March 3, 2015

Letter from Paris: Minsk 2 – Another Truce for Ukraine … Maybe

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petroshenko.

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petro Porosnhenko. Photo credit EPA/Maxim Shipenkov.

After a 16-hour long marathon of negotiations on Feb. 11, and a great deal of suspense, Angela Merkel and François Hollande wrenched out a hard-won agreement for a cease-fire in Ukraine from Petro Porosnhenko and Vladimir Putin starting on Saturday, Feb. 14 at midnight.  All parties to the agreement were extremely cautious and hoped that “Minsk 2” would last longer than “Minsk 1” signed in September 2014.

More than 5,500 people have died in the conflict during the past 10 months, which makes it the deadliest in Europe since World War II.  There was a sense of relief that the agreement went through and thus a disaster had been avoided.  In the morning, Putin joked that he had had better nights but felt satisfied.

To continue the negotiations rather than slamming more sanctions on Putin, as some Washington pundits advocate, was the objective of Minsk 2.  Sanctions have a cost for Europe (for example, the Russian government retaliated to earlier sanctions by blocking the import of produce from Western Europe.)  More dangerously, they exacerbate the nationalism of Putin and enhance his popularity in Russia.

In the face of a threatening strategy of Daesh* making well planned inroads to destabilise Europe by recent acts of terrorism, Russia and the European Union (EU) have a common enemy.  For decades, the extremist Moslem opposition in Chechnya and Central Asia has been a great fear for the Russian government..

The talks in Minsk started in a polar atmosphere.  Throughout the night, Petro Poroshenko’s and Vladimir Putin’s teams moved like a choreographed ballet.  Early in the morning, Putin left the room, slamming the door, only to reappear a few minutes later. The Franco-German duo is to be credited with an unflappable tenacity to reach an agreement.  The two worked perfectly together.  Merkel needed Hollande since she wants to avoid making foreign policy decisions alone and prefers,“Leading from the center,” to use a formula coined by the German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen.

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Minsk 2 includes modified provisions to make the process move forward.  The buffer zone – cleared from all heavy armaments – has been widened from 30 km to 70 kms.  The European Council for Stability and Security will be monitoring the application of the agreement.  Putin expressed his demands for the autonomy of the Luhansk and Donestk regions..

The EU widely considers that Ukraine is both a corrupt and failed state.  It cannot afford to help it financially nor envisages its adhesion to the EU any time soon.  Kiev does not want to lose the industrial and mining Donbas region, but its action is disorganized.  For many months, Putin has claimed that he never intervened in the conflict taking place in Eastern Ukraine.

One wonders whether he really controls the Russian separatists, so different from the sophisticated Maidan crowd.  The Donbass miners and blue collar workers are products of massive transfers of population forced by the Soviets at the time of the German offensive to compensate for the relocation of highly skilled workers to the Ural Mountains.  Another headache for Putin is the presence among the Russian separatists of clans whose leaders have political ambitions .

It is hard to understand Putin’s strategy.  Obviously he does not want NATO to choke him nor nuclear misssiles to be installed in the area.  He does not have the means to support the Donbas.  His priority should most likely be to allow a corridor from Rostov on Don, through Mariopol on the Sea of Azov and then leading to the Crimea.  At present his only access to the Crimea is through the Straits of Kerch, which is some distance away.

*The new nickname for ISIS widely used in France, Australia and some other countries because ISIS supposedly dislikes it intensely — it is a loose acronym of the Arabic description of ISIS, which does not acknowledge any statehood for the organization but rather can be roughly translated as, “One who crushes something underfoot,” or, “One who sows discord.”

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Patrick Modiano receives 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

Nobel_prize_for_Literature_2014

…”all those wasted years during which one did not pay enough attention to trees, to flowers”…) says the main character  in Modiano’s latest novel ‘Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier’ (which translates roughly as, “To avoid getting yourself lost in the neighborhood”)

France had the distinctive honor of receiving two Nobel prizes in 2014:   Jean Tirole was the recipient of the Prize for Economics for his work on the financial crisis and the banking system while Patrick Modiano received the Prize for Literature.  He will join an illustrious pantheon of writers from Gunter Grass (Germany) ), Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Gabriel Garcia Marques (Columbia) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union)  to Albert Camus (France) or Ernest Hemingway (USA).  Modiano is the 16th laureate from France, giving that country the largest number since beginning of the Nobel awards in 1900.

The press release issued by the Swedish Academy of Sciences selected the French writer, “For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation.” The prize was a recognition of his abundant literary production (30 novels)  centered on the protagonists’ search of their own past, in the urban setting of Paris, going back to World War II.

He writes like a sleep walker, plodding through a mysterious, sometimes disjointed sequence of events looking for his lost childhood when he was tossed around from one home to another.  Since his first novel, ‘La Place de l’Etoile,’ published in 1968, he has created a world where autobiographic notes are interwoven with the “bad dream” of the Occupation.

Modiano is a tall (6′ 6” ) man of 69 with a kind face and fluttering hands as he speaks.  During a 45-minute acceptance speech in Stockholm, his modest personality must have made him endearing to the distinguished audience, particularly when he dedicated his award to his Swedish grandson.

A writer, he said, is usually a poor speaker, who leaves his sentences unfinished, because he is used to editing his text over and over again.

He explained that he belonged to a generation when children were not allowed to speak up and, if they were given a chance to speak, they expected to be interrupted at any time.

During an interview he gave in his study, surrounded by thousands of books, he asked, “Why would I write another book when so many have been already written?”  Then he added,  “It is probably at the sight of his own bookcases that a discouraged Scott Fitzgerald took up drinking.”

He claims, with incredible modesty, that “It is with bad poets that one obtains prose writers.”

According to Alice Kaplan, head of the French department at Yale University, Modiano can be labelled as the Marcel Proust of modern times.

Claire Duvarrieux, head of the ‘Books’ department of the daily newspaper, Liberation, describes the works of Modiano as a collective memory of France during the war, the German Occupation, collaboration, the persecution of the Jews and finally, the war in Algeria.

With Louis Malle, he co-wrote the scenario of Lacombe Lucien in 1974, one of the best French “New Wave” films.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Marcel Duchamp at the Pompidou Center

Marcel Duchamp i(1887-1965) is well known in America. Most people have heard of his readymades like the famous (or infamous) Fontaine, which is, in fact, a public urinal. Stiglitz immortilized the original in a 1917 photograph before it disappeared for ever. The bicycle wheel set on a kitchen stool is a familiar sight for MOMA vistors.

Nude descending a staircase No. 2

Nude going down a staircase No. 2

Since his first trip to the US in 1915, the artist made multiple visits to that country, avoiding the two World Wars. He acquired American nationality in 1955. It was at the 1913 Armory Show that his cubist painting ‘Nu Descendant un escalier No. 2′ (Nude going down a staircase No. 2) became a huge success.

Some critics have labelled Marcel Duchamp as the creator of modern art while others say he destroyed it when he advocated “non-retinal” painting. Volumes have been written about him. In an amazingly short time – since he abandoned art for chess at age 36 – he was able not only to produce art, but also to integrate into it the latest discoveries of science and modern technology.

The Marcel Duchamp exhibit at the Pompidou Center just closed its doors after several successful months. It was a monographic approach consisting of about 100 paintings and drawings little known in France (most of them are part of the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) covering the 1912 to 1923 period and leading to his main creation, ‘Le Grand Verre.’

Born in Normandy, Duchamp belonged to a talented family of six children. The mother was a distant figure, which may explain his alienation from women. ‘Sonate,’ 1911, represents the three sisters playing musical instruments. The mother stands stern and erect . Strangely enough she seems to be enjoying the concert, although she is deaf.

He had a deadpan sort of humor and provocation was his tool. He enjoyed playing tricks on the Regardeurs (viewers), giving wrong titles to his works. He relished plays on words, for example, he called himself Rose Selavy (Eros – that’s life) in the photograph Man Ray took of him. To put a moustache and a goatie on Mona Lisa was a virtual iconoclastic gesture and he made it even more outrageous by giving it the title of LHOOQ (if the letters are pronounced in French the meaning is shockingly vulgar) .

