was rejected overwhelmingly on the Greek half of the island but was supported on the Turkish side.

Any possible settlement of the Cyprus issue seems unlikely given the history of fear and mistrust between the two sides. The unrecognized Turkish Northern Cyprus territory covers only 36% of the island’s overall territory, thus starting Turkey out with weaker hand and giving the conflict an unequal feel. This 36% of land is, however, crucial to Turkey due to its proximity to its own ports. Indeed, Cyprus is only 65 kilometers from Turkey, and the island is close to Turkey’s southern harbors, such as Mersin. As such, all Turkey’s southwestern ports are under the cover of Cyprus and whoever controls the island is able to exert pressure on them. It should be of no surprise, then, that it has been a prime and long-standing Turkish objective that the island does not succumb to any potentially hostile power, especially its traditional enemy, Greece. Common membership of Greece and Turkey in NATO has never diminished Turkish concerns about these geo-strategic issues, nor will Turkey’s possible accession to the EU.

As such, reasons for the different fates of Saint Martin and Cyprus extend from historical to geographic, demographic, geopolitical, and cultural factors. The easy coexistence of two states on the former island and the on-going conflict on the latter, however, result from processes that are as multi-faceted as these islands are diverse, and truly pinpointing what could be learned from one situation to apply to the other is difficult at best. From an island in the Caribbean with significant self-determination and hundreds of years of colonial history, to an island in the Mediterranean split between its two native populations, significant situational differences which may not allow for comparison at all. However, as history tends to repeat itself, with a little bit of imagination and a little bit of creativity, there may be some lessons that each can learn from the other’s situation.

Regardless of such comparisons, the geopolitical situation on Cyprus remains extraordinarily complex. According to the diplomatic establishments of most countries, the Republic of Cyprus has de jure sovereignty across the island, yet in de facto terms Cyprus is of course split, with Northern Cyprus forming a separate state.  But this is just the start of the complexity, as the United Kingdom still controls two military bases on the island over which it exercises sovereign power. These sovereign military bases, moreover, encompass several exclaves of the Republic of Cyprus, while Northern Cyprus has its own exclave on the northwestern coast.

Cyprus_districts_named

And the U.N. Buffer Zone itself makes up yet another unit, as it is not a mere “line” but rather a territory in its own right that cover 346 square kilometers (134 sq mi) and is home to some 10,000 people. Parts of this buffer zone are essentially off-limits to people, and have thus become a haven for wildlife, much like Korea’s so-called demilitarized zone. Another complication of geopolitics on Cyprus is that the island has been as a tax haven for many international investors, especially the Russians, which has a significant effect on the Cyprus-Russia relations. Many Russian investors withdrew their funds when the Cypriot government forced bank depositors to pay their share of an international bailout in the spring of 2013, but now Russian investors are returning. There is also a fairly sizeable Russian community on the island, with its own online forum .

Finally, it is important to note that Cyprus plays an unusual international role in regard to Israel, as Israelis who want to be married in civil rather religious ceremonies generally do so on Cyprus. But recent discoveries of off-shore gas deposits in Israel’s waters may change the hereto peaceful relations between Israel and Greek Cyprus. Both Greek Cyprus and Turkey desperately want to import Israeli off-shore gas. According to one plan, Israeli gas would be exported directly to a facility to be set up in Vassilikos, in southern Greek Cyprus. Alternately, the gas could be delivered via an underground pipeline to the port of Jihan in southern Turkey, but en route the pipeline would have to cross under the territorial waters of Greek Cyprus to avoid crossing Lebanese and Syrian territory. Unsurprisingly, Turkey and Greek Cyprus cannot agree on this issue. All in all, it is difficult to find more geopolitical complexity and ambiguity than on Cyprus.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-21831943

http://www.russiancyprus.info

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.573555

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cyprus_districts_named.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Buffer_Zone_in_Cyprus

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/cyprus/9949860/Cyprus-an-island-pawn-in-a-game-of-geopolitical-chess.html

http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyprus_dispute

 

 

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Saint Martin/Sint Maarten: An Island Divided

(Note: Today’s post is by Claire Negiar, a Stanford senior, soon to graduate. Claire will be writing a few posts over the coming weeks, many of them focused on France and French dependencies.)

