rfi 2024-06-10 00:12:48



EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

🔴Live: France votes in EU elections that could reshape European politics

European elections kicked off on Sunday across France, where local and EU residents will choose 81 members of the EU Parliament. The polls are the world’s largest excercise in transnational democracy. 

Voters in France’s overseas departments cast their ballots on Saturday along with citizens voting in French embassies and consulates abroad.

This year’s vote sees an increase of two seats on France’s EU electoral roll compared to the 2019 elections. The total number of European Parliament members has been increased to 720, – up from the current 705 – due to the UK’s departure from the European Union in 2020.

Voting across the bloc began on Thursday in the Netherlands, followed by Ireland and the Czech Republic on Friday, with the rest of the EU’s member states casting their ballots over the weekend. 



Who’s eligible?

To be eligible to vote, you must be French, at least 18 years old and be registered on the electoral roll. European citizens living in France may also take part.

According to Eurostat, there are just under 50 million eligible voters in France – the second highest behind Germany which has almost 65 million on their EU electoral roll.

A national list of 81 candidates was put forward by French political parties and groupings. However, all lists must comply with one essential rule: gender parity.

If the head of the list is a woman, the second on the list must be a man. If this essential rule is not respected, the offending political group will be hit with heavy financial penalties.



Previous vote

In the last European elections in 2019, two lists had a strong lead in France: the far-right National Rally at 23 percent and Macron’s La République en marche – now rebranded Renaissance – and its centrist MoDem allies at 22.5 percent.

They both received the same number of seats – 23 each.

After the two main contenders, the French Greens (EELV) came third with 13.5 percent of the vote – which was better than expected – but still short of its 2009 record.

  • Paris Perspective #42: Young voters and the battle for Europe’s middle ground – Christine Verger

The other lists failed to achieve the 5 percent threshold of the vote needed to win elected office.

Turnout, however, rose to over 50 percent – its highest level since 1994.

More generally, at the European Parliament level, it was the centre-right EPP – where French Republicans are aligned – that came out on top with 182 seats.

Polling stations are expected to start closing across France from 6pm (8pm in Paris) this Sunday evening.

European Election Results

European Election Results

The 2024 European elections take place between 6 June and 9 June across the European Union’s 27 member states. Around 400 million voters will head to the polls to elect 720 members of the European Parliament, including 81 MEPS from France. Follow the live results of the European Elections as the new European Parliament takes shape.


European elections

Voters head to the polls on final day of EU elections

Voting began across Europe Sunday on the final — and biggest — day of marathon EU elections, with balloting due in 21 countries, including France and Germany, where support for surging far-right parties is being tested.

It is a pivotal time for Europe. The continent is confronted with the war in Ukraine, global trade and industrial tensions marked by US-China rivalry, a climate emergency and a West that within months may have to adapt to a new Donald Trump presidency.

The vote outcome will determine the bloc’s next parliament and indirectly the makeup of the powerful European Commission — thus helping to shape European Union policies over the coming five years.

The elections “are crucial because the European Parliament must start to play its rightful role”, voter Kostas Karagiannis told AFP as he emerged from a polling station in Athens.

“It must play its part in the daily lives of all European citizens.”

While centrist mainstream parties are projected to hold most of the incoming European Parliament’s 720 seats, polls suggest they will be weakened by a stronger far right pushing the bloc towards ultraconservatism.

Many European voters, hammered by a high cost of living and fearing immigrants to be the source of social ills, are increasingly persuaded by its populist messaging.

Hungarian voter Ferenc Hamori, 54, said he wanted to see the 27-nation bloc led more by politicians like his country’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban.

Orban “will win the elections here, but he will still be outnumbered in Brussels”, the physical education teacher told AFP in a village near Budapest.

Battleground France

France will be the EU’s high-profile battleground for the competing ideologies.

With voting intentions above 30 percent, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) is predicted to handily beat President Emmanuel Macron‘s liberal Renaissance party, polling at 14-16 percent.

In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, the election could likewise deal a blow to Chancellor Olaf Scholz — whose centre-left SPD is polling behind the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Leading the polls are the centre-right Christian Democrats, credited with 30 percent of votes — but on 14 percent the AfD is either neck-and-neck or ahead of all three parties in the ruling coalition: SPD, Greens and the liberal FDP.

Le Pen, who has strived to shed the RN of its past reputation for anti-Semitism and xenophobia, has made overtures to Italy’s far-right premier Giorgia Meloni with an eye to teaming up.

But Meloni, while fiercely opposed to undocumented asylum-seekers entering Europe, has cultivated a pro-EU position and given little heed publicly to Le Pen’s offer.

Von der Leyen’s ambition

Unlike Le Pen, Meloni aligns with the overall EU consensus on maintaining military and financial assistance to Ukraine and encourages its ambition to one day join the bloc.

Meloni is also important to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen‘s bid for a second mandate, which will be decided by EU leaders but also needs majority assent in the new European Parliament.

Von der Leyen, a conservative former German defence minister, has opened the door to her European People’s Party (EPP) — projected to come top in the EU parliament but without a majority — working with Meloni’s far-right lawmakers.

Mainstream leftist parties fear that could trigger a sharp rightward turn — with tougher immigration rules and a watering down of climate policies to appease angry farmers and focus on boosting industrialisation.

It could also further bring the far right into the mainstream, as has happened in Italy and the Netherlands where they dominate governing coalitions.

360 million eligible voters

Far-right populism and nationalism are already forces to be reckoned with in Poland and Spain. In Hungary, premier Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has been blocking further EU aid to Ukraine.

More than 360 million voters were called to cast ballots across the EU over four days, with projected overall results due late Sunday evening.

Polling data compiled by Politico suggest the centre-right EPP will win 173 seats in the legislature, with the centre-left Socialists and Democrats on 143 and the centrist Renew Europe on 75.

The main far-right grouping, the European Conservatives and Reformists, in which Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party sits, was projected to win 76 seats.

The smaller Identity and Democracy grouping that includes Le Pen’s RN was predicted to get 67.

 (AFP)


WORLD WAR II

French, German presidents to visit village martyred by Nazis 80 years ago

French President Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier will on Monday visit the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, where Nazi troops murdered more than 600 civilians in 1944. The village in central France has remained untouched ever since as a reminder of wartime cruelty.

The French and German presidents will together mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre, which saw SS soldiers kill 643 people and reduce most of the village to ruins.

Possibly as punishment for the killing by French Resistance of a high-ranking SS officer, German troops rounded up everyone they could find. They shot or burned alive men, women and children, then laid waste to most of the village.

Steinmeier will be the second German head of state to visit Oradour, after a landmark trip by his predecessor Joachim Gauck in 2013.

Macron has already been to the site three times, most recently in January 2022. 

Most post-war French presidents have paid their respects at Oradour, which remains a powerful symbol of the Nazis’ atrocities.

Charles de Gaulle said the “martyred village” should never be rebuilt, but instead kept as a permanent reminder of the horrors of the Nazi occupation for later generations.

But 80 years on, the ruined buildings are crumbling beyond recognition and calls have multiplied for a major conservation effort.

“All the survivors are gone, the only witnesses of the massacre are these stones,” said Agathe Hébras, whose grandfather was one of only six people to escape the massacre.

“I am deeply attached to these ruins, like many people here, we can’t let them wither away,” she told French news agency AFP last month.

“We need to take care of them as best we can for as long as possible.”

  • France remembers Oradour, a WWII massacre and the martyred village left behind

Plea for preservation

The 10 hectares of ruins, which draw some 300,000 visitors each year, are owned by the French state and a listed heritage site.

Since 1946, the state has allocated the equivalent of €200,000 annually for maintenance.

In 2022 it agreed to spend almost €500,000 extra to shore up the church – where 451 women and children were shot or burned alive.

If Oradour is still to be here in 40 years’ time, money has to be ploughed in, Benoît Sadry, head of an association for families of victims of the massacre, told RFI last year.

He and other families insist the whole village needs conserving and are launching a public fundraising campaign along the lines of the one for Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Watch RFI’s report from Oradour-sur-Glane:



But those pushing for conservation say most of the money will have to come from the government. Estimates put the total cost of preserving the site at some €19 million.

“We don’t want to bring back what was destroyed,” Laetitia Morellet, the regional deputy director for heritage and architecture, told AFP.

“We want to preserve the state of destruction, because that is what helps people understand this war crime.” 

Read also:

  • D-Day’s historic beaches threatened by rising sea levels
  • French volunteers open German command post to the public for D-Day

Diplomacy

France and US intensify efforts to prevent Middle East explosion, Macron says

France and the United States will work harder to prevent a broader escalation in the Middle East with a key priority to calm the situation between Israel and Hezbollah, President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday.

“We are redoubling efforts together to avoid a regional explosion, particularly in Lebanon,” Macron said in a joint statement with Joe Biden during the U.S. President’s state visit to France.

Macron added that the sides were working on “advancing parameters” to reduce tensions and end an institutional vacuum in Lebanon.

France and the United States have in recent months worked to try to defuse tensions with Paris submitting written proposals to both sides aimed at stopping worsening exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah on the border.

The United States has also worked on the issue, but diplomats have said there have been problems in coordinating efforts.

Macron said the two countries had developed “a close coordination” in the discussions “with Israel on one side and with Lebanon and all the parties involved on the other side”.

Biden made no mention of Lebanon in the short statement and also did not mention Iran, which Macron said was adopting a strategy of escalation in the region, citing Tehran’s attack on Israel and the development of its nuclear programme.

“Our two countries are determined to exert the necessary pressures to stop this trend,” Macron said.

Despite U.S. reservations, France, Britain and Germany last week put forward a resolution against Iran that was passed over its nuclear programme at the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

While eventually backing the resolution, Washington had shown misgivings beforehand with diplomats saying the U.S. feared it could provoke Iran, something it wants to avoid before November’s presidential election.

Fresh from commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Biden’s state visit to France is marked by pomp as well as talks on trade, Israel and Ukraine.

