Welcome to PROVENCE TODAY, a blog about life and politics in France.
In our search for the ideal place to retire, my husband and I settled in Aix-en-Provence in 1998 and have never stopped learning about this fascinating country that has become our permanent home. While this blog deals with the socio-political aspects of France, my book "Taking Root in Provence" focuses on the pleasures and paradoxes of daily life in sunny Provence.
Monday, December 2, 2013
ZWARTE PIET IN HOLLAND, BERLUSCONI FINAL CALL, BACK IN FRANCE...
ZWARTE PIET IN HOLLAND
After the rather somber news from France in my last blog,
let's see how other countries are faring. Here's recent headline news from
Holland: "Dutch Santa Claus tradition called racist."
Wow! There goes
part of my youth.
On December 5th St. Nicholas, bishop of Madrid, and his Moorish
helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), arrive by steamboat from Spain to bring gifts
to all Dutch children who have been good. As they walk on the rooftops that
night, Sinterklaas takes gifts from the big sack that Zwarte Piet carries and
drops them down the chimney. They have been doing this for over 200 years to
the delight of many thousands of little children. How simple life was then...
St. Nicholas and Black Pete
Today, a movement is afoot to declare Black Pete a racist
stereotype. The issue was launched in 2011 by a Caribbean immigrant and has
bloomed into a heated debate on social networks and in the press. The
Netherlands have a large immigrant population from former Dutch colonies,
Morocco, Turkey and eastern Europe, who may find Black Pete offensive. Dutch
traditionalists were quick to gather more than 2 million signatures on Facebook
defending their Sinterklaas tradition, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte called it
harmless folklore. The debate is becoming politicized and has already resulted
in the cancellation of the traditional Sinterklaas parade in several
communities. The "politically correct" thinking seems to be gaining
ground, threatening to abolish Black Pete and leaving Dutch parents wondering
how to explain this to their baffled children. Goodbye innocence.
Can a rewrite of the brothers Grimm's fairytales be far off?
BERLUSCONI, FINAL CALL?
As a final gesture before being expelled from the Senate on
November 27th over his conviction for tax fraud, Silvio Berlusconi and his renamed
Forza Italia party have refused to give
the coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta their vote of
confidence. Nevertheless, the government won the vote of confidence and passed
the 2014 budget.
A defiant Berlusconi, who still has considerable backing,
called his expulsion "a day of mourning for democracy" and vowed to
continue fighting from the sidelines. Sentenced to one year of community
service (instead of jail time) and two years of ineligibility for public
office, he now has to face several pending trials and investigations without
the immunity he enjoyed as a senator.
A court in Milan investigating his notorious bunga-bunga parties has just added to Berlusconi's
legal headaches by accusing him of paying about a dozen women who attended
these parties €2,500 per month for giving false testimony. In its ruling the
court said that all the women who had received this monthly stipend had given
"perfectly overlapping" testimony, even in their use of language,
that contradicted testimony given by other participants. Two of his lawyers
involved in arranging the payments were charged with evidence tampering, and
three former Berlusconi associates were convicted of procuring girls to prostitute
themselves at the parties.
Silvio Berlusconi and Francesca Pascale
Standing firmly by her man, Berlusconi's 28-year old
girlfriend Francesca Pascale is calling on Pope Francis for help. "I have
requested an audience with the pope so he can hear Silvio's story", she told
Who said "Everything is lived twice; first as tragedy,
then as farce"?
BACK IN FRANCE...
Good News, Maybe
France's economy is under stress, with few prospects for
improvement anytime soon. But a spark of hope was lit when the just-released labor
figures for the month of October indicated a slight decrease in unemployment (-0.6%)
for the first time in 30 months. "It is good news," said a cautious President
Hollande without, however, calling this the beginning of the unemployment downturn
he had promised by the end of this year. "This battle can be won, but it
will take the necessary time to reduce unemployment month by month in
France," he said, carefully avoiding the mention of any deadline.
Yesss!Brazil next year!
One battle that was already won, though in the nick of time, was the football match against Ukraine that would allow France to qualify for
the FIFA world cup in Brazil next year. After losing a first match in Ukraine,
France had one last chance to qualify if it could beat Ukraine by at least three
points in a return match. It did so on November 19th, on home soil, with a 3-0
victory that set the country alight with joy and chased the bad economic news
from the front pages, at least for a day.
Prostitution − Client Fined
In a first reading on November 29th that was poorly
attended, the French Parliament passed an anti-prostitution bill that would make
paying for sex a crime. A prostitute's client would be fined €1,500 for a first
offense, double that amount thereafter. The bill will now be submitted to a
final vote next Wednesday where the socialists, with their large parliamentary
majority, are expected to vote it into law.
The bill is squarely aimed at the foreign pimping networks
that employ close to 90 percent of the 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes working in
France, often in conditions of slavery. Nine out of ten prostitutes are of
foreign origin, many from Eastern Europe, and last year alone French police broke
up 52 pimping networks, three quarters of them foreign.
Opponents fear that the new law will drive prostitutes
underground and make them more vulnerable, while humorist Nicolas Bedos
commented: "To want to abolish prostitution is like wanting to abolish
rain". But Maud Olivier, the Socialist MP presenting the bill said:
"To say women have the right to sell themselves is to disguise the fact
that men have the right to buy them. So just because one prostitute says she is
free, does that make the enslavement of all others acceptable?" Supporters
of the bill maintain that the vast majority of people working as prostitutes do
so under duress, at risk of violence and disease.
Most of the 20 articles in the bill are aimed at disrupting
the foreign pimping gangs that have proliferated in France in the past ten
years, and to help the prostitutes stop. Those women who do want to get out
would be given a six-month residency permit and a small monthly allowance,
while several associations would assist them in seeking other means of support.
Sweden introduced a similar law in 1999 and claims that
prostitution has gone down sharply since then.
The Value Added Tax in France will go up come January 1,
2014. Most goods and services are currently taxed at 19.6% and will go up to 20%,
others that were taxed at 7% will go up to 10%, but those of "première
nécessité" such as food items that were taxed at 5.5% will come down to
5%. Of note: among those products of première
nécessité are condoms, whose tax will be reduced from 7% to 5.5%. The
Minister of Health explained its place among life's essentials as "a vital
tool in our fight against AIDS".