In Brief

Emmanuel Macron’s assault: a slap in the face for French democracy?

Last week, a protester grabbed the French president by his arm with one hand and slapped him in the face with the other

Emmanuel Macron has never been averse to facing the public, said Jacques Paugam in Le Point (Paris). The highly divisive French president has debated with striking workers outside factories, and faced down gilets jaunes protesters as they hurled abuse at him. So he looked “visibly relaxed” as he greeted a crowd in the town of Tainl’Hermitage on the Rhône in southeast France last week. Until, that is, one of those present grabbed him by the arm with one hand, and slapped him in the face with the other.

At first, Macron looked furious; but he later “shrugged off” this shocking act of violence, said France 24 (Paris), calling it an “isolated event”. Within minutes, he was “defiantly” fist-bumping voters in a nearby town. But the assault united his opponents in condemnation, and set off a debate about France’s “fraught” political climate ahead of next year’s presidential elections; the polls currently give Macron only a narrow lead over his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen.

The perpetrator of the attack was identified as Damien Tarel, a Holocaust denier with a curious array of interests ranging from the Middle Ages to Japanese pop culture, said Samuel Laurent in Le Monde (Paris). Delivering the slap, he shouted “Montjoie Saint Denis!”, a medieval battle cry, followed by “Down with Macron”. He hadn’t planned his attack, he told a court, but unleashed it in the name of gilets jaunes protesters and other right-wing “patriots”.

Tarel has since been jailed for four months – but his actions were a “distressing symptom” of the state of French society, said Isabelle Bollène in L’Alsace (Mulhouse). A surge in assaults on mayors and other elected officials has been reported in the run-up to regional elections being held from 20 June; even teachers and firefighters face threats.

This lamentable episode shows just how divided France has become, said Maxime Tandonnet in Le Figaro (Paris). On the one side is a “bourgeoisie at ease with globalisation”, and with Macron; on the other is “peripheral France”, where support for Le Pen is high. “This slap expresses genuine moral chaos.”

But Macron may yet benefit from the run-in on his “tour de France”, billed as an attempt to gauge the national mood as lockdown lifts, said Richard Werly in Le Temps (Geneva). He knows he’s unpopular among large swathes of the country, but refuses to give in to the “temptation of isolation”. He is gambling on his “inexhaustible talent” as a debater to win voters over, and to convince them to put their faith in him next year. Is that “risky? Yes. Bold? Without a doubt. Calculated? Of course.

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