I was already living in Paris when Jacques Chirac took office as President of France in May of 1995, reigning over France until May of 2007. He was born on November 29th of 1932, and died just this past September 26th, a date that has always been significant for me. It’s the birthday of my longest-standing friend (as well as a long list of other friends) and was the date I got married. But, the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news about his passing was of an up-close photo taken of him by my daughter, Erica Simone, which was one of the first “real” photographs she had taken in her budding career as a photographer.
“I was using a Canon Snapshot A510 (3.2 mega pixels) at the 2005 Paris Air Show at the Exhibition Center of Le Bourget, a few kilometers North of Paris. I was 19 and interning abroad in London, writing articles and things for Flight Daily News (no longer in existence). They sent me to Paris to cover the Air Show. When Chirac came out to uncover the latest Falcon, I snaked my way through the press to the front, stuck my camera up, pointed it at him not having any idea if he was even in the frame and took two pictures, hoping they had turned out okay. He was staring and smiling right at me in this shot — I suppose because he may have been surprised to see a little teen amongst all the pushy old man photojournalists. In any event, the newspaper, who hadn’t even asked me to take photos, ran my photo instead of the guy’s they had hired. I guess this was the very beginning of my photography career.” —Erica Simone
A slew of world leaders came to Paris to pay their respects to the former president this week, led by the current French President, Emmanuel Macron. Among them were U.S. former president, Bill Clinton, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and a host of French politicians including former French president 93-year-old Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the former Socialist president, François Hollande. That’s a pretty impressive line-up of political power in one place just to honor him.
Chirac wasn’t a perfect politician by any stretch of the imagination. He was convicted for a “fake jobs” scandal during his term as Mayor of Paris (long standing — 1977 to 1995), but the public still loved him. One thing we loved him for at the time was his open apology to the public for France’s role in the deportation of Jews during World War II when the Nazi occupied France. He was also famous for his stand against the American-led assault on Iraq and believe it or not, he reduced the presidential term from seven to five years via a referendum in the year 2000. In 2002, he won the election with 82.2% of the vote against far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen, but in the end of his term, he became one of the least popular presidents in modern history as a result of a 2011 declaration of the Paris courts accusing him of diverting public funds and abusing public confidence. He was given a two-year prison sentence that was suspended.
Ten years or so later, Erica was hired to shoot the 66th UN Assembly that she admits “was pretty cool.” And the last of her political figure posts was of the next French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Did you know that his full name is Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa? That’s because he’s a “Heinz 57” French born of Hungarian, Greek, Jewish and French Catholic origin who was also a mayor, but of a Paris suburb (Neuilly-sur-Seine). During Jacques Chirac’s second presidential term, he served as Minister of the Interior and as Minister of Finance. His win over Socialist Ségolène Royal in 2007 was by a small margin. He faced a lot of adversity during his term that included the financial crisis, the Russo-Georgian War and the Arab Spring Uprising.
One thing I really liked him for was his “work more to earn more” attitude and his creation of the “auto-entrepreneur” status, in January of 2009, for individuals to easily start a commercial or artisanal activity, offering Value Added Tax exemption in order to promote more free enterprise. Until then, there was almost no way for an individual to start a small company without a large amount of capital, nor perform odd jobs, get paid and pay taxes…legally. I know this seems mind-boggling to an American, where in the U.S. you can do anything you want, get paid for it, report it at the end of the year and pay your fair share of taxes, but that wasn’t the case in France until Sarkozy’s progressive scheme. Like Chirac, Sarkozy isn’t squeaky clean, either, and is currently being charged with corruption.
François Hollande followed after Sarkozy in the 2012 election, a member of the Socialist Party. He won by an even smaller margin than Sarkozy did with only 3.2 percent. There are no corruption accusations in his portfolio, but he will be remembered as France’s most unpopular president. He became unpopular with me the moment he stepped into office when he announced that taxpayers earning over €1 million a year would be subjected to a special 75% tax bracket. That’s when the wealthy fled France leaving the middle class to spread the wealth and support the poor. How dumb was that?
Emmanuel Macron followed Hollande with the opposite ideas, determined to bring back the wealthy by offering tax cuts. This isn’t buying him any favor, however, and has led to the violent anti-government yellow vest movement as well as being termed “the president of the rich.”
They just can’t win, can they?
Jacques Chirac, RIP.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Join me tonight for Erica Simone’s photo exhibition at the Mairie of the 9th Arrondissement! See the Mairie’s website for more information.
P.P.S. Join me October 5th at the American Church in Paris for the 54th annual premier expat orientation seminar, BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED, where I will be speaking about Finding Your Perfect Paris Home.
Saturday, October 5, 2019
The American Church in Paris, 65 Quai d’Orsay,
Visit Bloom in Paris to register and for more information.