Analysis: Worries grow over protests and divisions in France

Manif Pour Tous, Paris, 2 February 2014.
Manif Pour Tous, Paris, 2 February 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The day after major demonstrations in Paris and Lyon, by the Manif Pour Tous movement Interior minister Manuel Valls appeared keen to reassure protestors.


He stated unequivocally on French radio station, RTL, on Monday that the government would oppose any proposed legislation allowing medically assisted procreation (PMA in French) for lesbian couples or legalising the use of surrogate mothers for homosexual couples (GPA in French).

Within minutes he was undermined by the leader of his own Socialist party in parliament.
“I do not want to reassure those people who demonstrated and I say to them that the Left will always fight to introduce new rights in our country”, said Bruno Le Roux.

French law allows medically assisted procreation for heterosexual couples who are infertile or who are judged to be in danger of passing on a serious disease to their baby. (Surrogate motherhood is illegal in France, though according to current recommendations, children conceived outside France using a surrogate mother, who are being raised by French parents, are now entitled to French citizenship.)

Sunday’s march was a show of force to deter the government from any attempt to change the existing laws on PMA or GPA. Many also expressed anger at a pilot programme in some schools intended to combat gender stereotypes but which some families interpret as an attempt to promote homosexuality.

The fact that protestors were not demonstrating against any concrete draft legislation, but against possible future reforms suggests to some an obsessive resistance to evolving ideas of parenthood and the family.

To others, it is a manifestation of the feverish climate in France, growing culture wars and a grassroots movement which feels ignored or despised by politicians and the Paris-based media.

It is difficult to understand the complicated mix of discontent in France today.

Sunday’s protest was another example of a turbulent climate. For the third Sunday in four weeks there was a significant demonstration in the streets of Paris which was not about jobs or economic problems.

This month has seen anti-abortionists on the streets, openly anti-Semitic chants and anti-muslim slogans at a “Day of Rage” and yesterday’s rally against what protestors say are “family phobic” government ideas.

A glance at internet gives a deeply worrying picture of a French society riven with divisions, anger and hatred.

One of France’s most high-profile political analysts, Christophe Barbier, of l’Express magazine, last week issued a solemn warning about the state of the country, declaring that “a huge block of opinion is sliding towards extremism.”

And he declared that there are three key errors [those with power or influence] should avoid:

They should not underestimate the scale or depth of discontent today in France.

They should not, he said, “lump all protestors together”,

and they should not cynically exploit the dangerous situation for short term political gains.

It remains to be seen whether the political and commentating class will take heed.

At its simplest, the Manif Pour Tous movement is motivated by real concerns that every child has a right to a male and female parent, as this is vital to its identity and well-being.

While not everyone agrees with this belief, it does not amount to homophobia.

The leaders of the movement appear to have made a credible effort to exclude homophobic elements from their marches and say they include gay men and lesbians among their supporters.

Monday’s right-wing Le Figaro newspaper quotes Pascal, a father on the march saying “We are fed up with being called fundamentalists and fascists.”

Editorialist Jacques Camus in “La Montagne”, a regional newspaper from the Lyon area, says he did not see in yesterday’s demo “a single slogan of hate, racism or anti-Semitism, no violence but a peaceful mobilisation beneath pink and blue banners.”

While Valls puts the Manif Pour Tous protestors in the same sentence as homophobes, racists and anti-Semites, the opposition UMP does not.

But beyond that, the UMP is still unsure how to deal with the movement. Some in the party, such as Hervé Mariton, are very active in the movement, others view it as somewhat reactionary.

More and more public figures are voicing real concern about the angry mood or the fears of persecution of so many different groups of people in the country.

Supporters of the reforms concerning family issues applaud the Socialist government’s bravery in pushing ahead with controversial reforms in the face of resistance.

But critics maintain the government is pursuing dangerously divisive reforms to compensate voters on the left for an inevitable swing to the right on economic matters.

France is today a far cry from the unity and calm which François Hollande promised in his presidential election campaign.





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