The Berezina of the French left

“Berezina” has been used by the French as a synonym for a catastrophe.

April 1, 2014 01:53
2 minute read.
Hollande speaks during the opening of the Qatari-French Business Forum in Doha June 23, 2013.

Hollande gesturing wildly, 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous)


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The Berezina is a river in Belorussia, a tributary of the Dnieper, crossed in November 1812 by the Grande Armée of Napoleon Bonaparte during the chaotic retreat of his disastrous Russian Campaign. Ever since then “Berezina” has been used by the French as a synonym for a catastrophe.

This image can easily be attached to Sunday’s defeat of the Socialist Party of French President Francois Hollande during the second round of the local elections. The results confirmed the swing to the Right of the first round, in which the Left lost many municipalities.

The defeat of the ruling party is described by the Communist-linked newspaper L’Humanité as a “disavowal” of the politics of last two years of the government and as a “tsunami” by the daily paper Le Figaro, whose headline on Monday morning read: “The last chance of the president,” referring to the impending reshuffle of the cabinet expected by everyone in the next few days. “Francois Hollande is forced to reshuffle very quickly,” headlined the business paper Les Echos.

In total, of the 36,000 local governments in France, the Right gained 45.9 percent of the votes, while the Left claimed 40.5%. According to statistics published by the Interior Ministry, 155 cities and towns of more than 9,000 inhabitants moved from the left to the right, among them 68 of more than 30,000 inhabitants. The rate of abstentions was at a record high at 38.89% and this seems to have severely dented Hollande’s support.

Fifteen municipalities will be led by a mayor from Marine Le Pen’s far Right party National Front, including the Seventh Arrondissement of Marseille, though France’s second largest city reelected Mayor Jean-Luc Gaudin of the moderate Right, UMP, for the fourth time. Across the country at least 1,300 members of the NF have been elected to municipal councils.

Yet this “triumph” for the far Right is not as great, the results are not as good, as it expected.

Several of its heavyweight leaders – Florian Philipot, Marine Le Pen’s partner, who is the vice-president of the NF and was a candidate in the town of Forbach, and the candidates in Avignon and Perpignan – have been beaten.

The far Right merely strengthened its support and maintained its local footholds, reported analysts.

It is now six weeks until the important European Elections, and according to an opinion poll the Socialist Party lags behind the NF.

“I don’t see any blue-Marine tsunami. On the other hand, there is a very positive result for the UMP,” declared Alain Jupé, who was elected in Bordeaux in the first round. He might stand as the presidential candidate for the moderate right-wing UMP, if ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy for any reason does not.

The government recognized its defeat.

“There is a local defeat, and there is a national defeat,” said Minister Michel Sapin, who is close to Hollande.

Segolene Royal, who was the losing candidate in the 2007 presidential race, added: “It is a particularly severe setback.”

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