Duchamp joined his two brothers Jacques Villon and Raymond-Duchamp in the Puteaux group of Cubists. ‘Dulcinea’ and the ‘Joueurs d’échecs’ are among his superb cubist paintings. Borrowing the technique of chronophotography and cinema, he introduced time and movement in ‘Jeune Homme Triste dans Un Train 1911-12,’ where the real accomplishment was to show a person in a train in motion while also suggesting his sad mood.

La Mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires,’ meme (also called Le Grand Verre) was his major work. It consists of two free-standing glass panels. In the lower register, nine Moules Maliques* (an officer, a gendarme, a priest, etc) stand beside a chocolate-crushing machine, which rotates non-stop. By means of sexually-related devices, gas travels up toward the mariée, who is hanging limply at the top, having gone from the virgin to the bride stage. The work alludes to the universal themes of erotic love and the inaccessible woman.

* I am not even attempting to translate these nonsensical words!

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

 

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Ten Days Later

US Foreign Secretary John Kerry pays his respects at the memorial to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

Ten days after the assassination at the Charlie Hebdo office including the magazine’s editor and leading cartoonists, France is on high alert. Threats against persons and acts of vandalism are multiplying. The Jewish community is scared, the Muslims feel stigmatized, the Catholics are worried. It would be exaggerated however to describe – the way a Fox News journalist claimed – that certain areas of Paris, such as the 11th arrondissement, are dangerous and should be avoided. Incidentally, the journalist quickly withdrew his remark.

Prime minister Manuel Valls and minister of the Interior Bernard Caseneuve have launched maximum security measures: the Vigipirate alert system (at first created by president Giscard d’Estaing in 1978) now includes 10,000 troops from the Foreign Legion, the army and the police. They are positioned throughout France to protect monuments, schools and places of worship, as well as strategic points like airports or railroad stations. On Thursday, Francois Hollande was on the air force carrier Charles de Gaulle in Toulon to review the 2,000 troops before their departure for manoeuvers in the Indian Ocean. France has currently nine Rafales in Jordan and two Mirages in Saudi Arabia.

The criminal investigation has been fast and efficient. In lightning speed, they uncovered more ramifications of the jihadists’ organization, extended to their families, friends and acquaintances, with the “Buttes-Chaumont connection” at the center. The Belhoucine brothers are on the list of suspects. A large number of individuals have been taken for questioning and nine are currently in police custody . In the Paris region, five caches of weapons have been located and searched.

Reinforcement of the legal system to control the jihadists’ travels and activities is being studied by the government. Measures such as the creation of special files on terrorists similar to the ones kept on sexual offenders and withdrawing the French nationality of returning jihadists are being considered. Voting on a new law should take place as early as the beginning of February. Control of internet has become a priority. The social networks constitute a counter culture expressed in simple manichean terms to be accessible to the largest possible numbers. Calls for violence and hatred never stop.

The recent events have marked the French. On Wednesday, January 14, after a powerful speech by the prime minister at the National Assembly, all the deputies stood up to observe a minute of silence. Then one voice started singing the Marseillaise and soon everybody followed in unison. The last time this happened was on November 11, 1918! At the Institut du Monde Arabe and during all the official ceremonies, the president and the prime minister reiterated their basic point: the French government is not against Islam nor the Muslim population. Around the world, French diplomatic representations and economic interests are under attack. The TV news shows the fury of violent mobs shouting their hatred in the streets of Niger — quite a contrast from the calm of the people in the streets of Paris on January 11.

Laicite (secularism) is a specificity of France, and the outcome of a tumultuous history, starting with the 16th century wars of religions, opposing monarch and church. It took a whole century for the Catholic Church to accept the separation of church and state in 1904. That principle was enshrined in the first article of the 1958 constitution at the outset of the fifth Republic. It is alien to most of the other countries and should be “formatted” (to use a computer science term) in order to be understood beyond our borders.

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Paris, saw the places where the violent attacks took place on January 7 and used warm words (in French) to express his support of France.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Our French correspondent Nicole Prévost Logan was in Paris last Wednesday when the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office occurred and for the subsequent days of terror in the environs of Paris. This column reflects her thoughts on the tragedy.  She writes:

Je_suis_Charlie_v3

They were a talented, irreverent, friendly and humorous bunch of cartoonists and journalists.  They were like family.  We knew them by name.  Charb, Cabu, Wolinski (Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut,  Georges Wolinski) and the others were also incredibly courageous.  Round the clock they had to be protected by police and body guards.  In 2011, their office was blown up in an explosion.  Charb, leader and editor-in-chief of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical newspaper, was on the ‘Wanted’ list of Al-Qaeda as someone to be eliminated.

On Wednesday, January 7, at noon, I was walking by the Bastille, near my apartment, when police cars, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, fire trucks – their sirens howling – seemed to be converging on the square.  Strange, I thought.  When I met my daughter for lunch, she told me that the entire editorial board of Charlie Hebdo had been shot.  Being “connected” with her smart phone, she was able to follow every minute of the crisis

The crisis lasted for three days with the pursuit of the two Kouachi brothers by tens of thousands of police and special forces.  Two more attacks (related, as it turned out later) occurred in Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes with the taking of hostages by a third terrorist Amedy Coulibaly.  Seventeen people died during the 72 hours, including four Jewish hostages  who had been held in a Kosher supermarket.

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb.

The emotion in France was intense.  The French have always relished Charlie Hebdo’s iconoclastic derision aimed at everyone … women, Jews, Moslems, blacks, no exceptions … and their making fun of politics, religion and other serious topics.

The tragic end of an entire editorial staff of a newspaper at the point of a gun in the name of a principle explains the incredible shock wave of sympathy with spread around the world in a few hours.  A journalist from Los Angeles said in his grief at the talent lost that, in one throw, more cartoonists were killed than the total number existing in the US.  The victims have become the heroes, for having pushed to the extreme the right to say, write or draw anything in a free democratic society.

One may quote Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it.” Humor rather than violence or a call to violence, this was their motto.  This weekend France became a libertarian banner and the world seemed grateful to France for doing what no one else dared to do.  This attack and the planet’s reaction that it triggered can be seen as a fight for a secular state threatened by obscurantist developments, both in the regions where ISIL is taking hold and against terrorism anywhere in the world.

The French opinion from all parties, (except the Front National) is that president François Hollande managed the crisis superbly.  He was on the front line at all times.  He scared the police forces beyond belief when he came to the Charlie Hebdo street barely one hour after the attack, even before the area was made secure.  Hollande was at the helm of the operations and gave the green light for the two final assaults  to be perfectly synchronized.  He addressed the nation several times, avoiding grandiloquence and photo-op opportunities.

Instead of being belligerent and declaring “at war” status, what he stressed was the national unity and the need of inclusion of the overwhelmingly moderate Moslem population (about four million or 6.8 percent of the population, by 2012 figures.)  He urged the leaders of that community – imams, clergy, intellectuals and associations – to speak up and to join the march organized on Sunday. Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque of Drancy, a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants, declared on television, “What they have done is not Islam, we strongly condemn their acts.”  This is important because the problem of “integration” in France (one remembers the hostility caused by the ban on the veil) is a difficult process.

For three days, men in black, super-equipped with helmets, bullet-proof vests, shields and heavy arms, occupied our television screens.  We learned more about the elite groups which carried out the assaults.  In Dammartin-en-Goële,  it was the GIGN  (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), part of a 400-strong military elite corps based in Versailles.  At the Kosher market of the Porte de Vincennes, RAID (Recherche pour Assistance Intervention Dissuasion) is part of the police.  It was the first time ever that GIGN and RAID collaborated.

