Month: February 2023

Ukraine, One Year Out: Two Voices

Ukraine, One Year Out: Two Voices

The first voice is that of Emmanuel Macron, recently re-elected President of France. The second is that of Clémentine Autain, Deputy of the radical Left party La France Insoumise for Seine-Saint-Denis since 2017, member of the commission of Foreign Affairs in the National Assembly. Macron: 

Woman in Politics . . .

Woman in Politics . . .

The Socialist Party (PS) faced a dilemma at the approach of the presidential elections of 2022.  Benoît Hamon, the most recent candidate, had left the party in 2017 after getting only 6% of the vote in the first round.   Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the 

La Bérézina

La Bérézina

Review of:

Marylou Magal, La BéréZina: Éric Zemmour, Autopsie d’une déroute électorale. Paris: Éditions du Rocher, 2022.

The reference to someone’s defeat as their “Waterloo” is, in France. superseded by the term “Bérézina.” It refers to the horrific battle in late November, 1812, during Napoleon’s retreat from Russia with perhaps as many as 50,000 armed men, and tens of thousands of “stragglers,” those who had lost their weapons or were simply what was left of the support staff necessary to the 600,000-man army that no longer existed. The Russians destroyed the bridges over the Berezina River in Belarus, a tributary of the Dnipro River in Ukraine. The French found some shallows; the engineers, led by General Jean Eblé, built two bridges, one for personnel and one that could also carry heavy equipment, which collapsed about halfway through. Desperate diversionary attacks bought the necessary time for construction and evacuation. The crossings began on the afternoon of November 26, when one bridge was finished; Napoleon gave orders to blow the bridges in the early morning of November 29. Many of the stragglers remained behind, too cold or exhausted to move.

Éric Zemmour’s campaign wasn’t quite as bad as that. But it wasn’t great. The worst problem, as Marylou Magal indicates, was Zemmour himself, who had neither the depth nor the political acumen to win.

The rise and fall of French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, the television personality who wanted to be another Trump, has already received one of the best day-to-day analyses it will likely get from Magal, a political reporter for Le Figaro. She presents Zemmour as an intellectual bomb thrower by trade, both in the written word and as a commentator on the conservative CNews. At the first hint that he might get in the presidential race, in October 2021, his popularity soared, taking him a few points beyond Marine Le Pen; analysts began to poll about his presence in a hypothetical second round against Emmanuel Macron (p.33). But the very qualities that had initially attracted a hard-core base soon began to cause doubts. He at first seemed a possibility for the educated bourgeoisie, in large part because of his erudition: they were impressed by his facility with language, his apparently deep knowledge of history (leading a group of major historians to publish a small book pinpointing how he got history wrong).[1]

Beyond all that, he has been involved in a number of controversies by pushing the boundaries and occasionally going over them, in terms of what is legally liable, and as a result has been convicted several times (2010, 2018, 2022) for incitement to racial or religious hatred. The last verdict, rendered in mid-January 2022 during the campaign (admittedly it was for a remark made in 2020) was for referring to unaccompanied minor immigrants as “thieves, murderers, and rapists.” (He did not even add that some were very fine people.) Zemmour condemned his conviction for this remark as “ideological and stupid.”[2]. Still, it raised the question of temperament and self-control.

As Magal shows, Zemmour’s popularity was peaking and had even started to decline before he declared for the presidency in November 2021, though he perhaps revived a bit on December 5, when he announced the founding of his own political party, Reconqûete. His biggest disappointment was his failure, at least at first, to win over “heavyweights” from Les Républicains (LR) especially; there were relatively few of those, but a good many National Rally (RN) members, who brought along with them the baggage that kept people from voting for the National Rally in the first place. They wanted Laurent Wauquiez, president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and a former Chair of the LRs; they dreamed of Éric Ciotti, current chair of the LRs, both on the far right of that party. They weren’t going to get them, even though Ciotti said he would vote for Zemmour over Macron in a hypothetical second round (p. 52). Perhaps Zemmour’s biggest convert was Senator Stéphane Ravier from Marseille, a decidedly mixed bag, a frontiste who had originally joined the FN under Jean-Marie Le Pen and was devoted to him and to Marion Maréchal, Le Pen’s granddaughter.[3]

