Monday, May 28, 2012

A Communist Bar in Paris

Parisian culture is a rich blend of many cultures and ideas. You see this everywhere and one of the regular places I have lunch with my colleagues is the restaurant/bar Joli Môme (old French slang for "pretty girl"). Located in Square Bolivar in the 19th arrondisement of Paris, the Joli Môme is, for want of a better description, a communist bar. They have posters urging you to protect workers rights, pro-Melenchon stickers (a communist politician), great food and slow service.

My lunch last Friday was a delicious soupe marocaine followed by a fiery tagine poisson washed down by a Stella Artois, a great beer for a warm day. I remember thinking how, in the US, most companies would have fired me for that lunchtime beer but over here, no one cares.

Naturally, if I'm talking about sitting in a Communist bar, I have to talk about Communism in France. Communism in France can be summed up with one word: dead. The communists are unlikely to return to power in France not because the French necessarily abhor communism, but because communism would require a complete rewrite of society and French communists are very uncompromising. The French are often very idealistic, but they're also realists: communism isn't coming back short of a complete collapse of the economy and voters turning desperate.

Today, François Hollande, the President of France is a socialist, the first socialist president since François Mitterrand who left office 17 years ago. But I suspect we'll find that Hollande's socialism is different from Mitterrand's in that Hollande actually appears to be a socialist and Mitterrand was, well, Mitterrand. Mitterrand was a larger than life figure and very politically adroit, the latter showing in his quick abandonment of his early hard-left economic reforms after they turned disastrous. Hollande's reforms are forthcoming and I'm quite curious to see what will happen.

Mitterrand was elected at a time when the US and the UK were taking a hard right turn and France was a bit unusual in not following. Hollande, on the other hand, has become president after we've long traveled down the right fork and people are watching him closely. If an economic recovery comes to France, regardless of whether or not it's Hollande's doing, I suspect that there will be a rethinking of politics in Europe. The free market austerity program has been a dramatic failure in Europe and many are struggling to find other solutions. Greece has seen a massive political upheaval at the polls, with even a neo-Nazi party getting seats in parliament. Meanwhile in Iceland, they're rewriting their constitution and arresting the bankers (!). Hell, even in Germany, the Pirate Party is likely to win 10% in the next election. For my American readers: in the US, that result would be meaningless because you can have 49% of the populace support a party and have that party win no seats. I'm not exactly sure how that represents "democracy".

Europe is getting very, very interesting right now and almost anything seems possible. I'm looking forward to the change as Europe, in contrast to the US, seems to be evolving. I don't know if the result will be good, but I can hardly imagine it will be worse than the mess we're in now.