 (Reuters) 


Diplomacy

Biden and Macron to discuss Israel and Ukraine in state visit

Fresh from commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, French President Emmanuel Macron will host U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday for a state visit marked by pomp and a parade as well as talks on trade, Israel and Ukraine.

The two men, who share a warm relationship despite past tensions over a submarine deal with Australia, will participate in a welcoming ceremony with their wives at the iconic Arc de Triomphe and a parade down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées

before holding a meeting about policy issues and then attending dinner.

Biden hosted Macron for a state visit at the White House in 2022.

“France is our oldest and one of our deepest allies. And this will be an important moment to affirm that alliance and also look to the future and what we have to accomplish together,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters earlier this week.

World issues

Sullivan said talks between the two men would touch on Russia’s war with Ukraine, Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, cooperation in the Pacific, and policy issues ranging from climate change to artificial intelligence to supply chains.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said the countries would announce a plan to work together on maritime law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard and French navy would discuss increased cooperation.

Biden and Macron are also expected to discuss strengthening NATO, and both have pledged their countries’ support for Ukraine, though they have not agreed yet on a plan to use frozen Russian assets to help Kiev.

A U.S. Treasury official said on Tuesday the United States and its G7 partners were making progress on that.

Biden met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris on Friday, apologising for a months-long delay by the U.S. Congress in approving the latest package of aid, and Zelensky addressed France’s National Assembly.

During a speech at the American Cemetery in Normandy on Thursday, the anniversary of the allied assault against Nazi German occupiers on French beaches in World War Two, Biden called on Western powers to stay the course with Ukraine.

  • Biden pledges $225m in fresh aid for Ukraine at Paris talks with Zelensky

Macron and Biden will also confer on the situation in the Middle East.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel, which is pursuing Hamas after it attacked the country in October, but tens of thousands of Palestinian deaths have soured Biden’s left-leaning political base on Israel, hurting him as he runs against Republican Donald Trump for re-election in November.

Trade talks

Beyond Ukraine and Israel, trade issues between the two sides of the Atlantic are likely to loom large.

The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law in August 2022, has incensed European officials; they see it as a protectionist move that siphons off investments from EU companies.

Macron said during his state visit to Washington in 2022 that the package of subsidies could “fragment the West” and weaken the post-COVID European recovery at a time Washington is seeking allies against China and both sides confront Russia.

He and European allies have won little concessions from Washington since, however, and French officials say their aim for this visit is still to try to “re-synchronise” the U.S. and EU economic agendas.

  (Reuters)


Sudan crisis

Sudan could soon have 10 million internally displaced people, UN agency says

The number of people internally displaced in Sudan due to conflict could soon exceed 10 million, the United Nations migration agency said.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded 9.9 million people internally displaced across Sudan this week. Prior to the war, there were already 2.8 million internally displaced people, the IOM said.

In total, about 12 million people have been forced to flee their homes, with more than two million crossing into neighbouring countries, including Egypt and Chad.

“How much suffering and loss of life must the people of Sudan endure before the world takes notice? Isn’t 10 million internally displaced enough to compel urgent global action?” Mohamed Refaat, Sudan Chief of Mission for the IOM, said.

“Every one of those 10 million displaced life represents a profound human tragedy that demands urgent attention.”



Refaat added that more than half of the internally displaced people in Sudan were woman, and a quarter of them children under five.

He said aid agencies were struggling to keep up with the rising needs.

“Funding shortfalls are impeding efforts to provide adequate shelter, food and medical assistance,” Refaat said.

“Serious concerns are mounting about the long-term impact of displacement on Sudan’s social and economic fabric.”

  • Sudan on its knees after one year of brutal civil war
  • UN says 5 million at risk of starvation in Sudan

UN agencies have warned that Sudan is at “imminent risk of famine”, with around 18 million people acutely hungry, including 3.6 million children who are acutely malnourished.

Fighting broke out in the capital Khartoum in April 2023 and quickly spread across the country, reigniting ethnic bloodshed in the western Darfur region and forcing millions to flee.

 (Reuters)


India elections

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sworn in for third term

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in on Sunday for a third term after worse-than-expected election results left him reliant on coalition partners to govern.

Modi met President Droupadi Murmu and accepted her invitation to head the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government, which will run the world’s most populous nation for the next five years.

The  new government was sworn in on Sunday evening, making him prime minister for a historic third consecutive term.

“I want to assure the people of the country that in the 18th Lok Sabha (lower house) also…we will work with the same pace, same commitment to fulfil aspirations of the people,” he told reporters outside the president’s palace.

It is the first time in a decade in India that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which won outright majorities in 2014 and 2019 – has needed the support of regional parties to form the government, a shift that initially spooked markets and worries analysts about policy certainty and fiscal discipline.

“It is my good fortune that all of you from NDA have chosen me to lead,” Modi said earlier on Friday after NDA lawmakers voted for him to head their coalition.

“No alliance has ever been as successful as the NDA,” he said, after lawmakers and senior leaders thumped tables and applauded, with some standing and chanting “Modi, Modi!” in the central hall of the old parliament building.

“We have won the majority, but to run the country it is unanimity that is crucial… We will strive for unanimity,” he said, in a sign of the change in style coalition government may force on a leader used to ruling with a strong hand.

The new government would, among others, focus on raising savings of the middle class and improve the quality of their lives as the “middle class is the driving force of the country”, Modi added.

NDA leaders

Key NDA leaders – whose support has wavered in the past as they hopped in and out of alliances – praised Modi and expressed confidence in his leadership.

“I am confident that whatever is left he will now complete it. We will be with him at every step,” said Nitish Kumar, chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar whose Janata Dal (United) party is the third largest in the NDA with 12 lawmakers.

Indian media said both Kumar’s party and the Telugu Desam Party, the second largest with 16 lawmakers, are eyeing the post of the speaker in the lower house, while BJP itself is expected to retain four key ministries – foreign affairs, defence, home and finance.

The Janata Dal (United) also wants the new government to review a military recruitment system introduced in 2022 under which young men and women are enlisted for a four-year tenure at non-officer ranks, with only a quarter retained for longer periods.

Previously, soldiers were recruited by the army, navy and air force separately and typically entered service for up to 17 years for the lowest ranks.

The shorter tenure caused concern among potential recruits and led to riots in some parts of the country as it was seen as hurting employment prospects.

A lack of jobs, besides rising prices and falling incomes, were key issues in the election and led voters to rein in support for Modi, according to a post-election survey.

The coalition negotiations are a throwback to an era before 2014, when Modi swept to power with an outright majority for his BJP.

 (Reuters)

International report

How Turkey’s support for Ukraine is a double-edged sword

Issued on:

Turkish companies are emerging as significant suppliers of weapons to Ukraine and are supporting United States efforts to resolve Kyiv’s ammunition shortages. However, this support is a challenge to Ankara’s efforts to balance its relationship with Moscow and its Western allies.

Turkey has managed to tread a fine diplomatic line by maintaining ties with both Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded its pro-Western neighbour in February 2022. 

At the same time, Ankara has improved its relationship with the United States and has even coordinated with them in arms production to help Ukraine.

The United States’ latest munitions factory in Texas, which goes online this month, uses the Turkish company Repkon’s state-of-the-art equipment.

The new plant is vital to meeting the Ukrainian army’s current shortages and ultimately aims to meet a third of the United States’s needs.

Turkey analyst Sinan Ciddi of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies says Ukrainians are running low because they’ve been using the Allied-supplied Howitzers that require a certain kind of ammunition.

  • France and allies launch ‘artillery coalition’ to bring more weapons to Ukraine

“This has been the essential sort of weapon of choice that has prevented up until recently, the advancement, and recapture of Ukrainian towns by Russian troops,” he tells RFI.

“That Turkey is stepping into this is remarkable,” Ciddi continues, “simply because Turkey has a vast ability not only to procure and manufacture, but it’s a vital sort of supply line for the US, which is also actually starting to run low based on the amount of shells it has supplied the Ukrainian partner right.”

Source of tension

The United States Ambassador to Turkey, Jeff Flake, praised the collaboration as a sign of the growing importance of deepening bilateral ties.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close relations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington.

Since the outset of Russia’s invasion, Ankara has supported Kyiv but remained neutral, refusing to enforce Western sanctions against Moscow.

Meanwhile, another Turkish company, Baykar, is building a military drone factory in Ukraine.

  • Biden pledges $225m in fresh aid for Ukraine at Paris talks with Zelensky

“It’s a little bit risky to establish a factory in Ukraine under the war conditions,” warns defense analyst Tayfun Ozberk.

“It’s very critical for Turkey, of course, establishing a factory in Ukraine – it has a political message, but it will not; I believe change Turkey’s position in this war,” added Ozberk.

For Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent Turkish defense analyst, “Turkey’s definitely walking on thin ice.”

Doubling down on support for Ukraine will surely test Ankara’s policy of balancing ties with Moscow and its Western allies, she says.

Agree to disagree

Ozkarasahin maintains that this balancing act with Russia is very much Turkey’s current diplomatic policy, which she calls  “compartmentalisation, or “agree to disagree”.

It means that Turkey and Russia can have different agendas on ongoing war in Ukraine or the situation in Syria, but still collaborate in different domains, such as energy trade.

“Ankara separates these things from each other, which forms one of the main pillars of its policy towards Russia and in the end, Turkey’s a critical lifeline for Russia,” she says.

While Turkey‘s defense industry is increasing its support for Ukraine and Western allies’ efforts to supply the Ukrainian military, Ankara remains a vital trading partner with Russia.

  • Turkey agrees deal to clear Black Sea of mines that threaten Ukrainian exports

Sinan Ciddi points out that the US Treasury has sanctioned Turkish companies supplying duel-use goods to the Russian military, including microchips, parts that go directly into the manufacture of high-end Russian weaponry that is being used against the Ukrainians.

“Turkey is playing both sides of this,” he says, warning that Washington and Ukraine could pay a considerable price for Ankara’s support.

“It really does put the US in a bind, having to keep increasingly or consistently quiet about Turkey’s double dipping, and so it’s a double-edged sword,” Ciddi says.