Ravier and Sarah Knafo

Moreover, those he attracted were not altogether in harmony. Jean-Frédéric Poisson, one of the earliest to rally, was a social conservative who had come to prominence in 2013 as an opponent of the same-sex marriage law; he was strongly Catholic and opposed to abortion as well. He had founded his own political party, Via,la Voie du peuple, and was planning to run for president himself before joining Zemmour, and he remained a stalwart surrogate to the end. Poisson and some of the other “early adopters,” however, were disturbed by the subsequent visibility of Damien Rieu and several others from Génération Identitaire, a group dissolved by Minister of the Interior Gerard Darmanin in March 2021 for incitement to discriminate on the basis of origin.[4] Some of these Identitaire youth had been members of the RN, but as Magal notes, they had been mostly kept on the fringes, selected as “parliamentary assistants” to MEPs, though Rieu was able to run for Péronne (Somme), in the departmental elections in 2021 (he lost). And Jacline Mouraud, one of the early figures of the Gilets Jaunes who hoped to bring working class issues to this very elite group, felt disrespected by them; her book, Jacline Qui? (Jacline Who?) is due out on March 2.

Magal gives a leading role to Sarah Knafo, generally only described as Zemmour’s “companion,” who burst into public consciousness with a Paris Match cover that showed them vacationing on the Riviera. (Zemmour, born 1958, has been married since 1982 and has three children; Knafo was born in 1993).

Éric Zemmour, center; Sarah Knafo, the only woman in the picture.

Magal places Knafo, a right-wing activist, a graduate of Sciences Po and ÉNA, clearly at the center of the campaign and in fact as its true leader, as someone who conceptualized the role that Zemmour was, in the end, unable to play. Knafo saw him as embodying the union of the Right–the LR, the RN, and the “droits hors les murs” (the “rightwingers outside the walls,” that is, unable to fulfill their precise needs in either of the other two parties), bringing together its best themes–the economic (neo)liberalism of the LRs, joined with the focus on immigration and nationality of the RNs (thus without Marine’s crude economic populism). Knafo expected Zemmour’s candidacy to create a new party, or movement, that would leave the two other parties in the dustbin of history. Zemmour did not quite fill this role of unifier, unable to restrain his impulses to be a bomb thrower, to bloviate without contradiction as he had for so many years on CNews. This is not, as Magal notes, a quality that one wants in a president.

He held a series of packed rallies that suggested, in contrast to the polls, that his movement was going to overwhelm the elections. Those around him, however, were beginning to wonder about the frenzied round of events, with a “fanaticized” electoral base that came to each one; according to one conservative commentator, “All his voters are in the hall, there are no reserves” (p. 83) On March 6, 2022, Marion Maréchal formally endorsed him at a rally in Toulon.[5]. Her adherence had been rumored since January, at least, and she joined when the campaign was ebbing. Marine Le Pen had joked that “they think she’s the Holy Grail”; as Magal described it, the remark was made “on the margins” of a press conference Le Pen had just held, thus neither part of her formal responses–nor off the record (p. 115).[5]

Nor was Zemmour able to convince people that he “got” French voters’ concerns about the cost of living, preferring instead to speak in grandiose terms about the survival of French civilization threatened by Islam. Knafo arranged a speech on economic matters which laid out his program: tax cuts; cuts in withholding taxes; no taxation on overtime. All to be financed by withholding social services from foreign immigrants (p. 126). He made a couple of mistakes in the last few weeks of the campaign, including his insistence that France should not admit Ukrainians fleeing the Russian assault, because he believed that there should be an end to all immigration (p. 137). In late March, in a television appearance, he called for a “Minister of Re-migration,” popular with Identitaires but not with the French people as a whole (p. 140).

By the time of his Trocadero speech on March 21, something of a tradition among losing candidates on the Right (Sarkosy, 2012; Fillon, 2017), the inner circle was talking confidently about the “hidden vote,” invisible to the pollsters, that would propel him into the second round on Election Day. That was for the followers; none of the leaders believed in votes that were somehow flying below the radar (p. 151).

He came in 4th, with about 7% of the vote.


Images by

[1] Collectif, Zemmour contre l’histoire, Tracts Gallimard, 2022. The book has a number of short titles based on statements by Zemmour, such as “Vichy did not save French Jews,” “The Nazis were not the heirs of the Enlightenment,” “Dreyfus was not Guilty.”

[2]”Election présidentielle 2022,” Le Monde, January 17, 2022.


[4] See an earlier post,

[5] See an earlier post.

