Charles de Gaulle, on the subject of Algeria: “Pinay, the facts may prove me wrong, but History will prove me right.” Finance Minister Anoine Pinay: “But, Monsieur le Président, I thought History was written with facts.”
Since for the vast majority of human beings historic myth, as André Malraux believed, is infinitely more appealing than historical fact, it may be years before most French men and women realize the full extent of the social havoc that was wreaked upon their hapless and in places increasingly unlovely country during the 14-year-long reign of François Mitterrand.This is not to suggest that the Eager Beavers of French journalism have not been working overtime to undermine the frail pedestal before the statue of “imperishable” greatness is hoisted into position and assumes an air of marmoreal eternity—as happened with Charles de Gaulle, who was in certain respects very much a giant with feet of clay. So far the most assiduous and (in terms of book sales) the most “popular” of these journalistic rodents has been Jean Montaldo, who latest exposé of Elyée-Palace skullduggery—provocatively entitled Mitterrand et les quarantine voleurs (Mitterrand and the Forty Thieves)—headed the nonfiction best-seller list for the better part of a year. But whether this kind of raking through the slush of slick financial deals (for the benefit of cronies as well as of his royal self) will permanently mar the image of presidential greatness that French Socialists are anxious to preserve in aeternum of François Mitterrand remains to be seen.
Anyone with a taste for this kind of “seditious” literature is offered an embarrassment of riches. But there is at least one book that should, in my opinion, rank high on any interested reader’s list: one entitled Sauvage Immigration (with a triple wordplay connoting “wild” and “uncontrolled” as well as “savage”). Its author, Michel Massenet, was an eminent public servant who for 17 years (1958-1971) was responsible for formulating policies on immigration for two French presidents—Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. His indictment, written in 1994, of 13 years of Mitterrandesque laisser-aller in the field of immigration is one of the most devastating critiques of the regime that has yet been written.
It is impossible to do justice in a few words to a book so filled with revealing facts and figures. But here are a few highlights that may serve as floating markers of a fateful drift. In 1980, toward the end of his first and (as it turned out) only term in office, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and his foreign minister, Jean François-Poncet, began negotiating a deal with the government in Algiers whereby close to 100,000 Algerian immigrants were to be peacefully returned home. Nothing, however, came of this well-inspired initiative, for in the presidential election of May 1981, Giscard d’Estaing was unexpectedly unhorsed by his Socialist challenger, François Mitterrand. Immediately the cogwheels of public policy were reversed and the sluice-gates opened. France, the generous, warmhearted France of Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and Jean Jaurès, was going to resume her age-old humanitarian mission as a pays d’accueil (a land of welcome) for the downtrodden and oppressed. To make it clear that this was not just hollow rhetoric, a law was enacted in October 1981 which “regularized” the existing status of illegal immigrants (about 130,000, according to one estimate) and also abrogated a Work Code dating from 1932, which had been designed to protect the interests of French workers against “unfair competition” from immigrant labor. Not content with that, the Socialist government in 1984 issued a decree making it possible for any immigrant to obtain a ten-year carte de séjour (identity card for foreigners) after one year spent in France. Mitterrand himself consecrated the new “Welcome to All” policy by publicly declaring that “regular” immigrants were, quite naturally, “at home here.” This policy, says Massenet, was “premeditated anarchy,” the ultimate, diabolical aim of which was to confuse and to paralyze France’s middle-of-the-road conservatives by forcing them either to endorse the “racist” policies of the xenophobic rabble-rouser, Jean-Marie Le Pen, or meekly to accept the Socialists’ “humanitarian” party line on immigration.
To anyone but a blinkered Socialist, it should have been immediately apparent that such an “Open House” policy could not be long pursued without building up enormous trouble for the future. The moment the word spread—and it spread eastward as far as Indochina and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), southward as far as Senegal, Cameroon, and Mali—that the French authorities had grown so tolerant that they were now actually amnestying illegal immigrants, thousands of poor Africans and Asiatics decided that it was worth running the risk of a possible arrest as an illegal immigrant, since, if caught, the chances of being subsequently released were high and the prospect of being deported to Ouagadougou, Dakar, Kinshasa, or Colombo just about nonexistent.
In 1985, Rémy Halbwax, who then headed a conservative police trade-union—for in France, curiously enough, there are two police unions, with the left-wing union considerably outnumbering its rival—assured me that “clandestine immigrants” were illegally pouring into the Mediterranean seaport of Marseilles at the rate of 1,000 per day. Figures like this must be taken with a grain of salt. The only “clandestine” immigrants who figure on official French registers are those who are actually stopped at some frontier checkpoint; and the magnitude of this interception problem can be judged from the fact that there are no fewer than 900 main and secondary roads leading into France from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, in addition to scores of seaports and hundreds of miles of casually guarded coves and beaches.