A question was immediately raised: how was it possible that Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, young French men with murky pasts of convictions, prisons terms, and, most of all, trips to Syria and several months training in Yemen with the most  dangerous groups of Al-Qaeda (AQPA) in the Arabian Peninsula, included on the US “no fly list,” could have been overlooked by the DGSE  (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure)?  Pierre Martinet, one of the heads of  the DGSE explained that the data about all these people has been collected, but they do not have the manpower to put several thousands potential terrorists under surveillance.

Gilles Keppel, a Middle East specialist and professor at Sciences Po) revealed that France has been designated as the prime enemy. There are about 1,200 French Jihadists, the largest group in Europe.  The era when terrorists learnt how to fly planes is over — today the social networks have created another situation when Al-Qaeda is less an organization than a system.  Private individuals make decisions, hence the difficulty in controlling them.

In an interview Monday morning, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, summarized the priorities:  control the calls for violence on the internet; in prison, separate radical islamists to prevent their radicalization of other prisoners; and intensify the coordination of intelligence agencies within Europe and around the world.  The Socialists are reluctant to introduce legislation comparable to the Patriot Act in the US at the expense of the rule of law.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand together in defense of the right to free speech.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand in solidarity in defence of the right to free speech.

Sunday, January 11, saw the march of the century.  Forty heads of state participated in the demonstration.  François Hollande led the march, accompanied by Angela Merkel and 40 other heads of state.  Some commentators wondered whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence was politically motivated or also to defend the principle of freedom of expression.

Four million people were on the streets, almost half of them in Paris.  The crowd, including many children, was calm and disciplined, sang La Marseillaise, and applauded the police – probably for the first time in French history.

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Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: The Magic of Merkel

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

She has been the German chancellor for 13 years, longer than any of her predecessors since the creation of the country in 1949.  Forbes magazine puts her #1 on the world’s list of powerful women.

The key to understanding Angela Merkel and the successful way she runs her government lies in her upbringing.  She was born in 1954 in Hamburg.  When she was three, her father – a Lutheran pastor – moved the family east of Berlin in order for him to head a home for mentally disabled children.  Growing up in one of the most repressive countries in the world, she always feared being spied on by the East German State Security Service – commonly known as the ‘Stasi’ – and was careful not to put the life of her family in danger.  No wonder the wire-tapping of her cell phone last July hit a raw nerve.

Between a distant father and the dreary atmosphere of East Germany, she found security and stimulation in hard scientific work.  She obtained a doctorate in physics and wrote her thesis on quantum chemistry.  She also became an excellent Russian speaker — a skill she has used in her relations with Putin.  Her Polish ancestry – her mother came from Gdansk (formerly Danzig) – will undoubtedly make her close to the new president of the European council, Donald Tusk.

She is a shrewd politician, pragmatic enough to adjust to changes.  She likes consensus and has accepted a coalition between her Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU – Christian Democratic Party) with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD – Social Democratic Party).  She treats politics like a science , taking a long time before reaching a decision, thus giving a comforting stability to her performance.  She wants power, but hates being in the spotlight.  This is why she preferred the “Merkozy” (Merkel-Sarkozy) days to being alone in dealing with the European Union.

Merkel has a difficult task to accomplish.  Her obsession with the rule of balanced budgets is creating austerity, which many members of the Euro zone now reject.  Her policy is increasingly being criticized by economists.  Emmanuel Macron, the new French Economic Minister, and Wolfang Schäuble his German counterpart, strongly disagree with her positions and think that growth is more important than austerity.  Marcel Fratzscher, professor of macro economics and finances at the university of Humboldt, also thinks that the priority is to invest in the crumbling German infrastructure.

Germany is perceived abroad, and particularly by the US, as carrying Europe financially.  However, this assessment should be corrected by keeping  in mind that the European Central Bank capital is made up of the contributions from the national banks.  The Deutsche Bundesbank contributes 19.99 percent, Banque de France 14.1 percent, Banca d’Italia 12.3 percent and so on. The burden of the debt is shared by all the countries of the Euro zone.

On Dec. 10, 2014, Angela Merkel was reelected by an astounding 99 percent of the votes as head of the CDU, which she has led since 2000.   After a 10-minute-long standing ovation, the party members proceeded to enjoy three more days of the Cologne Congress.  Today, an overwhelming  64 percent of  Germans would like her to run for a fourth mandate as chancellor in 2017.

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Chinese Make Increasing Inroads into France

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

china-franceChinese president Xi Jiping , wearing oversize headphones, appeared on the cover of the French weekly Nouvel Obs on Dec. 4.  “Are they spying on us?” asked the magazine.

The same week, huge parabolic antennae showed up on the roof of an inconspicuous building four miles from Paris.

Some people found the picture rather amusing and did not take this disclosure too seriously.  But not everybody.  In fact, the way China is making inroads into the French economy is somewhat disturbing for many.

This week, the International Monetary Fund announced that China surpassed the US as the largest economy in the world.  The sheer size of this sub-continent, which represents over one fifth of the world population, is rather frightening for a small country like France.  The economic strategy of China starts with the creation of partnerships with foreign companies, then a growing participation in their capital, and finally their acquisition.  It is by absorbing the ideas, the know-how and the technology of older countries, that China was able to race to the number one slot.  French officials and heads of private companies facilitate China’s grand design.

Economic relationships between the two countries have existed for years, but what is new is its accelerating pace.  In 2007, China had no high-speed trains.  Then it turned to France (Alstom), Germany (Siemens) and Japan ( Shinkansen) to obtain the transfer of their technologies.  Today China has the longest fast train network in the world.

In 1992, Donfeng Motor Corporation and Peugeot-Citroen, the leading carmaker in France entered in a joint venture and started manufacturing cars in China.

In March 2014, China Donfeng became an equal share holder of Peugeot-Citroen, thereby bringing to an end the 200-year-old family dynasty.

France sold the idea of Club Med and the Shanghai-based Fosun company is currently fighting to win a bid for its acquisition.

For the French, it feels like selling the family jewels when they see their prestigious wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, along with their chateaux, being bought by the Chinese.

But the most unsettling development so far just took place on Dec. 4.  Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy, signed an agreement with a Chinese consortium granting it 49.99 percent of the capital of the Toulouse airport.

It is a disastrous business move by the French government.  Toulouse is the country’s fourth largest airport.  Extensive work has just been completed at a high cost.  The airport has been a money-making undertaking, so why sell it for a dismal 308 million – the price of one Airbus?

The answer is simple: France is under extraordinary pressure from Brussels to lower its deficit.  It needs money.

The new giant facility will handle 20 million passengers a year, multiplying by five the number of Chinese tourists visiting France, with direct flights to several Chinese provinces.  Anybody, who has ever been to the “pink city” (pink is the color of the stone) on the banks of the Garonne with its quaint historical districts, will feel shocked by this decision.

Besides, Toulouse is the European capital of aeronautics as well as an important center of nuclear and spatial research.  A large Chinese presence in the neighborhood understandably makes some people nervous.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan


About the author:
 Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: The UK and Europe: Divided, We Stand Together … for the Moment

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

France and the rest of Europe look at the United Kingdom with some envy: the UK is currently enjoying a three percent growth in its economy, unemployment as low as six percent, a paired down number of civil servants and the dynamism of the City as a world financial center.  No wonder young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to Britain from the continent.

This week the spotlight was on Prime Minister David Cameron.  On Nov. 28, he gave a resounding speech to an industrial audience in the West Midlands.  The main thrust of his message was to stress the inability of his country to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and job seekers.  He announced that, if reelected in May 2015, he will renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).  In the case of refusal, he would organize a referendum on “Brexit” (the colloquial expression for British exit).

To control immigration, his demands include the expulsion of  immigrants still jobless six months after their arrival in England and a four year waiting period for new immigrants before they can receive benefits, tax  credits or social housing .

David Cameron’s position in regards to the surge of immigration should not be singled out. An increasing flow of migrants is taking place around the world, from Australia  to America.  In Europe, the phenomenon is compounded because of several circumstances: sub- Sahara persons fleeing for political or economic reasons, refugees escaping the Middle East military conflicts and finally, the recent surge of migrants from Eastern to Western Europe (228,000 this year — the highest number ever registered.)

