[FOUNTAIN]A French toast“Kepi blanc” is a nickname for the French Foreign Legion. It means white kepi, a circular cap with a visor. White represents “equality” in the tricolor French flag, a symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity. With everyone being equal, the French Foreign Legion does not discriminate by nationality or personal history and guarantees anonymity. As long as the applicants pass the rigorous test and pledge loyalty to the corps, they can become members. Regardless of where you are from, ability is all that counts. It is what the French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville called “egalitarian individualism.”
That French tendency especially stands out in the arts and culture. As long as they have talent, even foreigners can have a free lease on studios and receive subsidies. Anyone who paints in France can be a French painter. If you want to be naturalized and become a French citizen, the country will always say, “Bienvenue!”
So France will never miss a chance to invite football talents in French-speaking countries. The French national football team recruited players from Africa, Arab and New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France. Thanks to their contributions, France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 UEFA European Championship.
However, France values the legacy of republicanism as much as individualism. The French people use “La Republique,” or the republic, as a synonym for “La France.” In order to prevent the clash between the individual and republican values, France has developed a system of coexistence called “tolerance.”
During the 1998 World Cup, midfielder Christian Karembeu, who is from New Caledonia, kept his mouth sealed while his teammates sang the French anthem “La Marseillaise.” He was staging a silent protest for the independence of his country. However, neither the French national team nor the French citizens criticized him. Only the likes of extreme rightwing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said a player who did not sing the anthem did not deserve to represent France. However, Christian Karembeu did his best, and the French squad won the World Cup.
This year, the French national team is ridiculed as being the Foreign Legion. The team might be constructed like a sand castle. However, the French cannot give up their theory of coexistence for the sake of football. We might need those French values even more then the French. They might help treat the chronic illnesses of regional selfishness and cliquism that Korea suffers from. Blind patriotism is useless, even on the football field.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.