Roland Garros 2024

Swiatek romps past Paolini to lift fourth French Open crown

Iga Swiatek swept to her fourth French Open title on Saturday afternoon with a dazzlingly ruthless blitz past the 12th seed Jasmine Paolini.

The 68-minute slaughter finished 6-2, 6-1 to the 23-year-old Pole who joined Monica Seles and Justine Henin as the only women to claim three French Open titles on the trot since the Grand Slam tournaments were opened to professional players in 1968. It was her fifth triumph at a Grand Slam event.

Paolini, playing in her first final at a Grand Slam tournament, was simply overwhelmed.

The 28-year-old Italian broke the top seed and defending champion to lead 2-1.

The response was – for Paolini’s partisans – lurid.

Swiatek won eight consecutive games to collect the opening set 6-2 and control of the match with a 3-0 lead in the second.

Reaction

After 49 minutes, Paolini, who had seen off the fourth seed Elena Rybakina in the quarters – stepped up to prevent herself from going down a double break.

She did not succeed.

Swiatek held to lead 5-0 and with the clock not yet at the hour mark, Paolini had a last chance to add some respectability to the scoreboard.

She took it.

But 5-1 was only a stay of execution.

In the next game, Swiatek worked her way patiently to match point and when Paolini’s forehand dropped long, Swiatek fell on her knees, looked up towards her team and clenched her fists.

“These have been the best days of my life,” said Paolini after she was presented with the runners-up shield by former French Open women’s singles champions Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

“It was tough but I’m proud of myself anyway.”

Swiatek’s fourth victory moves her level with Henin on the all-time winners list, three shy of Evert’s haul of seven titles between 1974 and 1986.

“Congratulations on an amazing tournament,” Swiatek said to Paolini. 

“It has been an emotional tournament. I was nearly out in the second round.”

Swiatek, who collects 2.4 million euros for her seven-match sweep, will remain at number one in the WTA rankings while Paolini will rise into the top 10 for the first time with her biggest payday of 1.2 million euros.

As Swiatek celebrates, Paolini will be back in action on Sunday when she contests the women’s doubles final with compatriot Sara Errani.

The duo will take on the American Coco Gauff and Katarina Siniakova from the Czech Republic.


Roland Garros 2024

Roland Garros: Five things we learned on Day 14 – gains and pains

And so Iga Swiatek won the title and Jasmine Paolini won our hearts. And their bank balances rose by 2.4 million and 1.2 million euros respectively.

Everyone’s a winner

Always loved the thumping groove of Hot Chocolate’s hit. Ah the late 1970s. Nice touch from the French Open organisers who got some hot tennis numbers from the 1970s out to adorn the women’s singles trophy presentation ceremony: Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Evert, 69, won the first of her seven titles in Paris in 1974. Navratliova, 67, claimed the crown in 1982 and 1984. The review wonders if these two would have been deemed worthy enough to have played in the night sessions.

Advance

Well, at least the organisers scrapped the wacky idea of a few years ago. After the 2021 final, Barbara Travi was wheeled forward to belt out France’s Eurovision song contest entry Voilà. It is a great tune. But after the French Open final? Really? This year, it was the men’s doubles final. Chimes a tad more with the ambiance.

No pain, no gain

The first time Jasmine Paolini played Iga Swiatek was in the Czech Republic in 2018 and the second was at the US Open in 2022. Both resulted in losses. The women’s singles final at the French Open went the same way with a difference. “Was tougher than the last time,” sighed the 28-year-old Italian. “I think I’m playing better than two years ago but she’s playing better too. Especially on clay.” Paolini conceded she could not live with Swiatek’s intensity. “I was trying to hit the ball as hard as I could because if I just tried to put the ball into the court, she would hit it for a winner. You have to push, push, push every ball because if not, you have no chances to play the points.” And so a memo for the next coaching session. “I will try maybe in the practice to try to add more of this intensity. I hope I face Iga again to try to be more in the match.” 

The horror. The horror

From one who had just endured 67 minutes of suffering in front of 15,000 people, Jasmine Paolini munificently explained the gruesome reality of facing Iga Swiatek. “She takes the ball early and takes time away from you but she’s also using spin. She can defend really, really well. On clay, she’s unbelievable hardcore.” And so with the French Open crown, super soaraway Swiatek became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win on the clay courts in Madrid, Rome and Paris. “I think to play her here in Paris, it’s something different,” added Paolini. “She has four titles and she’s just 23-years-old! So these numbers are not, let’s say normal. It is something unbelievable. Yeah. She’s an unbelievable player.”

Stand down for action

Sounds counter-intuitive but could this be the clue to Iga Swiatek’s rip roaring romp to the clay court crowns in Madrid, Rome and the mamma of them all, the French Open? “I think I learned that if I enjoy life off the court, and I really enjoyed being in Madrid, Rome, and here, it helps me also to be fresh on court,” explained the 23-year-old Pole. “So I think I had less drama compared to last year, and I could really just enjoy life. So then I felt more energy on the court.” Bar the hiccup against Naomi Osaka in the second round, it’s been a sweet ride.


European elections

EU voting passes halfway mark with Slovakia, Italy joining in

Four days of voting to choose a new European Parliament passed the halfway mark Saturday with Slovakia – shaken by an assassination attempt last month on its premier – and influential Italy joining in.

Most of the European Union’s 27 member countries, including powerhouses France and Germany, go to the polls on Sunday, the final day, with projected overall results due late that evening.

Slovakia’s voters have rallied to the ruling left-wing populist Smer-SD party in the wake of the 15 May shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico, who blamed the attack on the main liberal opposition and its “aggressive and hateful politics”.

Authorities said the assassination attempt, by a 71-year-old poet, was politically motivated.

Fico’s party opposes EU arms deliveries to Ukraine and rails against alleged “warmongers” in Brussels.

Those are also positions shared with many, but not all, far-right parties in Europe, which are predicted to make gains in the European Parliament.

Surveys suggest they could grab as much as a quarter of the 720 seats, weakening the centrist mainstream groupings which are expected to still come out on top.

  • Irish, Czechs hold EU vote after Dutch far-right gains

Meloni courted

A key indicator as to the make-up of the new parliament will come from Italy, the EU’s third-biggest economy governed by a coalition led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

If, as expected, her party wins, Italy could end up with significant influence over the five-year terms of both the incoming parliament and the next European Commission which will subsequently be put together.

Current commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has been courting Meloni, who along with other EU leaders will decide whether to give her a second mandate or replace her.

Von der Leyen has indicated willingness to have her European People’s Party work with far-right lawmakers in the parliament, as long as they are pro-EU and not what she calls “puppets” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

She explicitly ruled out allying with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Germany’s AfD on those grounds.

Both of those parties – unlike Meloni’s – are leery of EU military and financial support to Ukraine against Russia’s invading forces, with the AfD outright hostile to weapons deliveries.

Hungary’s ruling populist Fidesz party is likewise opposed to further helping Kyiv.

The lead-up to the European Union elections in various countries has been marred by incidents of violence, though not all have been linked to political motives.

Late Friday, a man hit Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in a Copenhagen square. She was not seriously hurt, according to witnesses. Police arrested the assailant but gave few details. Denmark votes on Sunday.

‘Scary’ far-right

In Italy, Meloni has put her name on the EU ballot papers as the lead candidate for the Brothers of Italy, though she does not intend to take up a seat in the European Parliament if chosen.

Instead she aims to bolster her party’s grip on Italy’s fractious political scene, possibly at the expense of her junior coalition partner, the far-right League party.

Meloni was omnipresent in national media ahead of the elections, portraying herself as a bulwark against illegal immigration — the hot-button issue driving much European support to the far-right.

In the Netherlands, which voted Thursday, the anti-immigration party of extreme-right leader Geert Wilders – also in the governing coalition – won second place, according to exit polls.

Voters in Ireland and the Czech Republic cast their ballots on Friday, with rhetoric around immigration – and the far-right’s focus on that – foremost in many minds.

“The rise of the far-right jumping on immigration is really, really scary for us,” said one Irish voter, 42-year-old finance worker Trevor Gardiner.

 (AFP)


EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

Irish, Czechs hold EU vote after Dutch far-right gains

Brussels (Belgium) (AFP) – Irish and Czech voters on Friday pick up the baton in the EU’s marathon elections after a strong showing – but no knock-out blow – from the Dutch far-right on opening day.

Ireland’s 37-year-old prime minister Simon Harris cast an early morning vote near his home Delgany, a village south of Dublin, before a whistlestop tour to canvass for both local and European Parliament elections.

“I admire his energy, although I don’t vote for his party,” said Keith O’Reilly, a 41 year-old IT worker, on his way out of the polling station.

“They’re getting so many things wrong, the migration issue for one thing,” he told AFP.

For the first time in an Irish EU vote, many candidates are running on an anti-immigration platform, either as independents or for fringe nationalist parties.

Polls in the Czech Republic were opening later at 1200 GMT, ahead of Sunday’s main election day when most of the European Union‘s 27 nations – including powerhouses Germany and France – will vote.

Surveys point to a string of gains for the far right across the bloc – up to a quarter of the EU’s 720 parliament seats.

  • Top French candidates face-off in final debate ahead of EU elections

Exit polls in the Netherlands showed the Freedom Party (PVV) of anti-immigration eurosceptic Geert Wilders getting a boost with seven EU lawmaker seats – putting it in second place.

But the tight Dutch result – in which a Green-left alliance looked set for first place – might provide some comfort for centrists hoping to maintain their majority.

That was the early assessment of Eurasia Group’s managing director Mujtaba Rahman.

“There’ll be lots of noise over next few days about the far right surge in EU. The reality is more boring,” wrote the analyst on X, predicting that “the centre will largely hold”.

Grievances

The prospect of a rightward lurch has rattled the parliament’s main groupings, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and the leftist Socialists and Democrats.

They still look to be the two biggest blocs but current European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, of the EPP, may need support from part of the far-right to secure a second term.

