Friday, November 11, 2005

The Ancien Régime? France's Image Tarnished by Riots

Blazing cars, street battles and a powderkeg mix of racism and chronic immigrant unemployment: the image of France as shown around the world by two weeks of riots has hardly been the stuff of tourist dreams
Thus spaketh the AFP.
Beamed live from Hong Kong to Washington via London, the unrest has put an unforgiving spotlight on a side of society rarely seen outside a nation that, like any other, seeks to cast a cultural, social and political aura.

In the United States, comparisons have been drawn between the unrest in the poor, high-immigrant neighbourhoods with race riots of the 1960s and 1980s.

…for many analysts, the violence has above all exposed an underclass of angry, immigrant youths with little hope and even fewer job prospects, locked in a vaunted system of social integration that has failed them.

"France is sending a lot of negative signals right at this moment," Aurore Wanlin, at the Centre for European Reform in London, told AFP.

The riots showed "the French model doesn't protect those who aren't already part of the system."

In USA Today, an opinion piece said the "civil disobedience should serve as lessons to neighboring countries on how not to treat a minority population."

The violence, the worst France has seen since the 1968 student revolt, has seen more than 6,600 vehicles torched and dozens of buses, schools, gymnasiums, nurseries, libraries, shops and businesses destroyed in arson attacks.

Laurence Parisot, leader of the French employers' organisation Medef, said the country's image was being "deeply damaged."

She warned of "very serious" effects for the economy, notably sectors such as restaurant and hotel businesses and tourism, which rely heavily on foreign visitors.

…"The France of the 21st century makes you think of the ancien régime," said Thomas Schidinger of Vienna's Institute of Political Studies, referring to the pre-revolutionary era of wealthy nobility and impoverished populations.

"It's as if the people in power are saying, a little like Marie-Antoinette, 'not got a job? Take a holiday then'."

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