Sarkozy’s Strategy of Violence
Larry Portis — Counterpunch
“Bring the War home.” Here was a slogan that resonated throughout the Vietnam War era. It was a good formula, and temporarily successful in that it expressed and reinforced combativeness on the part of those who contested the war. The idea was that the anti-war movement must force the state to confront, within the United States and other western, industrialized countries, a mirror image of its imperialist actions abroad.
In France, today, this idea is taking a surprising turn. It is the French president who is bringing the war home.
One of the particularities of France has been that the propensity to go out into the streets to fight oppressive institutions is accepted as part of a long established political tradition. This is still the case. But another particularity of this country is the tradition of state repression. If the contemporary history of France is punctuated by revolts and revolutions, it should not be forgotten that bloody crushing of popular movements followed the events of 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871 and 1936. Overseas, the French military carried out genocidal “pacifications” of populations in Indochina, Morocco, Algeria and Madagascar that have been emulated by other imperialist states, with the United States in the lead.
In a country once called the “political laboratory of the world” (by Karl Marx), the present French government is quickening the pace towards the creation of a “police state” in which the forces of repression are not only centralized but also militarized in the strictest sense of the word. The French state is now perfecting its police power in dealing with “civil disturbances” by militarizing population control.
There are two models for this effort. The first is the USA PATRIOT ACT that centralized “intelligence” agencies under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security and erased the distinction between international intervention and domestic policing. The second is the organization of the national security forces in Israel, where the operative principle is the occupation of hostile territory.
The most serious step in the centralization and militarization of the police occurred in July 2010. It was then that the National Assembly enacted into law Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to give the Ministry of the Interior financial control over the famous Gendarmes, traditionally considered to be part of military defense, but in reality acting outside the cities as a law enforcement force.
From 1921, the Gendarmerie gained special status as a special military corps with an ambiguous kind of autonomy. They were not called upon to engage in crowd control or in real military operations. They are part of the military establishment, but not the regular army. In general, the gendarmes have enjoyed a reputation as being relatively independent of political interference. Since the 1960s—and a series of incredibly popular films staring the beloved Louis de Funes—the gendarmes entered contemporary folklore as the most respected law enforcement agency in France.
But now their independence is seriously compromised, and so will be the respect in which they are held. Not only has Sarkozy proposed that a contingent of Gendarmes be sent to Afghanistan, his incorporation of them into the police means that the distinction upheld until now between public service and repression of the population is effectively obliterated.