With an eye on the horse-trading that may be needed, von der Leyen has been courting Italian premier Giorgia Meloni, who heads the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party.

The EU vote comes at a time of major geopolitical instability almost two and a half years into Russia’s war on Ukraine.

  • Grassroots campaign fails to ignite EU ambitions of France’s conservatives

The far right is looking to tap into grievances among the bloc’s 370 million eligible voters, fatigued by a succession of crises from the Covid pandemic to the fallout of Moscow’s invasion.

In Ireland, with around 20 percent of the population born outside the country and record levels of asylum seekers, anti-migrant sentiment has escalated.

Emily, a 21-year-old first-time voter who declined to give her full name, said she was “worried” about the far right’s rise.

“I think the others need to get their act together,” she said. “It’s incredible the type of anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become normalised here.”

The question for many Irish voters is whether Harris’s centre-right Fine Gael will beat the main opposition party Sinn Fein, with local elections held the same day.

Support for Sinn Fein has declined sharply, with its progressive and pro-migration stances at odds with much of its working-class base.

Apathy

To the east, Czech politicians face widespread apathy to the EU vote, after the country had the second lowest turnout last time around in 2019, at 28.72 percent.

Polls put the centrist ANO movement of billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis in the lead, ahead of a centre-right coalition.

In a message to voters early Friday, Babis urged them to “expel from the European Parliament the green fanatics and the pro-migration enthusiasts who hae settled down there.”

Fears of Russian meddling were also raised in the vote run-up after Czech authorities busted a website alleged to be a Kremlin front pushing Russian propaganda.

The probe into the Voice of Europe website has since spread to Belgium – home of the European Parliament – after allegations EU lawmakers were paid by the outlet.

Over the weekend, scrutiny will shift to the EU’s bigger economies as they open polling stations.

Marine Le Pen‘s National Rally is predicted to come out on top in France, as is Meloni’s party in Italy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s far-right Fidesz.

In Germany, the extreme-right AfD is polling second, behind the opposition conservatives.


2024 Roland Garros

Zverev and Alcaraz strive to be the new name on French Open men’s singles trophy

Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz will duel in the Paris sun on Sunday afternoon for the French Open men’s singles trophy. Awarded after seven best-of-five set matches, the Coupe des Mousquetaires is one of the most prestigious prizes in tennis.

And it is as coveted as the cups handed out at the three other Grand Slam tournaments at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Alcaraz at 20 has bathed in the glories of the sport. He lifted the US Open title in New York in September 2022 and was anointed world number one – the youngest man at 19 years, four months, and six days old – to occupy the berth since the rankings were computerized in August 1973.

Last July, he added the Wimbledon crown to his trophy cabinet following an epic five-set victory over the defending champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in south-west London.

Seeded third at the 2024 French Open, Alcaraz will be the slight favourite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time especially after disposing of the second seed and new world number one Jannik Sinner in the semi-final.

“I have a special feeling about this tournament,” said Alcaraz an hour after reaching his first final in Paris.

“I remember when I finished school I ran to my home just to put the TV on and watch the matches here in the French Open.

Dream

“I watched a lot of matches. Of course Rafa Nadal dominating this tournament.

“I wanted to put my name on that list of the Spanish players who won this tournament. Not only Rafa but [Juan Carlos] Ferrero, [Carlos] Moya, [Albert] Costa, a lot of Spanish players. I really want to put my name on that list as well.”

Zverev, though, will harbour genuine belief he can prevent Alcaraz from fulfilling his dream.

He won the Italian Open in Rome in the run-up to this year’s French Open and has claimed five of his nine meetings with Alcaraz.

“We had very tough battles in the past,” said the fourth seed who will be seeking a first trophy at a Grand Slam tournament.

“It is going to be a difficult match. It is a Grand Slam final. If you’re in a Grand Slam final, you deserve to be there. That goes for both of us. Both of us are expecting a tough battle.”

Alcaraz, who lost to Zverev in the quarter-finals at the 2022 French Open, concurred. 

“He’s playing great tennis on clay: big serve, big shots, really solid.

Interesting

“It’s going to be a really interesting final,” he added. “I will try to take the good things that I did in the previous matches and try to improve the bad things that I did against him.”

Mentally, Alcaraz should posess the edge. He has won both his finals at a Grand Slam tournament. Zverev, a former junior world number one, fluffed his one final at the US Open in 2020.

He squandered a two-set lead and then a 5-3 advantage in the decider to lose to Dominic Thiem in the final set tiebreak.

Court Philippe Chatrier is also the place where in June 2022 he suffered the ankle injury that kept him off the circuit for seven months.

“You either come back stronger and you come back hungrier,” said Zverev of the setbacks.

“You come back wanting to win more, which I feel like I did in 2021 when I had my best year on tour so far.

“I didn’t win a Grand Slam tournament but felt like I had opportunities. I won the gold medal at the Olympics and won the most titles on tour by any player that year.

Return

“Or you kind of go into yourself,” he added. “I’m happy that I was the sort of person that took the first path. Here I am in the final. I want to give myself the best chance.”

As well as offering Zverev the opportunity for redemption, the showdown might be the last chance for his crop of mid to late twentysomethings to show some return on their promise before Alcaraz and 22-year-old Sinner seize primacy.

The pair have claimed three majors between them while Zverev’s generation of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev has mustered only one between them – Medvedev’s triumph over Djokovic at the US Open in 2021.

“Zverev is not going to be frightened of the match up,” said former world number one Andy Roddick on his podcast Served.

“We don’t know if he can get across the finish line. I still think there’s some scar tissue from trying to serve out the US Open and not doing it.

“But Zverev has picked up right where he left off in Rome and has played a hell of a tournament. He has played a bunch of different styles.”

On tactics, Roddick told listeners: “Zverev likes to dig in six or seven feet behind the baseline but Alcaraz will expose that with drop shots early. He will make him come in and make him think about where he has to position himself.”

Just over two years after he was taken off Court Philippe Chatrier in tears in a wheelchair, standing tall in the same palce with the French Open trophy and beaming with pride would offer up compellingly contrasting images for the ages. 

Alcaraz will have few qualms about ruining that fairy tale.


UKRAINE – WAR

Biden pledges $225m in fresh aid for Ukraine at Paris talks with Zelensky

US President Joe Biden has announced another $225 million in aid for Ukraine as he held talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris. The US leader also apologised over a months-long congressional hold-up in military assistance that let Russia make gains on the battlefield.

Biden met with Zelensky on Friday after appealling for bipartisan US support to go forward “like it was during World War II.”

The leaders on Thursday attended ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, where Biden had drawn common cause between the Allied forces that helped free Europe from Nazi Germany and today’s effort to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

Referring to the six-month holdup by conservative Republicans in Congress to a $61 billion military aid package for Ukraine, Biden said: “I apologise for those weeks of not knowing what’s going to happen in terms of funding”.

Still, the Democratic president insisted that the American people were standing by Ukraine for the long haul.

“We’re still in. Completely. Thoroughly,” he said.

The US president went on to announce an additional $225 million in aid, emphasising that Washington would “not walk away” from the ongoing crisis in the country.



  • Zelensky urges West to do more for ‘fair peace’ after D-Day
  • Western leaders and veterans mark 80th anniversary of D-Day landings

Fears of a Trump victory

The apology – and Zelensky’s plea for rock-solid support akin to the allied coalition in WWII – served as a reminder that for all of Biden’s talk of an unflagging US commitment to Ukraine, recalcitrance among congressional Republicans and an isolationist strain in American politics have exposed its fragility.

For his part, Zelensky pressed for all Americans to support his country’s defence against Russia’s invasion, and he thanked US lawmakers for eventually coming together to approve the weapons package, which has allowed Ukraine to stem Russian advances in recent weeks. 

Earlier, Zelensky addressed the French parliament, declaring that Europe was “no longer a continent of peace”.

The Ukrainian leader will hold a joint press conference in Paris later this Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron.

(with newswires)


Photography – Cinema

A trip down memory lane with French photographer Raymond Depardon

Raymond Depardon, one of France’s most well-known photographers and filmmakers, is being celebrated with a book and a special exhibition in Paris. His latest film Les Années Déclic – about the earliest days of his career – was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The French photographer was just 18 years old in 1960 when he decided to buy an Italian Rumi scooter to cross Paris, never without his Rolleiflex camera around his neck.

He witnessed the boom years of French cinema and captured shots of Brigitte Bardot on the set of Vie Privée (A Very Private Affair), to Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Seberg at the premiere of the 1960 film À Bout de Souffle (Breathless).

Depardon also covered news events in France, such as a conference given by Martin Luther King when he was in Paris in 1966.

He founded the Gamma agency in 1966, before joining Magnum Photos. 

Since becoming a film director in 1974, he has since enjoyed an international career alternating between photography and cinema, both documentary and fiction.

Exhibition at Galerie Cinéma

Les Années Déclic (The Declic Years) is a book of around one hundred photographs spanning Depardon’s iconic work throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s in France, which has just been published.

The name also lends itself to his latest film which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May, as well as an exhibition of 30 prints at the Galerie Cinéma in the Marais district in Paris.

“When Depardon came up with the idea of a book called Les Années Déclic with Gérard Lefort, about the photos he took of people working in cinema when he was just starting out […] he suggested I host the exhibition in the gallery,” Anne-Dominique Toussaint, a film producer who opened the Galerie Cinema in 2013, told RFI.

“And it made real sense, all these photos are sensational and represent, for the vast majority, actresses and actors.”

At the end of the gallery is a small projection room. “I ask each artist I exhibit to provide me with a film, either one they made themselves, or one that someone else made, related to the exhibition,” says Toussaint.

The short film Un Moment Si Doux, directed by Claudine Nougaret – Depardon’s wife – is shown in the projection room throughout the exhibition.

Olympic dreams

Depardon has made 21 feature-length films and is represented in numerous photographic collections in the most prestigious museums.

Watch the trailer

He also took memorable photos during several Olympic Games such as Tokyo, Munich or Mexico.

