by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
I have no idea why the French are such a very bitter people.
Americans, I could understand:
Their people are absolutely thrown to the wolves in just about every societal way possible. Half of every one of their cities are “no-go zones”, at this very moment some schoolkid is oiling up his automatic rifle and tightening up his assault plans of Mr. O’Grady’s 10th-grade chemistry class, kissing up to the boss daily is one’s “job security plan”, every third person is the width of a Smart car, if you are under 45 you are either paying child support or not getting enough child support, taking more than a week off from work is regarded as a Fifth Columnist invitation to encouraging foreign invasion, and most of the country has finally been convinced that a society cannot be happy without transgender bathrooms in every home.
But Americans are so not bitter and so optimistic and energetic – and in such deranged quantities – that it is often rather terrifying.
France doesn’t have hardly any of America’s problems. Just a short, comfortable high-speed train ride away is the ocean or the sea, the mountains or the prairie, there’s plenty of great food, multiyear job contracts are the norm, the happiest people I’ve met were just fired (and thus get back 1-2 years of all that unemployment insurance they paid into the system via high taxes), physical violence is limited to verbal quips, and the height of personal crisis is when a cheese course isn’t offered as well as a dessert.
And yet the French have a stink-eyed bitterness which they parry and thrust like Darth Vader’s light sabre.
As of this moment, France is in a political uproar unseen since 1995 and perhaps 1968. Discontent is everywhere, as is piled-up garbage, with high-impact strikes turning too-important-to-be-patient Parisians completely apoplectic with every 5 minute Metro delay. Even Western golden boy President Macron, who is totally unhindered by normal democratic standards, is embittered that two journalists didn’t fawn over him like Louis XIV, and I haven’t even mentioned how the French feel about their real political overlords – Brussels.
The political-cultural atmosphere really couldn’t be more different where I’m temporarily posted – Havana. Cuba just had their first president not named Castro elected, and I can tell you this: I talk with everybody about it, and nobody has protested the election, the system, the future, the past or hardly much of anything. I certainly have never had someone tell me “I agree with all the major policies of Sarkozy / Hollande / Macron,” like multiple people tell me about Raul. Either a “totalitarian” state has brainwashed one of the most literate societies in the world, or not everyone is as politically embittered as Westerners.
The Cubans have some genuine economic reasons to be bitter (although I don’t see how you can talk about Cuban problems without mentioning the international blockade first, and then second as well): the average state salary is $30 per month, even if you had a great salary there are still goods shortages, the bread is an offence to breads everywhere, the buses – while often new – are packed, it’s hot and it’s only April.
Yet people truly do say pretty much the same thing: new president Miguel Diaz-Canel is a good guy with a good track record, he will and he should continue the minimally capitalistic path of Raul, and they hope he improves the economy. That last part is really wishful thinking, as Trump is doing his best to scare away vastly increasing numbers of US tourists…but they say all this sans stink eye, which actually makes a reporter’s job much more pleasant.
How can we explain this mixing up of bitter and sweet? It is obviously cultural…but what does that mean?
Is it the Cuban rhythms – are they lulling everyone into a politically-dull calmness, while France’s complaining cabaret is failing to do what music is supposed to: soothe the savage beast? Could it be French music’s utter lack of cowbell?
Is it the weather? Things get hot in mid- and southern France – should we blame the Anglo-Saxon-touching north for a WASPish coldness and impossibility to be pleased (this is actually a common occurrence in France, where the northwestern regions of Brittany and Normandy are said to be “not France”).
Cobblers as the top jobbers?
If I had to pick just one reason I would say it comes down to this: In Cuba one can be a cobbler and be among the final 605 candidates for the presidency. Cuba’s president was not chosen by an electoral college of millionaires, but rather democratically selected from among the parliamentarians voted into their newly-convened National Assembly.
So it’s clear that a “Cuban dream” is still alive and well: not only can you grow up to be a cobbler, but you cobble and become president!
Cuba’s deputies chose an electrical engineer, Diaz-Canel, but “Cobbler For Top Jobber” is a clear election campaign winner in 2023…if Cuba hadn’t already banned election campaigning, as they are clearly anti-democratic, easily corruptible, divisive and overwhelmingly negative distractions from serious social issues and political proposals.
There might even be more than one cobbler in Cuban Parliament? Wouldn’t it be quite a cheerful problem if the biggest threat to sensible policymaking was a fiendish “cobbler lobby”?
How much taxpayer pork could a “cobbler lobby” gobble, anyway?
But the cobbler(s) is there because the Cuban system allows anyone to be proposed for Parliament – Jorge the cobbler was chosen by his peers because they obviously think he has the intellectual and moral qualities necessary to help guide the country.