In reality, the mediatic froth periodically worked up in Paris over the “scandal” of illegal immigration has obscured the existence of an infinitely graver phenomenon: the extraordinary facilities offered—always in the name of humanitarian “mercy”—to hundreds of thousands, and eventually to millions, of “legal” immigrants, most of whom end up in France, with no thought of ever returning to their godforsaken “homelands.” Human nature being what it is—resourceful, crafty, and when necessary deceitful, particularly for the hard-pressed—those wishing to reach the El Dorado of the French welfare state were not long in discovering gaping “loopholes” in regulations that seemed to have been deliberately designed to facilitate their access. Here, it must be admitted, the intellectual rot—that is to say, the passive acceptance of lofty ideals regardless of the practical consequences—had set in years before the Socialists seized the reigns of power in 1981.
In 1974, when the first signs of rising unemployment began to trouble France’s dirigiste rulers, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s first prime minister decided that France would do well to limit the number of foreign immigrants entering France and to stick to the principle of “national preference” in the awarding of jobs to French workers. This, as the prominent Figaro journalist Thierry Desjardins has pointed out, recognized what can be regarded as an arithmetical link between immigration and unemployment. (Crudely stated, the higher the rate of foreign immigration, the higher the level of domestic unemployment is likely to become.) But two years later, in 1976, the same prime minister, for fear of appearing too hardhearted, granted immigrant husbands the right to bring their wives and children to France according to the generously inspired principle of regroupement familial. The prime minister who established this fateful privilege, which no one since has dared to abrogate, was Jacques Chirac, now president of the French Republic.
This generous concession proved to be a monumental blunder for sociological reasons that should have been obvious. Up to 1976, the prevailing assumption had been that immigrant workers, particularly from North Africa, came to France on a temporary basis and that they would eventually return to Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, or more distant Senegal to join the families they had left behind and had been supporting with savings from their monthly earnings. But once wives and children, not to mention brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, could quite legally cross the Mediterranean according to the now sacrosanct principle of regroupement familial, the umbilical link with the homeland was fatally severed. The wives, offered maternal benefits in what Giscard d’Estaing had decided to turn into a Lyndon Johnson-style welfare society, proceeded to spawn more children, each one of whom was entitled by birthright to French citizenship and to what was once the price of republican France—access to the system of universal, free (i.e., state-financed) education which Prime Minister Jules Ferry had introduced in 1879. (Statistics are a bore, but it is worth noting that whereas “purely French” mothers give birth to a national average of 1.6 children, the average for mothers of Algerian origin is 3.2, for Moroccan mothers 3.7, for Turkish mothers 3.9, and for Black-African mothers 4.8.)
Had Giscard d’Estaing been reelected president in 1981, it is just conceivable that he might belatedly have realized the gravity of the problems he was piling up for the future and have taken energetic steps to limit the damage. Personally, I tend to doubt it. Arrogant intellectuals—and in this respect Giscard is a thoroughbred—are usually reluctant to admit past errors of calculation; and not for nothing did the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné consistently refer to Giscard as “Sa Suffisance” (which might best be translated as “His Self-Satisfied Stuffiness”). Three things at any rate are certain. By simultaneously granting immigrant workers the right to import their families and to allow them to enjoy all the benefits of French social security—including maternity benefits of several thousand francs per child, free medical and pharmaceutical care, and even unemployment compensation—the high-minded philanthropists ruling France were thoughtlessly promoting the “slummification” of overpopulated suburban areas, with all the ethnic tensions such a process was bound to arouse. They were precipitating the French state toward a condition of bankruptcy, with too many millions of persons to support and no money left to pay them. And, not least of all, they were promoting a climate of grotesque unreality and of preemptive capitulation, in which anyone daring to suggest that immigration should be strictly controlled could immediately be pilloried as a “racist” and—which in the present context is just as damning—as a follower of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Since it was obvious, even to the most high-minded altruist, that a massive influx of “relatives” was going to create serious housing problems, François Mitterrand’s Socialists decided that foreigners wishing to visit France for a limited visa period of three months would in addition have to obtain a certificat d’hébergement (a lodging certificate) from the “host” family they wished to visit in France. It is the mayor of a commune—there are 56,000 of them in France—who must, as least in theory, decide if a local family has sufficient means and living space to take in one or more “boarders.” But in actual administrative practice—and this shows to what extent France today has become a Gulliver immobilized by a tight web of bureaucratic strings—the mayor must first “prove” that the host family lacks sufficient space, and then have this negative opinion officially endorsed by the Office des Migrations Internationales. For fear of “rocking the boat,” most mayors simply give up and sign the certificat d’hébergement, which are then sent to the eagerly awaiting recipients on the southern shore of the Mediterranean or beyond.
