“If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep”: Spanish people say enough is enough and take to the streets.

“It is not surprising that citizens have been seeing how Spanish democracy has become an alternation of two political parties, perceived as offering similar political programmes with no real alternatives to the economic crisis.”

Last week saw the birth of a movement that has electrified Spanish social and political life. The 15M movement or “the movement for a real democracy” now emerges as the galvanising protest of a significant part of Spanish society (especially its youth) which has witnessed how shrinking standards of life – soaring unemployment and housing prices, precarious jobs and low-frozen wages, an alarming lack of job opportunities and bleak prospects for self-realisation in life – have found no response from an increasingly oligarchic and bi-partisan political system. This is certainly one of the biggest problems of Spanish democracy now and one that has undoubtedly sparked the taking of the streets these days. Since the advent of democracy after Franco’s death, Spain has been governed by the UCD (Unión de Centro Democrático, a centre-right party) first, and later by the PSOE, which 12 year rule ended in 1996 with the victory of the PP (the Spanish conservative party). The defeat of the PP after the Madrid terrorist attacks sent the PSOE back to power. It is not surprising that citizens have been seeing how Spanish democracy has become an alternation of two political parties (PP and PSOE) perceived as offering similar political programmes with no real alternatives to the economic crisis. The roots of discontent must be found in a/ the “neoliberalisation” of the PSOE, who has unashamedly embraced the economic measures imposed by the IMF (privatisation, cuts in health and social services and the shrinking of worker’s rights, among others) and b/ the bipolarisation of political life due to an unfair electoral system. The Spanish electoral system is based on the D’hondt law, a mathematical formula that, in general terms, ensures that both PP and PSOE obtain more representatives than actual votes. In this way, a significant part of the voting population sees how their preference has been deformed by a more than questionable distribution system. On the other hand, the economic policies of the PSOE have lost a large part of its social scope since the 90’s: the adoption of a strong neoliberal approach to Spanish economy (by the alternating governments of PSOE and the PP) has been disastrous for the socialist party, which is not seen any more as governing for the interests of Spanish citizens. One of the consequences of this neoliberal approach led to the massive bubble in the construction sector under the government of Jose Maria Aznar, whose explosion had dramatic consequences for the government of Zapatero.

“Citizens refuse to allow banks and international financial institutions to gamble with their hopes and dreams. This outburst of collective consciousness no doubt mirrors the revolts sweeping the Arab world”

"we do not represent any political party nor union, we are simply outraged"

Against this critical economic situation and finding no receptiveness to their claims on behalf of the ruling party (the PSOE), young people, retirees and unemployed citizens participated in a massive protest on May 15th, organised via social networks, whose aim was to express their anger and profound dissatisfaction with a political system seen as playing the game of financial institutions. In the age of internet and information technologies, it is simply ludicrous to pretend citizens will believe official propaganda that presents as necessary measures the massive cuts in health system and in other areas of the welfare state. Protesters know very well that the crisis was caused by the very same capitalist systems that economic measures attempt to save. Citizens refuse to allow banks and international financial institutions to gamble with their hopes and dreams. This outburst of collective consciousness no doubt mirrors the revolts sweeping the Arab world and the example given by Icelandic citizens (who voted against paying for the bank’s gambling) for inspiration.

One of the most interesting aspects of this growing movement is its desire for a radical change in the way democracy is performed in Spain. All of the elements I have mentioned before galvanised a call for participatory democracy that brings back a greater sense of people’s involvement in the running of local and national political affairs. In this sense, the movement demands resemble those made under the banner of participatory democracy. In this sense, it is interesting to see how decisions taken in the assemblies organised across Spain are being put together in manifestos and taken to local or neighbour’s councils. Despite the victory of the PP in the local elections, the social networks emerging from the assemblies in Madrid, Barcelona and elsewhere seem to be recalling people of the need to take the streets and coordinate collective strategies of empowerment. This is the most important lesson to be learnt from these protests: whatever form they take, citizens take with them the realisation that they are not individuals passing alone in the dark night of economic crisis; that the energy of collective action is strong enough to mobilise passion into action; that beyond individual or local demands, there is a collective sense of injustice that needs to be channelled into precise and coordinated strategies of action aimed at reverting economic measures that affect the welfare state.