Yalta, 2019

Yalta, 2019

Andréa Kotarac, born in 1989, grew up in Haute Savoie in southern France, an area bordering both Switzerland and Italy.  His father was Serbian and his mother was Iranian.  He studied law and had been an activist for most of his adult life, starting in 

Retirement, Again

Retirement, Again

Emmanuel Macron, as everyone knows by now, is determined to pass a retirement bill.  During his first term, the Gilets jaunes movement delayed it for about a year, from late 2018 to late 2019; and when he returned to the issue (accompanied by the usual 

February 24, 2022

February 24, 2022

Jacques Sapir is an economist who specializes in Europe, the European Union, and especially in post-USSR Russia. Since the 1990s, he has served as an interpreter of the dramatic changes that have occurred since the collapse of the Soviet Union; he has also been a severe critic of the West’s policies against the Russian Federation. An academic, he is also a public intellectual both in his accessible books and articles and in television commentary, notably on RT France (Russia Today, the propaganda outlet for the Russian state, which recently closed up shop in France)[1] and Sputnik radio. He quit RT and Sputnik immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, which he strongly condemned. He is generally seen as a critic of the United States and NATO and, because of the places where he publishes, as politically on the Right, though he also was close, for a time, to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the Far Left.    

His Le Chaos Russe, published 1996, is an extraordinary study of Russia in the 1990s (he was there from 1992 to 1996), based on first-hand observation as well as his economic and social analysis of the period. He describes the breakdown of order, the privatization of national industries and the rise of a corrupt oligarchy, to which Putin succeeded in 2000.  He was in Moscow during part of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency (1991 to 1999), and he witnessed the push for privatization from the United States, the IMF and the World Bank, imposing on Russia a liberal market economy–and in Europe, “liberal” means “neoliberal.” (When Americans read that Yeltsin was a “liberal reformer,” they understood that to mean “democracy” rather than free market fundamentalism.)  

For Russia (and Ukraine as well) those changes meant strict deregulation, a market economy, an opening up to globalization, and so on–and Sapir believes that the West, in the grip of neoliberal orthodoxy, pushed Russia too far and too fast.  (That includes, of course, Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s “DLC” and “3rd way” approach that had the unfortunate effect at home of creating a crisis of conscience and identity on the Left.)

Russia lacked the legal and bureaucratic structure to control these changes, and Communists started to win a few elections.  One  can see the line that runs through anti-neoliberalism, anti-Americanism, opposition to both NATO and the EU that is shared by the Far Left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise and the National Rally of Marine Le Pen.  Sapir is, like them, also a sovereignist–not a unified movement, but composed of believers in separation, including a “Frexit”, from the  European Union.  

On February 24, 2022, at the beginning of the attack against Ukraine, Jacques Sapir gave his impressions of the war that had started just hours before. He stated, in an article published in Front Populaire, that Russia’s invasion was “unjustified and for that reason inadmissible,” and the explanation put forward, the defense of Donetsk and Luhansk, did not justify the escalation. He did note that most of the 381 civilians who had perished in the two “self-Proclaimed” Republics since 2014 had been victims of Ukrainian aggression; but this was not “genocide,” as Putin had stated, and he had discredited himself by saying it. There were  also documented nationalist Neo-Nazi movements in Ukraine, he noted, but they were a minority, and again, this line of argument discredited Putin. He adopted the right-wing line, shared by some in the US, that Ukraine is, “an oligarchy, strongly corrupt, penetrated by foreign private interests, many from the US.”[2]

Sapir also tried to explain (or explain away) Russia’s action by pointing to the violations of international law by both Washington and NATO.  The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 “constituted a true rupture for the Russian government”; Evgeny Primakov, on his way to Washington, had to turn his plane around.  Sapir attacked the NATO claim of a humanitarian war in Kosovo, which represented a violation of international law.  He also points out, as others have, the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq as “aggression,” and as a destabilizing of the entire region.  Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, went to the UN Security Council and laid out the US case for a “weapons of mass destruction” program, which turned out to be non-existent.  In a very revealing 2016 interview on Frontline, Powell revealed his misgivings and regrets about that moment, and his recognition that he was sent to deliver intelligence that was anything but certain.[3] France refused to join NATO forces in that war, the one thing for which the late President Jacques Chirac has been most praised.  But for many Europeans on both Right and Left, this invasion of Iraq, the rise of ISIS, and the resulting migration crisis across the Mediterranean, all had a profound effect on Europe and on their own stability.

