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Christiane Taubira: Loved or really loathed by the French
Christiane Taubira sitting uncomfortable between ministers.. Photo: AFP

Christiane Taubira: Loved or really loathed by the French

Ben McPartland · 27 Jan 2016, 15:52

Published: 27 Jan 2016 15:52 GMT+01:00
Updated: 27 Jan 2016 15:52 GMT+01:00

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Not many ministers divided the French political class like Christiane Taubira, the 63-year-old mother of four.

The speedy and emotional reaction to her resignation on Wednesday summed up her turbulent time in the heart of the French government, during which she went from star of the class to the perpetual nuisance.

Those on the left saluted her “courage”, “immense talent” and “honour” for sticking to her principles and walking away in protest over the government's plan to strip convicted French-born terrorists of their citizenship if they have a second nationality.

But on the right, they were cracking open the champagne at the news of the departure of a minister who had become a hate-figure for her role in legalizing gay marriage and whom they accused of undermining France’s justice system by being too soft on criminals.

Taubira was not your ordinary French politician. She was born in French Guiana, was one of the few high ranking black politicians, and in 2002 became the first female black politician to run for president of France.

That showed she was not afraid of blazing her own trail and also that she clearly would rather have been her own boss, rather than follow someone else’s instructions as she has had to since 2012.

She once told the New York Times. “I can't stand having a boss. My conscience is my boss, and my conscience dictates rules that are extremely, I'd say, grand – they're rough but beautiful."

Her reluctance to toe the party line became evident from the moment she was nominated as justice minister, much to the shock and anger of the right.

Her first job was to take Hollande’s promise to legalize gay marriage and make sure it became a reality.

While the right and far right united against her, Taubira fought tooth and nail to make sure the bill passed .

She withstood attack after attack while other ministers and even the president himself took a back seat role.

At times the slurs descended into racism as she was compared to a monkey in one French magazine as well as by a local election candidate for the National Front.

She said the racist attacks had hurt her children.

While hundreds of thousands marched the streets to voice their anger against plans to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption, Taubira "let her conscience be her boss" and kept her nerve, delivering a series of powerful speeches to parliament including an historic one on the day the bill was voted through.

“Tonight, we would especially like to speak to the adolescents in our country - boys and girls - who have been hurt during this debate. We speak to those children who found themselves in the midst of deep and frightening chaos," she told MPs.

"They discovered a society where a wave of selfishness led many to loudly protest against the rights of others.

“We simply want to tell these adolescents that they are at home in our society.”

The speech cemented her reputation as a fiery but highly accomplished orator.

Many compared the speech to previous historic moments in the French National Assembly, such as Simone Veil's plea for abortion rights in 1974 and Robert Badinter's speech in favour of the abolition of the death penalty in 1981.

As a result she was lauded as a hero by France’s gay community and her popularity among those on the left helped her to survive some later scrapes with Hollande and notably with the hard-line French PM Manuel Valls.

She regularly clashed with the PM, who is much tougher on law and order, and more often than not their differences and disagreements were aired in public.

He criticised her justice reforms which included a contentious plan to extend the use of probation as an alternative to prison.

There were numerous incidents that suggested Taubira and the rest of the government were not on the same wave length, even on relatively minor matters.

When Taubira declared that a post-Paris terror attacks raid at the apartment in Saint-Denis was over, the government insisted it was still ongoing.

When she told the media that the man who attacked a French police station showed no signs of radicalisation, it was quickly revealed by the interior ministry that an Isis flag was found in the attacker's pocket.

Although Taubira was never afraid to march to a different tune to her government, she was careful not to step too far out of line.

While she disagreed with Hollande’s continued austerity and shift to more liberal economic policies, in 2014 she chose to stay in the government while fellow leftist rebels like former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and ex-education Minister Benoit Hamon chose to quit.

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Some analysts were critical of her decision to stay on, claiming that if Taubira had really acted on her principles, she would have gone with the other leftist rebels.

But as her departing tweet said: “Sometimes resisting means staying on”.

"But it’s hard to know how she actually resisted by staying the government,” said French political analyst Philippe Marliere.

As Hollande's one remaining link to the left, Taubira knew it was in the president's interests to keep her on, as his government's drift to the right angered traditonal voters.

Firing her would have been too costly with the best tactic apparently to wait until a fundamental disagreement that would push her over the edge.

Despite her insisting recently that the “president has the first and the last word”, the decision to strip dual nationals of the French citizenship proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

"It would make no difference to the fight on terror," she said.

"“Sometimes resisting means staying on, but sometimes resisting means leaving,” she tweeted as she closed the door of the Ministry of Justice behind her.


Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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