“It is not difficult to imagine the helplessness and desperation of people for whom the benefits of the so called “forces of the market” translate into corruption, unemployment and injustice”

I suspect the more than likely victory of the PP in the next general elections will only add fuel to the fire: nobody expects the PP economic policies to differ greatly from those that have led PSOE into collapse. That is why I believe it is necessary to consider the 15M movement as a long term process rather than a particular set of protests and, in this sense, it is good to remember the case of other countries who are in the process of overcoming both the disruptive interventions of the IMF and oligarchic political systems. Despite the obvious economic and socio-cultural differences, it is striking to see that countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for instance, have seen their political system dominated by small elites with a friendly hand towards the impositions of the IMF. In the 80’s, the effects of these economic measures in South America were as disastrous as they can be in Spain if local governments persist in their implementation against the interests of the people to whom these governments are ultimately answerable. We’re talking privatisation of public services leading to massive levels of social inequality and poverty, the weakening and disarming of trade unions, the opening up of domestic markets to foreign intervention…)

The case of Venezuela is worth mentioning at this point. After 40 years of “bipartidismo” (which is the government of two alternating political parties, Acción Democrática (AD) and COPEI, established by means of the “Pacto de Punto Fijo” in 1958) the communist party of Venezuela (PCV) was systematically excluded from elections, and the oligarchy of the two-party system did not resolve the profound social inequalities. Likewise, the imposition in 1989 of IMF-led measures that increased the price of petrol and liberalised prices led to great social instability and widespread protests that led to the massacre of almost 1000 people. It is in this context that, after a failed coup d’état, Hugo Chavez was elected as President of Venezuela in 1998, initiating a radical political change in the country that contemplated the creation of a socialist republic without the yoke of the IMF or the World Bank. I am not suggesting that Spain should follow the same path as both countries, as I have said before, are profoundly different in social, economic and cultural terms. However, the pattern of events in Venezuela and the form of participatory democracy that characterises the government of Hugo Chavez invites us, at least, to consider the current political and economic situation of Spain from a wider perspective. Also, the cases of “bipartidismo” in Venezuela and Spain show that democratic inclusiveness was sacrificed for the sake of political stability, which is usually the most desired environment for economic investment by national and multinational corporations. In this sense, it will be interesting to see how new networks of cooperation emerge between Spanish and South American networks: the projects of participatory democracy developed across Venezuela might certainly be inspirational to the incipient 15M movement although it is difficult at present to discern the precise direction the Spanish movement will take. However, the transnational dimension of the Spanish protests makes the creation of networks of dialogue and interaction inevitable.

It is not difficult to imagine the helplessness and desperation of people for whom the benefits of the so called “forces of the market” translate into corruption, unemployment and injustice; that is why the Spanish, Arab and South American versions of their own revolutionary projects need to reinforce each other in as many ways as possible against the government of corrupt financial institutions who have not been elected and therefore, lack the legitimacy to decide the fate of nations and their citizens. Whilst respect for economic and socio-cultural difference needs to be strengthened and supported, the articulation and reinforcement of new and pre-existing transnational networks of resistance is absolutely crucial. In other words, difference needs to be respected but commonalities sought and reinforced because as David Slater suggests in his book Geopolitics and the Post-colonial: Rethinking North-South Relations, “globalisation from below can help expand the ethic of participatory democracy to a variety of spatial levels, not just the global but the supra-national, regional, local and community levels”[1]. And, finally, this is why it is so refreshing to see how the seeds for new and inclusive forms of democracy are being planted in so many places across the world.


[1] David Slater, Geopolitics and the Post-colonial: Rethinking North-South Relations, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.


Antonio Cuadrado-Fernandez is independent researcher who obtained his PhD in postcolonial literature in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he has taught literary theory, Ecopoetry and Catalan language. His research focuses on the relationship between art and biodiversity, cultural politics, philosophy of mind and cultural/human geography but also loves progressive rock, growing vegetables and all kinds of coffee. He is also a freelance translator, Spanish and Catalan Tutor and enjoys volunteering for the U3A group teaching Spanish to elderly people in Norwich.

“the DSK scandal is nothing short of sordid”

It’s been almost a week since Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French president of the all-powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been accused of raping a maid in his New York City hotel before boarding an Air France flight to Paris, where he was arrested by NYPD on sexual assault charges. Facing a sentence ranging from 20 to 74 years (the judge implied that other potential victims had come forward to testify), the man has been denied bail and is currently imprisoned at the legendary Rikers Island prison, in the Bronx. 