According to the “Schengen Zone Agreement”, Rumania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, had to wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to enjoy full rights to travel and apply for work within the Schengen space.  This explains the spectacular increase in the number of immigrants from those countries to England during the past nine months – increases respectively of 468 percent of Rumanians and 205 percent of Bulgarians.  Government corruption, hard to integrate “Romas” and a lagging economy in both those countries explain why other EU members are reluctant to open the flood gates too soon.  This week David Cameron sent a special message to the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, to reassure that his demands would not apply to job seekers from her country.

On Nov. 25, the Pope, speaking in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg,  admonished the Europeans for being too egoistic and urged them to coordinate their immigration policies.  The Mediterranean, he said, should not become a cemetery.  Stressing human dignity, the Pope puts immigration at the center of his message.  The choice of Lampeduza as his first trip out of Rome was symbolic.

David Cameron is under pressure from the Euro-skeptics  and the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party).  It is clear he is ready to moderate his demands since he does not want to sever links with the EU.  The desire to negotiate is also strong on the other side of the English Channel.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan


About the author:
 Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Gambling on Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

One could describe the exhibit as intimate.  Only 80 paintings hang in the small rooms of the Musée du Luxembourg, some of them never seen before.  The style is familiar. the colors are soft, the scenes are peaceful — we are in the Impressionists’ world to meet old friends: Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Eugene Boudin, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt.

poster for Musee_de_luxembourg_ExhibitThe title of the exhibit is, “Paul Durand-Ruel. The Impressionist Gamble – Manet, Monet, Renoir,”  and it tells the endearing story of the first art dealer in history … and also one of the most influential.

The artwork is stunning: in “Le Pont à Villeneuve -la-Garenne,”  Sisley creates the fluidity of the water by using multicolor brush strokes and in Renoir’s dance scenes, 1883, couples twirl around happily, women’s eyes bright, their ruffled dresses contrasting with the dark suits of their older escorts.   “Liseuse” by Monet  shows a young woman sitting on the grass, enveloped by vegetation, spots of light dots her pink dress and in “Le Foyer de la Dance,” Degas’ dancers warm up, others are stretching, while, in the foreground, a little old lady, slouching in a chair is reading a newspaper.  Nearby another painting is identical, except for the empty chair — the little old lady is gone.

The story behind the artwork is equally fascinating.  Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) became an art dealer by accident.   Attracted to a military career, he entered Saint Cyr (equivalent of West Point) but  renounced for medical reasons.  He was struck by the paintings of Eugene Delacroix exhibited at the 1855  Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). He became fascinated by the artists who were refused access to the official Salon of the Academy of Fine Arts because of their innovative techniques.

In 1871, Paul met Monet and Pissarro in London where they had taken refuge from the Franco-Prussian war.  After his return to Paris, he visited Manet in his studio, liked his work so much that he bought 23 of his paintings at one go.  The Luxembourg exhibit includes two of Manet ‘s major works:  “Clair de Lune at Boulogne” and “Le Combat du Kearsage et de l’Alabama”.

Left alone after the his wife’s death, he turned his art dealership into a family business with his five children.  He opened galleries in London, Brussels, New York and later, Berlin.

In 1874, a group of young artists – who were given, at that time, the collective term of ‘Impressionists’ – showed their work for the first time together in the studio of   photographer Nadar.

Durand-Ruel fought to help the artists, both morally and financially, and became their friend. He borrowed money to purchase their paintings. He offered his living room on Rue de Rome to a penniless Monet and lent him money to move to Giverny. Years later, when he was rich and famous, Monet wrote, “We would have starved to death without Paul. ”

In 1886, the American Art Association invited him to organize an exhibit in New York.  It was a success and became the first official recognition of the Impressionists.

One cannot help compare the story of such a life to the speculation around art today and to the giant art fairs (like Art Basel) when  intermediaries are commissioned by owners with deep pockets.

The exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg continues through Feb. 8, 2015.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: New European Union Commission Leadership Faces Rocky Road

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Nov. 1, following the mandate of Manual Barroso (2009-2014) from Portugal, the 12th Commission of the European Union (EU) moved into its headquarters at the Berlaymont  in Brussels.

The selection process of the Commission – the key institution of the EU and a formidable machine employing 25,000 persons – has greatly changed since its beginnings in 1951.  The mandate was shortened from nine years to five ;  whereas the president of the Commission used to be designated by the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the present European Council), he (or she) )  is now elected by the Parliament.  A major turn in the composition of the Commission took place in 2004 with the addition of 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe.  The present rule assigning one commissioner per country creates an odd situation: Malta, with a population of 400,000, has the same representation as Germany with a population of 82 millions.

Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxemburg, a member of the European People’s Party, was elected by the Parliament with 422 votes out of 751 as the new president of the Commission.  Angela Merkel strongly supported him.  Linguistically and culturally he stands half way between France and Germany – a real asset for the most important official of the EU.

Upon his return from the G20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid November, Juncker had to face the “Luxleaks” crisis exposed by the press.  Forty international newspapers, including Le Monde, the Guardian and the Suddentsche Zeitung, investigated the tax breaks granted by Luxemburg to 340 multinationals, like Google, Apple or Amazon.  Yuncker’s critics said that, while he was serving as prime minister and minister of finances, Luxemburg became the leading tax haven of Europe.  To put an end to these practices, the “rulings” – holding companies and other devices used for tax “optimization” – were suspended.  As the new president of the Commission, Yuncker reaffirmed his commitment to fight tax evasion.

The post of commissioner of economy and budget was given to Pierre Moscovici, the former French minister of economy. The choice seems ironic since France almost flunked the rule imposed by the Pact of Stability and Growth requiring a deficit of 3 percent of the GDP (France’s deficit has reached 4.4 percent)

The new High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs is Federica Mogherini , 41,  a diplomat with an impressive record.  Her intention to improve relations with Russia was not appreciated by some of the Eastern European countries.

Tibor Navracsics, a former minister with the ultra conservative Hungarian government was to become commissioner of culture, but his nomination was voted down by the Parliament.

It is a tumultuous time for the new team of the EU.  In the guidelines he presented to the plenary session of the Parliament in July 2014, Jean-Claude Yuncker set his priorities as follows: a plan of public and private investment of 300 billion over three years to stimulate the economy, harmonizing budgetary policies of the member states and coping with the explosive surge of refugees.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The Dangers of Drones

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Something strange happened lately in the skies of France:  drones were spotted over several nuclear plants, including one dangerously close to Paris in Nogent sur Seine.  A few days later more drones flew over nuclear complexes.  A wave of anxiety gripped the public opinion.  Who was manipulating those machines?  Was the country under threat?

Greenpeace was immediately suspected of being the one to operate the unmanned contraptions.  As a pro-environmental watchdog this international association has a history of peaceful action against nuclear power.  In 2012, a paraglider had landed on a nuclear installation to prove that the installation was not well protected.  In July 2013, 29 activists broke into Tricastin nuclear plant, in southern France.  Yannick Rousselet, head of the anti-nuclear Greenpeace campaign, vehemently denied any involvement this time in a television interview.

If Greenpeace had nothing to do with it, the question remained, who did?  A few days later, three individuals suspected of operating the drones, were arrested.  So, for now, the fear is defused.  But it was a wake-up call of a potential danger.

The most advanced drone technologies are found in Israel and the US.  To obtain current and accurate information, I interviewed a French engineer who used to work with a German company manufacturing drones.  He told me that 10 years ago, all of them were built for military use, mostly for reconnaissance and surveillance.  They included the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance), MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance), tactical drones and portable drones for use in ground combat.  The Israeli Watchkeeper with sensors and camera can fire missiles and bombs from sometimes thousands of miles away.  Today drones have become a necessity in wars taking place in huge territories such as Mali.