Saint Martin. Sint Maarten. A crossroad between North and South, split between France and the Netherlands, Saint Martin has known a different fate in the aftermath of decolonization than most other Caribbean islands. Although the European colonial powers of Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and even some of the Nordic nations usually battled it out for sovereignty over Carribbean islands in long back-and-forths, on the island of Saint Martin, the two main contenders chose a different path: that of peaceful coexistence. But what enabled Saint Martin to be successful in its division, while so many other attempts at dividing territory across the world have failed? And how have France and the Netherlands been able to coexist and build a coherent island community despite this division?

One hypothesis would be that the early colonization of Saint Martin has given time the chance to smooth over the conflicts and the disputes that resulted from this dual presence. Indeed, borders were disputed for some time before matters were settled: between 1648 and 1816, conflicts changed the border sixteen times. In the end, the French came out ahead with 54 km2 to the 41 km2 of the Dutch side. The French and Dutch had both coveted the island: while the French wanted to colonize all the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, Dutch interest in Saint Martin stemmed from a desire to have a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (today New York) and Brazil (temporarily taken from Portugal). Because there were few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Soon after, the Dutch East India Company began salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well, which attracted the Spanish conquistadores’ attention: taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, they suddenly found St. Martin much more appealing than it had been. What is more, the Eighty Years’ War, which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands, provided further incentive to attack. The Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back the island, these were unsuccessful.

Sans titre3However, fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended and the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending the island. They deserted the island in 1648 and, when this happened, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts.

After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily and, preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two. In spite of the treaty, relations between the two sides were not always cordial. We can therefore see that Saint Martin’s history was off to a rocky start as well, and that things were not always as smooth as they are today.

Sans titre2

Some elements of the initial partition of the island may, however, help explain why it has largely been successful. Indeed, the French and the Dutch realized it was in their interest to sign a treaty giving each of them roughly half the territory. In a game of prisoner’s dilemma, the French and the Dutch would therefore both have chosen the option of “lying low,” resulting in the most beneficial split for both, instead of choosing the “equilibrium” strategy of attacking behind the other’s back, resulting in a sub-optimal resolution where there is also an intense mistrust.  All of the provisions of the 1648 Treaty of Concordia are still in force on Saint Martin today, thus showing that it has at least passed the test of time.

Another interesting point is the fact that the native population of Saint Martin was minimal, and that the population of the island has grown from both colonial settlements. That is to say, the indigenous peoples were overpowered and vastly outnumbered by the colonial powers, and that today the population is roughly split at 50% between the French and the Dutch sides, with 35,518 in Saint Martin and 37,459 in St. Maarten. Overall, the island’s population is highly mixed, with people from over 120 countries, speaking English, French, Haitian/Guadeloupe/Martinique Creole, Papiamento (a Portuguese-based Creole from the Netherland’s islands of the southern Caribbean), Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Italian. It seems that this intense melting pot helps defray cultural tension, as the island is not just a split between forty thousand Frenchmen and forty thousand Dutch. On Saint Martin/St. Maarten, languages, cultures, religions, and ethnicities mix and mingle, and as a result the fact that the island is split between the Netherlands and France has taken a secondary place.

Though initially a part of the French region of Guadeloupe, French Saint Martin more recently experienced a major geopolitical change. The constitutional reform of March 28th 2003 on the decentralization of the French Republic brought about transformation in the status of the overseas territories. The new law laid down a framework for developments in the status and administration of overseas “Collectivités”. In December of 2003, at the request of the municipal council, a referendum was held on Saint Martin on the island’s constitutional status under the framework of Article 74 of the Constitution (which allows the creation of a “collectivité” with a special status); a clear majority (76.17%) of the Saint Martiners voted in favor of this change. Since December 2007, Saint Martin has been a leader of the French decentralization process under this new article of the constitution.

