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May 02, 2012, Wednesday

France’s election

The first round of France’s election cycle will end this coming Sunday. After electing their president, French voters will elect their deputies on June 10 and 17. Then, they will probably go on holiday. Before discussing what will happen if Sarkozy or Hollande is elected, let us review the lessons of the first round of the presidential race held on April 22. There were six noteworthy candidates among the 10 running for president.

Starting from the bottom, Eva Joly, the candidate for the Greens, became the worst performing environmentalist candidate in a long while. The weaknesses in her campaign added to the chronic weaknesses of the Green movement in France, the discriminatory treatment she suffered from being originally from Norway and the fact that the economic crisis undermined environmental sensitivity are reasons for her poor performance.

François Bayrou, representing the “center” as the black hole of politics, performed worse than in previous elections. His promises were left hanging in midair and lacked any appeal to voters.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the only candidate who said something different. He emerged as the spokesperson of the French version of angry masses of Europe (Los Indignados) that lean toward an anti-systemic stance in the face of the profound sense of insecurity and heightened fears holding the continent hostage. Although on the evening of the first round he implicitly suggested that his voters should support Hollande in the final round, he is likely to be the most serious opponent of “President Hollande.”

Then Marine Le Pen managed to secure the votes of 6.5 million French, grabbing 18 percent of the national vote. Le Pen will certainly have an effect on the parliamentary elections.

As for the top two, none of them said anything that matches with the severity of the situation in France. Just like the old Europe, the old France appears to be a country that fears the results of its new crossbreed identity. The economic crisis and the identity crisis are mutually feeding each other. The murders committed by a French terrorist of Algerian descent ahead of the first round of the elections set the tone. While all presidential candidates underlined that Muslims should not be blamed for the massacres, for sizeable parts of the French public anti-Muslim clichés have held the upper hand.

Sarkozy’s second place and his eventual doom, as well as the increased clout of Le Pen, imply that the classic French right no longer has a leader. That would have a heavy price for French democracy, which is currently under the unbearable load of a xenophobic, racist and isolationist rhetoric.

Monday morning

If Sarkozy is re-elected against all odds, the French public, who already loathe him, can hardly be expected to put up with his reign for another five years. The French, known for their culture of insubordination, will undoubtedly put a damper on Sarkozy’s second five-year term, during which he is certain to continue to implement the policies that create nothing but aversion. Therefore, Sarkozy would probably not make it. Some in the business world will support Hollande, as they predict social tremors to emerge if Sarkozy is re-elected. Otherwise, it is impossible for Hollande to be elected, as the simple sum of left-wing votes doesn’t make 50 percent.

However, we cannot say either that everything will immediately be fine in France if Hollande is elected. The provisions of the EU fiscal compact treaty recently signed by 25 members of the European Union restrict governments with respect to public expenditure and borrowing. Although Hollande promised to renegotiate the treaty, France’s economy, which is intricately integrated with other EU countries, does not have such a luxury.

It is not an easy for any politician to explain to Europeans why they have to live with austerity measures, layoffs and general pauperization across the continent. The presence of a left wing that is at odds with the system, in addition to an ever-growing far right, may accelerate the unmanageability of Europe and increase its self-isolation. A profound vision is needed to reverse this process. A “Marshall Plan for Europe,” which Hollande has recently been voicing, would achieve this goal.

Turkey’s mushrooms

My favorite hobby in this town, which has rich flora, is to pick mushrooms. I also buy them at local markets. I am always astonished by people’s ignorance and lack of awareness about mushrooms, as the great majority of the population was formerly rural. Istanbul’s parvenu and kitsch masses addicted to concrete, asphalt and junk food have no better idea about wildlife and nature. Politicians think abolishing agriculture and living in skyscrapers means modern life. Perhaps, one day, those who try to survive in these so-called cities characterized by a low quality of life will start to have a different look at their environs. I advise them to study Jilber Barutçiyan’s recently published “Türkiye’nin Mantarları” (Turkey’s Mushrooms), the first serious book on these marvels of nature to be published in this country.

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