France is at the cutting-edge of research but lacks funds to develop its ideas.  As an example, Dassault designed the NEURON and produced one model, whereas the American PREDATOR, built in 2010, has already flown one million hours.

European countries are catching up with drone technology.  On Nov. 5 of this year, François Hollande and David Cameron attended the signing of an agreement between Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems (British Aerospace and Marconi Electronics Systems) for a new generation of drones.  Germany and Italy will be part of the project in the future.

miniature-drone

Today civilian drones exist in all sizes and degrees of complexity.  Drones called “Insects” (see photo above) are so small that they can be held in the palm of the hand.  The  Chinese DJI Fantom flies like an helicopter with quadrotors,  carries a remote camera and is very popular with the general public.  Drones have become invaluable at times of natural disasters to test the strength of bridges, in mapping, archaeology and multiple other uses.

But they can be dangerous, for example, causing the crash of commercial airplanes by entering the reactors.  When a drone fell less than six feet from Angela Merkel during her political campaign in Sept. 2013, people realized that a drone was anything but a toy.

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan


About the author:
 Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Tunisian Election Outcome Offers Remarkable Example to Countries Dealing With Terrorism, Violence

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Map_of_tunisiaTunisia did it again!  This small country in North Africa was the one to start the Arab Spring in December 2010.  On Oct. 26 of this year, the parliamentary elections marked the return to some degree of normalcy after a difficult period of assassinations and violence.

The latest elections revealed a “collective intelligence,” to use the words of a French political scientist – the result of a well established civil society.  Instead of a single party hijacking the political scene, the people voted for several parties.  The liberal party Nidaa Taures won with 38 percent of the votes.  In order to reach a majority of 109 seats in the parliament, it is willing to form a coalition – quite unusual in this part of the world.

The Islamist party Ennahda secured second place with only 28 percent of the votes and 69 seats — or 16 seats less than in the previous election.  Wisely it  conceded defeat.  How to explain the resistance of the population to the Ennahda program?

The answer lies for a large part in the key role played by women.  They spearheaded the resistance against the strict enforcement of the Sharia or moral code, which limits their rights in many areas: inheritance, divorce, veil and regulations on clothing, custody of children, adultery sanctioned by stoning or “honor killing,” right to travel, right to open a bank account, and access to higher education, etc.

In the text of the constitution approved in January 2014,  Ennahda had reluctantly agreed to replace the expression “complementarity of men and women” by “equality for all.”  A journalist had the nerve to make the following extraordinary comment, “This was a small victory for a few Tunisian feminists”.

Tunisian_flagThe “Personal Status Code,” which was installed by president Habib Bourguiba in 1956,  had given empowerment to Tunisian women, thus making them the most emancipated in the Arab world.  This revolution was at the center of his program in order to model his country on Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular  and modern country.  Incidentally, it is interesting to note that both Turkey and Tunisia have almost identical flags.  Bourguiba is said to have remarked at one time, “… the veil – that odious rag.”

Tunisia can be considered to-day as a bulwark between a dangerously chaotic Libya and an Algeria unable to control terrorism (on Oct.14, a  Frenchman visiting the rugged mountainous area south of Algiers, in order to train young Algerians to become mountain guides, was taken hostage and  beheaded two days later.)   In other words, Tunis is of great importance not only as a model of democratic process coexisting with a moderate Islam but also, one hopes, as an oasis of stability for the whole area.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Picasso in Paris – A New Museum Opens

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

After five years of over-budget restoration, the Picasso museum in Paris reopened on Oct. 25.  It was worth the wait — the new museum is spectacular.

I decided – like the rest of Paris, it seemed – to go to the opening.  The logistics to handle the thousands of visitors passing through the magnificent courtyard of the XVII century Hotel Salé  (thus nicknamed because the owner was a salt tax collector) in the Marais was the best I have ever seen in France.

The renovation has doubled the exhibition space.  The museum gives a feeling of openness thanks to the series of rooms opening onto the garden; wide thresholds and corridors facilitate the flow of visitors.  The classical architecture – grand stairs, loggia with arched windows and baroque haut-reliefs – coexist with modern minimalism.

The walls are stark white, allowing the creations of Picasso to literally explode.  The lighting of weathered bronze and white resin is imaginative, but discreet.  The upper level, which houses the private collection of the artist, was carved out from the original attic.  The enormous wooden beams constitute a stunning setting for Cezanne, Matisse, “Le Douanier” Rousseau (a nickname given to Rousseau related to his occupation as a toll collector), or artifacts from the South Pacific.  The exhibit spans the long life (1881-1973) of the artist.

At an early age in Malaga and la Corogne, Pablo Picasso showed his precocious talent.  His supportive father — an art teacher — acknowledging the genius of his son, put down his paint brushes in 1895 and never painted again.  In the first room of the museum, the portrait of “L’homme à la casquette” reveals  the virtuosity of the 14-year old.

picassomuseum-1

A self portrait, 1901, showing a middle-aged man (although Picasso himself is only 20) belongs to his “Blue Period.”  A gaunt, almost emaciated acrobat  (1905) with elongated hands and sad eyes is part of the circus world which fascinated Picasso.  In 1906, he begins working on the Demoiselles d’Avignon.  Gertrude Stein, foresaw the importance of what was to be one the major works of the 20th century and bought most of the preparatory sketches of the unknown young artist.  The painting hangs today at MoMA in New York City.

A voyage to Italy in the early 1920s inspired Picasso to return to the classicism of ancient Rome.  In La Course, painted 1922 in surprisingly small dimensions, two gargantuan women run on the beach, their  heads touching the clouds.

Women – whether wives or mistresses – are his sources of inspiration:  Fernande, Olga, Dora Maar, Marie Therese, Françoise, Jacqueline – each of them represents a new start.  Picasso reinvents himself continuously and keeps experimenting with new techniques and media.

There is a recurrent theme of violence in his depictions of bullfights, wars and erotic scenes.  He deconstructs his models and reassembles them in a shamble of distorted strokes which have become his trademark.  Les Amoureux, 1918, is the most irreverent and humorous example.

Picasso’s sculptures – made of crude recycled material and always full of humor – are interspersed with the paintings, which gives the visit a lighter angle. In September 2015, an exhibit on “Picasso the sculptor” will take place at MoMA.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Tragic Death of Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, Stuns France    

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On the night of Monday, Oct. 20 , the visibility was poor at the Vnukovo  airport.  The control tower had given clearance to the Falcon private jet to take off.   A few seconds after leaving the ground, the pilot saw a snowplow on the runway but was unable to avoid it.  The landing gear caught the roof of the vehicle, flipped over and crashed a few yards away.  There was just one passenger on board – Christophe de Margerie, CEO of  the world’s fourth largest oil producer.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The news hit France like a bomb.   At Total’s headquarters in the district of La Defense employees were stunned.  The country reacted as if a chief of state had died.  Tributes poured in from everywhere.

Total has a capital ranking second in the CAC 40 (the ‘Cotation Assistée en Continu’ is a benchmark French stock market index) and employs more than 100,000 people in 130 countries.  It is hard to believe therefore why such a company – the jewel of  the French economy –  should have so many detractors in France.  The day after the accident, the conservative daily Le Figaro published an article entitled, “The man who wanted the French to make peace with Total”.   That man, Christophe de Margerie, was a charismatic  and jovial person, full of warmth, direct but tough .

De Margerie came from an aristocratic family that could be described as representative of, ‘vieille France.’  Family members occupied prominent positions in the world of high finance, diplomacy (his cousin was ambassador to the US) and the arts.  He was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, the founder of a champagne empire.  Several of his relatives own and live in an elegant apartment building tucked away in a garden, behind massive walls and a monumental gate, right at the heart of the Faubourg St Germain.

He joined Total about 40 years ago and was named CEO in 2007.  In 1995, he became the head of Middle East Total, which explains his particular interest for that part of the world.  The Jubail giant refinery inaugurated in 2013  by Total and Saudi Arabia, is but one example.