A somewhat similar change occurred on the Dutch half of the island.  In 1957 the Netherlands excluded the Netherlands Antilles from European Territory at the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Council, forerunner of the EU, cementing its status as a colonial possession. On October 10th, however, 2010, Sint Maarten however became a constituent (i.e., non-sovereign) country within the Dutch Kingdom, giving it an equal status to Aruba, Curacao and, theoretically, the Netherlands itself. Today, the government of the “Country of St Maarten” is a parliamentary democracy.

As such developments show, the two mother countries on the island have been willing to loosen their grasp on the island and offer a certain degree of self-rule to the local population. Such accommodation is rooted in part in the island’s demographic diversity, but mere distance probably plays a role as well. If Saint Martin were closer to France and the Netherlands, would these two countries be more inclined to resist this slow relinquishing of control?  The island’s small size, and its lack of resources, has probably played a role as well.

The fact that Saint Martin has gained substantial autonomy is also synonymous with a loosened fiscal policy, which is advantageous to many wealthy French citizens. The same situation is found in other French dependencies, although the French government claims that it wants to crack down on the resulting financial irregularities. Because of their special status, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélémy, Tahiti, and Wallis-et-Futuna all function, to a certain extent, as tax havens and money-laundering hubs. These « Collectivités d’Outre Mer » all benefit from complete autonomy in terms of fiscal and customs policies. The political division of the island of Saint Martin complicates this situation, although sovereignty is divided, no formal border separates the two parts of the island;  one can weave in and out of the two countries without even knowing it.

Walking between the Dutch and French sides of the island of Saint Martin, the biggest difference is that of scale: while the Dutch side boasts very large hotels, nightclubs, casinos, and cruise-ship tourist populations, while the French side is home to smaller-scale hotels, restaurants, and, in true French form, a few topless beaches. What is more, financial institutions on the Dutch and the French sides have a policy of cooperation, thus making money-laundering relatively easy. Indeed, according to UN and European Commission consultant Michel Koutouzis:

“You arrive with black-market money in a Casino on the Dutch side. You are told to sit at a given table for an hour. The casino makes you win a pre-arranged sum, which is a common practice in tax-havens. Once you collect your winnings, you can go invest them on the French side in real-estate or marina projects.”

Today, two main issues have been plaguing the island, French and Dutch sides alike: drugs and disease. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the dispersion of the chikungunya mosquito-borne virus across the Caribbean, fearing its spread to the United States and throughout the Americas.

Sans titre1

The virus, originally from Africa and southern Asia, causes fever and intense muscle and joint pain for weeks and, in some cases, years. There is currently no vaccine or cure. On December 10, 2013, the WHO confirmed the first two cases of chikungunya that were acquired locally rather than imported, on the French part of the island of St. Martin. As of Feb. 21, the Pan American Health Organization, a regional WHO entity, had confirmed 2,238 cases of the disease in the Caribbean—from Martinique to the British Virgin Islands.

Drug consumption and ease of access has been another concern for the island: both cannabis and heroin are relatively cheap on the island, and are thus prevalent and heavily consumed. Reducing the drug consumption and creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to seek out help remain top priorities for the local government.

Although the island of Saint Martin is divided, it benefits from surprising synergies between its two sides, with a shared but diverse cultural background, and a reputation for delicious food and beautiful beaches. However, the two sides of the islands also share the common challenges of disease, drugs, and regulating financial institutions to avoid money-laundering and tax evasion. Today, although politically divided, Saint Martin largely functions as a unified country, with the minor anomaly of having two separate official languages in different areas. Although not necessarily an example of perfect governance or exemplary policy, Saint Martin provides lessons for other regions of the world about successful coexistence. But is this model reproducible anywhere else in the world, perhaps in such a conflict-ridden and divided country as Cyprus, or is it too idiosyncratic of a situation to be generalizable to any other parts of the world?

