In France, anti-vax fury, politics makes public service risky

From their ballot box this weekend and the next will come the name of the candidate – chosen from dozens – that they want their mayor to endorse.

But in a fiery political climate at election time and with the fury of opponents of the COVID-19 vaccination increasingly turning into violence directed against elected officials, the staunchly apolitical mayor of Sainte-Anastasie does not want to be seen. to take part.

Safer, he thinks, to let the 2,000 villagers choose for him.

“I know many, many people in the village, many are my friends, I don’t want to create tension,” Hoffmann said in a phone interview. “So no politics.”

“Politics,” the mayor added, “often does more harm than good.”

Even in a country with deep-rooted traditions of violent protest, where revolutionaries in 1789 guillotined King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, an upsurge in physical and verbal attacks and torrents of online hatred directed at public officials – often now on COVID-19 policies — ring the alarm bells.

The violence has not approached the level of the storming of the US Capitol by Donald Trump supporters in 2021. Nor have French lawmakers been killed like their British counterparts. There, the fatal stabbing of an MP in October sparked new national soul-searching about the safety of elected officials with a proud tradition of meeting constituents with ease.

Still, there is growing concern in France following apparent arson attacks in December that targeted a lawmaker and mayor, both aligned with President Emmanuel Macron, and further violence targeting elected officials as the government grew regularly pressuring the unvaccinated to get COVID-19 shots to curb the spike in infections fueled by the omicron variant.

The Home Office recorded a 47% year-on-year increase in violence against elected officials in the first 11 months of 2021, with 162 lawmakers and 605 mayors or their deputies reporting attacks . Lawmakers say death threats have become a daily occurrence. Titled “beheading”, an email received by lawmaker Ludovic Mendes in November read: “This is how we treated tyrants during the French Revolution”.

This month, during protests against the vaccination pass in France which bars the unvaccinated from cafes and other places, around 30 angry people besieged the office of lawmaker Romain Grau, shoving him and shouting furiously.

“Death! We’ll get you all!!” shouted a man who slapped the lawmaker on the head.Grau later told broadcaster TF1 he feared the confrontation would end “in bloodshed and lynching”.

When lawmaker Pascal Bois’ garage caught fire in December, the words “Vote no” and “It’s going to explode!” were spray-painted on an outside wall, which he took as an attempt to intimidate him ahead of parliamentary passage of the vaccine pass this month.

National Assembly President Richard Ferrand says more than 540 of 577 legislators reported verbal and physical threats or attacks.

“France is not bathed in fire and blood. These are acts of brutal minorities,” Ferrand told Parliamentary TV this week. “Yet it seems to me that we have taken it up a notch, expressing a rage that is new.”

Anti-vaccination sentiment also goes hand in hand with residual anger from “yellow vest” protesters. Their often violent protests against Macron rocked his government before the pandemic. Recent protests against COVID-19 measures have again seen some protesters wearing yellow vests.

When Bernard Denis was woken by a thud in the middle of the night in December, the mayor of the Normandy village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont discovered his cars on fire and the words “The mayor supports Macron” daubed in black on a wall.

It also read “President Zemour” – an apparent misspelled reference to presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, a far-right agitator with repeated convictions for hate speech.

About 42,000 elected officials are entitled to sponsor a candidate for the presidential race. The bar of 500 endorsements is intended to narrow the field. Supporting a candidate does not require agreeing with their politics. Some sponsors simply want a politically broad electoral choice. But because endorsements are public, they are also not without potential consequences.

In Sainte-Anastasie, Hoffmann wants to participate. But the mayor wants to avoid any risk that the villagers will turn against him if he decides alone, that they say: “‘You endorsed it therefore you support it, you are this and that, you are red, yellow, green , blue, blue-white-and-red’ or other.”

Hoffmann instead pledges to endorse their choice, even if the winner of the ad hoc vote he organizes is not aligned with his own policy, which he keeps to himself. In the 2017 presidential run-off won by Macron, the village voted overwhelmingly for the loser, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is running again.

Villagers will choose from about 45 potential candidates, including Macron, who Hoffmann said will seek re-election even though the president has yet to say so.

And so, Hoffmann hopes, harmony will reign in what he calls “the village of my heart.”

“I want to give it, my village, everything I have,” he said, “and I don’t want politics to encroach on that.”


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