New York Times - The Opinion Pages
June 21, 2013
By ALAN RIDING
PARIS — France’s Third Republic lasted 70 years, but it is most remembered for its disastrous performance between the 20th century’s two world wars when a succession of governments — no fewer than 34, to be exact — stubbornly refused to recognize a changing world.
This month, a blog by Jean-Dominique Merchet, a journalist who claims good sources in the military, carried the sensationalist headline: “This Extreme Right That Has Fantasies About a Military Coup d’État.” Merchet said the gay marriage controversy had upset senior army officers, some of whom were linked to a fundamentalist Catholic group called Civitas. He added that some were also unhappy with the supposed influence of Freemasons in the Defense Ministry.
While no one took the threat of a coup seriously, Merchet’s blog was nonetheless widely reported, with Le Monde quoting an unnamed Defense Ministry official as saying that “the mobilization over gay marriage has prompted certain behavior and words which could influence young officers for whom defense of the ‘Great Army’ entails combating socialist-communist freemasonry.”
Once again, the idea of nationalist Catholics identifying left-leaning Freemasons as the enemy brings to mind the deep polarization that characterized French political life in the 1930s.
Talk of the Third Republic revisited may be premature, but political order in France today is under great strain. The need for more courage and stronger leadership at the top is urgent. Otherwise, the promise of a brighter future will remain just that.
Alan Riding is a former European cultural correspondent for The New York Times.