The otherwise dull-as-dishwater campaign for the European elections has produced one amusing passe-d’armes involving two rather surprising combatants: Nathalie Loiseau, the head of LREM’s list, and Edwy Plenel, the editor of Médiapart. Médiapart revealed that when Loiseau was a student at SciencesPo, her name appeared on a list of candidates for the far-right student organization UED (affiliated with the notorious extremist group GUD). This, to say the least, was a surprising place to find a colorless centrist like Loiseau, who at first denied any memory of having figured on the UED list (she claims to have been a Gaullist at the time) but then recovered a rather vivid memory of having agreed to run as a favor to a friend, without campaigning or knowing anyone else on the list. She was young and naive at the time, etc. Youthful errors, who hasn’t been there?–although one wonders just how naive a student at SciencesPo, of all places, could have been about what after all was a matter of … la politique, the very object of her studies. Only to remember the whole incident in exquisite detail just a day later. But let bygones be bygones.
Except that Loiseau wasn’t about to let exposure by a Web site edited by Edwy Plenel be bygone. She fired back that Plenel had a few youthful indiscretions of his own to atone for, not least his defense of the Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972 when he was a “Maoist.” To which Plenel replied that, yes, he had defended the terrorists as “revolutionaries,” as had Jean-Paul Sartre, but, please, remember that he had been a Trotskyist at the time, not a Maoist. Nuance!
This all-in-all minor but historically redolent campaign clash may serve as a reminder of how far France has come in the past four decades, and how much it would stand to lose if it should–as it easily might–return to a state of polarization in which it became normal for young people as talented as Loiseau and Plenel to flee to the extremes of mutual incomprehension.