Agrarian rants

No countryside for old men.

The time of the good old peasant is long gone in France. Forget the cliches of the grumpy old man with two smelly cow in a beetroot field. If few of them remains (certainly as part of our touristy heritage protection plan), nowadays farmers are more entrepreneurs than anything else. In the French corn belt tractors are equipped with GPS and automated. Cattle is computer-bred... And before all, farmers have become a minor part of the active French population. Their number has been divided by 6 in the last 50 years, reaching the mark of 400.000.

Nevertheless, traditionally and economically, they remain a critical segment of the population. Their unions are very influential a lobbying group, most of them are activists in causes like GMO or EU policy especially when it comes to Common Agricultural Policy, and they are always keen on impactful demonstrations... And trust me there is little more frightening than angry farmers! Maybe angry farmers pairing with routers...

All this explains why it has become a political exercise to attend the yearly International Farmer Trade Show in Paris. Not only is this a great opportunity for urban children to discover that milk comes from somewhere else than a bottle, it is also the chance for politicians to demonstrate their attachment to traditions and the agrarian background of our country.

Welcome to the fair.

As a result, at every edition of the Salon International de l'Agriculture, amongst prize sows and muscular steers, you can witness a parade of another type of animal: political representatives. Here are they shaking hands, drinking here a glass of Normandy Cider, eating there a slice of organic Corsican sausage... Pretending to be at ease for their day off in the "real" world. Chirac, as a former Minister of Agriculture, made it an unmissable date in his presidential diary during his time at the Elysée. And he has not missed a single edition...

The only problem is that whilst leaving their cosy, gold-rimmed offices, politicians risk to encounter the voters. And this is always an experience - please not the understatement here - to put a face on a ballot. It can sometimes be frightening (note the euphemism)! And to be honest, amongst already hot-tempered farmers, some are not of the best breed, especially after a few days tasting the liquid production of fellow-farmers...

Président Nicolas Sarkozy faced it this year when doing his official visit to the stands, shaking hands à la Chirac. He was making his way through the crowd when a guy shout at him: "don't touch me, you'll spoil me..." and the President to reply "then get lost, you dumb ass!":

Pragmatic talks.

Now this is what we call rock-n-roll, or what? We say that farmers are down-to-earth people, so maybe was that an attempt from our president to be empathetic. Anyway, this has turned into a mini-event for several reasons: first because it has been recorded and aired on YouTube by a major newspaper, Le Parisien ; second, because polls are not very favourable for Sarkozy at the moment and it was a chance for the opposition to strike back...

I won't add to the debate that a President, being the representative of all French, should respect any citizen whatever they could say. Such a reaction is indeed not acceptable from an ethical point of view: it does not respect the etiquette of the role. No, I prefer to look at this event from a different angle. Since I live in a foreign country, I am looking at the news with some distance. It reminded me of another political event which occurred a few years ago.

At that time candidate François Bayrou was in campaign in a sensitive area of the country. Whilst exchanging with a crowd of somehow young and hostile people, one of them tried to pick-pocket the politician. As an immediate and obviously not calculated reaction, Bayrou slapped the boy in the face, caught by the TV cameras. Interesting enough, following the broadcast of the event, the polls improved drastically for this secondary player in the presidential election.

As a conclusion, if the pen is mightier than the sword, the slap is mightier than the insult... May it be heard!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:07 am

    It seems that french president is a bit nervous, and unable to keep temper on stressfull situations...this presidential blast up already happened a few month ago in Britany, I can imagine we'll have very intersting surprises in the future...

    Flav from Cyprus