DW: Mrs. Strassenburg, your book Adieu Liberté – How France Disappeared. Which France are you talking about?
Romy Strasenberg: Like many young Germans, especially women, I had a relatively delusional idea of France. I thought: It’s the land of freedom and this “knowledge of life” that I’ve always missed in Germany. When I lived here, I saw France disappear very quickly.
Or rather, I noticed: on the one hand, this is an illusion. It is a much more hierarchical society than you are used to in Germany. On the other hand, it was a time when freedom really disappeared. And that was magnified again with the 2015 attacks – France was very different. That’s when I noticed how little freedom I had here, not least because of my work at Charlie Hebdo. On the other hand, freedom also disappeared with the increasing repressive and neo-liberal policies that imposed more and more restrictions.
Romy Strassenburg is originally from Berlin and has lived in France since 2008
What is currently dividing France?
The gap is too big. There are people who have to see how they can fill their refrigerator at the end of the month. I always give the example of a jar of Nutella: in 2018, there was a promotion of Nutella by supermarkets in the country. Since people collected these glasses. There were screenshots of him on social media and people mocked him: “Oh my God, they’re eating unhealthily and throwing themselves into the promo!” This was the dominant discourse in the fields here in Paris.
However, in interviews with my colleagues, I was told: “Nutella is a luxury product for my child. The rest of the year they get this alternative spread.” This simple example really illustrates this gap: while some from Paris judge certain parts of the population lightly, for many of them everything is too narrow. And now, with energy prices rising, the gap is widening.
What concerns are currently affecting the presidential election in particular?
I can say: to be afraid of Marine Le Pen, that would be nice, but unfortunately that is not the case. There is a real danger that they will. The real fear is that people will not get out of their seats to vote against them – as many say.
For a while, the fear of the Ukraine war was very present. Then everyone thought that Macron was great again, because he is the only one you can imagine in international meetings and negotiations. Who wants to see Zemmour or Le Pen at a peak like this? Who wants her to negotiate with Putin? A few!
Fear of the Ukraine war and fear of declining purchasing power affected the elections. Now, between the two rounds of voting, you might think that people are afraid of Marine Le Pen as president. But unfortunately, the fear is not so great that I am counting on preventing it – as it was five years ago.
How did this culture play so small a role in this election campaign, even in the election manifestos?
Unfortunately, topics such as the welfare state, the environment and climate change, which we had to deal with and which the French also identified as their priorities in the polls, were unfortunately not addressed in the electoral platforms. For me, culture is also part of that – because the transmission of energy requires, for example, a certain cultural availability for such a change. I should want a different socio-economic model.
As a writer or musician, you also have to think: How far do I lean out the window? What is my role and mission in society? I do not see myself as a writer in the sense that my book is a journalistic work, based on experiences, on collected memories. Of course I write what I think is appropriate for the future of the country. But I will not explicitly demand the election of a particular person. I think many artists face this dilemma: “What do I do?” Although after Hugo, after Zola, the “intellectuel engagé” is actually very important in France. The artist who opens his mouth and says something has fallen by the wayside, this is my impression. In Germany more than France.
In “Adieu Liberté – How France Disappeared”, Strasenberg spoke of political turmoil, social tensions and personal impressions in France
How can France develop after the elections?
The “worst case” is Le Pen of course, she wants to renegotiate European treaties, she wants more sovereignty. Then I look a little gloomy with the Ukraine war … Suppose it did not come to this point, but Macron remained in office: due to the colossal success and presence of far-right candidates and republican Valery Prikris, the country’s political culture has changed, and a shift to the right exists in principle .
The question now is: How will you be able to face this over the next five years? And in spite of everything, will the left succeed in influencing politics and culture, for example if they are strong in the parliamentary elections in June? We see that where the left has something to say, there is more money for culture. Other books are in bookstores, other events are taking place there, and other people are performing in theaters. This is the important thing. Presidential elections are one thing. But in the end it also comes down to who is active and committed to the site.
What is the role of voters for the excluded leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the second round of the elections?
Jean-Luc Melenchon has positioned himself more strongly in this election after the first round than he did in 2017. “No vote for the far right!” he said. Melenchon did not say: “Vote for Macron.” But many fear that the Melenchon voters, who are now on the left margin, could move to the right. So Mlenchon’s call might not be so bad after all.
And we’re actually already looking forward to the next election in five years: we’ve advanced quite a bit in our horizons. Looking back at my book Adieu liberté, I would like Macron, if he stayed in office, to be so grateful to the electorate that he would not restrict freedom further and show an interest in them instead.
It is very questionable and dangerous if I, as a journalist, are no longer allowed to photograph police officers and accompany them on duty – this is new. It is not only women journalists who are excluded, but all members of civil society that Macron wanted to draw into his movement. He didn’t keep the promise. On the contrary, we cannot really do what is important to us. Artists and journalists were not involved in his project, so to speak. I like to think that the Corona crisis and the yellow jackets made it difficult. But even so, Macron’s record is devastating in many ways.
Journalist and writer Romy Strasenberg, born in 1983, won the 2008 Franco-German Journalist Award and was the editor-in-chief of the German edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Kim-Aileen Sterzel spoke to Romy Strassenburg.