Coverage of the scandal is substantively different depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean one is standing. The United States coverage has been somewhat unanimous in claiming another powerful man had abused his position to obtain sexual favours. France is mourning an extremely popular presidential hopeful for the ongoing presidential campaign, that would have penned “DSK” in a tight race against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. A race so tight many claimed that the scandal itself was a set-up to clear the path for Sarkozy’s second term. Even DSK’s lawyer seems to have abandoned this line of defence.

More importantly, this scandal unfolds more than a debate on one’s alleged guilt: it uncovers a fundamental difference in judicial culture. Should powerful politicians benefit from a legal favours? How much information is too much information? Should DSK be trusted to follow legal constraints, or was the judge right in stating a risk of him leaving the United States territory? It seems the scandal goes far beyond a story of yet another politician’s mishap. It feels like France is losing hope in the only one it believed could save french politics, the one that had sought political asylum in the arms of the very country that is now prosecuting him. The end of a dream ? – Sarah K

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court, three days ago


“… but what a beautiful example of justice, one that judges the anonymous the same as the powerful.”

I woke up on sunday with a news alert flashing on my phone. Seeing Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s name appear, I didn’t give it a second thought,  assuming he had finally, after a seemingly endless teasing campaign, officially announced his run in the 2012 presidential campaign. It was only later, switching on the television, that I realised the extent of the scandal.

Sunday was a particularly rich day. On television, of course, but even more so on Twitter, with this incredible flow of information, ranging from the most legit and serious to the most extravagant news. From facts to conspiracy theory. There was even a few puns and jokes (“he’s a womanizer, makes insane amounts of money and ends up in jail: DSK is your new hip-hop idol”). I am by no means a political journalist, I would even say I do not know much about politics. But everyone knew that whatever had happened in the country and out of it would change the deal as far as national representation was concerned. Even as far as the fate of the country itself (DSK was ahead in all the presidential polls).

It is obviously way too early to pen a radical speech on the story. Only a low-life like Bernard Debré (Representative for Paris, NdlR) thought it would be appropriate to dig DSK a watery grave on his blog. (1) If it is politically accepted not to blame DSK and never forget that in this story also lies an alleged victim, it could be a destructive affair of rape as well as it could be a major conspiracy aimed at destroying the man and his presidential aspirations. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I will not dive into theory or analysis; here is my personal point of view. The images and photos of the man being handcuffed and taken away by the police, then presented as such in front of the judge were hard to watch. He is not just any other man. He was a french citizen who was well on his way to become president. As far as a scandal goes, a man of his status being accused of rape and sent to Rikers Island is unheard of. The Clinton scandal, despite its many story lines and threats of impeachment, was nothing but a situation of adultery committed by two consenting adults, therefore was a private matter that shouldn’t have been addressed in the public sphere, let alone under a political angle. The DSK scandal is nothing short of sordid.

Those images of the man appearing in court and being handcuffed, in the box of the accused, should they have been released? My own curiosity, maybe misplaced, agrees. Granted, the story itself would have lost no weight nor importance without those specific images. Is he paying for what Polanski managed to escape? I believe he does, maybe a little bit. Rikers Island? I can’t help thinking this is not where he should be. But what a beautiful example of justice, the one that treats the anonymous the same as the powerful!

The next few days will be of tremendous importance. Regardless of the outcome, DSK will not be the new president in 2012. His political career is most definitely over. No way to say if his life can be salvaged.

(1) Why Does Bernard Debré Hates DSK? Rue89.com, May 17 (in french)

nicoNico Prat is a journalist from Paris, France and is a regular contributor to VoxPop, Technikart, and ThatMag. He also co-hosts a radio show on Le Mouv’. You can follow him on Twitter at @nicoprat and on Tumblr.

Of a (re) definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ in Kansas

Angel Dillard

See: Kansas Free Press, “Judge Dismissive of Threatening Letter To Dr Means

On May 31st, 2009, Dr. Georges Tiller was shot in his church in Wichita by Scott Roeder, a self-proclaimed member of the ‘Army of God’, an anti-abortion movement stemming from the likes of Operation Rescue. Tiller, who not only faced trial for providing late-term abortions in a state where women’s health is strictly regulated, had already been shot in the arm in 1993 by Shelly Shannon, who was frequently visited by Roeder while in prison. If the murder of Dr. Tiller, the only provider of those services in the entire state of Kansas, came as a shock to the community, it was no surprise. Operation Rescue had always promoted violence against clinics and institutions such as Planned Parenthood. In the current political context, where the political will is so clearly to egg violence against women’s health and to rob them of federal protection, the decision of Judge Marten is, once again, predictable. What it is not is logical, or even in accordance with the legal common sense surrounding the protection of the individual against violence in the state.

