Monday, July 11, 2005

Nationalist Blinkers: The French reporter inveighed about the rampant Francophobia she had witnessed; the Anglo-Saxons were not able to get a word in

Kindly ponder the meaning of "Plus ça change…" as you read about how "The French media seemed to understand little about what was happening [regarding the Anglo-Saxon country; readers in France] were reading reports of anti-French hysteria, as if the tricolour was being torched from [one coast to the other and as if French] expats were in fear of their lives."
On a cold winter morning in July 1985, I walked into the French embassy in New Zealand to catch up with the news from home.
writes the BBC's Henri Astier (thanks to Gregory).
Someone had blown up a Greenpeace ship in Auckland overnight, killing a photographer.

"The radio ran interviews this morning, and they're all blaming the French!" said a young diplomat.

Opposition to nuclear tests in the Pacific was running high in New Zealand.

As a French teacher doing my national service, I knew many students and had more than once observed their sometimes paranoid ideas.

"There they go again!" I said. "As if France would ever do such a terrible thing."

But one member of our group was not sure. "It would not surprise me all that much," the military attaché said, shaking his head.

The attaché, of course, had no inside knowledge — spies rarely involve diplomats in bomb plots.

He just knew more about our masters' mindset than we youngsters did.

It turned out that the New Zealanders had something to be paranoid about.

By mid-September, after weeks of denial by Paris, a man and a woman arrested in connection with the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior were exposed as French spies. …

Over the next few months, French papers brought us — with their usual lateness — distant echoes of the political storm raging back home.

The communication problems, it seemed, ran the other way as well.

The French media seemed to understand little about what was happening in New Zealand.

We were reading reports of anti-French hysteria, as if the tricolour was being torched from Invercargill to Auckland and expats were in fear of their lives.

When I heard that a prominent reporter was in town, I tracked her down to introduce her to my students to start a dialogue and dispel misunderstandings.

I was desperate to show her that Kiwis were such nice people. Strongly as they felt about government policies, they would never vent their anger on individuals.

I caught up with the reporter and hauled her into my classroom. But the exercise did little good.

She inveighed about the continued detention of Mafart and Prieur and the rampant Francophobia she had witnessed. My mild-mannered students were not able to get a word in.

Not all French reporters, however, wore nationalist blinkers. The involvement of French external security services in the Rainbow Warrior bombing was exposed by journalistic sleuths in Paris.

… unlike his colleague I had met six months earlier, [Jean-Marie Pontaut of L'Express, who did more than any other to break the story,] was listening to New Zealanders — and he was impressed.

… "A terrorism trial would never happen like that in France," Pontaut told me admiringly.

"The government would have controlled the proceedings from A to Z," he said.

Jean-Marie Pontaut learned a lesson in New Zealand. He is not the only French journalist to have felt enlightened by a supremely civilised people.

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