Opinion: We are all la Republique! | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.01.2015

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Opinion: We are all la Republique!

It wasn't just a funeral march in Paris on Sunday - it was a demonstration of solidarity. Yet despite all the joy and unity, only the future will tell if it will last, says DW's Barbara Wesel.

One might almost envy the French today - it was a powerful demonstration. After the bloody events of the past week, they have shown an admirable commitment to the history and values of their nation and its ideals.

Sunday's march of more than 1.5 million people in Paris - and around 2 million in demonstrations throughout the rest of the country - was a strong stand for democracy, and against violence and fear. The French people do not want to be intimidated by terrorist acts, and above all, they do not want what's most important to be taken away: their freedom of expression. It belongs to France's oldest values, and part of the spirit of the nation. Here, even extreme opinions can be expressed without fear of reprisal, thanks to democracy, or so the theory goes.

Barbara Wesel Porträt

DW's Barbara Wesel

Ironic juxtapositions

World leaders from more than 40 countries came to Paris to show their support for France, and they were greeted with applause. And yet, the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marching with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not without irony.

The two men were appearing at a demonstration together for the first time, and yet Netanyahu did not use the occasion to make a gesture of peace. Instead, after the terrible events of the past week, he invited France's Jews to immigrate to Israel.

And what might Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have thought when he marched for freedom and democracy alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko? An absurd or amusing situation, depending on your mood.

"The world rises up": the headlines of France's Sunday newspapers showed a certain pride that Paris was at the center of international attention. Today, the French are seeking acknowledgement and support from the rest of the world. They see themselves as being on the frontline in the defense of democratic values, and they remain uneasy because they know that the threat from homegrown terrorism is still lurking. Similar to neighboring United Kingdom, an underground network of radicalized Islam has emerged in France's ghetto-like suburbs, seemingly beyond the control of authorities.

Another missed opportunity?

There have been many moving gestures of humanity and citizenship over the last few days, with demonstrators carrying signs reading "Je suis Charlie, Je suis un flic, Je suis juif" ("I am Charlie, I am a cop, I am a Jew") to remember the victims of this tragedy. And everywhere, there were expressions of solidarity and a will to claim the French Republic as a common identity.

But after these rare moments of unity, the everyday will return. Political conflict was suspended until Sunday - but it will come again, with all sides ready to hurl accusations at each other in an attempt to score points. Above all, politicians must launch an honest debate about the living conditions of North African migrants. France is facing today the negligence of decades: Crumbling suburbs of paved brutality, miserable schools, youth without opportunities and prospects that don't see themselves as belonging to French society and inhumane prisons that have become a hotbed for radicalism.

France needs a massive reform program to make long-term improvements in the lives of the few million French people who have an immigrant background. But the rising political right will do its best to ensure that this does not happen. After all the moving speeches of the past few days, it will likely be yet another missed opportunity.