Emmanuel Macron and Valérie Pécresse still attracted to Joan of Arc after 600 years

French politicians, from liberal internationalists to far-right nationalists, lay claim to the image of Joan of Arc © Alamy

When Emmanuel Macron was about to launch his candidacy for the French presidency in 2016, it was in Orléans and with the help of his medieval heroine Joan of Arc that he deftly delivered what we now recognize as a first campaign speech.

Like an arrow finding its target, Jeanne had overthrown the old system, fought injustice and the English, and reunited a “France torn, cut in two and shaken by an endless war”, said the future president during the festival annual. for the holy adolescent.

At the time, Macron was still Minister of Finance in the socialist government, but the unifying, patriotic and above all victorious campaign of the Maid of Orleans to lift the English siege was irresistible for a politician who wanted to be “neither right nor of the left” and to break the old policy of France.

“It was an important symbolic gesture,” says Valérie Toureille, Joan’s biographer.

Ahead of April’s presidential election, Macron, who is set to seek re-election, and his political rivals are once again criss-crossing the country wooing voters in the “real France” of villages, towns and areas industries outside Paris. Ring road.

Orléans is again a good starting point for understanding the concerns of contemporary France. Once a large city dominating the Loire, Orléans is neither north nor south, neither exceptionally poor nor exceptionally prosperous.

Serge Grouard, mayor for 15 of the past 20 years, is scathing about Macron’s record in power. A member of the conservative Les Républicains party that chose Valérie Pécresse to beat Macron and become the first female head of state, Grouard accuses the president of dashing French hopes of transforming and modernizing the country.

“He was like a surfer on a huge, beautiful wave – and he helped make that wave – but he fell in the middle of it,” says Grouard. France, adds the mayor, remains “a small Soviet Union” strangled by regulations and bruised by immigration.

The streets of Orléans show that these problems used by the right and the extreme right to tamper with Macron, the liberal internationalist, are not entirely imaginary: homeless people live on the sidewalk, African migrants whose demands rejected asylum seekers say they have no intention of leaving, and the queue of needy people queuing for food at local Restos du Cœur (“canteens of the heart” created in the 1980s by comedian Coluche).

The sheer Frenchness of Joan of Arc is one of the reasons French right-wing nationalist politicians continue to claim her image 600 years after she was burned at the stake for turning the tide against the English during the war. of Hundred Years.

When Pécresse wanted to run for a primary as future commander-in-chief, she tweeted: “Jeanne d’Arc represents for me the image of France which stands up, which resists the invader. . . We are not doomed to decline and chaos. #Elysée 2022″.

Eric Zemmour, the TV anti-immigration polemicist who emerged from right-wing talk shows to mount his own presidential bid, declared himself a candidate in a nostalgia video nostalgic for France’s past, for “the land of Joan of Arc and of Louis XIV, the country of Bonaparte and General de Gaulle, the country of knights and nobles”.

Curiously, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s original far-right French party, now led as the Rassemblement National by his less antagonistic daughter Marine, has cooled its ardor for Sainte Jeanne slightly since the days when Le Pen dad gathered thousands of people for an annual tribute to his golden equestrian statue in Paris.

But she still has something for every politician – whether royalist or supporter of the republican left who rehabilitated her in the 19th century as a “daughter of the people”, persecuted in her short life by the Catholic Church.

Toureille says Joan was embraced not only by the French but also by American feminists, British suffragettes and now LGBTQ activists because she wore men’s armor and challenged gender stereotypes.

In France, its star shows no signs of waning. The exploits of Joan of Arc in the Middle Ages crystallized the idea of ​​the French nation and “in the political campaign, history comes up in all debates”, says Toureille. “She is still a very strong political symbol today.”

[email protected]

Comments are closed.