How Sarkozy’s Petulance on a Proposed Law Illustrates a Bigger Political …
The decision Tuesday by France’s constitutional watch-dog striking down a pending law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turks produced reactions one might have anticipated: applause from Turkey, disappointment in Armenia, and vows by French backers of the bill to make modifications so it can be put into place as intended. Yet beneath the international attention–and heated diplomatic sparring between Paris and Ankara– that followed the text’s passage by French legislators in January lies a less obvious, yet very significant driver in the law’s saga. That element offers a clear example of how French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to be deeply unpopular among voters—and even resented by some of his fellow conservatives. And that, in turn, explains why Sarkozy’s bid for re-election just two months away appears so enormously compromised.
The new turn in the controversial law came Tuesday when France’s Constitutional Council invalidated the text passed by legislators Jan. 23 for violating fundamental freedom of expression statutes. Though a French law introduced in 2001 formally recognized the genocide of what some historians say was 1.5 million Armenians killed by Turks as the Ottoman Empire fell in the chaos of World War I, the bill passed in January created prison terms of up to a year, and fines of up to $58,000 for people who deny the genocidal nature of those deaths. In doing so, the text’s backers say, the measure simply extends the same legal consequences that previously applied to Shoah denial to the Armenian genocide. The response to that move by Turkey—which is adamant no organized slaughter of Armenians ever occurred—was furious. Tuesday’s ruling, however, evoked a different reaction from Ankara. “The correction of this grave error by the highest court in France is satisfying,” the Turkish foreign ministry reacted in a statement. The Turks, however, may want to watch what happens next. All things Sarkozy in this pre-election period in France are, well, complicated.
Just minutes after the unconstitutionality ruling, Sarkozy ordered conservative legislators to
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