Eastern Paris, France, 14th July 1789: the French citizens of Paris, an angry mob at this point due to a severe shortage of bread, craved change. In the streets, next to the towering state prison of Bastille- a medieval fortress that dominated the surrounding area with eight 30 metre tall towers- the people protested. To the Parisian citizens, Bastille was a symbol of oppression and dictatorship from the monarchy. When the time came to revolt, Bastille was a natural and practical target. The prison only housed seven inmates, but it also was home to a large amounts of ammunition that would be of use to the public in their fightback against the monarchy.
The storming of the Bastille did not take long; after a violent encounter outside the Bastille, the French people took hold of the building, releasing the seven prisoners who were inside. The public also brought out the prison governor’s head, which was firmly entrenched on a spear . Once the Bastille had been captured by the public, the operation began to dismantle the prison. The stone that was once a prominent feature on the Eastern Paris skyline was used as a souvenir by the public; mini- Bastille’s were carved out of pieces of stone and paraded around France. As the storming of the Bastille was a catalyst of the French revolution, the symbolism that these stone figures carried was tremendous. They encouraged people throughout France to encompass the spirit and passion that the Parisians had when they raided and destroyed, the prison. When the people brought down the prison, the message that was sent to the monarchy was loud and clear- the will of the people had the power to topple the monarchy.
On paper, the storming of the Bastille is relatively insignificant- but that is because words on paper do not tell the whole story. The emotional impact that the storming of one of the more significant structures in Paris is incomprehensible. The fact that the revolution lasted 10 years and the storming of the Bastille is still regarded as one of the most critical events during the revolution speaks volumes.
Marquis de Lafayette was a prominent figure in the early stages of the French revolution; after the Bastille was conquered, he was placed in charge of a local national guard, which was created to keep order across France. Lafayette was also handed the key to the Bastille doors due to the significant role that he played during early stages of the revolution. In 1790, Lafayette prepared to send the key to the Bastille to his ally across the pond, George Washington. Lafayette sent the key to America as a token of thanks to Washington; the American Civil War inspired Lafayette to embark upon something similar in France. Washington opened Lafayette’s eyes to the possibility of a new reality, one where a new society could be formed without the dictatorship of the monarchy. Today, the key to the Bastille sits in George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.
Modern day France, 2017: a lot of similarities can be drawn from the French Revolution and the French Presidential race that is currently taking place. It is abundantly clear that the French people desire drastic change from the France’s political establishment; the evidence for this is that the two main party candidates, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon, are currently lagging behind in third and fourth in the polls for the first round of voting. Fillon, the leader of the main right wing party-“Les Républicains”- is currently under a formal probe for the payments issued to his wife, Penelope. Fillon is said to have issued payments of €900,000 to his wife for a job that did not exist; Penelope was supposedly employed as a “Parliamentary Assistant” to her husband, but upon further inspection, it appears that this job title was a cover up as Fillon’s wife never worked for him. Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, beat Manuel Valls- the former Prime Minister- to the nomination. Hamon is a representative of the far-left and green side of the party; he strongly believes in huge investments into renewable energy, with his aim being for renewable sources to provide 50% of France’s energy by 2025. Hamon is a candidate who offers an idealistic future of a peaceful time for the French, but at a time when nationalism is at an exceptional high, he may be offering his socialist solution at the wrong time.
Another parallel that can be drawn from the revolution is that the French people have been inspired by the Americans. Just like how Lafayette was inspired by Washington, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, seems to be inspired by Donald Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Trump capitalised on the heavy nationalist sentiments that existed amongst the American people; his controversial soundbites added fuel to the fire and encouraged people to go and vote for him and his anti-establishment message. Le Pen’s message is certainly resonating on the same lines. She is also looking to capitalise on the nationalistic sentiment that exists in rural France, as she is promising a referendum on EU membership and tightened immigration if she takes the Presidency. Le Pen has painted the picture that she is essentially on her own in her quest to become President, with her message implying that she is a political outsider. She has claimed that her primary challenger, Emmanuel Macron, has been back by various media groups and bankers. Even though the similarities are plentiful, there are a couple of major differences between the situations of Le Pen and Trump that could cost her the Presidency. Firstly, Le Pen’s claim that she is a total political outsider aiming to storm her way to victory is one that has little elements of truth to it; she is well known in political circles. In 1986, she joined the National Front and has been a regional councillor since 1998 and a Member of European Parliament for Eastern France since 2004. Le Pen also ran for the 2012 Presidency, finishing third. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was her predecessor as the leader of the National Front, a position he held for over 40 years. Whilst Trump occupied an element of surprise during his run to the Presidency, Le Pen lacks such a thing through no fault of her own; the result of the lack of surprise that Le Pen offers is that her message is not as revolutionary and ground-breaking as she may hope.
Le Pen, a smart and talented politician, has catapulted herself and the National Front to the lead in most national polls. Her ability to reshape the National Front through the “de-demonization of the Front National” movement speaks volumes about her pragmatism. She has the ability to see how her actions will be received by the public yet still convey a positive message; this is emphasised by her left wing economic policies and right wing foreign policies . Her body of work as leader of the National Front shows me that she is far superior in terms of talent and acumen than Trump and other far right politicians across the globe. The reasons that I have just listed above show why Le Pen is leading in the first round polls.
However, many political analysts in France predict that she will not hold onto that lead in the second round of voting. This is because if a culmination of factors, with one of them being that Le Pen’s target groups are the working class and the far right; in comparison to Macron, this is a relatively small target group. Macron has been aided immensely by the flustering Fillon and Hamon, with many Republican and Socialist Party voters seeing Macron as an ideal candidate to switch to. French voters will have been keeping a close eye on Trump’s calamitous opening days as President of the USA, as he is a vaguely similar candidate to Le Pen. Trump’s public brawls with the press and media have been of a major disadvantage to him. He even went as far to call the press the “enemy of the American people”, which prompted FOX News anchor Chris Wallace into a passionate response. Trump’s actions will surely have cast a shade of doubt in unsure voter’s minds, which could prove costly to Le Pen.
The candidate who is predicted to take the French Presidency, Emmanuel Macron, is quite the opposite to Le Pen. Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, has not aligned himself with either The Republicans or the Socialist Party. He resigned from the Socialist Party to create his own movement, “En Marche!”. Macron is France’s answer to Tony Blair, as he is a social liberal who believes in the free- market ideology when it comes to business. He is a forward thinker and an extremely intelligent man, who has progressive policies to couple with his right wing economic policies. An Odoxa/Dentsu-Consulting poll showed that Macron would beat Le Pen in the second round of voting with 61% of the votes, compared to her 39%.
It is evidently clear that the French people want change with neither of the two main parties, The Republicans and the Socialist Party, being voted into power. With “En Marche!” or the National Front almost certain of having their leader elected, a political revolution is certainly underway. Hopefully this revolution will not take 10 years like the one in the 18th century, but hopefully this revolution will also bring about significant changes. Whoever takes power during the election will be under scrutiny to implement changes, one can only hope and expect that they live up to their election promises.
Long live the revolution!