The United States Justice Department (USJD) itself filed a claim against Dillard for already violating the FACE act, that guarantees women a safe access to clinics. FACE was a victory for Planned Parenthood and local women’s health practitioners who could request a protection, management and prevention from local law enforcement. Women and girls are often harassed and assaulted on their way to the clinic, intimidated and coerced into returning home or facing retaliation for whatever they were coming to the clinic for. FACE came too late in the legal system, and still takes time to be enforced. Clinics often have to resort to self-protection (the famous Planned Parenthood ‘escorts’) and women, who should feel protected, surrounded, and supported on their way to receiving health care, are instead isolated, threatened, and bewildered. The adoption of FACE was a legal response to the objective admission that anti-abortion groups represent a domestic threat to the well-being of american citizens, and should be kept at bay and under surveillance for violent activities. Groups such as Operation Rescue are not even shying away from admitting their commitment to violence; the Army of God, from its very name to its manifesto, believes it is at war and no longer recognizes the rule of law. This is the textbook definition of terrorism, regardless of the beliefs of current members of the House of Representatives.

In that, Judge Marten is painfully missing out on his role as a judge. The USJD and Dr. Means turned to him for protection regarding a matter that should not be taken lightly. In a country that has been on orange alert for terrorism since 2006, the irony is of a terrifyingly cynical nature. Let’s take a look at the letter Dillard sent to Dr. Means on January 15:

“Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita, but from all over the U.S. They will know your habits and routines. They will know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday-because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Not only is the threat of bombing clearly expressed in the letter, but the use of plural pronouns shows that Dillard does not believe she is acting alone, and that the letter was condoned by the ‘thousands of people’ she believes she is working with. The reference to a group carrying out illegal investigations on Dr. Means and working out on ending her life is the way any terrorist group would work. What is even more important here is that, should Judge Marten not be familiar with the regular workings of terrorist groups, the law specifies that it is not necessarily the more or less clear content of a threat that can justify a restraining order, but “how the threat is perceived by the recipient”. The sole fact that Dr. Means could be terrified by the letter should have resulted in immediate action against Dillard. Instead, Judge Marten chose to undermine and underplay a massive, nationwide threat that has already cost the nation the life of many health practitioners. In his ruling, Judge Marten establishes the precedence of the First Amendment over national security.

“The First Amendment is the absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom, and I think the ability to express an opinion on a topic that is important to one — even if it is controversial — has to be protected so long as the line is not crossed and becomes a true threat. I don’t think this letter constitutes a true threat (…)”

Dr. Mila Means

Judge Marten hereby extends the realm of application of the First Amendment to the freedom of menacing another person’s life, an appalling and dangerous decision that unfortunately echoes a similar decision rendered in 2008 by a federal judge Lynn Andelman on the grounds that a neo-nazi online posting threatening a juror was “not contrary to the First Amendment“, and “I am convinced that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation.” The release of said neo-nazi, the very same week Judge Marten made his ruling, was compared to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords supposedly following a display on Sarah Palin’s website, on which the faces of Democrat representatives and senators were turned into targets with crosshairs. In that specific case, Sarah Palin was not charged of solicitation, but her website was quickly taken down.

However, when it comes to Dr. Means, attacks have been made personal, and have already been extremely specific in that her name, address, and habits were released and publicly posted. Dillard made a clear reference to the murder of Dr. Means’ predecessor in the very same field in the very same city, and it is clear that Wichita, KS holds enough Army of God members to constitute a clear threat to Dr. Means’ life. In the case of counter terrorism, where do national laws stop protecting fellow citizens, and become an instrument of legal coercion? In a political context where the Times Square bomber could see his Miranda Rights revoked for having committed a terrorist act, how is the First Amendment used to protect Angel Dillard, who so clearly, in language, intention and expression, intends to end Dr. Means’ life? Is it turning a blind eye to what is domestic, white-based, and social-issued terrorism, as opposed to international, ethnic-based, and foreign policy-originated violence?

It took a murder, twelve arsons, one bombing, and sixty-six blockades carried out by anti-abortion extremists in the sole year of 1993 to give birth to FACE, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The murder of Dr. Tiller, following threats of violence for decades against his clinic, staff, and person should have given way to harsher and stricter legislation protecting doctors from violence. Instead, in 2011, 33 anti-abortion laws were enacted throughout the United States. In Missouri, doctors performing late-term abortions, like Dr. Tiller and Dr. Means, see a possible fine up to $50,000 and three years in prison.  In Indiana, a new law would force doctors to tell women, despite scientific evidence of the opposite, that the embryo can feel the pain of the abortion procedure and would force patients to undergo and view an ultrasound. In Montana, a similar bill wants doctors to inform their patients of an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer, despite, once again, scientific evidence.