Jean Marsaudon, the deputy-mayor of the once tranquil village of Savigny-sur-Orge, southeast of Paris, has estimated that 280,000 such certificats d’hébergement are granted every year to “tourists” from North Africa and other Third World regions, many of whom simply destroy their identity papers once their three months of legally authorized stay are over. If by ill chance they are arrested by the police and can keep their lips tightly sealed during subsequent interrogations, they will be officially registered as “stateless” and released as “inexpulsable” after ten days of detention, since they supposedly have no country to which they can be properly expelled. These certificats d’hébergement have as a result become as precious a commodity as the three-month entry visas that foreigners must now obtain to visit France quite legally; and in Algiers, Tunis, and Rabat—to name but three African capitals—they can now be obtained at a black-market rate varying from 5,000 to 10,000 francs (between one and two thousand dollars).
According to a census taken in 1990, there were at that time in France only 614,000 officially registered Algerians, 572,000 Moroccans, 206,000 Tunisians, 43,000 Senegalese, 37,000 immigrants from Mali, 22,000 from Zaire, and 18,000 from Cameroon. These figures might seem insignificant in a country of close to 60 million inhabitants. But this ignores the fact that many more foreign immigrants have gone unregistered, so that the real number may well be two to three times as high. There is, furthermore, one sociological phenomenon that even the extreme optimists can no longer overlook: that the “slummification” caused by “wild” immigration has begun to spread like a fungus across the map of France. No fewer than five million persons—more, that is, than the entire population of Norway or Finland—now live in 1,100 so-called “sensitive” quarters, which are constantly on the verge of erupting into violence. Of these, almost one-third (1.5 million) now live like tightly packed sardines in 130 highly volatile cites (collective housing lots) or zones de non droit (lawless zones), which the French police no longer dare to patrol, knowing that the mere appearance of a police ear constitutes an intolerable “provocation” and will unleash a barrage of bricks, stones, and Molotov cocktails.
Before describing one of these slummified “hot spots,” I would like to introduce a personal reminiscence directly connected with this problem. In the early 1960’s, when I returned to France after an absence of several years, I was dismayed by the change that had transformed Paris, once a city of leisurely flâneurs (strollers), into a city of irascible motorists, due to the massive invasion of the “insolent chariots” dear to Lewis Mumford, or to what, more prosaically, I like to call the “automobilization” of the French capital. I set out to write a satirical book on the subject entitled The Barons of the Boulevards, which, not surprisingly, was regarded as much too subversive to merit publication. In the course of my research into traffic congestion, street lighting, gaseous air, sonic harassment, “district improvement,” and other metropolitan problems, I went to call on several eminent urbanistes. I took with me a copy of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. None of these distinguished gentlemen had ever heard of Jane Jacobs, still less read a line of her prophetic book. This was regrettable, I told them, because “this is a nightmare scenario for France too if your city planners go on filling your suburbs with high-rise apartment blocks.”
Jane Jacobs, I explained, was a singularly lucid and independent- minded student of architecture who for a number of years had edited The Architectural Forum. Very early on, she had developed a profound distrust of Le Corbusier’s visionary plans for doing away with old, “run-down” areas and of erecting in their place 40-story skyscrapers surrounded by idyllic patches of greenery which were, he claimed, sure recipes for human felicity. (One such Corbu scheme called for the destruction of a large area of narrow, congested streets and houses just north of the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral, which, had it ever been carried out in a frenzy of post-Haussmannian ferocity, would have dealt Paris a death-blow from which it might never have recovered.)
Increasingly concerned by a steadily rising crime rate in major American cities, Jane Jacobs had done some on-the-spot sociological research. What she had discovered was that it was precisely in modern high-rise blocks, where purse-snatchers could quietly lurk in empty elevators waiting for the providential arrival of an unaccompanied housewife who could easily be “mugged,” that the crime rate was highest; and that it was in supposedly “run-down” areas in dire need of “urban development” that the crime rate was lowest. In Boston’s “North End,” for example, mostly populated by Americans of Italian origin and where on warm afternoons many women spent their time seated before their front doorsteps, as their ancestors had always done in Naples or Civita Vecchia, any stranger venturing into the area was instantly recognized as such and kept under surveillance by inhabitants who had retained a keen sense of communal identity.
