France’s Sarkozy trumpets ‘Gaulish ancestry’ as he chases far-right votes
Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday declared that when someone becomes French his or her “ancestors are the Gauls” as right-wing presidential candidate stepped up his criticism of immigrants and minorities on the campaign trail.
Sarkozy once again lashed out at what he called the “tyranny of the minorities” during a speech to supporters in the Parisian suburb of Franconville.
France’s president between 2007 and 2012, Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian-born father and French-born mother of Greek-Jewish origin. He failed to win re-election in 2012, losing to Socialist rival François Hollande, and has placed his hopes on storming back into the Elysée Palace next year.
“If one wants to become French, one lives as a Frenchman. We will no longer tolerate an integration that doesn’t work, we will demand assimilation,” Sarkozy said.
“When you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls. ‘I love France, I learn French history, and I live as a Frenchman’, that is what someone who becomes French must tell himself,” he added in reference to the ancient Celtic people who inhabited large swaths of what is today France and other parts of Western and Central Europe.
The Gauls’ resistance against the Roman Empire in the first century BC has been romanticised by the popular Astérix comic book series, published largely in the 1960s and 70s.
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem on Friday hit back at Sarkozy, suggesting the former head of state was in desperate need of a history lesson. She said among Gauls, France’s ancestors also included Romans, Normans and more recently people from the Caribbean, North Africa and Spain.
“Enough of the narrow-minded speeches that lead us nowhere, enough of the inward-looking postures,” Vallaud-Belkacem, who is of Moroccan origin, told news channel iTele. “I think it does a lot of harm to our country.”
Courting far-right voters, again
Sarkozy is vying for his Les Républicains party’s presidential nomination, and is running a close primary race with Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé. Opinion polls suggest the winner of that contest will advance to the second round of France’s presidential poll in May 2017.
The former president has largely focused his primary race on identity politics, broadly chastising immigrants and minorities he says reject French norms and values. The hard-line rhetoric, characteristic of France’s far-right National Front (FN) party, was once again on display on September 19.
“I will not accept medieval behaviour in which men bathe in swimsuits while women are covered up,” Sarkozy proclaimed in reference to burkinis, full-cover swimsuits used by a handful of Muslim women that were banned from some French beaches over the summer.
Last month France’s Council of State said such local bans were at odds with fundamental civil liberties.
Focusing on issues usually harped on by the FN is a strategy that paid off for Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential poll. He won that election and boasted of reducing the far-right’s score in the first round to a meagre 10 percent support.
Tit for tat with Juppé
In recent weeks Sarkozy and Juppé have exchanged barbs over their views on how immigrants and minority communities should live in France, with Juppé defending a greater measure of liberty when it comes to cultural beliefs and practices.
“What does assimilation mean? It means we are all the same. When you cut a tree’s roots, the tree dies. We are not all the same and we must respect our diversity,” Juppé told the news channel France Info on Thursday, in a dig to Sarkozy’s “demand” for assimilation during the speech in Franconville.
Juppé nevertheless insisted that integration had to be strictly on French terms.
“We are diverse, but if we do not do things together we cannot build a country. We know what our common goods are. It’s our history, our language, our Christian roots,” Juppé said in his own overture to conservative voters.