When a nation is so evidently moving to the extreme right of social issues in a way that is politically enforced by state legislation, should security, law enforcement, and judicial powers support the political movement in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of citizens? Should domestic terrorism be downplayed to the point where social violence becomes just another way for ideological expression? Has democracy entirely run its course? The legal debate surrounding “protected speech” has, however, already been discussed by the Supreme Court, citing the direct link to be made between action and encouragement to action (see “direct incitement test” and Brandenburg vs Ohio): “speech is protected unless it is directed toward and likely to produce “imminent lawless action.”

The question now is, how far should said action be taken before we consider the threat of a bomb under one’s car an act of terrorism?

On french satire and rekindling oneself with political activism: an interview with Humour De Droite

Four years of Sarkozian politics seem to have taken a toll on the fabric of french political society; and in the face of an extreme-right wing rise, the population is disappointed in its socialist party’s apparent inability to create and galvanise a force of opposition. According to a BVA poll for France Info and Les Echos dating from March, 52% of the french population believe that the National Front should be treated, considered and apprehended “just like any other party”, a noticeable increase from 2010’s 47%.

Facing Sarkozy’s omnipotence and his ability to nip any attempt at resistance in the bud, the socialist party and any other political participation “on the left” (Left Radicals, the Workers’ Party, etc…) have  been painfully silent. The same poll reveals that, although many would disagree on Sarkozy’s domestic policies, his extreme views on immigration and the creation of his new ministry on “national identity” receives a certain degree of support: 40% agree with his belief that recent immigrants should not benefit from social security programs.

In the midst of this defining period for French politics, the Socialist Party was busy fixing cracks and wide gaps in its inner structure. Personal disagreements and parties within parties have weakened the national political stronghold and the year-long battle between putative leaders Aubry and Royal – a former presidential candidate in 2007 – have exhausted their supporters and gnawed at their credibility. In 2009, a grassroots movement emerged on Facebook, as it often does these days, mocking Sarkozy’s outrageous and obnoxious attitude: it was called “right wing humour”, and was unabashedly satirical and pointedly opinionated in its approach. And strangely enough, they identify themselves as right-wingers. Now counting over 18,000 followers on Facebook, owning a logo defacing Sarkozy’s party own image, and being credited as single-handedly tearing apart the foundations of Sarkozy’s Young Supporters’ website, the five brains behind Humour de Droite have granted us an interview.

What was the ideology behind Humour de Droite’s creation? Did you ever think it would reach that level of infamousness?

Joaquin: I joined the team shortly after its creation. I saw it as a way to display how funny the whole governmental structure was becoming. I believe one of the first jokes we ever worked with came from a Sylvie Noachovitch (ex candidate for the UMP, NdlR) moment. She’s onstage and she calls out to a black man in the audience: “Mamadou, Mamadou… did you stop drinking thanks to me?” it was hilarious.

Nicolas: It was about putting a name, a label, an image, on this very french, very low-degree, obnoxious type of what is present in the collective unconscious as being this national racism, that is sometimes institutionalized racism. We all know those clichés. What we really triggered the creation of HDD was the character of Michel Sardouille, from the satirical TV show Grosland (based on a very conservative french singer Michel Sardou, NdlR.), like the song “What do they have against ham”, which somehow represents a lot of Sarkozy’s ideology on immigration. We never really thought we would become that big, but that clearly was a goal, and it still is.

Robin: We tend to rationalise the creation of the movement in hindsight… At the end of the day, we were just really doing what everyone is doing, creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account to make our friends laugh. There was something topical and relevant in the concept. Just so you know, the first name that we deposited was “the page of the UMP’s humour”, but we were deleted within ten minutes… and we almost gave up.

Later on, even if we really didn’t think we would become that big, but we did everything we could in our power to make it so: we created guidelines, we came up with a strong logo, we stayed focused. As far as approaching the media goes, we said we would be very demanding in terms of quality and what we could deliver – and at the same time, having close to no constraints. Our goal is to be both the brand and the ad agency for ourselves.

