Two open letters from French former generals and military forces led to a big fuss this month in Paris. They warn of “the downfall of France, hordes of banlieues and Islamisation”. Wednesday afternoon there was a demonstration of thousands of police officers and gendarmes in front of parliament. They demand tougher punishments.
Newshour speaks former General Emmanuel de Rikoufftz, initiator of one of the fire letters. The Rikoufftz worked in the banlieues of Paris for the last fourteen years. He took two thousand young people off the street, motivated them, paid their drivers licenses, but also taught them to get up early and apply.
“ I am worried, because violence has been taking place in recent years that did not exist before,” he says. “One has lost the grip on it. In France, the city guerrilla is slumbering in the suburbs. And in the countryside it is getting more and more serious.”
With the controversial letter, the military argue that the army should be able to intervene in the districts where violence is getting out of control. But the Richoufftz does not want to speak of civil war or coup détat. “There are people who call it that, when a Frenchman kills another Frenchman. But I only call something a civil war when communities wage war among themselves and if the army intervenes, but always under the leadership of the government.”
The French Government and many other political parties have strongly condemned the appeal of the military. They call it a political trick by Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing populist party Rassemblement National and candidate for the French presidential election in April next year. It supports the initiative.
The fuss surrounding the letter does bring something deeper to the surface: a rectification of France. The call for a strong state and a hard approach to immigration and political Islam is widely supported.
Excessive violence in banlieues
The police are increasingly being bombed with fireworks and weapons in the suburbs. Exactly two weeks ago, a police officer was shot dead by a young drug trafficker in a banlieue in Avignon. Last month, a cop was stabbed in Rambouillet by a terrorist.
Former Defense Minister Alain Richard, who is now in the Senate, also finds the notion of civil war. “What they say in the letter affects extremism. We have problems maintaining order and security in some neighbourhoods, and we are not the only ones in Europe with that problem. But that does not have the character of war.”
Richard, who is a member of President Emmanuel Macrons party, is concerned about public opinion. “As a democrat, I am embarrassed that some of the French think like the letter writers.”
Marine Le Pen in the elevator
Many of the military who signed the call are close to Marine Le Pen. Former General de Rikoufftz was once a mayors candidate for the extreme right. Research shows that 40% of French soldiers and police vote for the Rassemblement National. By declaring its solidarity with the signatories, Le Pen himself threw oil on the fire.
“ France is on the edge of a volcano,” says Professor of Political Science Pascal Perrineau. “Never before has Rassemblement National, Marine Le Pens party, stood so high in the polls.”
10-year-olds on the lookout at drug deals
But also from the left there is a call for decisiveness and more security. “There is a lot of violence in the suburbs,” says Perrineau. “Sometimes its about underage young people who use extreme violence.”
The Jasmin dOrient Foundation is located in the banlieue Saint Martin, one of the twelve disadvantaged districts of Montpellier. Theyve been catching women for 16 years. Saima Khouaja works there and tries to get a grip on the young. “From ten to twelve years old, they have been offered all kinds of things, being on the lookout in drug trafficking, for example,” she says:
In order to tackle the banlieues thoroughly, former general, the Richoufftz has almost military schedules ready. He was received three years ago by President Macron, but he doesnt feel heard. He is now speaking on the letter from the military.
Civil war or not, that call unleashed a lot. A year before the presidential election, the tone seems set.