Many of these photos will be on display at the Frac Bretagne, a contemporary art centre in Brittany from 15 June, in the exhibition called Les Jeux Olympiques 1964-1980.


Les Années Déclic is at the Galerie Cinéma in Paris until 12 June. Then it will run at the Institut Lumière in Lyon from 19 June to 1 September 2024.


Olympic history

Who was Alice Milliat, French pioneer of Women’s Olympic Games?

Born in 1884 in the western French city of Nantes, Alice Milliat was a keen rower and swimmer who, in 1922, established the Women’s Olympic Games in Paris. Just over 100 years later, this summer’s Games will be the first to see the same number of women athletes as men compete.

As a young woman, Milliat – born Alice Million, to working-class parents – spent time in England, where she married Joseph Milliat, who was also from Nantes.

While there, Milliat took up rowing. After her husband’s death in 1908, she travelled widely, honing language skills that allowed her to become a translator.

When World War I broke out, she returned to France.

In 1915, she took charge of Fémina Sport, a women’s sports club in Paris, where she was a keen rower.

Stéphane Gachet, Milliat’s biographer, says the war had created a unique opening for women – because “men had freed up their places in homes, in factories and on sports fields”.

But, it was still difficult for women to enter sports competitions, which went against the norms imposed by religion and even certain doctors at the beginning of the 20th century.

“A woman was not to undress or expose herself in public. She absolutely had to preserve herself. Her only goal was to have children,” Gachet told RFI.

Women in charge

While sportswomen were first admitted to the Olympics in 1900, they were confined to so-called feminine events: tennis, sailing, croquet, horse riding, but certainly not track and field.

With her enterprising spirit, Milliat believed that to change things, women’s clubs must be led by women.

In 1919, she became director of the French Federation of Women’s Sporting Societies (FSFSF), which organised competitions for athletics, basketball, football, rugby and hockey.

But when Milliat asked the International Olympic Committee to include women’s athletics events in the next Olympic Games, her request met with refusal from its then president,  French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin.

“I personally do not approve of the participation of women in public competitions,” he said in a public address at the time. “At the Olympic Games, their role should above all be to crown the winners.”

In 1921, Milliat organised an international sporting event in Monte Carlo that brought together women athletes from France, Britain, Italy, Norway and Sweden.

Shortly afterwards, she founded the International Women’s Sporting Federation (FSFI). The organisation established the first Women’s World Games in Paris in 1922, two years before Paris would host the Summer Olympics.

The success was immediate and lasted until the fourth and final edition in 1934.

“It is reported that there were more than 20,000 spectators in the stadiums,” says Gachet.

  • Paris’s role in the Olympics of the modern era

Too long forgotten

But war would again determine in the turn of events. In the 1940s, under France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime, most of Milliat’s efforts were erased as women were once again banned from practicing sports in public competitions.

“It is as if the sport of the ’20s and ’30s had never existed,” Gachet says.

In her later years, Milliat turned to translating and secretarial work until her death in 1957.

“Her grave is surprisingly simple and modest,” Gachet says of Milliat’s resting place in Nantes. 

Until 2020, her name was not even inscribed on the tombstone.

But since then, efforts have begun to get her greater recognition.

Just near the cemetery where Milliat is buried is a nursery and elementary school under construction. “It will be the first school in France to bear the name of Alice Milliat,” says Gachet, who is also on the area’s regional council. 

Meanwhile in Paris, the organisation Feminists in the City has begun guided tours with help from the Alice Milliat Foundation.

One of the sites they visit is the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF), located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

“There are two statues that sit here in the hall of the CNOSF,” points out Sonia, one of the guides.

“On the right, we have Baron Pierre de Coubertin. And on the left, it’s Alice Milliat. It was a long battle. It took seven long years for her to sit here.”

  • Paris expo recounts global struggles throughout Olympics history

Out of the shadows

Caroline, one of the participants on a recent tour, says it’s essential to bring Milliat’s story out of the shadows.

“We need more women in the federations; we also need more money, because today funding is not at all equivalent to what men get.

“In short, we are still far from having equity in sports practice between men and women,” she says. “So the fight continues!” 

At the Paris Olympics this summer, for the first time in the history of the Games there will be exactly the same number of women as men competing – 5,250 precisely.

Tess Harmand, the managing director of the Alice Milliat Foundation, created in 2016 to promote women’s sport, warns that for all the good news, society must remain vigilant.

“We hope that this interest in Alice Milliat will not decline after the Games. We are hopeful that all the actions we are doing can continue well beyond the Olympics,” she says.

“Because sport remains a fantastic tool for changing mentalities and for creating more equality in society too.”


This story was adapted from an original report in French by RFI’s Baptiste Coulon.


Paris Olympics 2024

Eiffel Tower given the Olympic treatment as ring display unveiled

With just 50 days to go until the 2024 Paris Games, the French capital’s iconic monument has been given the Olympic treatment, with a display of the five coloured rings unveiled Friday. 

The 29- by 13-metre structure of rings, made of recycled steel, was installed overnight Friday on the south side of the Eiffel Tower, overlooking the Seine River.

Each ring measures 9 metres in diameter.

Two huge cranes were used to lift the 30-ton structure and mount it between the first and second floors of the tower. 

The Olympic rings will be illuminated every night with 100,000 LED bulbs.

Paris‘s most iconic monument – nicknamed La Dame de Fer (The Iron Lady) – will feature prominently in the Paris Games and the following Paralympics.

Beach volleyball competitions will be held at the foot of the 135-year-old landmark.

The matches will be watched by nearly 13,000 fans at the temporary Eiffel Tower Stadium on the nearby Champ de Mars, where Parisians and tourists flock to picnic on the grass or watch 14 July firework displays.

Pieces of steel taken from the Eiffel Tower have been embedded in the Olympic and Paralympic medals.

The Paris Olympics will take place from 26 July to 11 August, and the Paralympics from 28 August to 8 September.

  • Paris Olympics medals to include metal from Eiffel Tower
  • Crowds greet Olympic torch travelling through France under tight security

(with newswires)


D-DAY 80TH ANNIVERSARY

Remembering D-Day’s heavy toll on French civilians

For civilians in Normandy, the D-Day invasion was both a triumph and a tragedy. Thousands were killed in bombings that accompanied the Allied landings, and many more fled their homes. While for decades commemorations focused on military feats, more attention is finally being paid to ordinary people who saw the historic events from a different side.

By June 1944, Henri was used to seeing warplanes overhead, flying towards targets in occupied northern France. 

But on the night before 6 June, Henri – 19 and requisitioned by the Nazis to build reinforcements along the Normandy coast – noticed something different. 

“Planes were passing non-stop, and we started to hear bombings inland,” he recalled decades later.  

He and other forced labourers were lodged in a dormitory next to Langrune-sur-Mer beach.  

“At four in the morning we looked out the window and saw hundreds of boats on the sea. On the horizon, we saw that fighting had started and we said to ourselves, here it is – the landing.” 

No one in France had known for sure where the Allies would start their invasion. Whichever region they chose would bear the brunt of the battle to drive out the Germans. 

“We were happy in one way,” said Henri, “but afraid of what was coming for us.” 

Listen to this story on the Spotlight on France podcast:

Life under occupation 

The people of Normandy had already been living with German soldiers for around four years by then.  

That had involved considerable sacrifices, and they intensified as Nazi commanders began to suspect an invasion was coming.  

From early 1944, the region saw a massive build-up of troops. Locals like Henri were drafted for forced labour, while swathes of farmland was seized – some of them flooded to make it harder for Allied paratroopers to land.

There was a clampdown on anyone suspected of working for the Resistance. In March that year, residents even had to hand over their radio sets to prevent them listening to the BBC or any other enemy broadcasters. 

“By the time the landings were approaching, the occupation in Normandy – which had weighed very heavily since 1940 – was becoming ever more consuming and oppressive for the local population,” says Emmanuel Thiébot, historian and director of the Falaise Memorial in Normandy, a museum dedicated to the experiences of ordinary people during World War II. 

But as much as locals longed to be free of the Nazis’ grip, they knew the battle to loosen it would be costly. Thiébot refers to propaganda posters spread by France’s collaborationist government at the time, showing all the regions of the north and west coast saying of a possible invasion: “Not in my backyard!” 

There was truth to that, he says. People were afraid of what being the site of the landings would mean, and they had reason to be.  

Rain of bombs 

For the Allies, the landing beaches had to be protected at all costs. The Germans couldn’t be allowed to flood the zone with troops and push back the invasion. 

In the months preceding D-Day, British and American planes bombed the rail network in northern France. In the hours before and after the landings, they targeted Normandy’s main roads. 

The routes passed through cities, towns, villages. But Allied commanders decided to sacrifice them – in fact, to pulverise them. Their ruins would serve as roadblocks. 

The Allies dropped leaflets with warnings written in French – but unable to specify places or dates that would let the Germans in on their plans, they kept the wording so vague that many residents assumed the alerts didn’t apply to them. Others missed them altogether, the papers carried away in the wind.

Some 15 towns were pummelled by Allied bombs on 6 June and the days that followed, including ones with no military targets to speak of. By 7 June, 3,000 people were dead – as many as on the beaches the day before. 

The raids continued on and off into September, killing an estimated 20,000 civilians in all. 

Henri saw his fiancée, uncle and cousin fatally hit just metres from him. 

“Everybody was a bit angry with the Americans because at the end of the day they were the ones killing civilians,” he told RFI in 2019.  

Caen was bombed, for example – why? For nothing. There were hardly any Germans there. All these towns were massacred.”

Allied soldiers complained that they didn’t get the hero’s welcome they’d been promised, says Thiébot. 

“Sure, but if you’ve lost everything and maybe had loved ones wounded or killed, you’re not going to jump for joy and start dancing in the streets,” he points out. “You see some pretty pictures like that, but usually in towns that weren’t badly damaged.” 

Images from Caen, Lisieux, Le Havre or Saint-Lô – 95 percent of which was destroyed in the bombings – told a different story, one that didn’t make it into American or British newsreels.