Don: We were a bunch of thirty-somethings who felt they could become reactionaries. We use Humour de Droite as an exorcism against the way our society is leaning towards the right and extreme-right, all of which are in complete opposition to what we believed in as teenagers. I see our success as being the result of being close to our generation. We were cradled in this TV attitude from the 80s and 90s, from Canal + (private, liberal Channel 4 that pioneered political satire on french TV, NdlR) to Les Inconnus. All of them gone now, and we’re all disappointed in what is now supposedly available to make us laugh.

Josh: I’m the latest addition to the team. What brings us together – besides a common appetite for booze and cute butts – it’s our appetite for humour and our common influences, ranging from the Monty Python to Pierre Desproges. What’s really interesting is trying to step outside the box and not re-hash the same attitude, the same language that is now commonly used and accepted as being political humour, while still labelling ourselves as such. It’s a tiny, tiny shake of the snow globe, and as for the effect it produced, it was completely unexpected.

“Our current government is taking the easy way out, bullying the weak and the vulnerable, or creating monsters to keep the people afraid.”

From being a purely humoristic movement to your groundbreaking stance on the internationally decried treatment of the Roma in the country, how do you explain your position as members of the opposition?

Joaquin: We’re not in the opposition, we identify as right-wing. But even as conservatives, some of the government’s decisions drive us crazy. The whole expulsion of the Roma, it made me sick to my stomach. Using our outreach potential, we just decided to broadcast a message denouncing this racist methodology so we can fight what we believe is this country’s gangrene. With humour, of course. But isn’t it the best therapy?

Nicolas: The treatment of the Roma population, the law against their situation, the expulsion, it was one of the worst legal situations of the last few years. We did react strongly on this, the way we did on other subjects too. I do believe we are in the opposition, but not necessarily in the way traditional politics would define it. We are well-aware that only a few things make a difference between Strauss-Kahn, Sarkozy or even Aubry. I personally believe that courage and common sense are necessary qualities in politics. A political leader, even more so an elected official, has the duty to accept the complexity of his country’s problems and to answer them intelligently. Our current government is taking the easy way out, bullying the weak and the vulnerable, or creating monsters to keep the people afraid. If being a political leader is now equal to kicking Roma families out of the country, spend the whole of a five-year long mandate debating Islam and run to scream at people’s faces in order to play on the emotional palate, I’d personally rather vote for my super. This is how low the political debate has stooped in France; and the UMP is proud of it, they are even proud of how powerless they are next to the rising numbers of unemployment, of frozen salaries, or real social debates… like someone who would lick their own fingers after going to the bathroom.

Robin: We didn’t really “decide” to become activists. When we first started, we were denouncing how unabashed and obnoxious the ring-wing branch was, this racism being part of the ordinary. The more radical the right was becoming, we proportionally reacted. I don’t think we can consider ourselves activists since none of us would become involved politically. We are involved and active within Humour de Droite, but on no other platform. We are more about raising awareness than into direct action.

Don: The Roma episode was a turning point. It was when the catholic right or the “social conservatives” were starting to ask themselves, “what the fuck are we doing here?” It was the same thing for us, we realised we couldn’t just limit ourselves to overplaying existing schemes and that we had to get a little more involved. I’m not sure we are in the opposition. We do not belong to any existing movement, we’re more about mocking people who do subscribe to a specific political affiliation.  But we are definitely part of a growing movement, albeit a blurry one – web-based activism.

Josh: As far as I am concerned, I am part of the opposition. And I do have a political affiliation. The rest of the guys don’t know about this.

“They own a considerable part of the media, and control almost all national institutions. And now they’re trying to own being funny on the internet?”

What do you think of the relevatively failed attempts by the right-wing majority to work against you (creating a similar « left wing humour » account on Twitter), to win support on the internet platform that you so clearly dominate ?

Joaquin: The UMP tried to exist on the intrawebs. They created what they called the « iRiposte » (« iRetaliation », NdlR), which is to be understood as, « the internet is constantly mocking us and belongs to the left, we must try to tap into their base. » Which was a massive failure.
I see two issues – first, the right thought the internet was poking fun at them because they believed our movement to be from the left – whereas it is only because they were (and still are) completely ridiculous. The UMP, the first political party in France, placed people in charge of internet communication even when it was obvious they didn’t know anything about the internet. They should have let their grassroot base do it. Yet most of those communication directors are in their fifties.
The second issue is that the young UMP members, the very same ones that attempted to pry internet control away from us, have leadership to answer to, inside a party system that is all about control, wants to control everything, wants to control the use of the Internet – which is part of its attempt at domination – but also control those who work within the realm of the internet. We do not have to answer to anyone. We have complete freedom to write whatever we want to write. We can only be sanctioned by our Facebook fans or Twitter followers, but we don’t really care at this point. The numbers speak for themselves … and as far as talent goes…

