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Five minutes to understand: Why a group of French military veterans are warning of 'civil war'

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Five minutes to understand: Why a group of French military veterans are warning of 'civil war'
French soldiers of the Sentinelle force get ready before setting off on a patrol at their barrack at an undisclosed location in northern suburban Paris on November 6, 2020. - The Sentinelle force aims at protecting sensitive "points" of the French territory from terrorism. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

An open letter signed by several hundred French ex military personnel, including former generals, that warned of impending "civil war" and "thousands of deaths" has sparked uproar in France and is now the subject of an investigation and potential punishments. Here's what you need to know about it.


What started it?

The right-wing publication Valeurs Actuelles republished an open letter that was first posted online online on April 14th and was signed by around 1,200 former and perhaps current military personnel, including 20 retired generals, some of whom are quite well known in certain political circles.

The document is effectively a set of instructions to President Emmanuel Macron's government on what action it must take to "avoid a civil war" in France.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen then added fuel to the fire by publishing an article, also in the right-wing Valeurs Actuelles magazine, in which she urged the military figures to "join her in the battle for France".


So what do they want?

According to the letter, the government must defend the values of civilisation against "the hordes from the suburbs" and apply the law with greater firmness.

The supposed "Islamisation" of France is also targeted and the murder of the teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist extremist is used to show "rising violence day after day". 

READ ALSO Is crime in France really rising?


"It is no longer time to procrastinate, otherwise tomorrow civil war will put an end to this growing chaos, and the deaths, for which you will be responsible, will be counted in the thousands," the letter states.

In many countries the suburbs are the most affluent parts of cities so the "hordes from the suburbs" might sound like a bizarre term, unless you are particularly appalled by gardening or artisan cafés, but in France the suburbs, (banlieues) are generally the poorer parts of the cities and tend to be much more racially mixed than the inner cities or small towns.

In France those who refer to all inhabitants of the banlieues by derogatory terms such as "hordes" are generally taking issue with people of immigrant background, non-whites and those who are either practising Muslims or have a Muslim background. In short, it's the territory of the far right.

Are these veterans part of the far right?

It's of course impossible to know the political background of all the signatories, but Libération newspaper has noted that many of them have links to Le Pen's Rassemblement National party (formerly Front National) or other far-right groups, or they have campaigned on far-right or racist conspiracy theories.

According to the paper, three of the ex generals have stood for local elections under the banner of Rassemblement National or groups connected to it, while another has campaigned around the racist 'Great replacement' conspiracy theory.

There is a historic connection between certain sections of the military and RN, which was founded by ex soldier Jean-Marie Le Pen in the aftermath of France's war with Algeria war, which ended in 1962 but remains a highly contentious topic in France. Traditionally, RN draws a significant level of support from members of the military and law enforcement.

What has the reaction been?

The armed forces ministry is currently conducting an investigation into whether any of the signatories are currently serving soldiers. If so, they face disciplinary action.

Florence Parly, the Armed Forces Minister, said this was an "irresponsible" politicisation of the army while Industry Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher "unreservedly condemned this handful of generals who call for an uprising".

Marine Le Pen, leader of Rassemblement National, says she "shares the grief" of the letter's signatories and invites them to join forces with her party in the 2022 presidential elections.

"Join forces with us to take part in the battle that is beginning, a battle that will be political and peaceful of course, but which is above all, a battle for France," Le Pen said.

On Tuesday, she told France Info that while she shared their diagnosis of a country afflicted by "lawless areas, crime, self-hatred and our leaders' rejection of patriotism" she agreed that "these problems can only be solved by politics."

Are these views representative of the French electorate?

The election is still a year away and many of the major parties have not yet selected candidates so it's hard to predict what issues will be uppermost as people step into the polling booths in spring 2022, but current polling would suggest that this is not the top concern for most people.

ANALYSIS: Four key questions on France's 2022 presidential elections

A poll published in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on April 25th showed that the number one concern for voters was health (85 percent) followed by the pandemic (80 percent). 

Away from the health crisis, the biggest concerns for voters were education (72 percent), security and the battle against terrorism (72 percent), crime (70 percent), unemployment (68 percent), poverty (62 percent) and living standards (61 percent).

According to the same poll, 54 percent are in favour of legalising cannabis.  




Comments (4)

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Anonymous 2021/05/03 23:28
The letter from the retired officers represent a true statement of the real situation in France. Unlike what Rob says, when comparing France to South Africa, what was being wished to preserve in South Africa was the oppression of the majority by a small minority. It is the opposite in France where a small minority wishes to impose their views on the majority. France like the USA is under siege by a small, but highly vocal, active, and violent minority. Hardly a month goes by in France without hearing the "Allahu Akbar" chant invoked to justify some grisly crime. In the USA it is the BLM movement that burns, pillages, attacks the police, and commits all kinds of violent intimidation to further its political cause. These are the people who are doing the killing of whomever disagrees with them. I would call that a mob dictatorship and not a government dictatorship.
Anonymous 2021/04/28 08:47
Funny how the first thing right wing types do is create a sense of the national identity being under attack. This was used in South Africa (under Apartheid), in the US, the UK currently and now France. I have never understood how people fall for this but a good chunk of the populace always does.
Anonymous 2021/04/28 08:28
I wonder if these people realise that coups are never successful. Even the revolution wasn't a rip roaring success at first.
Anonymous 2021/04/27 23:17
It is worth noting the number one danger they mention in the letter is antiracism. Also, only a complete innocent could fail to understand what is meant by the phrase "...sachez que nous sommes disposés à soutenir les politiques qui prendront en considération la sauvegarde de la nation..." ( let it be known that we stand ready to support those politicians that will give due regard to protecting our nation) coming from a bunch of generals and army officers. We all know exactly what is being said here.
  • Anonymous 2021/04/28 18:08
    Effectively arming racists is a sure fire way to create and cause seriously dangerous outcomes. It is, truly, disturbing when several (alleged) members, or ex members, of the nation’s military openly declare their personal political leaning. Fomenting revolution within a democratic state is a criminal offense and must be dealt with by application of the laws to which both sides of the argument have equal access. Shooting people who disagree with your political opinions is what we see under dictatorships - and all too frequently in the USA. The world is incredibly unstable right now; with far too many (supposed) ‘leaders’ rattling their swords. It takes very little to start a major war under such conditions.

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