Exodus

After the shock came the exodus. 

“As soon as the first bombardments were over, it was a mad dash to escape,” says Thiébot. 

“The bombardments, the fighting, the front line moving forward and civilians caught between the Allies who were advancing and the Germans who were trying to stop them, all that would cause an exodus over the three months of the Battle of Normandy – June, July and August 1944 – in which it’s estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people fled their homes.” 

The flight was chaotic. “You took whatever you could grab,” says Thiébot, whose museum displays suitcases, baskets, a homemade wheelbarrow, even a violin case that those fleeing carried with them. 

They moved south, but so did the front line. The number of people on the road snowballed, with the first refugees joined by residents from towns that had originally hosted them.  

Soon the inland departments of Normandy were telling the coastal areas they couldn’t take any more of the displaced. Some Normans ended up trudging all the way to the south-west of France.

“Then after the Battle of Normandy you can finally stop and go back,” says Thiébot – “but go back where, when 30, 50, 70, even 90 percent of your town has been bombed?” 

Years of silence 

It would take around 20 years to rebuild Normandy after the war – and many more for survivors to talk about what they’d lived through. 

“For 50 years no one talked about it,” said Henri. “I never told my family about all that.” 

For France’s new leaders, too, acknowledging the civilian cost of liberation was uncomfortable. 

“The first D-Day commemorations were taking place in the context of the Cold War,” points out Thiébot. “The enemy of the day had become the Soviet bloc, while the ally was NATO – primarily the Americans and the British.  

“Remembrance ceremonies mainly sought to highlight the heroism of these warriors who saved Europe from the Nazis, rather than reminding people that the liberation of Europe came with civilian losses.” 

The towns that had suffered held local memorial services to their dead, he explains, but national and international commemoration of D-Day focused on shared, unequivocal triumph.

That began to change when survivors, aware it was now or never, started to speak. The 50th anniversary in 1994 kicked off a drive to collect eyewitness accounts – including from Henri, who felt compelled to tell the story for younger generations. 

And as archives were gradually declassified, historians were able to piece together a clearer picture of the chaos of summer 1944.

It was sometimes a galling one; recent research suggests that the Allies’ carpet-bombing of Normandy ultimately served little strategic purpose.

Road to remembrance

For the 70th anniversary in 2014, then French President François Hollande dedicated a D-Day speech to the people of Normandy – whose sacrifice, he said, had been long overlooked.

It was the first time civilians had been acknowledged in France’s official commemorations. They remain notably absent from D-Day discourse in former Allied countries.

“I think the French are just erased,” says US historian Mary Louise Roberts of the American perception of the invasion. 

Roberts, who has written extensively about the experiences of French civilians in a bid to correct that narrative, says for many in the United States, “the French are just the background in which American heroism became clear”.

But in Normandy, the Falaise Memorial seeks to bring them into the foreground. Opened in 2016, it’s the only museum in France, and one of very few in Europe, that focuses on what civilians went through in the war. 

“Through the example of the past that we describe here in the museum, the idea is to show what war does to civilian populations, even today,” says Thiébot.  

The bombings, displacement and upheaval encountered by Normans in 1944 will ring a bell for anyone who watches the news, he points out. 

“World War II was the first in history where, by the end, more civilians had died than soldiers… Sadly, this is the pattern we would go on to see in every conflict that followed.” 


This story appeared on the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 112

D-Day survivor Henri was interviewed by RFI’s Raphaëlle Constant in 2019.


D-Day 80th anniversary

US WWII veteran ‘at home’ in Normandy for D-Day commemorations

Among the World War II veterans returning to Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day is Alan Shapiro, 99, who is staying with a French family in the village of Créances as part of a local hosting programme. It’s a learning curve on both sides as Shapiro revels in the unexpected recognition, and the family sees the Allied invasion through American eyes. 

The stone-clad villages across the Normandy coastline are awash with American, British, Canadian and French flags to commemorate D-Day.

They flutter in the streets, on lampposts and garden gates.

In the village of Créances, a line of US and French flags has been strung out in front of a modern house, bearing the message “Welcome to your home” in big black letters. 

The Coulon family have opened their door, and hearts, to US WWII veteran Alan Shapiro and his wife Margaret for a week – to visit memorial sites, interact with elderly people and schoolchildren, and of course attend the D-Day ceremony itself. 

There’s a language barrier, but the black-and-white photos Shapiro took during his time as a pilot with the 1st Allied Airborne 316th Troop Carrier Squadron speak for themselves.

He was just 18 and loved taking pictures from the air when out on flying missions during the Battle of Normandy, or on the ground with his comrades.

At 99, his memory is as sharp as ever.

He spreads his souvenirs out on the Coulon’s dining room table – the barracks in the airfield in Abbeville, an aerial shot of the city of Caen reduced to near rubble through Allied bombing.

“Nothing, nothing left,” the Coulons comment in unison, shaking their heads at the scenes of destruction.

Then there’s Shapiro posing proudly in the cockpit of his C-47 plane, or smiling, his arms around two co-pilots.

He points to a picture of a good friend who told him he planned to become a priest after the war. “He was so traumatised by the carnage he had seen,” Shapiro says.

Listen to an interview with Alan Shapiro on the Spotlight on France podcast:

 

 

‘We owe it to them’

Shapiro trained as a fighter and glider pilot with the US air corps, but was too young to take part in D-Day. He had to wait until the autumn of 1944, when he turned 18, to join the Allied war effort.

He transported fuel and ammunition to keep the army tanks going and dropped paratroopers behind enemy lines.

“We were all young, some of the paratroopers would freeze and not want to jump,” he recalls. “I knew the British could get court-martialled for refusing to jump, so I would fly them around a bit longer so they could calm down.

“And then we would say there’d been ‘technical difficulties’,” he says with a grin.

The Coulons say they are “full of admiration” for what veterans like Shapiro did and how he helped liberate their native Normandy from Nazi occupation. 

Shapiro landed at the Coulon home through the local “Veterans back to Normandy” association, founded some 12 years ago by Valérie Gautier. 

“If we’re free, if we are who we are right now, we owe it to them. So it’s a way of showing our appreciation, and my gratitude to them,” she says, giving Shapiro a hearty hug.

The desire to help by raising money for flights and organising accommodation came from a chance encounter with a US vet back in 1992, when she was just 14. 

“I met this American veteran, lost in the middle of nowhere, and he told me that in 1944  he was hidden with two other American soldiers by French citizens for a couple of days. I said ‘wow!’ I didn’t even know that the Germans were still in my village.

“I learned my village story through an American man.”

Over the years Gautier has helped dozens of veterans come over for the D-Day commemorations. “I could see it was difficult for them to make a trip, so I said, ‘it’s our turn to give a hand’.”

The contact the veterans have with the local school is particularly important to her. “The transmission between the generations is something we had to do, it’s very important for them and for us.”

A lived experience

Shapiro is both surprised and moved by the welcome he’s received in Normandy. 

“The way I’m accepted, even celebrated as an American survivor of the war is revelatory,” he says solemnly. “I had no idea of that emotional impact.”

He’s enjoying sharing stories and experiences with people whose relatives were directly impacted by the war.

“The French were in it, it was part of their lives, in a way that we didn’t experience in the United States,” he says.

“It’s an academic thing in the US, to study about the Occupation and the travail of the French under the Nazi Occupation, but here, it’s in the blood. And it shows.”

WWII veterans were encouraged to believe they had fought, risked their lives, seen their comrades fall, even bombed civilians, so that war would never return to Europe. 

But it has.

Shapiro’s fighting spirit, too, is intact.

“When I heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I was ready to jump into an airplane again and fight.”

Read also:

  • Remembering D-Day’s heavy toll on French civilians
  • The politics of commemorating 80 years of D-Day

Justice

Trial involving former French mayor exposes drug dealers’ hold on small towns

A small-town French mayor and her deputy are to face trial for complicity in drug trafficking in a case that shows the extent to which drug barons hold sway over some rural communities. 

Bogged down in procedural issues since 27 May, the trial in the Paris suburb of Bobigny has been suspended until Monday. 

The Seine-Saint-Denis Criminal Court has been thwarted by demands from defence lawyers that have prevented any examination of the facts against 19 defendants.

Among them is the former mayor and deputy mayor of the small town of Canteleu. They’re appearing in connection with a major cocaine, heroin and cannabis trafficking ring – suspected of being run by France’s feared Meziani family.

Police say that Canteleu, a working-class town of 14,000 people in Normandy, has been the centre of a vast drug trafficking operation for some 15 years.

The landmark case has shed light on the influence of drug dealing on a massive scale in a small municipality.

Former Canteleu mayor Mélanie Boulanger, 47, denies involvement.

Elected mayor in 2014, Boulanger is a leading Socialist figure in Normandy politics. She is suspected of having pressured police not to interfere with business involving the Meziani clan, which reportedly controls the town with a reign of terror.

Millions of euros in profit

The Meziani family allegedly threatened and manipulated the mayor – via her deputy Hasbi Colak – who has also been prosecuted.

In a bugged telephone conversation, one of the brothers threatened to set the municipality on fire, while also offering to guarantee her re-election and maintain law and order in Canteleu if she performed the services he requested.

  • Police arrest nearly 200 in massive anti-drug operations across France
  • Police seize over a million ecstasy pills in south of France

Boulanger – the former head of the Socialists/French Greens electoral list for Normandy in the 2021 regional elections – was arrested in October 2021 and charged with complicity to drug trafficking in April 2022. 

She resigned as mayor earlier this year, citing health reasons, following her referral to the courts.

Meziani family cartel

The case came to light in September 2019 with the arrest of two suspicious individuals in a car park in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, who were carrying out a drug deal.

One suspect was carrying €50,000 in cash, the other two kilos of 80 percent pure cocaine.

An investigation into the buyer quickly led the Seine-Saint-Denis police department to the town of Canteleu in Normandy – home base of the Meziani family – suspected of being one of the main players in drug trafficking in the Rouen area.