Nicolas: I don’t have much to say on the question. I get that they’re trying to gain some space on the platform, but so far it hasn’t really been a success. What’s really funny is that we even sometimes are a legit source of information and entertainement for their own youth movement, even for UNI (right-wing student union, NdlR) members…

Robin: It’s important to mention that they have control of the press, though. Even traditionally left-leaning newspapers tend to linger for too long on the media noise that the right knows how to create in order to mask the real issues. When Liberation is losing its mind over the debate on laicity, they’re not lashing out at the government about unemployment rates. The right doesn’t need to have an Internet presence, its audience is elsewhere. They seem to want to waste money on it though… I’m not against it, it’s good for the economy.

Don: It’s not easy to be both in the government and be funny. They own a considerable part of the media, and control almost all national institutions. And now they’re trying to own being funny on the internet ? The internet will always laugh at them, not with them.

Josh: If you only knew how much money is thrown into it… not even bringing in fantastic results, their appeal close to zero.

HDD now has over 18,000 fans on Facebook. Do you consider yourselves disappointed by the traditional left in its failure to oppose Sarkozy’s policies, or simply as pioneers of interactive and participative political activism ?

Joaquin: I believe in the latter. HDD has, from the get-go, created a new media thanks to social networking. We don’t have any website or blog. We only have a Facebook page and a Twitter account with over 40,000 followers – it’s exceptionally high for a french-based account. We also have a Tumblr (tumblr.com/bonjourlancar). Any of our followers are free to comment and participate. We are a community. A strong one.

Nicolas: Definitely disappointed by the left, especially the Socialist Party. When I see Martine Aubry withdrawing her signature on a petition against the debate on laicity, only because Tariq Ramadan signe dit as well, what do you want me to think ? That she wouldn’t have supported the end of the death penalty if Tariq Ramandan had as well ? I don’t know who her counsellors are, but it was one of the biggest mistakes of the last few months, it defies common sense. She just appears as some sort of fearful old lady who only worries about her reputation.

Robin: We are a media focused on awareness. We are here to make people understand that the only way to change things is to go vote, and if they choose not to, they lost their right to complain, that they can only shut the fuck up for the ensuing five years. We offer support to people, we’re your local Weight Watchers support group, the political chapter. We are indeed based on interactivity and participation.

Don: Disappointed by the left, for sure. Strauss-Kahn, Aubry, Hollande have little to no impact on us. We do like Jospin, as he represents a beloved and cherished time before Sarkozy. I’m not sure we’re pioneers, though. Political entertainment isn’t new. What is new is how successful we’ve become.

Josh: I agree with my team. I think we’re all more or less disappointed by the left. Strauss-Kahn or Aubry, there’s no difference. As far as Hollande goes, I’d admit I’m on the fence. He’s been admirably successful in his evolution.

Will HDD officially endorse a candidate for the 2012 presidential election ?

Joaquin: We are running for the UMP primaries, if there is one. Exclusive info.

Nicolas: We might.

Robin: If it hadn’t been for the 500 required sponsors, we would have run for the socialist primaries. But to answer on a personal level, I’d rather not endorse a particular candidate, I’d rather have a single candidate on the Left.

Josh: And if it ends up being Hollande, we won’t mind.

Don: I think we’d lose credibility if we endorsed someone. We must keep the whole « couldn’t give less of a shit » vibe or we’re selling out. Thank god there are five of us, so we can keep some balance.

“If each and single one of our followers could start a political conversation with their parents, grandparents to talk about what they’re expecting from their country, what bothers them, what they hope for, I think we could honestly find national cohesion”

Your new motto is making no prisoners (« In France, you either fear the Arabs or fear the National Front. If you are Sarkozy, you fear both »). What do you make of the rise of the National Front and do you believe in an organized front to avoid a catastrophe ?

