US Congressmen discuss Ukraine and US-France relations

More than a dozen AAPA members got to sit down with the two leaders of a US Congressional delegation to France on April 19th at the US ambassador’s residence.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who is on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI-01), who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told us their eight-member delegation had a busy two days in France meeting French officials, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, the US ambassador to the OECD, and French groups welcoming Ukrainians fleeing the war there.

Ukraine was, unsurprisingly, the subject of many of the questions for the pair. Senator Coons called the Russian invasion “completely unjustified”.

There was discussion of weaponry being sent, and concerns expressed about Russian accountability for war crimes. UNESCO is documenting the destruction of heritage sites, they said.

Other topics raised included climate change and Covid. Despite our best efforts, they would not be drawn on the then-upcoming second round runoff of the French presidential election


Russian Sanctions: Economic Weapons

The unprecedented barrage of coordinated economic sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine is already having an impact on Russian quality of life and could ultimately undermine President Vladimir Putin politically, according to Sciences Po economics professor Sergei Guriev. He spoke to the AAPA via Zoom on March 24, 2022.

A former financial "insider" in Moscow, Guriev was Rector of Russia's New Economic School before emigrating to France in 2013. He served as Chief Economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 2016 to 2019 and is currently active in several international economic organizations.

Guriev believes Putin will face a serious domestic backlash when sanctions impact his ability to pay his soldiers and local police.

Additionally, he thinks the Russian leader was surprised that the invasion of Ukraine failed to be a "quick win" (a combination of bad intelligence and insufficient military power) and is determined to use all available means to stay in power, including the use of chemical or possibly nuclear weapons.

However, GURIEV believes a negotiated settlement remains within reach, and, when asked to compare Putin to Hitler, suggested that the lessons learned from the 1930s have prepared the rest of the world to stop him.


Who is cancelling whom? French sociologist, Michel Wieviorka, discusses the Woke craze in France.

WOKE: a nebulous catchall word that refers to cancel culture, "Islamo-leftism", intersectionality, anti-colonialism, etc. A concept supposedly imported from American universities that, according to some of France's highest authorities, is contaminating France, maybe quicker than the Covid virus. Hardly a day goes by that it is not referred to in French media, especially as we approach French presidential elections.

AAPA invited the internationally renowned sociologist, Michel Wieviorka, specialist in social movements, democracy, terrorism, racism and anti-Semitism, to speak about this word - and the ideas behind it. What is going on in France?

According to Wieviorka, much of the tension in French society today is due primarily to the question of Islam and immigration -how they are perceived by French citizens and how they have been exploited by politicians and the media. He rejects the idea of a "clash of civilizations" as described by Samuel Huntington. The French ideal of Universalism and "la République" are at odds with today's reality of multiculturalism and inherent inequalities. Intellectual debate has become polarized: "neo-McCarthyism" according to the right, "néo-réactionnaires" for the left. The question is, who is cancelling whom?

Wieviorka's attitude as a sociologist dedicated to research, is to reject both extremes. However he expresses concern regarding the present "droitisation" of French politics and the temptation of authoritarianism, though "the worst is not certain" he says.

By Thomas Haley


Presidential candidate Michel Barnier meets with AAPA

The Anglo-American press club met with former minister, EU Brexit negotiator and presidential candidate Michel Barnier on December 8. Fresh from the campaign trail, Barnier spoke of his enthusiasm for nominee Pécresse, and her ability to win the race. He says he hopes to be a part of her campaign and government.
We also discussed the fallout from Brexit, Franco-British relations and France’s upcoming presidency of the EU.


France plans new Terrorism Museum

Coinciding with the opening of the trial for the horrifying November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the AAPA was invited on 9 September 2021 to meet the man behind France’s upcoming museum on terrorism, expected to open in the Paris area in 2027.
Historian Henry Rousso previously helped create the Caen Memorial Museum on the WWII Normandy landings, and the Shoah/Holocaust Memorial in Paris. Now, he’s presiding over an expert group behind France’s future terror museum — one of only a handful existing worldwide.
France’s museum-memorial will focus on terrorist attacks on France since the 1970s from a dual perspective. “The goal of a museum is to explain events,” said Rousso. “while a memorial is intended to honor the victims.”


France's 'Monsieur Patrimoine' Stéphane Bern talks to the AAPA

Stéphane Bern, the ardent defender of France's cultural heritage, treated the AAPA to an hour of his insights into the post-pandemic state of play, progress on resurrecting Notre Dame Cathedral, the Christo stunt at the Arc de Triomphe, and more.
The ebullient journalist and author is a household name in France thanks to his hugely popular television shows, and is a darling of crowned heads and aristocrats.
“I never understood why they closed down the museums” during the pandemic, he said, noting that privately owned cultural sites were hurt the most as the public ones enjoy subsidies.
The man who rubs shoulders with royalty all over Europe – he remarked that he has known Prince Albert of Monaco for 30 years – was somewhat wistful about British attitudes towards cultural heritage compared to those of the French.
“Britain is still a monarchy, so in the collective unconscious it's not history, it's the present,” he said.
His opinion about the Christo installation? It gets people talking, it highlights the monument, and it's only ephemeral anyway!
Bern quashed any idea of alternatives to restoring Notre Dame’s spire to its original Gothic self. France is a signatory to the 1963 Treaty of Venice, first and foremost, which stipulates that damaged monuments must be returned to their last known form. Also on the spire, he said the finest oak was being sought out across France.
“It's pretty symbolic,” he said. “All the regions where there are lovely oak forests can glory in it. It causes a national élan in favour of the reconstruction.” And the timeline? “I’m sure we'll be ready for 2024” when France will host the Olympics.
On other subjects, he pulled no punches regarding wind farms, condemning them as counter-productive given the materials needed to build them, and divisive because they are a scourge for the generally rural people who live in their noisy shadow.
And Bern dished a bit -- but ever so diplomatically -- on the state of Prince Albert’s marriage, as his wife Caroline has been absent for quite some time. He said he is sensitive to the challenges of being a royal, pivoting quickly to the desertion of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.