The main criticisms against the company concern its huge benefits, which do not profit the French economy because the company pays practically no taxes in France.  The ‘marée noire’ (black tide) caused by the oil spill off the coast of Brittany in 1999 has not been forgotten.  In 2010,the decision to close the Dunkirk refinery and the associated firing of more than 1,000 workers outraged the opinion.  Finally, de Margerie’s policy of creating joint ventures with Russian companies Loukoi, Novatek or Gazprom and his rejection of the sanctions enforced by the West have isolated him.

De Margerie wanted to project a positive image and show his concern for the environment by encouraging renewable energy.  In recent years, signs of transformation of the company had been noticeable, particularly in the reduction and higher selectivity of investments.  The question now is whether de Margerie’s successors, Thierry Desmarets as chairman and Patrick Pouyanné as CEO, will bring changes to the company’s strategy or maintain the course.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Logan

About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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“A Letter From Paris” is Back! Amidst Economic Depression, Two Nobel Prizes for France Lift the Communal Spirit    

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Logan, who has returned to Paris for the winter from her summer home in Essex.  She writes our weekly, “Letter from Paris,” which gives a unique insight into France and the French.  Today she writes about the depressing state of the French economy and contrasts it to the tremendous excitement that winning two Nobel Prizes has brought to the country.

It is the time of year when financial laws are voted on and budgets submitted.  The 2015 budget represents a triple hurdle for France since the country is under scrutiny from the European Union (EU) Commission in Brussels headed now by Jean Claude Yuncker from Luxemburg; the Eurogroup (made up of the ministers of finances from the 18 members of the euro zone) and led by Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the Netherlands; and finally by the European Council, presided over by Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium.

Will France meet the criteria set in the 1992 Maestrich Treaty, namely an annual deficit of less than 3 percent and a public debt no more than 60 percent of that GDP?   It is most unlikely, since the latest figures stand at a 4.3 percent deficit.  François Hollande is criticized for not having used the two years respite, granted in 2013, to undertake structural reforms.  Instead, he has limited his action to carry out an austerity program by steadily increasing taxes on the most vulnerable individuals like retirees, wage earners or small entrepreneurs.

So to-day the French government is scrambling for ways to reduce its expenses by 21 billion Euros.  Three sudden measures have shocked public opinion:  closing of the Val de Grace hospital, an historical institution in Paris, the military base of Chalon, and the oldest air base of France in Dijon.  More savings are on the table but promise to provoke violent confrontation since they are all considered as untouchable taboos.

Given the fact France’s economy is the second of Europe, the widespread opinion is that it cannot be allowed to fail.  Imposing sanctions of 0.02 percent would make it even more impossible for the country to pull out of a recession with dire consequences for the rest of the continent.  Behind the scenes, the new French Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart are at work on the elaboration of a common investment policy.

Two Nobel prizes have just been awarded to French nationals. This unexpected news has definitely lifted the spirits here.

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano received the prize for Literature, following in the footsteps of Camus, Sartre and Gide.  Several of his many novels take place during the German Occupation of France. One of them inspired Louis Malle for his outstanding 1974 film Lacombe Lucien.

The Nobel prize for Economics is particularly interesting because it rewards  not only an individual, but also an institution.  Jean Tirone, born in 1953 and a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, holds a PhD from MIT.  In 2007, he founded  the Toulouse School of Economics (note that this name is in English), inspired  from an American model.  It is today one of the world’s 10 most important centers for economic research.

Tirone belongs to the school of economists using a rigorous scientific and mathematical approach.  His research is centered on the regulation of free market economy.  Tirone’s nomination follows the phenomenal success of Thomas Piketty ‘s ” Capital in the Twenty First Century” published in 2013.

Nicole Logan

Nicole Logan

About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris:  Van Gogh at the Orsay Museum

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the last four years of his life, Vincent Van Gogh produced a phenomenal number of works.  But it was also the time when he suffered episodes of madness, which were to lead him to suicide in 1890 at the age of 37.

The Orsay museum chose this period of intense creation and of psychological despair to present the current exhibit entitled,  “Van Gogh/Artaud. The man driven to suicide by society.”   This new approach to the genius of Van Gogh is through the eyes of Antonin Artaud, a poet, actor and artist, who suffered serious mental illness, was interned nine years and underwent shock treatment.  In 1947, he had a chance to see a major retrospective of Van Gogh’s works at the Orangerie museum.  He wrote, “Van Gogh was not crazy, he was saying a truth that society could not accept.”  He went on by denouncing the prejudices of  moral and science unable to fit genius and madness within the accepted norms.  Throughout the exhibit,the paintings and drawings of Van Gogh are commented in poetic terms by this  troubled soul mate.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist's work at the Musee d'Orsay.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Orsay.

The exhibit opens in a very dark room, with incoherent sentences scattered on the black walls with a back drop of moaning sounds.  Forty six of Van Gogh’s strongest works have been selected along with some graphic works.  The visitor travels through four periods of the Dutch painter’s life – in Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy-de-Provence and Auvers-sur-Oise.

Several among the more than 40 self portraitsVan Gogh painted throughout his life are — for the public — like a brutal confrontation with the artist.  They certainly are not an exercise in complacency, but a harsh and almost merciless exercise.  American art historian Meyer Schapiro remarks that, for Van Gogh, creating a self portrait was a form of therapy and a way to reconstruct his inner self.  The artist used it to protect himself from crises of instability.

In contrast, portraits of ” La Berceuse”  and “Père Tanguy” express the peaceful and introspective mood of the models. In both paintings, the background — floral in one,  Japanese etchings in the other — show his attraction to pure decorative and aesthetic considerations reminiscent of Matisse’s.   The portrait of Dr. Gachet, at first his psychiatrist and then his friend, seems to radiate kindness, but also melancholy.  Van Gogh writes, “This man is in as bad a shape as myself.  He wears the sorry expression of our times.”

After the tragedy of the night of Dec. 23, 1888, when he had a fight with Gauguin, who was visiting him in Arles, Van Gogh sliced his left ear.  At his own request, he was admitted at the Saint-Paul hospital, near Saint-Remy-de-Provence.  However, he was  authorized to go out and, on those occasions, painted some of his most powerful  landscapes.

His trees are soaring into the sky and dwarf the silhouettes of people.  In “Cyprès avec deux femmes“, June 1889, the tormented volutes of the trees are an ominous shape hovering over two young women walking.  In “Arbres dans le jardin de l’hopital Saint -Paul” , October 1889, the twisted trunks tower over a barely visible woman carrying a red parasol.  His “Foret de pins au declin du jour ,” (pine forest at dusk) December 1889, is a frightening scene, where the trees are beaten by the wind.  They are outlined on an acid yellow sky and a smoldering orange sun.

During his last months in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris, he painted  farm houses with red tiles or thatch roof, giving them a quaint and welcoming touch.  Only the sky, scratched with jagged lines,  reveals the artist’s tension.

The most important work of the exhibit – “Champ de Ble avec Corbeaux” (wheat field with crows) – is projected on a screen, drawing the onlooker into the heavy yellow mass of wheat swaying under a stormy sky.   The tracks on the path combined with the birds everywhere create a harried movement with little time to spare.

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Two Local Elections — Two Remarkably Different Outcomes

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Local elections have just taken place in Turkey and in France.  The outcomes of the elections speak a great deal about these two countries .

Primeminister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, already in power for 12 years, is showing no intention of stepping down.  His aura at the polls was barely affected by the scandals and accusations of wrong-doing.  Particularly the violent repression of the popular manifestations on Istanbul Taksim Square, the  allegations of frauds directed not only at him, but at his family, the murky circumstances of score settlings.

His recent strategy includes the taking over 85 percent of the main TV channel and the curbing of social networks like Twitter or Facebook.  Nevertheless  Erdogan’s party, the AKP  (Party of Justice and Development),  passed  the test of the polls with flying colors, not acknowledging the distress of the public opinion.  These events did not speak much for the democratic system of that country and should constitute a red flag for the 28 EU members next time Turkey knocks at their door.