 

http://www.stmartinisland.org/destination-st-martin/saint-martin-island-life.html

http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2008/10/17/ces-petits-paradis-fiscaux-francais-quon-laisse-prosperer

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304071004579409532322280294

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/one-island-two-countries/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Martin

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Casamance – harmonious name, discordant reality

“Je viens de la Casamance” (I am from The Casamance): on a recent trip to Senegal, this was the answer that I received roughly three quarters of the time when I asked staff members at hotels, guides, and people who approached me on the beach where they were from in Senegal. Throughout my ten days in the country, the word built up on aura of notoriety and awe in my mind – like something beautiful and dangerous, inaccessible yet desirable. The next words would usually inform me that the Casamance is the true heart of the country, where the luscious beauty of Senegal lies, and where people know how to have real fun. But the actual history of the Casamance region paints a different image from the one that I had built up in my mind based on local accounts.

The Casamance has long been a region in limbo, caught between worlds: today trapped between Senegal and The Gambia, it was subject to both French and Portuguese colonial efforts before the border was negotiated in 1888 between the French colony of Senegal and Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) to the south. The settlement resulted in Portugal losing possession of the Casamance, which was at the time the commercial hub of its colony. To this day, the region has preserved its local variant of West African Portuguese-based Creole, known as Ziguinchor, and the members of its deeply rooted Creole community carry Portuguese last names like Da Silva, Carvalho, and Fonseca. Ironically, interest in the Portuguese colonial heritage has been revived of late in order to solidify a distinct identity, particularly in Baixa (“lower”) Casamança. Such an identity is also aided by the presence of people from Bissau-Guinean, who have entered Senegal as expatriates, immigrants, and refugees fleeing the poverty and political instability that has affected Guinea-Buissau.

Unfortunately, the Casamance region has seldom been stable, its instability stemming from Senegal’s very independence. Indeed, Senegal’s first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, allegedly promised the region’s leaders that if they joined Senegal for 20 years they could subsequently have their own state if they wanted it. When the government failed to follow through on the promise in 1980, street demonstrations in the Casamance capital, Zinguichor, turned violent. The main impetus behind the separatist drive is the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), created in 1947 as a political party, before turning to outright separatism in the 1980s. The MFDC gained widespread local popularity following brutal repression against demonstrators who were calling on officials to make good on Senghor’s promise.

Casamance1

Beyond these historical factors, the separatist movement also has economic and geographic origins. First, the Casamance region is the richest in the country by virtue of its lush vegetation and vast natural resources, which has earned it the title of national granary. Peanuts, Senegal’s main cash crop, are particularly important in the region. The exploitation of these riches, which often bypasses the local population, has fostered a sense of victimization among the Southerners, many of whom grieve the systematic plundering of their region for the benefit of other regions, particularly Dakar. Religious differences exacerbate such tensions. Whereas the vast majority of the Senegalese people are Muslims, many residents of the Casamance are Christians or animists. The prevailing sentiment in the region and among the locally dominant Diola (Jola) ethnic group is that they do not benefit sufficiently from their region’s wealth and that Dakar, the capital, reaps most of the profit that is rightfully theirs.

Casamance2

Another factor is the Casamance region’s geographical isolation from Senegal due to the existence of The Gambia. Indeed, the region is poorly connected to the rest of the country by a long, and often nearly impassable road that passes through the eastern Tambacounda region. It is possible, however, to travel from central Senegal to the Casamance by way of the sea or though the territory of the Gambia, but neither option is easy. As a result of such isolation, the Casamance sometimes seems cut off from the rest of the country, and the frustration caused by this alienation fuels a fierce desire among some of its inhabitants to free themselves from the rule of Dakar.

