There’s nothing like a good political spat to clear the air, especially at election time, and that’s exactly what France is being treated to at the moment with claim following counter-claim and a great deal of column inches to boot. And all that just as the country is gearing up to next month’s local elections.
It involves a little-known political figure, in the shape of Emmanuelle Mignon, and the weekly news, celebrity and leisure magazine, Vendredi, Samedi, Dimanche (VSD).
Mignon, who is a confidante of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his chief of staff, is reported by VSD to have told the magazine that the sects or cults – take your pick, depending on how you translate the word – are a “non-problem” in France.
In an interview published in VSD this week, Mignon also suggests we should question exactly what sort of danger movements such as Scientology actually represents.
Mignon claims she was misquoted. VSD is standing its ground and insists that’s exactly what she said.
And so beginneth the polemic in much of the French media.
While admitting that she’s not actually that familiar with Scientology, Mignon has insisted that cults in general should be investigated to determine whether they indeed pose a threat. For her apparently, either an organisation is dangerous and abuses the psychological weakness of certain people, in which case it should be banned. Or it represents no particular menace to the public order and should have the right to exist in peace.
In an attempt to reduce the backlash there has been against what she apparently never said, Mignon successfully fuelled more angered debate after granting an interview with the national daily newspaper, Le Figaro.
In it she attacked the “Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaries” or Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (Miviludes) as nothing more than a government agency that since its first incarnation back in 1995 had faithfully produced its annual report and not much else. As far as she was concerned the list was “scandalous”
The government, she revealed, wanted to turn Miviludes into something much more effective than a lot of “bla bla” by bringing it under the auspices of the interior ministry and having it work more closely with the police and judiciary.
Clearly being “scandalised” was not just the preserve of Mignon’s as far as many were concerned and there was outrage from across the political spectrum – including many from within Sarkozy’s own centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – at her comments.
The former (UMP) prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, criticised her for raising the issue in what is after all the run-up to next month’s local elections – a common cry to be heard over most contentious issues at the moment.
And another member of member of parliament for UMP, Claude Goasguen, said that if Mignon’s boss, Sarkozy, had given her the green light to broach the subject, it was perhaps a somewhat Machiavellian strategy to try to divert attention away from the debate surrounding his failed promise to increase the purchasing power of the French.
Disorder within the ranks was met with similar fury from opposition politicians. François Bayrou, leader of the centre-right Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem) was appalled at the apparent attempt to “rehabilitate Scientology” and another prominent MoDem candidate in the local elections in Paris, Corinne Lepage, mused rhetorically if somewhat ironically on national television whether the intention was not to create a “junior ministerial post for Tom Cruise, Scientology and the development of cults in France.”
The Socialist party was also pretty damning of Mignon’s remarks, calling on Sarkozy to clarify exactly where he stands on her comments and say whether he approves. If he doesn’t, then as far as the Socialists are concerned, he should take the necessary steps and fire her.
All eyes and ears are now on Mignon who if she really insists she has been misquoted, has both the know-how and the chance to slap VSD with a legal suit. Somehow it’s unlikely to go that far.
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