You may think that Macron’s Goldman Sachs background, Obama’s law degree or the rich parents of Trump and the Bushes are better qualifications than cobbling, but I sure don’t: politics is about ethics and morality, and these are personal-philosophical-ideological qualities for which every background is equally valid.
“You mean Jorge the cobbler is in the National Assembly now? He’ll sure show them how things get done – you should see the shine he got back to my boots!”
Who refuses to stand with Jorge the cobbler? How many of us are standing comfortably because of Jorge the cobbler?
Younger readers may not even know what a cobbler is – it’s a shoemaker. I think I don’t need to fact check this next statement: There is absolutely no way that there any practicing shoemakers in any Western parliament.
France would never elect a shoemaker, because the few I see are non-White immigrants. No shoemaker could ever get elected in the US, because only millionaires can run for office and no cobbling doesn’t pay like it used to.
While France is, thankfully, experiencing a rebirth of political activity, it comes on the poorly-cobbled heels of record abstention rates, and polls which show that 99% of people under 26 believe their politicians are corrupt.
Such cynicism cannot contrast more sharply than with last month’s direct, popular election of Cuba’s National Assembly which saw 86% voter turnout, the creation of the world’s 2nd female-majority parliament (53%), with 40% of deputies being Black or Mestizo, and 13% being under 35 years old. It is why analysts tell me, quite fairly, that Cuba’s new parliament is the best one it has ever had, the most representative of the people, and thus the best-equipped to meet the challenges of the future.
You can’t buy that kind of press; you also would never hear a similar statement in the West following any election. You also can’t say that this doesn’t have a sweetening effect on one’s disposition.
It’s also totally wrong to believe that the Cuba’s huge turnout is because people are forced to vote – that’s absolute propaganda. I talked with someone who didn’t vote, and they said they fear no reprisals whatsoever – they were just uninterested.
What’s interesting is that Cuba actually counts votes which are purposely left blank, as a sign of protest – it was the typical 4% of all National Assembly votes over the past two decades. France refuses to count such votes (which were certainly at a record high in 2017’s Le Pen vs. Macron election) claiming it sets a bad example, even though the People have a clear right to know and the clear right to vote for “none of the above”.
‘Complaining to live’ has equaled ‘born to lose’, politically
The last time I was in Cuba was to cover the death of Fidel: we at PressTV were adamant that at least one English-language & non-Latino media should report the idea that there will not be a total rebellion due to his passing. We humbly note that we have been proven correct.
After nearly a decade in Paris I know the French much better than the Cubans, so I hope the French take my political advice: just complaining never solved anything hugely important. The problem is that this goes against the French saying: “ One complains, in order to live”. Well…that’s one kind of life….
But it seems that the hard-headed French have finally learned, following years of clear evidence in the age of austerity, that one single day of marching and complaining in a serious political protest (serious…but with alcohol, loud music, firecrackers and generally having a fun time) is just not enough to scare the government into changing its nearly always right-wing plans.
France is not up for revolution in 2018, but at least they are up for strikes – reaching into the pockets of the 1% is the only way to change things. Students are occupying universities and trying to prove that they are the equal of their forefathers of 1968 (as is their duty). Maybe Macron will be forced to not rule by decree? I haven’t really followed it from Cuba – too busy – but maybe individual unions won’t agree to personal side deals with the government and thus sell out the overall cause, as has always been the case since I’ve lived there.
I hope they win….yet this would not mark an advance, but the prevention of a regression. It’s a lot of sacrifice in order to “not lose”, and rather the definition of a “bittersweet victory”. France seems certain to be tasting a healthy portion of the bitterness they find so comforting – and that’s IF they win.
Cuba is sweet probably because the cowbell is ubiquitous – of course – but also because they are largely content with the democratic power structure their People installed in a modern, popular revolution. France, the US, the monarchies of the EU and other Westerners have only made minor tweaks to centuries-old, feudal-era political systems, and with obviously bitter results for their own people. Perhaps there are aspects of Cuba’s revolution which the West wouldn’t choose – I guess some people love political attack ads year round – but Cubans are clearly involved, invested and supportive of their political system despite not yet qualifying as paradise on earth.
These are facts which a cobbler can appreciate as fully as a CEO.
Cuba, like the Iranians, would mainly appreciate if the Western capitalist-imperialists would finally end their decades of Godless, homicidal, international blockade against them…but they are not going to let Western hypocrisy embitter them towards their chosen political culture and system.
Ultimately, capitalists believe that bitterness can be bought off – “more money” is their only answer. Cuban Socialists and Iranian Islamic Socialists know that life is only sweet if one is empowered, sovereign and moral.
And you also just can’t care about what some stink-eyed Frenchman thinks. They clearly have plenty of problems…which I can thankfully avoid reporting on for a bit longer.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.