When I visited Senegal this past December, I was told how most Senegalese convoys get across The Gambia. The only way to go to the Casamance without taking a detour all around the Gambia, which would take days, is to cross the River Gambia itself. However, there is no bridge that would make this traversal easy. Indeed, the only current way to get across is a ferry, whose ownership was shifted from the Gambia Public Transport Corporation to the Port Authority in 2001. The authority is eager to maintain its monopoly, and reluctant to allow the construction of a competing bridge. As a result, trucks line up for up to 5 days to get across the river, generating a huge loss of efficiency and profitability, especially for trucks carrying perishables.

Casamance3 Although the Senegalese government has made some efforts at a bridge initiative, the Gambian ferry company has done everything within its power to prevent the implementation of this project. Recently however, The Gambia has paired with the Taiwanese government to enhance the ferry service, which has been highly hazardous. Taiwan is not the only East Asian country interested in Senegal and the Gambia. According to our guides, the Chinese are building soccer stadiums in all major Senegalese towns and cities, ostensibly ‘for free’ but actualy in exchange for fishing rights in the bountiful waters off the coast.

 Casamance4On top of the lack of accessibility, the Casamance faces a major problem in drug trafficking. Drug traffickers take advantage of the local isolation and instability to expand their business, turning the border that the Casamance shares with Guinea Bissau into a hub for the illicit trade. The rebel leaders therefore have a very profitable business in hand and are unlikely to accept anything less than a very favorable settlement. Unfortunately, the Senegalese government is seemingly unwilling to seek a resolution to this issue. While hundreds of Senegalese soldiers are present throughout the Casamance, they have made little headway against the rebellion, and there are growing concerns about human rights violations and the disabling of local economic development. Concrete negotiations with the separatists have not happened for many years. It now seems clear that neither party in really seeking to bring the other to the table for open discussion. Finally, there has been an unfortunate lack of media attention on this conflict. The Senegalese government has also failed to provide information. Indeed, since the inception of the conflcit, no concrete or official figures have been released regarding the number of victims. Some sources, however, claim that up to 5,000 people have lost their lives over the past several decades of fighting.

To add insult to injury, the death toll has been severely exacerbated by the lingering presence of landmines scattered across the region, which has also lead to the abandonment of many villages by former inhabitants. A reported 800 people have lost their lives due to mines since 1988, and the lack of action from the Senegalese government has meant that the demining work has largely been left up to a select group of NGOs. Although a few initiatives have been launched, such as the DDP “disarmament, demining, and ‘projects’” put forward by former President Wade, these peace initiatives have been largely unsuccessful. However, with a recent acceleration of violence, support for the separatist rebels has been dwindling among many locals. In an interview with the IRIN, Moussa Sagna, a trader and resident of Zinguinchor, explains: “The rebels must stop creating violence in the region; they must understand that it is their parents who have suffered now, for 30 years. They shouldn’t fight for the independence of Casamance and at the same time make people suffer in Casamance.”

 Casamance6

 If Senegal wants to experience genuine economic development in a near future, it will need to monbilize all the assets that are in its possession. However, it is doubtful this will happen in the absence of its potentially richest region. The Casamance not only has substantial natural resources, but also has great potential for tourism. There can be no question of the urgency for Senegal of the Casamance problem. Economic opportunities remain unrealized, the drug trafficking virus keeps spreading, and the death toll seems to have maintained a steady pace since the early 1980s. With Senegal’s newly instilled biometric visa regime and entry fee for tourists, as well as the discontinuation of the famous Paris-Dakar rally, tourism has experienced a serious hit over the past few years. The government will thus need to find another means to revive its economy, which has not had the same impressive growth rates that many African countries have experienced over the past few years.