Since the death of the head of the family, Mohamed, in a road accident in 2019, his brothers Aziz and Montacer have allegedly taken over the operation.

The investigation – which included extensive sound recordings and bugging – uncovered a major drugs import and sales network, selling cannabis as well as heroin and cocaine.

Police estimate their organisation made annual profits of over €10 million from cocaine and heroin alone.

International report

How Turkey’s support for Ukraine is a double-edged sword

Issued on:

Turkish companies are emerging as significant suppliers of weapons to Ukraine and are supporting United States efforts to resolve Kyiv’s ammunition shortages. However, this support is a challenge to Ankara’s efforts to balance its relationship with Moscow and its Western allies.

Turkey has managed to tread a fine diplomatic line by maintaining ties with both Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded its pro-Western neighbour in February 2022. 

At the same time, Ankara has improved its relationship with the United States and has even coordinated with them in arms production to help Ukraine.

The United States’ latest munitions factory in Texas, which goes online this month, uses the Turkish company Repkon’s state-of-the-art equipment.

The new plant is vital to meeting the Ukrainian army’s current shortages and ultimately aims to meet a third of the United States’s needs.

Turkey analyst Sinan Ciddi of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies says Ukrainians are running low because they’ve been using the Allied-supplied Howitzers that require a certain kind of ammunition.

  • France and allies launch ‘artillery coalition’ to bring more weapons to Ukraine

“This has been the essential sort of weapon of choice that has prevented up until recently, the advancement, and recapture of Ukrainian towns by Russian troops,” he tells RFI.

“That Turkey is stepping into this is remarkable,” Ciddi continues, “simply because Turkey has a vast ability not only to procure and manufacture, but it’s a vital sort of supply line for the US, which is also actually starting to run low based on the amount of shells it has supplied the Ukrainian partner right.”

Source of tension

The United States Ambassador to Turkey, Jeff Flake, praised the collaboration as a sign of the growing importance of deepening bilateral ties.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close relations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington.

Since the outset of Russia’s invasion, Ankara has supported Kyiv but remained neutral, refusing to enforce Western sanctions against Moscow.

Meanwhile, another Turkish company, Baykar, is building a military drone factory in Ukraine.

  • Biden pledges $225m in fresh aid for Ukraine at Paris talks with Zelensky

“It’s a little bit risky to establish a factory in Ukraine under the war conditions,” warns defense analyst Tayfun Ozberk.

“It’s very critical for Turkey, of course, establishing a factory in Ukraine – it has a political message, but it will not; I believe change Turkey’s position in this war,” added Ozberk.

For Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent Turkish defense analyst, “Turkey’s definitely walking on thin ice.”

Doubling down on support for Ukraine will surely test Ankara’s policy of balancing ties with Moscow and its Western allies, she says.

Agree to disagree

Ozkarasahin maintains that this balancing act with Russia is very much Turkey’s current diplomatic policy, which she calls  “compartmentalisation, or “agree to disagree”.

It means that Turkey and Russia can have different agendas on ongoing war in Ukraine or the situation in Syria, but still collaborate in different domains, such as energy trade.

“Ankara separates these things from each other, which forms one of the main pillars of its policy towards Russia and in the end, Turkey’s a critical lifeline for Russia,” she says.

While Turkey‘s defense industry is increasing its support for Ukraine and Western allies’ efforts to supply the Ukrainian military, Ankara remains a vital trading partner with Russia.

  • Turkey agrees deal to clear Black Sea of mines that threaten Ukrainian exports

Sinan Ciddi points out that the US Treasury has sanctioned Turkish companies supplying duel-use goods to the Russian military, including microchips, parts that go directly into the manufacture of high-end Russian weaponry that is being used against the Ukrainians.

“Turkey is playing both sides of this,” he says, warning that Washington and Ukraine could pay a considerable price for Ankara’s support.

“It really does put the US in a bind, having to keep increasingly or consistently quiet about Turkey’s double dipping, and so it’s a double-edged sword,” Ciddi says.

The Sound Kitchen

Exile or prison?

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the last-minute film added to the Cannes Film Festival line-up.  There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, the latest from the Roland Garros French Open, and plenty of good music. All that and the new quiz and bonus questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music … so be sure and listen every week.

Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

The ePOP video competition is open!

The ePOP video competition is sponsored by the RFI department “Planète Radio”, whose mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. ePOP focuses on the environment, and how climate change has affected “ordinary” people. You are to create a three-minute video about climate change, the environment, pollution – told by the people it affects.

You do not need fancy video equipment to enter the competition. Your phone is fine.  And you do not need to be a member of the RFI Clubs to enter – everyone is welcome. And by the way – the prizes are incredibly generous!

Go to the ePOP page to read about past competitions, watch past videos, and read the regulations for your entry.  You can also write to us at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr, and we’ll forward your mail to Planète Radio.

The competition closes on 12 September, but you know how “time flies”, so get to work now! We expect to be bombarded with entries from the English speakers!

Facebook: Be sure to send your photos for the RFI English Listeners Forum banner to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure to subscribe to see all our videos.

Would you like to learn French? RFI is here to help you!

Our website “Le Français facile avec RFI”  has news broadcasts in slow, simple French, as well as bi-lingual radio dramas (with real actors!) and exercises to practice what you have heard.

Go to our website and get started! At the top of the page, click on “Test level”. According to your score, you’ll be counselled to the best-suited activities for your level.

Do not give up! As Lidwien van Dixhoorn, the head of “Le Français facile” service told me: “Bathe your ears in the sound of the language, and eventually, you’ll get it.” She should know – Lidwien is Dutch and came to France hardly able to say “bonjour” and now she heads this key RFI department – so stick with it!

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

In addition to the breaking news articles on our site with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, Spotlight on Africa, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our staff of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books that were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here.

Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

This week’s quiz: On 4 May, I asked you a question about the Cannes Film Festival, as a film had just been added to the line-up. You were to refer to our article “French stars Omar Sy and Eva Green part of 2024 Cannes Film Festival jury”, and send in the answer to these questions: What is the name of that last-minute film, and what is the name and nationality of the director?

The answer is, to quote our article: “There have been late additions to the festival’s line-up in recent days, including The Seed of the Sacred Fig by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who has faced prison time for criticising the government. It is unclear if he will be able to attend the festival.”

He was able to attend the festival – as we reported a few days later, Rasoulof left Iran without official permission, after being sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging for national security crimes.

As he said at the time: “I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile.”

Rasoulof, 52, is already known for There is No Evil, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival four years ago, and for A Man of Integrity, highly praised at Cannes in 2018 – but which resulted in a string of travel restrictions, prison sentences and film-making bans in Iran. In 2023 he was unable to take up an invitation to join the Cannes competition jury because he was under detention.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig not only won the longest-standing ovation at this year’s festival – 12 minutes! – but it won the Fipresci award from the jury of the International Federation of Film Critics, a special award given at international film festivals.  

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What book made the greatest difference in your life, and how?”

Do you have a bonus question idea? Send it to us!

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Sahadot Hossain from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh. Sahadot is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Sahadot!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week is Shivendu Paul, the president of the RFI Metali Listeners Club in Murshidibad, India; RFI Listeners Club member Sakawat Hossain from Sylhet, Bangladesh, and RFI English listeners Babo from the Friends Radio Club in Naogaon, as well as Suresh Agrawal from Odisha, India.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: The overture to the opera Russlan and Ludmila by Mikhail Glinka, performed by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev; “Watch What Happens” by Michel Legrand, played by Ted Greene; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Evening”: lyrics by Ann Malcolm, music by Debussy arranged by Tom Harrell, performed by Ann Malcolm and her ensemble.  

Do you have a music request? Send it to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “Tiananmen Square at 35: top Chinese dissident looks back”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 1 July to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 6 July podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: D-Day and its aftermath seen through French and American eyes

Issued on:

The United States played a key role in the Allied effort to liberate Western Europe from the Nazis, but not everyone sees it in the same light. As France marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an American veteran reflects on the differing ways the US and France remember the war. Meanwhile, historians recall the large number of civilians killed during the Allied invasion and explain why US soldiers were not always welcomed as heroes.

As French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes world leaders, the real stars of the commemorations are the surviving veterans themselves – the men who landed on the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944 and started liberating France from Nazi occupation. The youngest of the remaining D-Day veterans are now in their late 90s. Alan Shapiro, 99, was too young to take part in the landings, but joined the European Allied forces in the autumn of 1944 and flew transport carriers in the US air corps. He’s struck by the love and recognition he’s received in France, where war was a lived experience rather than a distant newsreel. He came to France through the association Retour des veterans en Normandie (Veterans Back to Normandy), based in the village of Créances. Its founder, Valerie Gautier, talks about the lasting need to show gratitude for D-Day and WWII veterans. (Listen @4’20)

The story of D-Day and its aftermath is told differently depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on. American historian Mary Louise Roberts discusses how France has been erased from the US perspective on the landings. Meanwhile French historian Emmanuel Thiébot, who directs a museum in Normandy dedicated to civilians during WWII, explains why Allied soldiers didn’t always get a hero’s welcome in towns that had been bombed in preparation for the invasion. And local survivor Henri, whose fiancée and uncle were killed by Allied bombs, recalls the mixed feelings he had about the troops sent to liberate France. (Listen @15’55)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

International report

Turkey’s Saturday Mothers keep up vigil for lost relatives

Issued on:

Turkey’s longest-running peaceful protest has entered its thousandth week. For decades, the “Saturday Mothers” have been holding silent vigils to demand justice for relatives who disappeared while being held by security forces.

At Galatasaray Square, in the heart of Istanbul, a mother calls out for justice for a child who’s not been seen for decades – since being apprehended by police.

The Saturday Mothers, named after a similar campaign in Argentina, gather in this square to demand answers. They want to know what happened to their missing relatives, and to hold those responsible to account.

On display are hundreds of photos of those who disappeared while being held by security forces. Among the youngest is a 13-year-old shepherd called Davut.

Denials

Ikbal Eren has been campaigning for decades to find the truth behind her brother Hayrettin’s enforced disappearance.

