Video & Text: Yasmine Ryan's Les Yeux on France
Scoop Video: Les Yeux on France
Scoop Video: Welcome to Les Yeux on France, by Yasmine Ryan which summarises key developments on the French political scene and a special on the French media’s interpretation of events. Appropriately, Les Yeux on France this week examines revelations that the aspiring Socialist Party (PS) Presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, is sister to an agent directly linked to the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.
Click here for the audio version of Les Yeux on France.
Scoop Audio (click here to listen): New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, details why New Zealand will not seek extradition of former French agent, Gerard Royal.
Les Yeux on France: Rainbow Warrior Resurfaces
Welcome to the first weekly instalment of Les Yeux on France, a new feature on Scoop which will summarise key developments on the French political scene. There’ll be a special interested in the French media’s interpretation of events. And you can have as text, audio or video.
And it is an appropriate time to start, with the revelation that the aspiring Socialist Party (PS) Presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, is sister to an agent directly linked to the implementation of the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.
The initial line that Lieutenant Gérard Royal was one of those who actually physically planted the limpet mine on the Greenpeace boat first appeared in the weekly Le Parisien on Friday. Strangely, it was another Royal brother, Antoine, who leaked the story.
That Lieutenant Royal was an agent for the French secret service agency, the DGSE, in Asia, was already publicly known. As was the fact that he was called to Auckland in 1985 for the so-called ‘Operation Satanic’. It appeared in l’Express in 1995 and in a book by Paul Barril, Guerres secretes à l’Elysée. But Antoine Royal claimed that his brother had (clearly misguidedly) confided in him that he was a member of the four-person ‘third team’ which evaded New Zealand police. The members of this team have all, until now, remained anonymous.
He further alleged that the DGSE operative was one of those who planted the mine responsible for the death of photographer Fernando Pereira.
On Sunday, L’Agence France-Presse quoted a specialist familiar with the operation who disagreed with Antoine’s version of events, saying that Lieutenant Royal had not planted the mine. Instead, he had driven the inflatable boat the Zodiac, transporting the two divers to their target. The specialist did affirm that Royal was indeed a member of the third team.
‘I don’t know if it is a coincidence’ (Ségolène Royal)
The timing of this exposé couldn’t be worse for Ségolène Royal and for the French Socialist Party as a whole. On 16 and 23 November, the Party’s members will vote on which candidate will represent the Socialists in France’s 2007 election. But loyalties within the Party are split and infighting is causing many divisions. Jacques Chirac’s heir-apparent, Nicolas Sarkozy, gloated recently that the Left is ‘in crumbs’.
Many fear that this could lead to a repeat of the dreaded 21 April 2002 French Presidential elections, when no candidate from the Left made it through the first round of voting. Instead, voters were given an ultimate choice between the conservative Jacques Chirac and the extreme right’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. Key to the problem is tension over Ségolène Royal’s mass popularity, which has ousted the old, predominately male, guard. Royal herself has been in politics for a while, but not at the very top level. Her style is different and she has been described as populist and centrist. She is sometimes referred to as the ‘Madonna of the polls’. A survey by Le Journal du Dimanche, for example, puts support for her at 49%, with Dominique Strauss-Kohn next on 14%.
Lionel Jospin, the Party’s candidate in 2002 and a bitter opponent to Royal, announced last week that he would not submit his candidacy, a move applauded by some as ‘noble’, but ultimately a reluctant admission of defeat. François Hollande, Royal’s partner, has also just made it known that he won’t be running. Hollande is still, nonetheless, seen by many as being at the root of the current divisions.
Royal is especially popular with non-traditional Socialist Party supporters. A recent internet recruitment drive resulted with a massive 89,000 new members who are a far more diverse bunch than is the norm. There are more women, immigrants and young people amongst them And the majority of these new members, eligible to vote for the Socialist Party’s representative in the Presidential election, support Royal.
Getting back to the involvement of Royal’s brother in the scandalous sabotage of the Rainbow Warrior, the aspiring president claimed ignorance of her brother’s direct involvement in the bombing, a story confirmed by her brother Antoine. She said she was ‘surprised’ that it had become an issue at this time, adding understatedly, ‘I don’t know if it is a coincidence.’
Fellow candidate in the November vote, Laurent Fabius, hinted strongly that he suspected a right-wing manipulation. Prime Minister in 1985, Fabius stated on France 2 that ‘It is definitely not a coincidence, a complete accident, that this issue is being rehashed 20 years later.’ He added sarcastically that: ‘It is definitely not to implicate Ségolène Royal and to implicate myself’, insisting ‘If they are trying to stop the socialists, this is not the way to do it!’
The French media’s reaction?
The treatment of the story by two of France’s most popular daily papers on Monday is noteworthy. The conservative Le Figaro considers it to be front-page material, and then devotes most of page 10 to the matter.
In Le Figaro, there is no mention of the coincidental timing of the revelation, and ‘political-diplomatic complications’ in France’s relations with New Zealand are suggested to be likely.
Most revealing is a ‘background’ story titled ‘A Scandal which Tarnished François Mitterrand’s First Term’. This story moves beyond the issue at hand to implicate the French Socialist Party as a whole. Highlighted is last year’s disclosure by the former head of the DGSE. Admiral Pierre Lacoste revealed that President François Mitterrand was, contrary to prior claims, aware of the planned terrorist attack and that he had given his approval.
More than this, two of the key contenders for the Socialist Party’s Presidential candidacy are drawn directly into the affair, with the strong implication that they must have known more than they are letting on. As noted, in 1985, Laurent Fabius was Prime Minister. Ségolène Royal was Representative for Social Affairs. The article finishes, after going over the high-level cover-up, by underlining Lieutenant Royal’s role in the operation. It ends with the suggestive statement: ‘His sister Ségolène, Representative at the Elysée, has always affirmed that she knew nothing of his participation in this sabotage.’
The left-leaning Liberation, on the other hand, seeks to undermine the scandal’s potency by consigning the story to page 15. Here the focus is on the reactions of Royal and Fabius to the fuss. The matter of just what Gérarld’s role in the bombing not treated as highly important. Unlike Le Figaro, which leaves some ambivalence on the question, Liberation takes the line that, although he participated in the implementation of the plot, ‘he without a doubt did not directly put the mines on the boat.’
And so, while the French conservatives might try to draw this issue out to undermine their political rivals, for the Socialists, its importance is minimal. Of course, the disclosure of the identity of a key player in the Auckland Harbour bombing of 1985 is in itself important, and another piece to the puzzle. But it seems that there is no direct link between the possible future French President and this infamous operation. Nevertheless, 21 years later, the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior remains a blot on the history of the French Socialists and a source of contention.
Yasmine Ryan is a graduate of the University of Auckland, in Political Studies and French language. She is currently completing a Masters degree in International Journalism at Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Aix-en-Provence.
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