Marseille, je ne t’aime plus

Graffiti in the Panier district of Vieux Port, Marseille

France is suffering. The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement, the riots in Paris and around the country prove this. France’s allure – as seen from across the Channel and from an airplane window – will always be there, but the reality is so different. My ‘foreign observer’ view is this: that France’s big cities cannot cope with the influx of immigrants desperate for work; it cannot cope with the ‘blood splash’ of new technologies in the form of Airbnb wrecking its cities, pushing working class people out; it cannot cope with ultra-right wing populism which goes against its mantra of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ which set it apart in modern times as the bastion of free-thinking; it cannot cope with the rush of migrants from North Africa who want to turn its landmass into little ‘Mecca’; it cannot cope with the 21st century full stop. 

France has its own identity, always has, always will, but change is happening too fast. Its rural mind-set based on agriculture, wine production, artisanal produce and mass export to a world which loves France and its produce, is being torn down by the exodus of young people to the cities, by the mono-ism of industry into the digital, by globalisation which is destroying the cachet of all things French. 

Emmanuel Macron, its current President, elected in May 2017, comes along with his own right-centrist way of thinking, slipping easily into power, voted in by a population fearful of ultra-right politician Marine Le Pen getting in. 

He was celebrated as the sensible option and France breathed a collective sigh of relief when he was elected. His version of capitalism was viewed as the right way – centrist and 21st century. He was an ex-banker who wanted the people to succeed, but now in 2018, we’re in the midst of violent anti-Macron sentiment as Gilet Jaune protests rage up and down the country. Macron is seen as elitist, uncaring and totally out of the touch with the majority of France, strangled by high taxes and low wages. 

It was reported that when Macron came to Marseilles, he viewed everything from the luxury of his armoured vehicle and that he didn’t pay any attention to the northern banlieus (suburbs) where crime and gangs run rife.

In these banlieus, people are forced to live in tiny flats, crowded into high-rises, forced to work for low-pay with maximum insecurity. The people from North Africa are viewed as scum, and then locals wonder why they don’t integrate. I say that these people you fear – dear France – are the descendants of the people whose countries in North Africa you invaded, people you imprisoned, raped and enslaved. It’s funny then isn’t it, how Karma comes back to get you. 

YouTube, TripAdvisor, Hotels dot com, Booking dot com all say how Marseille has come up, how wonderful it is, how dynamic, how cultural, how sizzling it is with things to do. Well, that’s interesting marketing-speak isn’t it. I saw Marseille in November 2018 as a down-trodden, dirty, sad, repressed and crumbling place, full of sad, angry people.  North-Africans huddled together in cafes by the Gare St. Charles train station eyeing up women with eyeballs fixed on their rears and their breasts. They are bored, under-employed, surveying the world from behind the visor of hatred.

I went to Panier in the View Port, and spent a few days there talking to locals. Panier is on the tourist map, specialises in artisanal wares, is beautiful and scummy at the same time. I loved being in Panier but felt depressed in all other parts of Marseille, The people of Panier were friendly but on edge. Their message was the same – it didn’t matter who I talked to; France is finished, Marseille is shaking with problems, the internet has destroyed life, no one communicates anymore, no one talks, everyone is angry; angry with Macron, angry with the way immigrants are treated, angry at the slums, the overcrowding, the fear of Daesh terrorism, angry with taxes, angry with the poverty, angry with, the death of their old France, hating the tourists and Airbnb but in need of the tourists, angry at the world, their sense of powerlessness, angry at the government that ‘governs’ Marseille. 

‘It’s the same the world over,’ I say, ‘this is the way the world is now’. 

‘People are so poor in France, that’s the norm, to struggle.’ 

I nod sadly. It’s the elite who prosper and ordinary people who suffer. The image presented by the internet does not reflect the reality. 

I feel sad for France, very sad. I partially grew up in France. As a young person I knew the country well. I speak French fluently. I have a connection with the country. I ache for their problems. The North African immigrants who want to make France their home have an eternal right to do so, in my opinion, and the French who blame them for France’s ills are deluded. This is a global problem based on colonialism, populism and globalisation, Daesh (ISIS), poverty, extreme religious dogma, and the rising cost of living across the world, exacerbated by the internet and the digital world, the rise of the laughable ‘sharing’ economy, courtesy of Airbnb and Uber. 

The Gilet Jaunes movement is the fire in France’s revolutionary belly exploding. France cannot ignore its history of revolution. And no President cannot afford to ignore the people. Macron is stupid, but then 99 per cent of politicians in power are. 

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