French urban development, admittedly, has differed from the American “model” in at least one significant respect. The panicky flight of “respectable” citizens from the dangerous center of the city to the safer residential suburbs—so glaringly apparent in “downtown” Washington, D.C.—has not, as a general rule, occurred in France, hi Paris, those lucky enough to have a place in the country to retire to on weekends—my butcher on the elegant Rue de Varenne (not far from the prime minister’s official residence) is one of them—would not dream of abandoning their residential apartments in the center of the city. Here, as in Lyon, Strasbourg, Bourdeaux, Toulouse, and many other cities, the only salient exception is Marseilles, where the celebrated Canebiere has been partly “Arabized”; the city centers, many of them now officially protected from “urban improvement” by the antidemolition provisions of the “Malraux Law” of 1962, have retained their indigenous character and vitality, while the sprawling suburbs, forced to absorb successive waves of foreign immigrants, have been allowed to “rot.”
A classic example is the fate that has overtaken the once charming village of Montfermeil, northeast of Paris, by whose central fountain Victor Hugo had his hero, Jean Valjean, meet Cosette in Les Misérables. Until 30 years ago, Montfermeil was a peaceful suburban town of some 8,000 souls, full of pavillions (as the French call their small suburban cottages), each with its tiny vegetable-and-flower garden. But in 1965 several ambitious “developers” decided to improve and “modernize” the little town’s humdrum image by constructing a prestigious complex of vertical high-rise “towers” and horizontal, low-profile “barres” (window-studded slabs). The task of designing this 20th-century marvel, charmingly named Les Bosquets (The Groves), was entrusted to Bernard Zehrfuss, a famous French architect who had made a name for himself by constructing the curiously curved UNESCO building, not far from the Invalides. The complex’s 1,500 spacious flats were designed essentially for medium-income “cadres” (managerial personnel) who, it was assumed, would feel eternally at home and happy in this architectural wonderland. Many reasonably well-off bureaucrats and managers did indeed purchase apartments in this luxurious cité. So too did a number of real-estate speculators, who decided that the renting out of these admirably up-to-date apartments would bring in handsome profits over the coming years. One of them, according to Thierry Desjardins, who has vividly described this particular debacle in his best-selling Lettre au Président à propos de l’Immigration, was the celebrated singer Charles Aznavour, who bought up a dozen apartments, though for exactly what reasons the author was polite enough not to reveal.
Almost from the very start this real estate venture seems to have been a speculative fiasco. Defying Le Corbusian dogma, many of the reasonably affluent purchasers preferred to desert this particular cité radieuse and to relodge themselves in less congested two-story pavillions, where their children could skip rope and turn somersaults on their tiny plots of grass. The swift decline in demand forced some of them to sell their apartments at cut-rate prices, while the real estate speculators had to make drastic reductions in rental rates to attract new occupants. By 1967, just four years after the “opening” of this “model” complex, the fiasco had begun to assume the proportions of a catastrophe. Five percent of the occupants were already of non-French origin, and some were already beginning to “sacrifice” their sheep for a méchoui feast on the no longer immaculately tended grounds of Les Bosquets. (I might add, parenthetically, that when retired actress Brigitte Bardot, now a militant crusader against cruelty to animals, recently denounced as “barbaric” the Muslim practice of cutting the throats of sheep for the annual feast-day of the Ait-el-Kebir, she was immediately branded a “racist” in left-wing newspapers and dismissed by an embarrassed political establishment as a wayward disciple of Le Pen.)
But to go back to the sad saga of Montfermeil. By 1969, the number of foreigners inhabiting the “luxurious” complex of Les Bosquets had risen to 15 percent. Confronted by a steady decline in demand, the frantic speculators had begun to rent their vacant apartments to immigrants employed in nearby factories and workshops. Four years later (1973) the number of foreign residents had risen to 30 percent of the total, and the worried prefect of the départment was beginning to ring the alarm, appalled by police reports of vandalized cars, of pitched battles between rival teenage gangs, of thefts and muggings, and even of firemen being pelted with stones when arriving to put out recently lit fires.
