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A Rare Moment Of Flag-Waving For Some French Citizens


To get a better sense of the feeling in France two weeks after the attacks, we have reached Corinne Mellul. She's a political scientist at Sciences Po University. Welcome to the show.


SHAPIRO: Did you watch the memorial service? What was your reaction to it?

MELLUL: Yes, I did watch it. I think it was a very unusual moment for a country like France - a sense of every one, everybody coming together, a sense of unity. Still a lot of shock at what happened and anger, but there was a lot of dignity. It was very solemn. A lot of pain, I think, was physical on faces. I think it was probably a rare moment in French political life, as well , of just everyone coming together and sharing pain.

SHAPIRO: Tell us why that sense of unity feels unusual to you.

MELLUL: For many reasons. First of all, because political life in France is very much polarized. Not in the same way that it's polarized in the U.S. - polarized in its own way. But it's very rare to have a sense of an entire nation coming together behind a symbol, behind a national symbol, behind the flag, behind the national anthem, "La Marseilles." Unlike in the U.S., these are not easy, common symbols for people to gather behind in this country.

SHAPIRO: President Francois Hollande called on people to hang French flag, which, as you say, is not as common in France as it is in the U.S. Can you tell us a little bit more about why France has historically resisted the kind of a flag-waving patriotism that is so much more common in the U.S.?

MELLUL: Oh, I think it's tied to France's history, first as a former colonial power and the way that it is now dealing with this past, and second, undoubtedly, to the Vichy regime, to the years of Nazi occupation during World War II.

SHAPIRO: Before the attacks in Paris, the French flag was very popular as a symbol of the far-right political parties - more xenophobic, anti-immigrant groups. If I were to go today to one of the banlieues, the lower-income, mostly immigrant neighborhoods, do you think that sense of flag-waving patriotism would purvey there as well?

MELLUL: No, it wouldn't. I actually heard stories, reports on French radio this morning that some reporters went out to the banlieue, to the suburbs and were looking around to see if there were flags, and there were none.

SHAPIRO: What does that tell you about this sense of unity?

MELLUL: That it's not felt by all, that France has what I think is a huge problem of integration, as it calls it, of minorities, some of them even second or third-generation immigrants, and that it's not going to go away just in one day because there's a sense of unity because of what happened. This is a very deep problem. It's been getting from bad to worse over the last few decades. And it will take a complete change, I think, of attitude and different public policies to tackle them. It's just not going to go away overnight.

SHAPIRO: Corrine Mellul is political scientist at Sciences Po University in Paris. Thanks very much for joining us.

MELLUL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.