But Sapir went beyond that to argue that in fact the United States and NATO were to blame for the February 24 attack.  He implied, for example, that the United States had brushed off Putin’s outreach for a new pact in January 2021.  One could say that January 2021 was not really a convenient time for the new President Biden, but neither the White House readout of the call, nor the agreement to extend the START treaty a few weeks later, suggests a brushoff.[4]

Finally Sapir cites the meeting of March 6, 1991, when the foreign ministers of the US, Great Britain, France, and West Germany met to discuss the security concerns of Poland and other states of Eastern Europe.  The most important decision to come out of this meeting, he said, was that the expansion of NATO into the East was “unacceptable”; but there has, in fact, been a great deal of controversy around this issue and what was, or was not, promised.  It should also be noted that the Russian attacks on Moldova, Georgia, Chechnya (twice), all in the 1990s, may well have negated any such “understanding”; and the accession of the former Soviet bloc into the EU and then Nato did not really begin until 2004.

On February 28, 2022, just a few days later, Sapir published a second editorial in the journal Marianne.[5]  In this issue he spoke about the urgent need to end the war quickly, since there was no doubt that Russia would be successful.  He suggested three answers, in these very early days, to the question of what Russia was trying to achieve.  The least likely, he thought, was a military occupation of all of Ukraine and annexation, in a reconstruction of the USSR–”extremely improbable,” he believed.  Or, Putin might wish to impose a friendly government in Kiev–but such a government, especially since the invasion, would lack support and would engage Russia in a constant peacekeeping operation to prop up an unpopular imposed regime.  Or–and this was the solution he favored–Russia should withdraw, allowing for an “independent and neutral”–and smaller–Ukraine.

Before negotiations for this outcome could even begin, Russia would have to recognize the government of Volodymyr Zelensky  as the only legitimate negotiating partner.  Then would come the end of hostilities and a retreat of Russian troops out of Ukraine, “with the exception of the two republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.”  France and Germany could act as guarantors (as they did in Minsk II).  Russia would withdraw its troops, and the government of Kiev would promise not to attack these two “republics” and to enter into immediate negotiations with them over the many border issues that would remain.  Then NATO and the EU would step in to define an independent and neutral Ukraine, also taking into account “the legitimate Russian security concerns,” which would be additionally guaranteed by a disarming of Ukraine’s existing offensive weapons and a strict limit on planes, tanks, and other military equipment, thus reassuring Russia that Ukraine could not become a “platform” for attacks by others; and indeed, Russia’s security concerns would also require some limitations of the nature of armaments deployed in NATO nations.  In return, Russia would guarantee to respect the sovereignty and “democratic choices” of its neighbors.

A non-starter, as Sapir must have realized, because this solution required little of Russia, the attacker, beyond promises, and a great deal not only of Ukraine but also of NATO nations as well.

On April 7, 2022, Sapir sat down for an interview with the financial newspaper La Tribune.  This interview occurred after the discoveries of the war crimes in Bucha, and with the decision to impose new sanctions on Russia by the EU, the US, the UK, and Canada.  Sapir noted that the oil sanctions were not working as the Europeans had assumed.  India, which had been buying crude oil from Saudi Arabia at about 100 dollars a barrel, were now paying between 75 and 80 dollars a barrel for Russian oil; Russia’s exportations had been expected to fall by 30%, but it had fallen by 20% or less.  Sapir suggested that India’s actions were not a reflection of “short term thinking,” but rather reflected a long term strategy already underway in regard to military contracts and the exchange of technologies with Russia. Sapir suggested that the turn toward Asia was already visible in Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich Conference (in the YouTube video, one can see John McCain, in the front row, staring intently at him).

Sapir noted that Putin had hoped to reduce his dependence on Europe in particular and the West in general; this idea had only been reinforced by his seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the first set of sanctions, which had led to the construction of the first gas pipeline between Russia and China. The Achilles’ heel of Europe was Germany’s extensive dependence on Russian oil. Asked why the Germans had put themselves in such a position, Sapir provided one of several such reevaluations of Merkel: “The German economic and political elites don’t reason in the long term.  Permeated by neoliberalism (sic), they make short term calculations.  It is also necessary to underline the role of political arbitrages–or rather opportunism–on the part of Chancellor Merkel.  The stopping of nuclear power plants was, after Fukushima, a folly.  The Germans have revealed themselves incapable of planning to even the smallest degree certain sectors of their economy.  Changing the energy mix of a country can take 10 or 15 years!”[6]

In September, 2022, when Putin announced a general mobilization of the male population, Sapir on September 24 tweeted about the students he had taught in Russia in 2008 and 2010, who had  somehow gotten in contact with him: “2 are leaving as reservists; 1 as a volunteer.  Their messages are not ‘enthusiastic’ but are testimony to a cold determination and a full acceptance of the risks.”  Following up, he noted that they are “not ‘nationalists’ but determined to not relive the 1990s.”[7]

