The miracle of Belfast, the horror of Zimbabwe, and the opportunity for France

Several days of rioting have greeted Sarkozy’s victory in France. He must be quite thrilled about this. In June there are parliamentary elections in which he must win a majority in order to ensure that he can operate unimpeded. The rioting is perfect marketing.

Part of Sarkozy’s attraction for the average French person was rioting taking place over the past few years amongst France’s disaffected youth and alienated foreign immigrants. He has promised stern action against this type of behaviour and to route out its causes. Trotting out images of burning cars in the days after his election – before he has even done anything – is a sure-fire way of getting fence-sitters to agree that only Sarkozy’s brand of determination can get things done. If the Left in France is to ensure its relevance it will have to tone down its rhetoric and stop telling people that he is a “fascist”.

Further afield, two nations demonstrate astonishing lessons for Sarkozy, France, Europe, and anyone else who wants to listen.

Belfast is the scene of what may be the miracle which will follow Tony Blair throughout history, long after the debacle in Iraq is forgotten. The sight of Pastor Ian Paisley of the Unionists and Martin McGuinness of the IRA standing side by side grinning in delight at forming a government with Paisley as Prime Minister. Who would have thought? That each blood-soaked man is responsible for thousands of deaths; that Ireland has been a howling separatist bloodbath for over 100 years … this must be stood against the man who quietly and determinedly (as he does everything) massaged the protagonists together.

The Taoiseach of Ireland declared: “Tony Blair has been a true friend of peace, and a true friend of Ireland. For 10 tough years, he has spent more time dealing with the issues of the island of Ireland than any person ever could have asked any other person to do.”

Ireland is still divided. Walls keep Catholics and Protestants apart. They have been there for 35 years to keep the peace. Walls such as these are being built in Iraq.

Lessons here may be of use to those seeking peace in Israel and Iraq. If the protagonists are unable to compromise, unable to seek a peaceful solution to conflict, then it may be necessary – for however long – to physically separate them until such time as great leaders come forward to coax the warlords into agreement.

Zimbabwe, too, offers solutions, of a sort. Several years ago President Robert Mugabe decided he’d had enough of the free-market system. He nationalised state assets, printed money to assist war veterans (known as the “navy” since they were all semen during the war of independence) become millionaires, and chased skilled farmers off their land to hand to veterans on the shaky premise that the farmers were “white” and, therefore, automatically oppressors and tools of the West.

Zimbabwe now has the highest inflation rate in the world, at 2 200%, and is starving to death.

You can make any sort of promises you like as a politician, but you are not going to be the one to do the work. Entrepreneurs and investors must decide whether they fancy the risk you’re offering them and then make a decision as to whether they believe you. If they don’t, as in Zimbabwe, they’ll leave. And then there will be no jobs or income to guarantee the benefits you’re promising.

Europe, with its high tax rate, has massive youth unemployment. New businesses tend to be started in markets that encourage that sort of investment.

France stands on the edge: does Sarkozy choose to be unloved but push through unpleasant truths to his people and chip away at their reservations and reserve, or does he make wide-eyed promises in the hopes that, by a miracle, the market delivers?

1 reply »

  1. The Blair part of this is a fascinating thing to ponder. I guess from an American perspective Blair’s whole identity has been “Dubya’s lapdog.” I can’t imagine ever thinking of him without automatically thinking of Iraq, and gods, it’s impossible to respect a man who places himself at the beck and call of one of the dumbest leaders in the history of the West.

    Things are always more complex, I guess. I’m rooting for Sarkozy, although I wish the French had maybe found themselves a more moderate leader. I guess they’re getting more American in that respect, at least.