If France's immigrant unemployed can be put to work during the four
years that remain to Lionel Jospin's government, a fundamental
national problem will be on its way to solution. If that does not
happen, France will join Britain and the United States in possessing
not only an unemployed class but increasingly an unemployable one,
with all that implies for social peace--in a country that has the
habit of turbulence.
Lionel Jospin told a group of foreigners last summer that "it is a
sociological fact that the French are always discontented with how
they are governed." This autumn there were Paris transport strikes,
protesting vandalism and violence on suburban trains and buses. There
were student strikes, calling for more funds for school equipment.
Superficially, the French were resuming their customary grogne, or
complaining. Jospin's honeymoon seemed over. Yet, as the national
statistics indicated, the French felt prosperous and confident in the
future (especially because of the forthcoming monetary union--a very
important factor in European attitudes today).
Most surprising, the French still are happy. Devoted to narcissistic polling, the Sofres organization went forth in late September to determine how the French now feel. Ninety percent say they are very happy or mostly happy. (Only 61 percent think that other Frenchmen and women are happy - evidence of the necessary pessimism.) Why are they happy? They are happy because of their families - 75 percent. They are happy because of love - 46 percent. Because of their work - 37 percent are happy because they like their jobs. What would do most to make them unhappy? Illness (73 percent), unemployment (52 percent), fear for the future of their children (51 percent). Solitude, the lack of communication among people, makes them unhappy (27 percent), as does the condition of the poor in France and in the world (26 percent).
It is an interesting list. It is perhaps a unique one. Which other peoples say they are so happy today? An old German expression said "happy as God in France." Who would have thought it still true? Not, surely, the French themselves.
William Pfaff is author of The Wrath of Nations and Barbarian Sentiments, and a syndicated columnist for the International Herald Tribune.Essay Types: Essay