Mark Leonard

Protests in France are more than a battle over culture

Mark Leonard
Apr 22, 2013 16:04 UTC

In many of the same French squares and streets that were occupied in the general strikes of 1968, a new generation has been re-inventing the art of protest for the age of Twitter. Their focus has been opposing a law that would legalize gay marriage, which is expected to pass a final legislative hurdle on Tuesday. Although the protests may be misdirected, they are a symptom of the crisis this generation faces in influencing its government and economy in France.

For a generation that is staring at a “lost decade” of economic stagnation and joblessness, this protest seems like a form of escapism to observers. With economic and political spheres surrendered to global markets and German politicians, the protesters may be trying to reclaim ownership of the cultural sphere by seizing on the gay marriage proposal. This desire for individuality within the euro zone was, in fact, the same effort that led the French government to introduce the proposal in the first place.

This predominantly Catholic revolution without leaders has spawned a new organization – le Printemps Français, or the French Spring – that compares the fight against gay marriage to the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2010.

The majority of the troops in this culture war are the children of the 1968 generation in France. Le Monde has pointed to a new generation of right-wing activists taking to the streets of Paris and other French towns to declare war on their parents’ sexual permissiveness.

The Web pages for the movement mark the progression of demonstrations that have attracted hundreds of thousands of participants, as well as a petition that has attracted more than 700,000 signatures. Since November, they have been congregating nightly outside the French National Assembly building in Paris and have used social media to recruit members and spread word about the fight.

Revolt of the technocrats

Mark Leonard
Apr 17, 2013 20:37 UTC

BERLIN ‑ Of the most dangerous sentences a politician can utter, one must be, “There is no alternative.” Or, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, the situation is alternativlos.

A group of German political activists who gathered this weekend to launch an anti-euro party is betting that Merkel’s refusal to countenance change will provide fertile ground for opposition. Although most people in Berlin think Merkel will be re-elected in the general election in September, a growing number of political forces are lining up to define an alternative to her policies in Europe.

Merkel has managed to contain the threat to austerity represented by international leaders such as François Hollande, Mario Monti and Mariano Rajoy. At home, in spite of growing hostility to the euro among the public, none of the mainstream parties dissent from Merkel’s dedication to the euro. Merkel’s more dangerous opponents come from outside the established political terrain.