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Anti-establishment filmmaker Ruffin wins a seat in France's parliament

© Francois Lo Presti, AFP | Francois Ruffin speaks on June 18, 2017 in Flixecourt, northern France, before the results of the legislatives elections.

Text by Monique EL-FAIZY

Latest update : 2017-06-20

Long known for his anti-establishment views, his election to France’s National Assembly makes leftist journalist and filmmaker François Ruffin a part of the very system he has been fighting.

Ruffin leapt to fame with his 2015 documentary, “Merci Patron! (Thanks Boss!), which earned him a César – the French version of the Oscar – and the moniker “The French Michael Moore”.

In the spirit of Moore’s “Roger & Me”, Ruffin’s film pits a couple laid off from a Kenzo clothing factory against Bernard Arnault, one of France’s richest men and chairman and CEO of LVMH, Kenzo’s parent company. After the factory was relocated to Poland, the couple found themselves in debt and at risk of losing their home. “Merci Patron!” chronicles Ruffin’s efforts to force Arnault to financially compensate the couple.

The 41-year-old Ruffin has been challenging the powers that be since his youth: When he was only 24 he founded an ultra-leftist newspaper called Fakir that bills itself as having ties to "no political party, no union, no institution".

Having won his underdog bid for office, Ruffin now finds himself linked both to a political party – he will sit in the legislature as part of Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI) party – and an institution – the National Assembly. He is now officially part of the system he has spent his adult life criticising.

Ruffin’s win came as a surprise. He was expected to lose to the candidate from President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party, Nicolas Dumont, who is the mayor of Abbeville, a town in the region. Instead, he dominated with 55.97 percent of the vote versus Dumont’s 44.03 percent.

His pro-worker, anti-globalisation rhetoric clearly resonated in the area, where manufacturing and textile jobs are being replaced by telecommunications and tech positions, leaving laid-off workers feeling left behind. His candidature was supported by several far-left groups, including the Greens and the French Communist Party.

Ruffin has been particularly vocal in his criticism of Macron, who with his elite education and his banker’s background ticks many of the boxes on the list of Ruffin’s dislikes. Ruffin’s campaign posters nodded to the ever-resonant language of the French Revolution, casting Macron in the role of Louis XVI. “A banker at the Elysée? The people at the Assemblée!” they proclaimed.

He didn’t stop there. Just days before Macron was elected, Ruffin penned an open letter to the presidential candidate that was published in French daily Le Monde and titled, “Open letter to a future president who is already hated”. The anti-Macron stance likely played well with the regions’ voters, more than 30 percent of whom voted for National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections.

Same town, same school

Despite Ruffin’s dramatic moves to put distance between himself and the new president, the two newbie politicians have much in common. They both come from Amiens and attended the chic Lycée la Providence high school there. They both come from comfortably off families: Macron’s parents were doctors and Ruffin’s father worked for the vegetable processing company Bonduelle and his mother was a housewife. And they both went to elite institutions of higher learning, Macron to the National School of Administration (ENA), the training ground of much of France’s political elite, and Ruffin to the Journalists Training Center, one of France’s top journalism schools.

“They have the money, we have the people,” was the slogan of the Nuit Debout social movement, which protested reforms to French labour laws that Macron supported while serving as Minister of the Economy and grew out of a meeting organised by Ruffin. It is that dichotomy on which Ruffin has built his professional reputation.

When he takes his seat in the National Assembly this week, Ruffin will no longer be a critic from outside the establishment, but an integral part of it. The two native sons of Amiens will be working from inside a system that they both deem flawed and for which they both see clear, but profoundly divergent, paths to reform.

Date created : 2017-06-19


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