PARIS – The Player’s Bar on Rue de Montmartre is the biggest bar I have ever
come across in Paris, or anywhere else for that matter, with an endless number
of rooms, serving bars, stairs and floors, and also the most TV screens I have
ever seen. On all the walls, windows and doors, posters were stuck: “The Debate,
2012,” and “François Hollande Présidentielle 2012.”
Ever since 1974, “The
Debate” has been a tradition of the electoral campaign, and this time 20 million
French people watched. After seven months of hard confrontation, the
protagonists – Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande – were ruthless toward each
Serge Moati, a well-known TV presenter, announced the debate
before the start as “a very republican moment.” Segolène Royal, who
debated with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and was defeated, qualified it as “a moment
The duel itself was a very well managed event, held in a vast
studio at Saint-Denis near the Stade de France, which hosted the World Cup Final
I was invited to dinner and to watch the debate by members of my
family, Marc Cheifetz and Annick Cebeau, a couple of convinced “Sarkozyites”
from Montmartre Street. Everybody here in Paris on Wednesday night was meeting
up one way or another to see the political performance.
I watched the
debate with my hosts, until about halfway through, when the duties of journalism
struck. Malika Salim, a friend of Sarkozy’s UMP party, sent me an email
containing a list of cafés and other public places showing the debate in front
of supporters. Outside, it was raining and I hesitated as to which
direction to take the Metro: to a brasserie on one side of the city, in the 8th
arrondissement, or to a school of journalism on De Passy Street.
the street, the Player’s Bar, where I had never been. Many people
standing outside holding glasses of beer, TV cameras, moving spots of lights,
noise. I went in and when I was asked to present my press card, register and get
a badge, I realized that I had just become a very happy journalist. It was more
than a café showing the debate to a few customers; this was the main event
organized by the Federation of the Young Socialists of Paris, and they wanted to
watch the debate together in a pre-victory party mood.
“We are 800 people
here,” Loubna the beautiful young barmaid told me smiling.
of immigration is one of the reasons I didn’t vote for Sarkozy in the first
round,” she said, while serving beer at the bar.
“I am happy to be here
tonight, among people who are thinking like me,” said a young customer named
Michael, a 24-year-old student of international institutional
cooperation, added that he was “scared for François Hollande,” but he is now
quite his hero who “managed well” in the debate.
On the stairs, I met
Lucie, 45, who has been a member of the Socialist Party since 2007 after having
been “so disgusted” to see Sarkozy in the debate of that year with
Royal. She hated his personality, even before he had done anything, she
Anne Hidalgo, the deputy mayor of Paris, was there with all her
“François Hollande dominated the debate, and Nicolas Sarkozy
was the challenger. He’s aggressive as usual!” she claimed.
Benchetrit, a 65-yearold retired professor of management, watched the debate at
his home in Saint-Priest near Lyon.
“Fascinating. I have discovered a
real president in [Hollande],” said Benchetrit. He voted for Sarkozy in
In front of the two main journalists of French TV – Laurence Ferari
from TF1 and David Pujadas from France 2 – the two protagonists battled over a
wide range of subjects. Economic, political and international affairs
were all covered.
The general impression was that, as usual, Sarkozy was
aggressive, energetic and a master of the subjects, but also a bit nervous.
Quieter in his delivery, Hollande was, predictably, more critical of the past
five years, giving a controversial assessment of his rival’s
“I have been compared to Franco, Petain, Laval, and why not
to Hitler,” Sarkozy complained after reminding everybody that Martine Aubry, a
prominent figure in the Socialist Party, had already compared him to Bernard
Madoff, the former American financier who conned people out of billions of
“I was not in power in the US, in Spain, and there was a crisis
there too... About Germany, you say now that Germany has a better record than
us, but you are not ready to take any measures they took,” Sarkozy
Hollande attacked his rival on the “politics of division” and
his attitude toward Muslims in France. He pointed his finger at the national
debt, which has doubled since 2002 to reach 1.8 trillion euros, and the rise in
Every sentence from Hollande was, of course, received with
thunderous applause from the audience in the Player’s Bar who, at the end,
chanted like spectators at a soccer match: “WE WON! WE WON!”
When the organizers
at the bar finally announced that Hollande, who had been expected to arrive from
Saint- Denis for a drink after the debate, would not be coming since it was too
late, people did not show their disappointment, and instead proceeded to dance
the night away.