Joaquin: Our previous motto was, « If you don’t like it, go set yourself on fire in Tunisia », and even before that, « If you don’t like it, you can always go live in North Korea. » Our mottos are always topical.
There is, today, an undeniable rise of the National Front and it’s only due to the xenophobic policies implemented by the government and orchestrated since Election Day by the Sarkozy administration. It’s a campaign strategy : increase the numbers of the National Front while turning racism into something mainstream, decomplexing the working class, then grab all the National Front votes in 2012.
Jacques Chirac did just that in 2002 with his infamous line on « the noise and the smell », then Sarkozy in 2007 when he claimed to clean the country « with a karsher » and that suburban youth were just « scum ». There is a noticeable increase in the governmental linguistic slips, essentially directed against Islam. It’s just this basic fear of the immigrant, of « the arab ». It’s profoundly disgusting. And so far, it’s failing. This strategy only empowered the National Front. They don’t even need to campaign anymore. But those disappointed by Sarkozy won’t go back to the fold. So, yes, it is worrying. We’re trying to open people’s eyes on what is going on, on our own scale. But Twitter users are not the working classes that are courted by the extreme right.

Nicolas: If each and single one of our followers could start a political conversation with their parents, grandparents to talk about what they’re expecting from their country, what bothers them, what they hope for, I think we could honestly find national cohesion : most families have a discussion before making an important decision. I envision a vote from the same prism. We are relying on a young generation, very wired, mostly middle class or even upper middle class, but most importantly educated, to transmit and communicate key points in current affairs. In short, every one can relay an opinion. I don’t even know why I’m telling you that.
Regarding the rise of the National Front, I consider its ideas as being widely spread already, being carried by Marine Le Pen, Jean-Francois Cope, Claude Gueant, I don’t know who, it doesn’t matter. We still have to fight them.

Robin: I’m not afraid of the National Front. What is scary to me is their capacity to mobilize their base on issues that the mainstream parties refuse or are incapable to address. I won’t comment on their ideas, there has always been incredibly idiotic people on Earth and I don’t think it’s ever going to change.

Josh: The train is speeding on the tracks and the UMP is doing whatever it takes to create « inception » with the public opinion. Honestly, do you see a clear difference between Marine Le Pen and Claude Gueant ? I’m also absolutely convinced that this presidential campaign is going to stoop to an absolutely horrifying low. It will be even worse than in 2007.

Don: I’m not afraid of the National Front. To be honest I’m not sure she’ll reach the second round. And even if she does – what will it change ?

You’ve never refrained from personal attacks on openly racist elected officials (Brice Hortefeux) or on the youth movement’s leaders. You also reignited an interest for the right to vote with interactive operations (« In the voting booth », where people are asked to submit pictures on a given theme). Are you influenced by stateside satirical figures like Colbert or Stewart, targeting a young base ?

Joaquin: Americans do not exist.

Robin: Not really, the closest we have to Colbert and Stewart are Debbouze and Dieudonné, as they’re capitalizing on their sympathy level to communicate a political message. And they’re right to do so. The real difference with Colbert and Stewart is that France doesn’t have its own political comedian with his own TV show on a network with a real political affiliation, that is not afraid to attack the government. France doesn’t have that. We have no powerful and/or efficient counter-power.
We’re not really inspired by the US. We’re pretty far from the US mentality. We’re really fans of some cultural elements for sure, but not in our mindset. We’re pretty skeptical.

Don:I’m not personally into the whole « go vote, youngins ! » theme. I’m not a brother figure or a guy out to make people more responsible. I’m more into pissing the old people off.

Nicolas: Americans have a choice between two parties… in France, small parties are gnawing at majorities and gain some cumulative power. Small parties are the ones creating the nuances in policing. In our jokes and our daily production, we also try to translate those nuances because it’s in the daily details that a voter will make its choice between what he is offered. Everyone is pretty much aware that there are major political issues with their own major answers with which everyone agrees : that’s what made Sarkozy’s « working more to earn more » slogan so successful. It’s also what drowned Royal in quicksand when she got mad during the final debate : she tried to get angry to draw attention on one of the few topics on which every single party should agree (ie. the rights of the handicapped).

Josh: Obama playing the game by appearing on Stewart’s show. Do you see it being translated in french culture ? Really ?Colbert and Stewart in the US. In France, Yann Barthes. I think there’s nothing more to say.

What goals are you setting for HDD for the upcoming election year ? What role will you play in the election coverage and mobilization for the youth vote ?

Joaquin: There will be a lot of surprises… Can’t talk about any of them yet.

Josh: We will show our cute little faces and court a potential ministry position.

Nicolas: A lot of things are in the works. Big things.

Robin: To continue up until Election Day, and depending on the outcome, we will change course, towards a new project we are currently working on… and yeah, why not show our faces ? We’re handsome dudes.

Don: We will continue to gather more followers and then have a giant revolutionary booze party.

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