In 1974, there was a momentary respite, when the Chirac government decided to halt the immigration of foreign workers. But two years later, as we have seen, the same government decided to relax the clamp-down by allowing foreign workers to import their kinsfolk in the name of regroupement familial. Recognizing a bonanza when they saw it, the foreign inhabitants of Les Bosquets at Montfermeil brought in their wives, their children, their brothers, sisters, uncles, and cousins, precipitating a further exodus of French residents. By 1982, the ratio of immigrants inhabiting the once “palatial” complex had reached 58 percent of the total, with families from no fewer than 28 different countries. Of these the Algerians and Moroccans, however, still formed a majority.
Since that time, things have merely gone from bad to worse. Rents are no longer paid, scrofulous patches sully the unpainted walls of corridors and staircases, and everywhere there is dirt and litter. Most of the mailboxes have been smashed or defaced, and outside, on the now weed-infested lawns, groups of unemployed youths fight it out with rival gangs, each defending its threatened “turf” against the predatory claims of hostile drug-peddlers, motorcycle thieves, and black-market traffickers in radios and cassette-players torn from eviscerated automobiles. By 1991 some of the first North African residents had had enough and had moved out, leaving a majority of black Africans to preside over the wreckage.
If what occurred at Montfermeil is an extreme case, it is essentially because the original architectural complex of Les Bosquets was luxuriously designed, whereas most of the brick-and-concrete “hen-coops” that now deface the suburban landscape of so many French cities were depressing eyesores from the very start. One of them, located at Sarcelles, due north of Paris, had become such a scandalous den of iniquity that several years ago the entire complex was dynamited and reduced to rubble.
In 1989, the then prime minister, Michel Rocard, had the courage to protest aloud that “la France ne peut pas accueillir toutes les misères du munde” (France cannot welcome all the poor of the world). It was just about the wisest statement that has so far been made on the subject. But it was not enough to save this honest socialist from electoral defeat in his own constituency, the now ethnically strife-torn industrial center of Conflans-Saint-Honorine, northwest of Paris.
One of the things that has blurred the bitter, present-day realities of French society and politics has been the stupid habit of calling Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front a “right-wing” party. In strict fact, the National Front, which is now in numerical terms France’s leading workers’ party, is no more a “right-wing” party than was Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP—the National-Sozialistische-Deutsche-Arbeiter-Partei—which to the very end of the Third Reich proudly advertised itself as both a “socialist” and a “workers’ party” in order to emphasize its popularity with the laboring masses of Germany. The reason why French working men and women have been abandoning the traditional parties of the so-called “left” and flocking to the National Front in droves is because they are fed up with the shopworn rhetoric of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” which has no relevance today to the conditions of everyday life in their once tranquil suburbs.
The most vociferous of these woolly-headed sloganmongers—in addition of course to the professional “anti-racist” agitators of the North and black African communities—are the pampered intellectuals of the “gauche caviar” (the “Caviar Left”) who would not dream for a moment of abandoning their safe apartments in the fifth, sixth, and seventh arrondissements of Paris to live in one of the many slums of metropolitan Paris. During a hastily altered program of Bernard Pivot’s Friday evening television program “Bouillon de Culture,” in the immediate wake of the National Front’s election victory in the southern city of Vitrolles, the fulminating film director Bernard Tavernier publicly advertised his fraternal love of Paris slumdwellers by saying that more than once he and his cast of actors and technicians had fearlessly set up their cameras and recording gear in suburbs like Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers on the northern outskirts of Paris. His performance was a gem of “left-wing” hypocrisy, for to make a “fearless” foray into a tense slum area is not quite the same thing as actually having to live there.
As Jean-François Revel, one of France’s most penetrating observers, noted in a commentary published in the weekly Le Point:
The program of the National Front, which wants to boot out all foreigners, and that of the petitioners, who want to bring all of them in, are equally impractical and immoral. For both ensure the irremediable failure of integration, that age-out tradition which was and should remain the honor of France. According to their usual operating tactics, the intellectuals or automatons of the Left, or who claim to be such, are thus organizing the practical destruction of the ideal to which they are in theory committed. This is no way to be a friend of the immigrants; it is to be their worst enemy.
In agreeing to suppress an “iniquitous” clause in a new immigration bill which would have authorized mayors to check up on the status of immigrants granted three-month visas—a normal administrative requirement in any rational country—the government of Alain Juppé was simply following the lax example of its predecessors in bowing to the pressure of “the street.” For the disturbing truth is that France’s political elite has quite simply capitulated under the pressure of “anti-racist” terrorism, and of the kind of intellectual chantage (blackmail) which the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset analyzed so prophetically (though in a slightly different context) in The Revolt of the Masses. Which is to say, more than 60 years ago, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was barely four, Michel Rocard a month-old baby, and Jacques Chirac as yet unborn.