In response to some tweets from readers, he added the following explanations: “They tell me that this has become a war of Nato against Russia, and that if they lose, there will be a great risk of a return to the Yeltsin regime [ie, the 1990s], which they don’t want, under any pretext.”  And to another commenter, “Yes, it’s the general attitude.  In fact, people who were anti-war at the end of February have changed, and are now, because of sanctions, very anti-Western.”  One of the responses in agreement with Sapir (an individual who described himself as in favor of Frexit) further added a remark in support: “The risk not only of becoming once again an American colony, but also being dismembered by the forces of the EU and Germany . . . (sic) does not displease certain pro-Ukrainians like Darius Rochebin and GabRobin31 [two television commentators], the Russians sign up to defend their fatherland against the possibility of disappearing.  It’s patriotism.”[8]

Sapir went to Moscow from 20-27 November 2022 to attend a meeting of the Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Economic Forecasts (he flew by way of Turkey), and returned with a column of “Things Seen” (Choses vues)–not obviously a scientific observation, as he noted.  He had been able to speak to about 50 economists as well as 100 or so students and his former students, as well as journalists and former government officials.  He noted that “the war is not visible,” that Moscow seemed normal, except for signs (one every half kilometer, he estimated), in memory of the soldiers who had died “against fascism” in Ukraine; consumer goods, including luxury cars, seemed plentiful.  “The sentiment of the colleagues [economists] ranges from resignation to the war to a reasoned patriotism.  Certain of them do not hesitate to criticize the decision to begin the war and said that to me without hiding it.   But practically all of them support it and say that Russia will go “to the end’ (jusqu’au bout).”  What did the “end” look like?  Those willing to set such goals (instead of leaving it to the government) said they wanted all of the Ukrainian coastline, thus Nikolaev and Odessa.  They all believed that “the seizure of the four oblasts (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zporizhe, Kherson) was a settled fact.  None were willing to go back to the position of 24 February.  His colleagues, between 40 to 70 years old, had  different ideas from the students, 25-35, who were more “patriotic” than their elders, and some of whom wished they had been called up, or who were planning to sign up voluntarily.  All saw it as a war between Russia and NATO rather than Russia and Ukraine.  The students, he said, openly criticized the government and Putin because of how badly the war had been waged; they felt “humiliated.”  All supported the nomination of Sergey Surovikin, “General Armaggedon,” to the command of the Ukraine invasion force, in large part because of his reputation for ruthlessness.  Surovikin, introduced with much fanfare, was removed in January, 2023. [9]

He noted that his colleagues believed that commerce would eventually resume with Europe, but on a reduced basis: “They know that something is broken between Russia and Europe.  They regret it but they consider that it is essentially our fault.” He concluded, ruefully, that “If the Russians are often very badly informed about the French situation, it is dramatically clear that the French are also about the Russian situation.  The propaganda of the two sides, ours like that of Russia, are neither better than the other; and [the propaganda] is in the process of digging a trench between our two countries.” [10]

But no. The problem is not a misunderstanding, whether now or in 1991.  The problem is the brutal invasion that began on February 24, 2022, and that continues today.


Header Image:

[1] The French government froze their accounts. Laura Kayali, “RT France to shut down after accounts frozen,” Politico, January 21, 2023. 

[2] Jacques Sapir, “Guerre en Ukraine: l’analyse de Jacques Sapir,” Front Populaire, February 24, 2022.

[3] Sapir, “Guerre en Ukraine’; Jason M. Breslow, “Colin Powell: U.N. Speech ‘Was a Great Intelligence Failure,” Frontline, May 17, 2016.

[4] Sapir, “Guerre en Ukraine”; White House call readout,; David E. Sanger and Anton Troianovski, “Biden and Putin agree to Extend Nuclear Treaty,” The New York Times, January 26, 2021, updated March 18, 2021.

[5] Jacques Sapir, “Pour sortir de la guerre, il faut une Ukraine indépendante et neutre,” Marianne, February 28, 2022.

[6] Maxime Hanssen and Robert Jules, “Pour la Russie se tourner vers l’Asie est devenu primordial pour sa liberté de manoeuvre,” Interview with Jacques Sapir, La Tribune, April 7, 2022.

[7]; and


[9] Will Vernon, Laura Gozzi, “Ukraine war: Sergei Surovikin removed as commander of Ukraine invasion force,” BBC News, January 11, 2023.

[10] Jacques Sapir, “Ce que j’ai vu à Moscow,” Front populaire, December 10, 2022.