 

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Seek and Thou Shall Fiend: French Satirical Maps

(Note to Readers: Asya Pereltsvaig and I were both quite intrigued by a series of satirical maps of France found on the website Carte de France. Rather than write about them ourselves, however, we decided to turn the project over to Claire Negiar, a Stanford student and a native of Paris. Claire may be writing some additional GeoCurrents posts in the coming months as well. — Martin W. Lewis)

As any tourist who has traveled to France knows, the French are master critics. But they tend to spare nobody in the line of fire—not even their own compatriots. In the series entitled “La carte de France vue par ses habitants,” the French website CartesFrances.fr offers a variety of satirical mappings of the divisions of France as seen by inhabitants of some of its main geopolitical and cultural hubs: Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse, Brittany, and Normandy.

The choice of viewpoints used in the maps is itself of interest. The perception of France by its own people is conveyed through the vantage point of 3 cities (Paris, Marseilles, and Toulouse) and 2 regions (Brittany as representing the West of France, Normandy as representing the North). Although Lyon is typically thought of as the second or third city of France, Toulouse stands in for the South of France in general, separate from the city of Marseille. We will see how, together, these various maps give the impression of an overly centralized yet at the same time extremely diverse nation.

carte-de-france-vue-par-les-marseillais The reported perception of France from the perspective of Marseille is particularly simplistic: amusingly, the map features two latitudinal lines and one oval to create a total of four regions: “North Pole” for the far North of France, “North” for everything poleward of the region the French call “Sud” (which itself usually corresponds to the regions of Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi Pyrennées and Aquitaine, but is here even more constrained) and, finally, the shining label “cons,” (“assholes”), assigned to the oval encompassing Paris. Of notice, too, is the ironic “Capitale” label on top of Marseille. The map perfectly showcases the deep-seated rivalry between Paris and Marseille, which, as far as most French people are concerned, mostly involves an intense soccer rivalry in which the members of each respective team are taunted with the term “enculé” (loosely meaning fucker) by the hordes of fans from the opposing team as they step onto their opponents’ home field.

Interestingly, the comments at the top of the map reveal some other truths about France: its plethora of local traditions and its cultural diversity. A Parisian myself, I find many of the expressions and jokes listed above the map as seen by Marseilles inexplicable: ‘Tu dis “sers moi un jaune” au lieu de sers moi un Pastis’ (‘You say “serve me a yellow” instead of “serve me some Pastis” ‘). In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, Marseille is described as “a glorious melting pot of sun and seediness” (“Marseille, the Secret Capital of France?”), a view that has come to be the more or less accepted view throughout the country. In a caricatured world, Parisians would be the stuck up bourgeoisie and Marseille the gang of hooligans. This  perception is reinforced by the comments atop the map of Paris: “Tu trouves ça normal de payer 2000€ de loyer pour un 3 pièces” (‘You find it normal to pay 2000€ in rent for 3 a 3-room apartment’) or “Tu payes 12€  pour deux cocas en terrace” (‘You pay 12€  for two cokes on a café terrace’). In contrast, the comments atop the Marseille map are focused around the slang of the city’s inhabitants: ‘ Tu dis PEUCHEEERRE pour dire “le pauvre”’ (You say ‘PEUCHEEEERE’ to say ‘poor guy’), where ‘peuchère’ is a French archaism expressing compassion, which can therefore be read ironically, especially given the exaggeration placed on the word). Others include ‘Tu dis “je me suis ruiné” pour dire “je me suis fais mal”’(You say ‘I ruined myself’ to mean ‘I hurt myself’) and even ‘Tu dis “putain”, “con” et “enculer” dans toutes tes phrases’ (you say ‘shit’ and ‘asshole’ and ‘fuck’ in all your sentences) . The Marseillais, far from refusing the stereotypes, seem to vindicate their image as the “bad boys” of France.

