[Viewpoint] Stern voices to deter law breakersThe political community in France lit up on March 27, 2007 with just 20 days to go before the presidential election.
Segolene Royal was closely trailing the favorite Nicolas Sarkozy when something happened that day that changed the course of the campaign.
Immigrants of Arab descent clashed with the police in the northern suburbs of Paris.
The incident began after a group of young Arabs apparently beat up a subway worker who had stopped them when they attempted to board the subway train without tickets.
Police were dispatched, attracting the attention of hundreds of Arab youths in the neighborhood who converged on the area.
They beat up policemen and vandalized the subway station, forcing trains to come to a halt. More police arrived but the violence only escalated, The fight lasted deep into the night.
The next morning the mob dispersed, leaving the immigrants’ society in turmoil.
When serving as interior minister, Sarkozy had declared a zero-tolerance policy for troublesome immigrants. Those who bore discontent against the authorities shouted for the overthrow of Sarkozy during the election campaign that year.
Some leftists formed an alliance and encouraged anti-Sarkozy sentiment, and the issue of immigration became a sore problem for Sarkozy.
But, with the entire country watching, Sarkozy hurried to the scene of the riots. There, he emphasized that he could never accept those who recklessly break the law.
Even though he was desperate for votes he talked about principles rather than pandering to any particular group.
Not only the media in France but also his aides worried that his hard-line response to the rioters would have a negative impact on the election result.
However, the majority of French people appeared to support Sarkozy’s tough stance and his approval ratings began to show him pulling away from Royal.
The reason was simple: Sarkozy gave a strong impression that he was a reliable leader at a time when the French people were feeling insecure. Paris looked like it was on the verge of anarchy, and he showed appropriate resolve. His style has remained the same for more than two years while he has been in office.
Some critics say he is arrogant but his principles and causes have worked as a source of political power in crucial moments.
Since last year, we have spotted all too often those whom we cannot have aboard the ship of democracy.
What they say or do is far from democratic but they nonetheless shout for democracy, confusing everyone who cares to stop to listen.
Last year, some people created an almost hysterical atmosphere, scaring people into believing that they might die if they ate beef imported from the United States.
This year, some people are trying to use the former president’s death for political purposes. Some boycott Korean products outside our country and some fire slingshots or wield bamboo spears against policemen.
These are the people we cannot have onboard because they have left the majority of Korean people in a state of bewilderment.
Adding to the confusion is the government’s response to these groups. Weakly, the government has been pushed around by those instigators and seems to be permanently playing catch-up.
Instead, the government must adopt sterner measures against those who use violence and try to sink democracy. If these groups are allowed to continue, everyone will end up in the sea.
*The writer is the Paris correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Jeon Jin-bae
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