Had I still been at Reuters, my employer for 11 years up until 2005, I might have ended up in their Paris bureau covering the current French elections.
That would have thrown me into the election’s long build up over months, chasing after candidates, regurgitating their soundbites and trying to produce some sensible if superficial analysis of what the whole thing might mean for France’s future. This, the Reuters public output, is what I would have been doing.
It’s okay in a he-said-she-said sort of way, taking the temperature of the race and providing stand-back analysis of the main twists and turns. If you’re an investor, chafing about the value of your French stocks and bonds or your euro currency holdings, you get a decent enough idea of the latest developments and what’s at stake more widely. If you’re some other sort of civilian, you’ll get a free synopsis of events in a timely manner, albeit under bombardment from various pop-up ads for cars and financial services.
The coverage can’t however claim to be challenging or testing the system it describes, which is the least I would hope to see from journalists and journalism. Anything less means being little more than a court scribe.
I don’t work for Reuters anymore, which means no one is paying me to run around covering the campaign, which is a relief. My journalistic contribution is therefore a more modest, opportunistic one in the form of this French-language interview with former political prisoner Charlie Bauer, who spoke recently near where I live.
Bauer spent 25 years in jail for political acts of violence against the system. He is an eloquent speaker on democracy and revolution. He is insistent that elections are not to be dismissed as pointless exercises given that people fought and died for our right to vote. That doesn’t mean France, or my native Britain for that matter, is anything like a real democracy. He talks of the need to battle against sleepy servitude, of the need to avoid giving a green light to the eventual winner on May 6, be they of the so-called left or right.
He also speaks about the need to be critical of history, to use history to instruct the present and to construct the future, which includes re-inventing the meaning and practice of democracy. That is what he means by revolution, something that needs to be sought aggressively.
The interview would have gone down a storm with my former editors at Reuters, or rather wouldn’t have gone down at all.
Bauer features in a documentary « Marathonien de l’espoir », which you can access here.
The following is my rough translation of the synopsis.
At the end of the 50s, Charlie Bauer, a member of the Young Communists in France, breaks with the party line after its leaders voted in favour of allowing funds for military intervention in Algeria.
From then on, he becomes increasingly radicalised in his struggle against social injustices, practising propaganda through direct action, stealing and re-distributing goods, attacking a train and aiding deserters. He sides with the National Liberation Front against the colonial war in Algeria – re-directing and stealing arms, explosives, collecting funds…
He is arrested, tortured and spends 25 years in prison of which nine were in a high security unit. His intransigence, his radical ideas strengthened and even today, using the force of words, he fights against injustice and imprisonment in all their forms.
His message is revolutionary – using a refusal to submit and a fight for rights as his vehicle – practising the critical role he adopts as a sociologist.