Macron's road to reelection runs through Africa

How will Africa play out in a French presidential election year? On 21 June 2021, the AAPA was pleased to welcome Pascal Airault, staff writer and columnist for L'Opinion and co-author with Antoine Glaser of Le Piège Africain de Macron: Du Continent à l'Hexagone. The same Emmanuel Macron, drawn in by his nation’s role as a former colonial power in places like Chad and Mali, wants to display that he’s a reformer from a new generation, says Airault: when he revisits France’s role in Rwanda or talks debt relief and Covid vaccines in South Africa, Macron knows that in a nation where millions of citizens are of African descent or dual nationals, the 2022 election may come down to courting the right constituencies, he adds. The return of “le en même temps”?
François Picard


Sneak Preview of the Stunning Pinault Collection in the Bourse du Commerce

The AAPA visited the new Pinault Collection on May 18 (4 days before the official opening), thanks to the organizational skills of Elaine Cobbe (with Shellie Karabell shepherding on-site). Both the building and its contents were impressive!

Architect Tadao Ando’s welcoming and subtle design, blends history with contemporary art. The spatial layout of concentric circles features 10 galleries over 75,000 square feet of exhibition space, including a studio dedicated to video and audio works and an auditorium for conferences, meetings, screenings, concerts, and events. A restaurant headed by Michelin-starred chef Michel Bras occupies an upper level and is open to the public until midnight thanks to a separate after-hours entrance.

Luxury magnate and art collector Francois Pinault himself chose the 30 artists and 700 pieces for the inaugural “Ouvertures” exhibition (many of which have not been seen before), including works by Bertrand Lavier, David Hammons, Rudolf Stingel, Miriam Cahn, Tarek Aroui, and Thomas Schutte.

History Preserved
The Bourse du Commerce is a monument to four centuries of French history: this was the site of Catherine de Medici’s 16th century palace, Hotel de Soissons, boasting the city’s first free-standing column. The palace was torn down in the 18th century but the pillar remains in the domain of the museum.

An iron and glass dome (inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, featuring murals representing French trade across the continents) was added in 1811, and in 1888–89, much of the building’s structure was replaced, retaining the layout and the dome. The dome is listed as an historical monument, subjecting the building’s $195-million renovation to very strict rules from France’s heritage authorities: the building is only leased (for 50 years), not purchased, at a cost of $18-millon upfront, $75,000 annually, and a share of the ticket sales. At the end of the lease, the building must be returned to the state minus the renovations.


French historian Benjamin Stora discusses French-Algerian reconciliation

AAPA members met with French historian Benjamin Stora, author of a recent and controversial report commissioned by President Macron on French-Algerian relations. Prof. Stora is an expert on the topic from the colonial period until today, and is especially known for his work covering the years of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).

With about 25 members attending the zoom conference on April 21, Prof. Stora discussed the report that President Macron asked him to produce (without remuneration, he specified). The President wanted Prof. Stora to elaborate a plan that would permit true reconciliation between the two nations, sixty years after the end of the war. The history of this tragic period is infused with passionate memories and the report has been met with criticism on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Prof. Stora provided many insights into understanding the complex and traumatic relationship between the two countries. He stressed the importance for all parties concerned to search for la juste mémoire, a fair and accurate memory of events. "The objective is not to write a common history, but to seek to explain the colonial event together, and not to believe that everything can be resolved in a final verdict,” he said. Both France and Algeria have favored their own memories, ignoring those of the other side. This has resulted in a double resentment that undermines both societies still today.

He warned against what he calls "dangerous memories" (mémoires dangereuses), a recent phenomenon among French citizens of Algerian descent, in which "the war of memories" has shifted into the making of identities that are no longer defined exclusively in relation to the war but refer to notions such as race, religion or social inequality. The confrontation of memories has morphed into a confrontation of identities and their relationship to the French Republic.

Thomas Haley


Britain Post-Brexit

The AAPA welcomed back an old friend on April 7 when veteran diplomat Lord Peter Ricketts, a life peer in the UK House of Lords (and Ambassador in Paris from 2012 to 2016) joined us on Zoom to discuss Britain Post-Brexit in a discussion moderated by AAPA VP Shellie Karabell.

He admitted he was "surprised by how ill-prepared the government was" for Brexit and wondered how the country would achieve the findings of the Government Integrated Review touting Britain's future as "tech power" world leader, adding that it seemed as though the Johnson government had no sense of priority regarding the order in which problems and opportunities could be tackled.

But he acknowledged that the country's handling of vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic has given the Johnson government its own shot in the arm, and turned the mood in the country more positive.

Other topics drew on Lord Ricketts' 40-year diplomatic background in foreign and security/defense affairs.
Highlights:
- on European defense, a strong link between France and the UK in mutual defense;
- on trade, UK would probably side with Europe in relations with China on trade rather than with the US, and will keep monitoring ma. rights issues in China;
- on unilateral trade and business: despite continued attempts at forging closer ties with India, efforts with the former empire's "jewel in the crown" have not produced lasting results;
- on the "special relationship" between the UK & US...probably more in the mind of the UK than the US; he expects some difficulties with the US regarding the Irish border post-Brexit, but also expects improved UK-US relations with the Biden Presidency;
- on Russia, the UK is less interested in closer ties than other European nations (i.e, France), given the Kremlin's use of London as a poisoning theatre;
- and the question the UK will have to face is what role it wants to play in the world?

Answers to be found in his new book, Hard Choices, due out on May 13!