“Hayrettin Eren was detained at the Saraçhane crossing in Istanbul and taken to the Gayrettepe police headquarters, where he disappeared,” Eren says.

“Although we have five witnesses confirming his detention, they always deny he was held. We also saw his car in the yard of the Security Directorate.”

Even if 44 more years pass, Eren says he will not give up seeking justice for his brother and the others who are missing.

Hayrettin vanished during military rule in the 1980s, but most of the hundreds of enforced disappearances happened in the 1990s at the height of the Turkish state’s war against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.

“Especially in the early ’90s – ’92 to ’94 mostly – an enormous number of mainly men were arrested and never seen again,” says Emma Sinclair Webb of Human Rights Watch.

  • Armenian genocide remembered as Assyrians fight for acknowledgement of their plight

Justice eluded

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised justice in 2011, when he was prime minister, after meeting with some of the Saturday Mothers.

There were criminal investigations into those accused of being behind the disappearances, and even court cases, but all ended in acquittal.

The state has cracked down on the mothers in recent years, deeming their protest to be subversive. Galatasaray Square is now permanently sealed off, and usually only a weekly token of 10 or so people are allowed in.

“Those in power cannot bear to have these women and the relatives of the disappeared meeting every Saturday and presenting them with the crimes the state committed,” said Sinclair Webb.

“For years the authorities have done everything in their power to criminalise this vigil and those who have been involved in it.”

The thousandth week anniversary of Saturday Mothers, held in May, saw an outpouring of support across social media – and even a pop music video commemorating their struggle.

Rock star Teoman recorded the song “Saturday Mothers”, recalling the fight for justice in the face of intimidation and adversity. The song’s video went viral across social media.

  • Erdogan’s local election defeat reshapes Turkey’s political landscape

Ongoing struggle

With the Saturday Mothers campaign passing the thousand-week threshold, they’re vowing to continue until they find justice for their lost relatives.

“We are trying to explain that our disappeared are not abandoned; they are not orphans. We are trying to learn about their fate,” says Birsen Karakoc, who’s been searching for her brother Ridvan since the 1990s.

“We are trying to understand why they were tortured to death. We want justice; that is why we are here every week.

“For 30 years we have been here since the first week, and we will continue to be here.”

At the end of the 1,000th-week ceremony in Galatasaray Square, Birsen’s brother Hasan places flowers on a sculpture celebrating the Turkish Republic.

He calls out to onlookers to say: “Until all our disappeared are found and those responsible are brought to justice, we will never give up.”

The Sound Kitchen

Plundered art and artefacts

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about plundered art in French museums. There’s a quick trip to Switzerland, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, Ollia’s “Happy Moment”, and “Music from Erwan”. All that and the new quiz and bonus questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music … so be sure and listen every week.

Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

ePOP News: The early bird gets the worm …

RFI’s ePOP video competition will open on 5 June. There will be more information in the coming days, but you can already start to plan your video.

The ePOP video competition is sponsored by the RFI department “Planète Radio”, whose mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. ePOP focuses on the environment, and how climate change has affected “ordinary” people… You are to create a three-minute video about climate change, the environment, pollution – told by the people it affects.

So put on your thinking caps and start planning your video!  

Facebook News: There’s a “new and improved” Facebook page for you, the RFI English Listeners Forum. 

It’s for everyone who reads and listens to us and wants to connect with others, so ask to join, and I’ll sign you up!

The RFI Listeners Club page and the RFI English Clubs page no longer exist. If you belonged to the RFI English Clubs page and not the RFI Listeners Club page, you’ll need to ask to join. I promise I won’t click “Decline” 😊 

Here’s your job: send me your photos for the banner! Send them to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure and subscribe to see all our videos.

Would you like to learn French? RFI is here to help you!

Our website “Le Français facile avec RFI”  has news broadcasts in slow, simple French, as well as bi-lingual radio dramas (with real actors!) and exercises to practice what you have heard.

Go to our website and get started! At the top of the page, click on “Test level”. According to your score, you’ll be counselled to the best-suited activities for your level.

Do not give up! As Lidwien van Dixhoorn, the head of “Le Français facile” service told me: “Bathe your ears in the sound of the language, and eventually, you’ll get it.” She should know – Lidwien is Dutch and came to France hardly able to say “bonjour” and now she heads this key RFI department – so stick with it!

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

In addition to the breaking news articles on our site with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, Spotlight on Africa, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our staff of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books that were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here.

Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Arifa Alam Dolan from Natore, Bangladesh.

Welcome, Arifa! So glad you have joined us!

You too can be a member of the RFI Listeners Club – just write to me at english.service@rfi.fr and tell me you want to join, and I’ll send you a membership number. It’s that easy. When you win a Sound Kitchen quiz as an RFI Listeners Club member, you’ll receive a premium prize. 

This week’s quiz: On 27 April, I asked you a question about our article “’Titanic’ task of finding plundered African art in French museums”, about an ongoing and very real problem in Western museums whose collections contain art and artifacts that were most probably stolen during the colonial era.

However, discovering the actual provenance of many of the works is a long and painstaking process. It’s investigative work, like tracking a murderer or a bank robber – except this is a brand-new type of investigation, with often little to offer in terms of clues, sources, and the like.

Because so many museums are now trying to find how a work ended up in their collections, two French universities are now offering courses in this new field of “artistic detective work”. And that was your question: What are the names of the two French universities that now offer courses in Art Provenance Research?

The answer is: The University of Paris-Nanterre and the Louvre School of Art.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, “Which is stronger: money or the pen, and how?”, which was suggested by Rafiq Khondaker from Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Do you have a bonus question idea? Send it to us!

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Sharifa Akter Panna from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh. Sharifa is also the winner of the week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Sharifa!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Saleem Akhtar Chadhar, the president of the RFI Seven Stars Radio Listeners Club in District Chiniot, Pakistan; Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India, and Ferhat Bezazel, the president of the RFI Ain Kechera Butterflies Club in West Skikda, Algeria.

Rounding out the list is RFI Listeners Club member Abdul Mannan Teacher from Sirajganj, Bangladesh, and last but not least, RFI English listener Shihabur Rahaman Khan from Bogura, Bangladesh.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: A traditional Swiss folksong, sung by the Swiss Laddies; “Funk No 1” by Juna Serita, performed by Tokyo Groove Jyoshi; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and “Misemo” by Balthazar Naturel, arranged and played by Monsieur MÂLÂ.

Do you have a music request? Send it to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Paul’s article “Zverev sees off Nadal to advance to second round at French Open”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 24 June to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 29 June podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

Spotlight on Africa

With South Africa’s ANC losing majority, coalition government looms

Issued on:

In this episode of Spotlight on Africa, Melissa Chemam discusses the recent elections in South Africa and the possibility of the ruling ANC losing its overall majority, potentially forcing it into a coalition government.

On  29 May, South Africans participated in parliamentary and provincial elections in the most fiercely contested vote since the end of apartheid in 1994.

After 30 years in power, the African National Congress, once led by Nelson Mandela, could lose its majority.

With Tshepo Moloi, a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, Gareth Stevens, vice-chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and William Gumede, political analyst, also at the University of Witwatersrand, we examine how the past 30 years have led to this pivotal moment and how a coalition government could transform South Africa’s political landscape.

We will also hear from curator Aude Leveau Mac Elhone, who has organised the exhibition Brazil and Africa, a Shared History in Gorée, Dakar, Senegal, along with the artist Aline Motta. 

 


Episode mixed by Vincent Pora.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

From 20 to 22 September 2022, the IFTM trade show in Paris, connected thousands of tourism professionals across the world. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, talked about the significance of sustainable tourism.

Madhya Pradesh is often referred to as the Heart of India. Located right in the middle of the country, the Indian region shows everything India has to offer through its abundant diversity. The IFTM trade show, which took place in Paris at the end of September, presented the perfect opportunity for travel enthusiasts to discover the region.

Sheo Shekhar Shukla, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, sat down to explain his approach to sustainable tourism.

“Post-covid the whole world has known a shift in their approach when it comes to tourism. And all those discerning travelers want to have different kinds of experiences: something offbeat, something new, something which has not been explored before.”

Through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shukla wants to showcase the deep history Madhya Pradesh has to offer.

“UNESCO is very actively supporting us and three of our sites are already World Heritage Sites. Sanchi is a very famous buddhist spiritual destination, Bhimbetka is a place where prehistoric rock shelters are still preserved, and Khajuraho is home to thousand year old temples with magnificent architecture.”

All in all, Shukla believes that there’s only one way forward for the industry: “Travelers must take sustainable tourism as a paradigm in order to take tourism to the next level.”

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

The IFTM trade show took place from 20 to 22 September 2022, in Paris, and gathered thousands of travel professionals from all over the world. In an interview, Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia discussed the importance of sustainable tourism in our fast-changing world.

Also known as the Land of the Beautiful Islands, Malaysia’s landscape and cultural diversity is almost unmatched on the planet. Those qualities were all put on display at the Malaysian stand during the IFTM trade show.

Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia, explained the appeal of the country as well as the importance of promoting sustainable tourism today: “Sustainable travel is a major trend now, with the changes that are happening post-covid. People want to get close to nature, to get close to people. So Malaysia being a multicultural and diverse [country] with a lot of natural environments, we felt that it’s a good thing for us to promote Malaysia.”

Malaysia has also gained fame in recent years, through its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include Kinabalu Park and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley.

Green mobility has also become an integral part of tourism in Malaysia, with an increasing number of people using bikes to discover the country: “If you are a little more adventurous, we have the mountain back trails where you can cut across gazetted trails to see the natural attractions and the wildlife that we have in Malaysia,” says Hanif. “If you are not that adventurous, you’ll be looking for relaxing cycling. We also have countryside spots, where you can see all the scenery in a relaxing session.”

With more than 25,000 visitors at this IFTM trade show this year, Malaysia’s tourism board got to showcase the best the country and its people have to offer.

In partnership with Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. For more information about Malaysia, click here.