However, as simplistic andimmigration light-hearted as the map may seem, it nevertheless reveals some deep-seated truths about French geopolitics, in particular the intense centralization of the country—to the point that a map of France can essentially be reduced to Paris and Marseille. In terms of economy, at least, the picture is unequivocal, with the Paris region representing up to 30% of France’s GDP and 5% of the European Union’s GDP in 2013, despite France’s recent economic troubles.  The picture in Marseille is however more glum, as the city is beset with rampant unemployment and increasingly high homicide rates. Although Lyon was left out of these maps, it is in fact the second largest city in France in terms of GDP, ahead of Marseilles. The omission of Lyon therefore signals that Marseilles has always been one of the “têtes fortes” (strong heads) of France, the second arm of the country, with its own true character and culture, despite the fact that it is weaker economically than Lyon (with a GDP figure of roughly $59B, as opposed to Lyon’s $65B and Paris’ gargantuan $565B). Somewhat unsurprisingly, these three dynamic regions have also experienced the greatest influx for immigrants born outside of the European Union.

carte-de-france-vue-par-les-parisiensThe map of France as seen by the Parisians seems more complex at first glance, though this does not mean that the Parisians are more discriminating than the Marseillais. The labels for the different regions here could be taken as offhanded proofs from inside the minds of Parisians, justifying France’s centralized political model. Alsace is perceived as the home of the “dépressifs” (depressed), the Bretagne region (Brittany), summed up for most Parisians by crepes and hard cider, are “alcooliques,”(alcoholics), and the Northerners are “pauvres” (poor).  The wildly successful 2008 French movie “Bienvenue Chez Les Chtis” (‘Welcome to the Sticks’) captured these dichotomies and prejudices perfectly. It is centered around a postal manager from the region of Lyon who is sent to the Northern region (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) as a punishment for having faked a disability in the hope of being sent to an office … on the Mediterranean. The movie was seen by a third of the French population in 23 weeks, thus showing the extent to which the regional question remains a running joke in France. The fact that this film came out in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, is a tribute to the particular French vein of humor that seems to say: “on est tous dans la merde” (literally, we’re all ‘in the shit’).

The labels “branleurs” (‘wvacation_spotsankers’) and “menteurs” (‘liars’) for the southern regions show the extent to which Paris sees itself as pulling the country on its own—whether that is a role it has given to itself or the product of actual laziness from the other regions. The “terrorist” label both for the Basque Country and Corsica humorously point out the existence of occasionally violent separatist groups in both regions, though both places are also extremely popular vacation destinations for the Parisians, who seldom let geopolitics in the way of their summer migration.  Finally, the map reveals the idea that Parisians tend to see many regions of France as their playground. The “plages” (beaches) label along the Western and the Mediterranean coasts and the “ski” label along the Pyrenees and the Alps may seem amusing and reductive, but they are in fact indicative of the huge ebb and flow that occurs in the winter and summer (with all those weeks off work!), when a massive exodus heads out of Paris and into these regions. The French, although a generally well-traveled bunch, mostly stay in France for their vacations. As a matter of fact, 90% of all vacations taken by the population are within France, and the French are themselves responsible for 60% of the income generated by tourism in their country.  In this same vein, the map as seen by the Normands labels the Parisians as “envahisseurs du weekend” (weekend invaders), as many Parisians take weekend trips to Normandy, causing infamously nightmarish traffic jams on the road back to Paris every Sunday evening.

These maps, although playing on stereotypes and prejudices, as is usually the practice in satirical mapping, are less exaggerated than one may expect—which is perhaps why they are as funny and as successful as they are. They hit a lot of the main current political questions and trends that have been resurfacing as a result of current economic crisis in France and the rather lackluster presidency of Monsieur Hollande. Such concerns include: over-centralization, immigration, and increasing diversity, along with their counterparts of racism and xenophobia, a pointing of fingers between the regions, a lack of real integration and coherence, and perhaps more importantly, a lack of true understanding or empowerment of the regions. Most of these aspects go completely unmentioned in these maps—Paris may be loved and Marseille may be feared, but worse than these two extremes is the indifference accorded to a large part of the country’s culture and diversity.

 

 

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