I saw the jubilation of Macron supporters firsthand, but then it became obvious we’re going back to the dark days.
The crowds counted down the seconds to 8pm in the square outside the louvre in Paris, and they cheered as it was revealed that Macron had succeeded in defeating the extreme-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. However, it wasn’t until well past 10, after a long, multicultural, and multi-ethnic cast of dancers, musicians, DJs and MCs had graced the stage with songs in French, English and Arabic. That really showed it to Le Pen, eh? Some commentators in France have alluded to this being a political point, when actually, it’s just a fact of french society, that these multilingual and multi-ethnic songs are mainstream in France today – or maybe, just maybe, in-between becoming president and delivering his speech, Macron gave the DJ his preferred set-list. Macron did walk on to the European anthem of Ode to Joy, and yes, that did indeed fit into his unashamedly pro-European manifesto.
When Le Pen did her speech, they turned off the big screen – which wasn’t really in the spirit of the words of Macron ‘listening to all of France’. But we did get to see an American musician tell us that ‘Emmanuel is the Truth’. I presume he hadn’t been following the #MacronLeaks hashtag on twitter then – but that’s a little unfair.
Even with my cynicism, it was a lot of fun. People dancing, singing the national anthem, and the three activists, face painted with a different European flag, carrying the neon signs of ‘Hope beat Hate’ was truly inspiring. It gave you that warm fuzzy feeling inside and most of all – hope. It felt like an Obama rally. The dullest point of the evening was when Macron arrived and delivered his speech – mainly because two hours before he’d delivered the same speech (word for word, and with the same blank face emotion) on television that was beamed to the big screens as well. The woman behind me screamed it with much more passion than he did.
The backdrop for this event was the impressive glass pyramid of the Louvre, compared to the restaurant/chalet on the eastern outskirts of a park in Paris, that was home to Marine Le Pen for the evening. By their presences, you could tell who had won, well before the exit poll. Le Pen was spotted at her party dancing, people laughed, but she’s done pretty well. 1 in 3 voters in France voted for her – not bad for a party who does have a few image problems particularly when it comes to holocaust denial. The last time the Front National was in the final round of the presidency was with Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie in 2001. They have since doubled their vote. They may not have won his time, but if the goal was normalising extreme right wing politics – they have truly succeeded. A poll after the election said that a majority of people voted for Macron because ‘he wasn’t Le Pen’. A passerby told me she voted for him because he was a president for France. She originally voted Melanchon.
The next evening, I had met a friend for a kebab opposite gare du nord station, and on the television we all went quiet to hear the headlines that ‘hope had won’. The arabians serving us, had almost certainly voted for Macron. Almost instantly, a huge amount of police vans went by, and closed the road, there were screams and people running out of the station. There were a few more policemen with machine guns than normal. ‘Stay safe’ said the owner, sighed the shop owner with a face of resignation. He’d seen this before.
It turns out there were three ‘people of interest’ for the terrorism unit, but the police returned empty handed.
The next day, I took the bus to Brussels, on Europe Day (fun fact, if you work at the EU institutions it counts as a national holiday). This is the day Europe celebrates the founding of the European Union.
On the bus, I woken by the sudden slowing down as I saw in front a small Renault Clio in blue and white stripes in front which had the sign ‘suivez-nous’, follow us. And so we were taken off the motorway, onto a little village road, and pulled up next to a little shabby blue and red building. Border control, between France and Belgium. Border Control on Europe Day – a little ironic.
In the middle of the motorway is a tall concrete artwork – symbolising peace.
We were all removed from the bus, with all our luggage and put into a little room. The woman in the headscarf was first, she put her luggage through the scanner, and was asked quite a few questions, then was the black mother and her 16-month old child.
‘He was taking photos’ said the policewoman, pointing at me. The woman clutched her gun as I took my phone out of my pocket. I had taken a picture of the small old building they were using, and that was enough for some more questioning, and the stern policemen forcing me to delete the offending picture before I could leave.
One week on, Macron may have won, but fear is still in the lead.