“Sarkozy, I see you!”

Those are four words that will bring a 47 years old teacher from Marseille in front of a court tomorrow. On February 27, said teacher witnessed a police patrol proceeding to an identity check in the city, in a way that was a little too violent and excessive in his taste. Yelling the sarcastic one-liner twice, in front of the policemen, he was arrested for “unruly daytime outrage”, and held in custody despite strong popular reaction. The story, that has made the rounds on the blogosphere before being quickly picked on by major news outlets, is just another proof that the Kingdom of Sarkozy is taking another step further in the suppression of civil liberties.

According to french law, noisy outrage consists in either extremely loud noise after 10pm, or injures/lewd insults to a public representative/official during the day, at a noise level high enough to encourage collective protest. The teacher in question yelled it in the middle of extremely busy southern train station Gare Saint Charles – train stations at rush hour probably being the place where most people come to quietly reflect on spiritual thoughts after work, in-between two commutes. Mr. Eolas, attorney at law, commented on his blog: “Showing off a giant sign obnoxiously and obviously criticizing the President is an offence. Yelling a critical comment regarding the highly violent profile of said President’s police techniques is an outrage. What is the next step: a slightly disapproving thought could become an attempt to destabilize the authority of the state?”

The ridiculousness of the incident hasn’t escaped general consciousness. This was an isolated incident, certainly nothing compared to anarchist collective hysteria. This was a 47 years old teacher, certainly not a hooded 17 year old dealing drugs and yelling for attention. The sentence, albeit clearly critical of the violence with which Sarkozy intends on bringing social peace, was in no way insulting nor offensive. Those four words could have been pronounced by anyone in any situation, but in the current french political climate, the effect was that of a bomb. The problem seems to reside in the fact that the unfortunate and spontaneous public speaker dared invoking the name of the President in public, without any sort of respectful prefix – an offense that is apparently punishable by immediate arrest. Nicolas Sarkozy could then be He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?

Napakatbra, another politically savvy blogger, was prompt to notice that indeed, commentators hardly ever used the President’s name outside of the regular news enunciation. “at the Stade de France, during the soccer French Cup finale, never the speaker has ever spoken the name of the president, and would rather paraphrase, using ‘highest authority of the Republic’…. Ironically enough, a report published by the Human Rights League commented yesterday on the ‘bitter statement to be made about the decaying relationships between the state police and its citizens’. My point exactly.” Another detail to add on the Napoleon Complex diagnosis? Sarkozy, whose popularity rates are dunking lower in the polls than any sinking iceberg, would be so afraid of popular vindict he would submit any potential critic to the wrath of his judicial system? Said judicial system, however, tries to hold on tightly to the little remains of independance King Sarkozy was generous enough to let them keep, and the verdict is expected to be low, if not significantly symbolic. The French Attorney General, Rachida Dati, has been under the judges and attorneys’ fire for over two years, after the reform of the judicial system made them the puppets of this overwhelming state power. Dati went on to comment that said judges were “vicious”. Outrage to the court, maybe?

Criticize his policies and you might be outcasted. Dare speak his name in public and you might be arrested. Vote against the majority and you will be isolated. If Sarkozy’s insecurities, reinforced by a difficult and staunch international climate, can only find repression as an outlet, the country will soon be surrounded by a proverbial Iron Curtain, certainly sparking even more outbursts of rebellion than we have seen ever since the election in May 2007. As the “small man with big ideas” celebrates his second year in office under the boos of an unpleased, underwhelmed and dissatisfied audience, the violence keeps on rising, unemployement rates are peaking, and social unrest is palpable, in a country that had always taken pride in its realistic and philosophical approach to politics, prone to call for freedom and social equality, for economic¬† welfare and institutional independance. Has France become the shadow of its former self? Never his predecessor and lifetime enemy Jacques Chirac had stirred so much trouble. Controversy is not the only way forward, and we shall wait until Sarkozy sees it too.