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Culture figures cold on Macron win

Julia Hitz
April 26, 2022

A second term as French president might save the nation from the far-right. But so far, Emmanuel Macron has failed to deliver, say cultural activists.

French President Emmanuel Macron and French first lady Brigitte Macron celebrate with supporters in Paris
The lesser of two evils: Macron's win did little to excite the cultural sphere Image: Christophe Ena/AP Photo/picture alliance

There was no great rejoicing, even if sighs of relief could be heard throughout Europe: With 58% of the vote, incumbent Emmanuel Macron secured a second — and final — term as French president.

But turbulent political winds are already gathering around the centrist, neoliberal president: from disappointed left-wing Jean-Luc Melanchon voters (he almost beat Le Pen in the first round) looking for radical change, to disillusioned young people and anti-establishment Le Pen supporters.

Citizens from the realm of culture believe the election solved little. 

"I'm not happy at all with the outcome of the election," said filmmaker Frank Cassenti, who lives in the south of France and has directed over 20 documentaries and features for film and TV.

"That wasn't a real election for me," he told DW, referring to the sense that voters were merely voting to keep one candidate out of office.

Many believe that the big questions of the day — environmental protection, the climate crisis, education policy, wealth redistribution — were barely addressed during the election.

Dissatisfaction with Macron therefore likely fueled the improved result for Le Pen's far-right (from around 34% in the 2017 election to 42%), anti-immigrant National Assembly of France party. "Over 40 percent voted for such backward ideas," noted Cassenti.

'Bittersweet victory' for Macron

Le Pen a consequence of Macron

Cassenti, whose film "L'agression" was banned in 1977 in France due to its theme of violence against Algerian immigrants, sees Marine Le Pen in the direct tradition of her xenophobic far-right father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — who has been prosecuted for Holocaust denial.

In his view, moderate presidential candidates like Macron have conjured up the "right-wing monster" themselves by stylizing it as a threat, but by failing to act decisively against it.

"The share of the vote held by the extreme right has been rising steadily for years," Cassenti told DW. "If it continues like this, mathematically speaking, they will win next time if we do nothing now."

French sociologist and author of essays and novels, Kaoutar Harchi, is even more critical of the president's first term in office, calling Macron's policies "an escalator for the ideas of the far-right."

For many not a vote for Macron but to prevent Le Pen: DW's Max Hofmann

"By responding to their debates, to the questions of the far-right, he has legitimized them — both the positions of Marine Le Pen and the attitudes of the nationalist camp," Harchi argues.

Macron's Culture policy failures

Emmanuel Macron's cultural policy achievements were widely criticized during the election campaign, including the "Culture Pass" introduced in January, an app through which 18-year-olds can spend €300 ($320) on cultural goods such as books and theater tickets.

"This commodification is exactly the problem, something like this can only occur to a banker," said Frank Cassenti, referring to Macron's years as an investment banker.

"At the same time, we have no musical instruments in the schools," the director added.

a poster with a tear shows half faces of Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen side by side
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen symbolize two extremes of a divided nationImage: Patrick Batard/abaca/picture alliance

Culture celebrates Le Pen defeat on social media

While politicians around the world used social media to send congratulations to the newly elected French president, writers and culture figures were more happy that far-right candidate Marie Le Pen lost. This sentiment was often framed in relation to Le Pen's ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Latvian screenwriter, journalist and author Michael Idov, who co-wrote the film Russia-set film "Leto" (directed byKirill Serebrennikov) and now lives in Berlin, tweeted about "Putin's strategic genius" in the wake of Macron's win.

"Spending millions on supporting far-right parties in the EU who will now lose every election precisely because of that," he wrote of Putin's support for Le Pen, who analysts say lost votes due to her close association with the Russian regime.

"Must be nice to live in a democracy," tweeted Julia Loffe, US-Russian journalist, author of the forthcoming book, "Russia Girl: Memoirs of a Russian Soul," and a strident critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.   

Owen Jones, an English author and journalist, wrote about the rise in the far-right French vote.

"The defeat of Le Pen was possible because millions of French voters who frankly despise Macron and his politics voted for him to stop the far right menace," he tweeted. "That was enough to stop the far right — this time. But the trend is clear — and it should terrify you." 

Meanwhile, film director Frank Cassenti hopes that the left-wing parties in France can combine to win the parliamentary elections. And maybe Macron will change, too, now that he is not up for re-election.

This article was translated from German