New Internationalist

Jacques Rene Chirac

Issue 275

Jacques Rene Chirac

Position:
President of France

History:
Born on 19 November 1932. He did military service in Algeria, which was then a French colony. Became head of Georges (later President) Pompidou’s private office in 1962. Elected to the National Assembly in 1967, he immediately achieved ministerial rank, first in employment then in finance, parliamentary relations, agriculture, and the interior. He was Prime Minister 1974-76 and again 1986-88, was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and has been Mayor of Paris since 1977. In May 1995 he became President.

Prosecutor’s notes to the team:
Chirac is a power junkie. He has been working towards the office of President more or less since he first drew breath – and he managed it finally at the third attempt, having been rejected in 1981 and 1988. He has been in and around the heart of the French governing establishment almost all his adult life.

Which is why his presence in the dock does not have to relate only to the few months he has been at the very top of the greasy pole: if anyone is to stand trial for France’s colonial arrogance there is no better candidate than Chirac. In his last term as Prime Minister there was a furore over TV pictures of the police beating up independence campaigners in New Caledonia/Kanaky. Chirac’s response was to say he was shocked at the importance ascribed to such a ‘banal event’.

Chirac is desperate to emulate Charles de Gaulle, the man who started nuclear tests in 1960 in another then-colony, Algeria, only to shift them to Polynesia when a freak wind shift carried radioactive fallout north into France. When Chirac wanted to build up his image as a strong leader it was no surprise that he chose to do so by playing up to the military, trampling all over a colony and ignoring world opinion – all in the manner of de Gaulle. If his opinion-poll ratings continue to plummet the world had better watch out.

A group of 25 Danish schoolchildren who arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris last November caught the first fallout: they were surrounded by 22 police officers and ordered to strip off their

T-shirts, which were printed with anti-nuclear symbols and the words ‘Chirac No’. Insecurity may already be taking root in the Elysée Palace.

Charges:
[image, unknown] Endangering the future of humankind by undermining the global consensus that nuclear testing should cease – through the ongoing series of underground explosions at Moruroa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi.

Prosecutor’s notes:
Actually the opposition to the renewed French tests has been so strong and so universal that he or any other leader of a nuclear power will find it even harder to start testing again.

[image, unknown] By testing nuclear weapons in Polynesia France is in clear breach of its obligations under Articles 34, 35 and 192 of the EURATOM Treaty of the European Union. The European Commission is also culpable since under the terms of the Treaty it should have required France to suspend its testing programme.

[image, unknown] Article 34 requires member states performing ‘particularly dangerous experiments’ to obtain the Commission’s prior opinion on the additional health-and-safety measures it proposes to apply

[image, unknown] Articles 35 and 36 requires radioactivity to be monitored and the European Commission to be kept informed of the levels to which the public is exposed

[image, unknown] Article 192 requires member states to take all appropriate measures to ensure compliance with the Treaty

Chirac said in the election campaign that he would begin his presidency ‘with a big bang’ – he sure delivered it. Why is the European Union so unwilling to take action against France? Because it’s too embarrassing? Because French Polynesia is too far away to bother about? Because Britain, another nuclear power, shamelessly supports Chirac’s tests? It all goes to show why a court with a global remit like ours is needed. Though even we can’t challenge here the outrageous assumption of France, Britain, the US, Russia and China that it’s okay for them to have nuclear weapons but too dangerous for any other country to join the club.

[image, unknown] Remaining wedded to a colonial view of the world. France’s remaining ‘dependencies’ are Guadeloupe, Martinique (in the Caribbean); French Guyana (in South America); Reunion, Mayotte (in the Indian Ocean), Saint Pierre et Miquelon (in the North Atlantic); New Caledonia/Kanaky, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi (in the Pacific).

And this is not the full story since almost all France’s former colonies in Africa are dominated by it economically and even militarily when push comes to shove. The African franc is linked to the French and was recently halved in value at the insistence of Paris and the IMF. New Caledonia is a classic case: the indigenous Kanaks are confined to ‘reservations’ with access to only ten per cent of the arable land and to very little of the money creamed off by resident European entrepreneurs. Chirac’s determination to hold on to the colony may have something to do with its having the world’s second largest deposits of nickel.

[image, unknown] ANTICIPATED DEFENCE
The tests are perfectly safe. Besides, we have agreed to stop them after this series and use computer simulations in future. In any case, French Polynesia is not a colony – it is simply the least populated part of France.

I suggest we let him hang himself: nothing he says about the safety of the tests is likely to persuade the jury; and any comment he makes about the status of French Polynesia is likely to betray his imperial arrogance.

[image, unknown] REQUESTED SENTENCE
A mandatory referendum on the nuclear-testing issue – Chirac to resign as President if it goes against him.

The French might still vote to continue – but at least they would have been forced to confront the nuclear and colonial issues as they never have before. I wish we could add that any future tests must be conducted in mainland France – that would stop them.

