Before events surrounding Nicholas Sarkozy's inauguration today come to an end, a brief interlude to bid adieu to his predecessor Jacques Chirac, President of France these last 12 years. Yes, of course, he was far from perfect. There was, for instance, his decision to put the question of ratifying the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe to a referendum. The 2005 vote, unnecessary under French law, not only exposed anti-immigrant ugliness within the populace, but also ended in a resounding defeat that stalled the ratification process regionwide. And then there's that lingering cloud of corruption, which well may gain steam now that exit from office has stripped Chirac of the constitutional cloak of immunity.
Still, there's reason for some appreciation:
1st. For 1 who found herself in Paris on 11 septembre 2001, Chirac's televised comments were most welcome: "[I]n these horrifying circumstances, all the French people -- and I want to say this here -- stand at the side of the American people."
2d. At a time when post-9/11 panic left Americans fearful of uttering a peep about their President, the TV spoof Les Guignols blithely caricatured France's chief executive as SM -- Supermenteur -- Superliar -- in mask and leotards. The country did not collapse.
3d. Soon after 82% of voters supported Chirac in a 2002 runoff against the far right's Jean-Marie Le Pen, the newly re-elected President attended the national soccer championship between Lorient and Bastia. Corsican nationalist/anti-France fans of the latter team booed the "Marseillaise" (the anthem that also introduced his farewell broadcast yesterday). Chirac stormed out of his box and refused to return without apology. The insult, he told a sportscaster in a weighted cadence, was "in-sup-por-tab-le," and offended "tou-te la France." After many long and televised minutes, officials apologized, Chirac went back to his box, and the "Marseillaise" was replayed in a silent and respectful stadium. Only then did the match proceed. Thus did Chirac achieve something few international law teachers have managed: making real the legal fiction that the head of state is the human embodiment of the country.
4th. Need 1 mention Chirac's multipolarist opposition to unipolar pressure for the 2003 invasion of Iraq?