In contrast, the French municipales (local elections) were a reflection of the French opinion’s strong disapproval of the policy  of the Francois Hollande government and brought on major changes.

The municipales,  are always an important and colorful event in France,  when mayors and  council members of 36,500 communes (towns) are elected for six years.  But this time they turned into a tsunami, which modified the political landscape of the country.  The vague bleue (blue wave ) showing the gains of the Right and even the vague bleue marine (navy blue wave ) named after Marine Le Pen, head of the far right Front National.  Just a few figures:  in 2008 in the towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, the Left had 509 mayors and the Right 433.  In 2004, the Left was reduced to 349 and the Right grew to 572.  Emblematic  was the town of Limoges, which had voted socialist since 1912, and turned conservative.

Paris resisted this tidal wave and remained socialist.  Incumbent Mayor Bertrand  Delanoe had groomed his assistant Anne Hidalgo to be his successor.  Together, they engaged in an intensive and efficient campaign.  The Mayor of Paris is elected according to a special system of voting in three rounds.  The first two rounds each Parisian vote for the mayor and council in each arrondissement.  Then mayors and councils vote for the mayor of Paris.  The fight to the finish between Anne Hidalgo and her conservative opponent Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet , was fierce, to say the least.  The former won by 53.34 over 44.06 percent.

The map of Paris to-day is made up of two halves: a blue west, and a red east.   With 11 versus nine arrondissements,   Hidalgo leads but not as much as  Jacques Chirac did in 1983 when he won all of them.  These results will be important in the next senatorial elections since the members of the Senat (high chamber)  are elected by the mayors.

Barely 24 hours after the closing of the polls, president François Hollande appeared on TV.  He declared that he had heard and understood the people’s message of disapproval of the policy he conducted since 2012.  He reassured his audience that appropriate measures would be taken.

A day later he announced the remaniement (reshuffle) of the government.  The soft spoken, kind-looking prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault was replaced by tough and energetic Manuel Valls, former minister of the interior.  The number of ministers was trimmed down from 38 to 16 and the parity men/women respected.  The new ministers are more experienced and some of the “heavyweights” remained, like Laurent Fabius, at the Foreign Affairs desk.

The decision concerning Bercy (ministry of Finances and Economy)  was crucial given the urgency to reduce the budget deficit and increase the competitivité (competitiveness)  of the French industry.  The new prime minister Manuel Valls decided to split the responsibilities between two ministers: Michel Papin handling Budget and Finances , Arnaud Montebourg becoming minister of Economy.  This will be a “hot” area since France has to work in a partnership with Brussels.

Ségolène Royal

Ségolène Royal

The second spectacular move was the nomination of Ségolène Royal as the minister of Ecology, Sustainable Industry and Energy.  She will rank as number three in the new cabinet.  She is an old timer, particularly in the environmental field.  Her appearance in the courtyard of Hotel de Matignon made quite a splash.  Royal is a highly educated woman, used to be Hollande’s companion for 29 years, the mother of their four children and the last contestant for the presidency against Sarkozy in  2002.  Her appointment will be helpful to Valls’ government because she brings her strong connections to the lower working class with her.

The outspoken Housing minister Cecile Duflot left the Matignon in a huff and a puff , showing her overwhelming dislike for Valls.  Her colleagues in the Green party at the Assemblée Nationale, were upset by her move as they were willing to work within the cabinet.

The overhaul of the new government was greeted by salvos of criticisms and gibes from the UMP and naturally from the extreme parties – this is normal in France.   However, the composition of the new government was interpreted, by more unbiased analysts,  as the determination to follow the road map set out by François Hollande at the Jan. 14  press conference and to keep the course on the Pacte de Responsabilité, but to  implement it with more determination, more speed and more pedagogy.

Failure is not an option and Brussels  will not ease off the pressure.

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Following a New Silk Road

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidents of the United States and of China were in Europe this week.  It was the first visit of a Chinese president to the European Union’s (EU) headquarters since 1975.  He will meet with the presidents of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, of the Commission, Manuel Barroso and of the Parliament, Martin Schuls, showing a nascent  interest in  Europe as a political entity.

However, Europe has been the largest trade partner of China for a decade, with German leading the pack.  Why then did president Xi Jinping choose France as one of his four stops in Europe in spite of  that country’s small trade and investment with the Middle Kingdom ?  The reasons are historical, cultural, the Chinese’s attraction to  gastronomy and good wine, and, finally, the desire to acquire more areas of French “savoir faire” and state of the art technology, heretofore unexplored.

Xi Jinping and his beautiful star singer wife Peng Liyuan opened his three-day state visit in Lyon, the French silk capital, and announced his intention to promote a “new Silk Road.”  Started with French King Francis I, the silk-making industry in Lyon was flourishing by the 17th century.  In the 1920s cultural ties developed between China and France.  Chinese students entered French universities, among them several future political leaders.  In 1964 General Charles de Gaulle was the first Western chief of state to establish full diplomatic relations with the Middle Kingdom.

In this file photo, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan wave to the crowd.

In this file photo, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan wave to the crowd.

Mutual interests in literature, cinema and art have created special bonds between Chinese and French intelligencia.  Chinese fans of the “Nouvelle Vague” films (new wave) are sometimes more knowledgeable about the names of the directors that the French themselves.  The 1992 film “l’Amant‘”(the Lover), directed by Jean Jacques Annaud, based on the 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, was a huge success in France.  The plot is the affair a “Chinaman” struck with a young French girl on a ferry boat crossing the Mekong river.  French readers cheered on the high school “Joueuse de Go” (Go player) character created by author Shan Sa, whose courage symbolized the determination of the Chinese population fighting against the impending invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in 1931.

But the objectives of the Chinese president and of his cohort of businessmen and investors who accompanied him were more down to earth:  they were here for serious business.  Both by making inroads into the French industry and by opening their own market to French goods in order to tilt the massive trade deficit between the two countries.  The car company Dongfeng just acquired 14 percent of the PSA’s (Peugeot-Citroen) shares.   The Chinese have been trying to take over 46 percent of  Club Med’s (touristic villages) capital.

Whether it is nuclear energy  or aeronautic technology, automobile industry, or fast trains, the transfer of technology has always been a touchy point for the French.   The most striking example of this situation is the TGV (Train à grande vitesse) or fast train which was designed by Alstom in France in the 1970s and was further developed  jointly with other Western countries.  Now the Chinese network is ten times longer than the French and in July 2013  “Harmony Express” surpassed the speed of the French trains.

On a televised program, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government was asked the question about transfer of technology.   She said that the Chinese now are pretty much caught up, ( which is certainly true with telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE) and that now their policy was veering toward “partnership and cooperation” – language to be expected from a government spokeswoman.

The Chinese love France.  Millions of tourists speed through the most famous halls of the Louvre.  The growing middle class and the wealthy are increasingly   fascinated by luxury goods.  They are not satisfied anymore by the pirated brands one finds all over the world.  Now they can find the real stuff 72 percent cheaper in France thanks to the system of “detaxe” and by avoiding import duties into China.

During the many years we lived in Africa with the American Embassy, in the 1960s and 1970s, I had a chance to observe that, in those days, the Chinese lived in spartan compounds totally secluded from the local population , working on Guinea tea plantations or building a soccer stadium in the Gambia.  They have come a long way.  To-day they visit France to do their spring shopping and buy Chambertin ou Chateau Lafitte wine, Hermes silk scarves or Vuitton bags.

Agribusiness is a field where improvements would be welcome.   One remembers the problems China suffered a few years ago with contaminated powder milk.  The Chinese are very fond of foie gras and cheese.  They have just discovered the “Jambon de Bayonne.”  It takes many hours of preparation and manual work to prepare the dark red ham meat.  The traditional “savoir faire” has existed since the 13th century in the south west of France.  Its commerce is labeled “IGP” (Indication Geographique Protegéee) or geographically protected.  Pork is one of the main food staple in China and there the huge market is promising.  Will the  transfer of “savoir faire” be followed by the loss of the brand?