Witnesses for the prosecution

Oscar Temaru, Tahiti-based leader of the independence movement
in French Polynesia, an area known to local people as Te Ao Maohi

It is now 150 years since the French colonialists have conquered and killed the indigenous Maohi people of our once peaceful paradise: the Maohi people, armed with nothing but stones against the French cannons and rifles. Then as if that were not enough the genocide machine continued and evolved into a more sophisticated form with nuclear prostitution. The French colonialists have completely destroyed our productive base thus leaving our people, representing 80 per cent of the population, completely dependent upon the new French king called Jacques Chirac. The French, a 13-per-cent minority in Polynesia, continue to support Gaston Flosse, a sell-out who is a multi-millionaire [his fortune is estimated at $20 million] charged with corruption on numerous counts in the French courts. Jacques Chirac is the godfather to Flosse’s son.

Why such contempt against my people, whose only desire is to live freely as dignified people in peace and harmony with our heritage of fertile lands and sea? Chirac has proven to the world that the Maohi people’s right to self-determination and freedom is not important next to the white man’s colonialist interest. We are a peace-loving people and have never committed any harm to anyone – yet the mere existence of my race is at stake because of this evil war criminal. May God save us. I plead to all peace-loving citizens to help the Maohi people, for one day this could happen elsewhere.

(A special statement prepared for the NI)

David Lange, former Prime Minister
of New Zealand and still a Labour MP

Chirac is a lying sod. Chirac is the person who brought two people off the island of Hau in absolute defiance of the treaty with New Zealand… He was at the airport to welcome back Dominique Prieur [the French secret-service agent convicted of bombing the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, who with her fellow agent under a UN-sponsored treaty was supposed to stay in prison in the Pacific]. He is the ultimate manipulator of opinion in terms of his own self advancement and I wouldn’t trust a word that he wrote or that he said...

[Nuclear testing] is a pay-off to the military establishment by President Chirac as well as draping across himself the mantle of glory which all Gaullists aspire to. He has probably bartered a deal with them that this is the last time they be allowed to play with their toys and in a few months’ time he might turn his mind to actually getting jobs instead of spending billions of francs blowing holes in the ground half a world away.

I can’t imagine any nation on earth with less justification for having a nuclear deterrent. France has been looked after by everyone in combat in years past, and New Zealanders to the tune of 8,000-odd died there looking after France.

(Assignment, TVNZ)

Toimata, a Tahitian whose husband worked
at Moruroa, site of the French nuclear tests

My second baby was born prematurely at seven and a half months and died the day he was born.

My third baby was born at home at full term but died there two weeks later. She had a skin problem. Her skin would come off immediately if it was touched...

Eugene, my fourth baby, was born at full term but died when he was two months old. He had diarrhoea and we took him to Mamaom, the hospital in Tahiti. The diarrhoea continued for some time. When it stopped, it was replaced by another condition. The baby became rigid, like wood. Every part of his body was racked by continuous muscular contractions and he had a high temperature. It was impossible to open his fists. The doctors would not talk about his condition. He was at Mamao for two weeks and then he died...

Our fifth child is alive and well. The sixth was born at full term in a clinic. Everything went well during the pregnancy and at her birth but the doctors said that she was premature and she was transferred to Mamao and put into an incubator. She died the next day...

The seventh is alive and very well. My eighth was still born prematurely at six and a half months. My ninth baby died when she was eight months old. She was a very fat baby and they said she had a blood infection.

The tenth child was born mid-1985. She has had an airway infection and a heart condition since birth...

I feel physically well myself. I have two sisters. Neither of them have had any problems with their children’s health except for one having had two premature stillbirths, one as a result of a bad fall. I think my children have died because my husband worked at Moruroa.

(Testimonies, Greenpeace International)

Jacques Cousteau,
celebrated French oceanographer.

Now 85, he recently resigned from France’s Council for the Rights of Future Generations in protest at Chirac’s decision to resume nuclear testing

[The tests] are an unavowed menace to future generations... We don’t want any kind of atomic weapons. Chemical weapons have been outlawed. Bacterial warfare has been outlawed. Why not atomic? They are all weapons of mass destruction. So why try to twist the question to bring it back to details when the goal is a total ban. We want to outlaw the atom bomb and tests can only lead to another bomb. The only reason they want to test their bomb is to improve it. And we don’t want them... Opinion polls show 62 per cent of the population in France is against it. The problem is government.

(Los Angeles Times)

Ida Tinorua and her daughter Eliane, from Tahiti

Ida: I tell you frankly that President Chirac is a murderer. We’re not happy about what he’s done in our country. So we say he’s a murderer. It’s true. Even my grandchildren when they see him on TV say ‘Grandmother, it’s that murderer!’

Eliane: They say the bomb tests are perfectly safe. So why not do them in their country? That way we’ll see if they’re safe.

(Assignment, TVNZ)

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996


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