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by Jean-Emmanuel Ducoin

What About Equality?

Et l’egalité?

Translated Friday 25 December 2009, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

All the citizens living in popular districts - be they heirs of immigration or not – have this week had blatant proof that their daily problems are not the fruit of the fantasies of a few dark-souled defeatists, as certain people, often from the other side of the Parisian ring road, would have it... The 2009 report from the National Observatory of Sensitive Urban Zones (ZUS), which was published on Tuesday,
is quite instructive, but is overwhelmingly critical of government policies. So what have we learnt that we didn’t already know? Except eloquent and disturbing
confirmations of facts seldom discussed in the current fashion of public debate.
Living conditions are reaching such a degree of social atomisation that basic acts in life are metamorphosing into gestures of survival. Neither more nor less than that.

Our popular districts, before becoming the ‘lawless’ zones that Nicolas Sarkozy denounces with cynical pleasure (and great incompetence) are primarily zones of dramatic and rampant poverty, baffling all understanding. Read this simple statistic: unemployment is reaching 41.7% in these districts... Is 21st century France just taking down the statistics without fully realising what this figure means in reality? Over the last year, one million more unemployed people have come to add to the already terrifying figures, under-estimated as everyone knows. Now, one more unemployed person means one more poor family. One more poor family means one more part of the republican social agreement which is dying in a building, in a road, in a district. And when the republican pact is shaken, everything that makes up the "collective life" is menaced.
Do you also know that one third of these inhabitants, almost one of any two children of under 18 years of age, lives under the poverty line. Republican equality does not exist: will anyone dare say otherwise?

Not the citizens concerned, who know better than anyone where real priorities are. The observatory of ZUS brings us dazzling proof. Year after year one question was asked:’Do you think that delinquency is the main problem in your district?’ Sarkozy’s opinion on the subject is well known, the residents themselves think completely differently: just 25% replied ‘Yes’- a result which is diminishing, all be it slowly, with the passing of time. We’d like to point out in passing that for most of the population, responses in the affirmative are those of a small minority – 12%. A blatant denial in the face of all prevailing speeches on ‘security’, and ‘national identity’, speeches which aim at only one goal, namely diverting legitimate, social anguish towards an ignoble fear of threat to national identity.

These districts, where unsuspected by many, human solidarities still develop, wear a deep and bloody scar, namely government policy born of Sarkozy’s politics. Ministers responsible speak hand on heart of ‘social difficulties’ but we all know all the while that the law on solidarity and urban renewal is still not brought into force and that discrimination against whole areas goes on inexorably. Hypocrisy and blindness have no limits and cries of alarm from numerous local representatives are lost amid the loud, confusing debate... If Nicolas Sarkozy had learnt lessons from the rebellions of 2005, he might have understood that our young people have so thoroughly assimilated the republican model that they aspire only to full and complete equality. Meanwhile, the president’s power only embodies the active promotion of slogans or pseudo values that baffle the republican principle of equality and which are chanted in every key!

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