During the elegant dinner at the Elysees palace and the following night at the  Opera Royal of the Chateau de Versailles, what was president François Hollande thinking of  — 18 billion euros of new contracts or the difficult political situation he is in right now after the disastrous (for him) recent local elections?

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Mr. Putin, You Have Much To Lose

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

At the foot of Mount Mithridates, in eastern Crimea, stood the ancient city of Pantikapeion founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists.  It is where King Mithridates killed himself in 63 BC by the sword since his body was immune to poison.

In 1992, I joined the archaeological expedition from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts led by Dr. V. Tolstikov, head of the department of near eastern antiquities, and Dr. Michael Treister, curator, in order to publish an article in Archaeology.  That season the Russian team was researching the acropolis and a vast architectural complex with a colonnade dating from the 2nd century BC.  Below the steep cliff, one could see modern Kerch and the Russian shore of the Krasnodar region across the five kilometer-wide Cimmerian Bosporus.

The scholars from the Pushkin museum were among the many Russian, Ukrainian and foreign archaeologists who have long been researching the rich strata of  human occupation on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  They have also studied the Scythian civilization, whose “kurgans” (tombs) contained the famous gold treasures.

The Institutes of Archaeology in the major cities, like Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, the universities and most of  the museums, have their own expeditions.  For instance, Odessa conducts regular excavations in Olbia, one of the major “emporia”  (commercial trading post) for the export of cereals, fish and slaves to Greece and for import of Attic goods to Scythia.  On the outskirts of Sebastopol, the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus has been excavated jointly by teams from Ukraine, the University of Texas and the German Institute of Archaeology.

Archaeologists, historians and other specialists exchange the results of their finds and publish joint papers in scholarly journals.  The Center for Research on Ancient History, located in Besançon in eastern France, is an invaluable source for  the Black Sea region and has collected works from scholars, irrespective of their nationality.  Periodically, a Black Sea symposium, which attracts several hundred scientists, meets in Vani, Georgia.

After this long description of the archaeological scene in the Black Sea region, the question arises: what is going to happen to this fruitful scientific collaboration currently happening across the borders ?

What next for President Vladimir Putin?

What is President Vladimir Putin’s next move?

During our sail along the Black Sea coast in 1991 (see the Feb. 8 Sochi article posted on this site), we saw dozens of wind turbines near Evpatoria in western Crimea.  Today, Ukraine and Russia have ambitious plans to create a wind farm of 3,000 sq. km. for a grid power of 16,000 MW.  Aeolian energy is readily available in this area, thanks to the shallow waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

On March 20, Le Monde published an article entitled, “Antonov mirrors the break between Russia and Ukraine.”  The article explains how the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing and services company, Antonov, builds planes with technology and software from Dassault Systemes and employs 16,000 Ukrainian workers, but 40 percent of the parts utilized in production are Russian.

On March 22,  a Moscow official announced that the extension of the capital’s subway had to be put on hold since they could not take delivery of some of the construction material  ordered from the Ukraine.

In the art world, a Paris galerist told me they also were expecting difficulties in the near future.

Human, cultural and economic ties between Ukraine, Crimea and Russia are so interwoven that the break up of the Ukrainian territorial integrity and the announced sanctions from the West are bound to have serious consequences.

Vladimir Putin is supposed to be an excellent chess player.  One assumed that each one of his moves was made according to a planned strategy.  This does not seem to be true anymore.  He has won the Crimea, but what about the long term waves he is making? Problems are going to catch up with him.

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Week Like No Other in French Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It has been a week out of the ordinary in French politics, to say the least.  A summary of the sequence of events may help the foreign reader in deciphering the situation.

It all started March 2 with a few revelations about the UMP (Union for Popular movement) right wing party.  Jean François Copé, UMP president, was denounced in the weekly magazine “Le Point” of surfacturation (over billing) of expenses incurred during the 2012 electoral campaign.  A communications company had obtained the contract without preliminary invitations to tender.  Copé, looking wan and thin, reacted almost emotionally to the attack.  He announced that all the accounts of the UMP would be locked in a sealed room contingent upon the other political parties as well as the media, doing the same .

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

Then, on March 3, the whistle-blowing satirical newspaper, “Canard Enchainé,” reported that Patrick Buisson, a collaborator of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, recorded the latter’s conversations.  Buisson was part of Sarkozy’s first circle and his closest adviser.  He made the recordings himself for hours on end, from morning to evening,  with an old-fashion dictaphone carried in his pockets.  Some of the recorded conversations took place just prior to a planned cabinet reshuffle — in other words, they were politically sensitive.

The question was: who gave the recordings to the press?  Buisson’s lawyer vouched that his client did not.  But what was suspicious was the fact that Buisson told his son (father and son have been estranged for two years) that those recordings were a “life insurance” and that cela peut toujours servir (One never knows, it might be useful someday)

But this was just the beginning.  An avalanche of revelations, which followed – all involving  the wiretapping of Nicolas Sarkozy to hamper his return to the political life –  was even more serious and  turned into a full blown political crisis reaching the top level of the Executive and of the Judiciary.

Four legal cases or “affaires,” which had been dormant, were resurfacing now:  the 2008 arbitrage-granting of 403 millions to businessman and former minister Bernard Tapie by the Credit Lyonnais;  the “retro- commissions” obtained from Pakistan after the Karachi terrorist attack in 2002 ;  the alleged financing from Libyan president Gaddafi in 2007 ;  the funds given by Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in the world and heir to the l’Oreal company.

These four affaires share the common factor of suspicion in involvement of the illegal financing of Sarkozy’s electoral campaigns of 2007 and 2012.  Last October, Sarkozy was cleared and received a non-lieu (no ground for public prosecution) in the Bettencourt affaire.

On March 6, the headlines of the daily “Le Monde” were a bombshell: the former president’s phone had been tapped since April 13 by orders  of the judges d’instruction ( investigating judges running preliminary inquiry) – a totally unprecedented occurrence in the French Republic.  In early March, the judges opened an inquiry for traffic of influence  and corruption against Sarkozy, his lawyer Thierry Herzog, and Gilbert Azibert, general counsel at the Cour de Cassation  (highest judiciary court in France).

An aggressive perquisition (search) was conducted in Herzog’s Bordeaux residence.  Ten police and judges showed up at eight in the morning.  The lawyer’s computer and his portable phone were seized.  The taking of the former president ‘s personal “carnets” (agendas) created a great commotion.   In a television talk show, the president of the Bar commented that these actions were reminiscent of the Stasi.

Up to that point it was all bad news for the former president.  The socialist government had remained prudently quiet.  The wiretapping of Sarkozy was legal (he did not have immunity any more) as long as there was a suspicion of infraction.  However, the accumulation of proceedings against him was  beginning to be seen as harassment.  By coincidence, Eliane Houlette  was appointed in the new position of “National Financial Attorney” on March 3 in order to deal with corruption and tax frauds.  The first case was to be Sarkozy’s.

Then the blame game seemed to move from the opposition to the majority.  As a journalist commented, the government turned this gold – Sarkozy on the run – to lead, with the government violating the independence of justice.  The Garde des Sceaux or Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, a high-spirited and smart woman, born in Guyana, was put on the defensive and even accused of lying.

Did she know the content of the recordings?  When did the prime minister and the minister of interior (Secretary of the Interior) know?  Their evasive and even conflicting answers made them appear guilty when their main sin was probably just to be disorganized.

By the end of that memorable week, “Le Monde” published a letter, co-signed by the most eminent members of the judiciary corps, calling for moderation.  The letter praised transparency, but said that lawyers were not above the law, and that wiretapping was only legal if carried out by independent judges.  It also demanded a return to one of the basic rules of the French (and American) institutions – the separation of power between Executive and Judiciary.

HeadshotAbout the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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