French President Nicolas Sarkozy is using vicious scapegoating to try to distract attention from a government expenses scandal and a revolt against his pensions attacks.
He is part of a trend across Europe to spread hatred and division in an effort to blunt opposition to our rulers’ plans to make us pay for the crisis. Such manoeuvres can pave the way for open racists and fascists to prosper.
Over the last week Sarkozy called for a new “war on crime”. He said that foreign-born individuals would be stripped of their French nationality if they attacked police or public officials, cynically meshed ideas of “immigrant” and “criminal”, and lashed out at Roma people and travellers.
“We are suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration which has led to a failure of integration,” he said.
Sarkozy is no stranger to virulent and racist scaremongering. He has repeatedly used the idea of a feral and alien “racaille” (scum) to scare voters into backing him.
He divides France into those who work hard and respect the law and those who are criminal and worthless. But his latest comments went further than ever before.
Several of the measures he called for ape the policies of Jean Marie Le Pen’s fascist National Front party. Several French commentators criticised the plan as similar to measures used against the Jews by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in the 1940s.
Sarkozy hopes to scoop up far right voters, but is more likely to strengthen and legitimise the National Front.
His tough rhetoric was followed by the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, who warned that citizenship could also be revoked for those found guilty of other offences such as polygamy or other “serious criminal acts”.
Words lead to actions. When the president gives a lead, the state’s attack dogs know what’s required.
Police drove about 50 Roma from a squat in Montreuil, east of Paris, on Friday of last week.
Even before the “get tough” campaign, police broke up a demonstration by 150 people, mostly African immigrant women, protesting against their eviction from squats in a council tower block in a suburb of Paris.
Almost all were completely legal and had lived in France for a decade or more.
A video of the eviction (available at www.socialistworker.co.uk) shows police assaulting women, children and men. One particularly vile episode shows officers dragging off a woman with a baby on her back.
The onslaught was on the same estate where Sarkozy threatened to use an industrial hose to clean out drug gangs. The local police authority rejected charges of brutality—a spokesman said that the woman with a baby on her back had “thrown herself on the ground which meant the officers could not at first see her baby”.
The opposition Socialist Party criticised Sarkozy’s most extreme phrases. But its own representatives have demanded more spending on the police and said that Sarkozy was not doing enough to tackle criminality.
And Sarkozy would have been encouraged by the 335 to one vote in the French parliament to ban the wearing of the Islamic full-face veil.
France shows the danger of the right coming up with divisive measures to break resistance to the cuts.
Some of those victimised are already hitting back. In the small town of Saint-Aignan, in central France, a group of around 50 Roma armed with axes attacked a police station after police shot and killed a 22-year old.
There has to be clear resistance to racism and Islamophobia, and a class alternative to the idea that workers must pay for the crisis.
Millions of French workers are set to take part in strikes and protests on 7 September against pension “reform”. That unity, combined with political arguments against racism and the cuts, can defeat Sarkozy’s strategy.