PERIGUEUX, France, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- France's elites in the media and the political class, and some of the young immigrants from the places that President Jacques Chirac calls "zones in difficulty" have reacted favorably to his diagnosis of "profound national malaise" in his address to the nation Monday. And they warmed to his pledge to the young immigrants that they were "all sons and daughters of the Republic."
But watching his address over dinner in the home of an old friend, a local police chief and his wife, the impression was rather different.
"Chirac does not seem to live in the same country that we do," said the wife, Francine. "This isn't just about his 'zones in difficulty.' The whole country is fed up. We have had this immigration for 20 years and nothing seems to change. We spend more and more money on these zones, we rebuild them, we decorate them, we install playgrounds and social workers and nothing changes."
Her husband, who has future political ambitions so he had better remain anonymous, is the police chief for a medium-sized commune in what used to be the countryside, but is increasingly a dormitory town and regional shopping center. And though the major towns around have had cars torched and angry scenes in the last two weeks of riots, his commune has remained completely peaceful.
"I know all the youngsters by name because as soon as they are born, I get them inscribed for the local rugby classes," he over an omelet made with eggs from his own hens, stuffed with cepes mushrooms he picked from the woods around his home. "By the time they are 5, boys and girls alike, I have them training and playing rugby together and they know they are our team of the future. I know the kids, I know their parents and we have no trouble here."
"But because I know the parents, I can tell you that some of them have never had a job, yet they have more spending money than Francine and I have left after we pay our taxes and mortgage and insurance," he went on.
"They get unemployment pay and then they get family assistance money for their children. Their rent is free. Their children eat free at school. When we go to the dentist or to the pharmacy, we have to pay a proportion of the bill because the insurance does not cover everything, and if your family needs spectacles, the insurance pays hardly anything. But for them it is all free. And then they get extra money for their holidays."
"Last winter we went down to the Pyrenees to ski, staying in a cheap bread and breakfast place, because it was all we could afford. And staying in the hotel, with full board, were these kids from 'zones in difficulty' having free holidays, free lift tickets, free ski instructors," he said.
"And in reality, it is we who pay for all this with taxes that seem to go up and up, and now Chirac tells us that we have to make special efforts to give jobs to these young criminals who have been setting fire to cars and throwing rocks at the police. I can tell you what the local businessmen around here think about that. There is no way they are going to hire somebody like that, who has no education, no qualification, and who thinks everything in life should be given to them for free."
The police chief is mildly conservative, but broadly centrist in his politics, and he spends his spare time teaching rugby, playing tennis and hunting. He served in the military before joining the police and marrying Francine, and they have a 16-year old son at the local lycee who plays rugby for the local youth team, and who dreams of playing for the first team, which currently contains two blacks and two Arabs -- all of them employed.
"I will tell you who is going to benefit from these troubles," said Francine. "It is Le Pen and his Front National, and they will get 30 percent of the vote next time. That is what women tell me in the market, that is this business is not settled and some order and sense restored, they will vote Le Pen. We are all completely fed up with the way this country is going. It doesn't seem like France any more."
Jean-Marie Le Pen, 76, is the elderly former paratrooper who leads the far-right Front National party and he won 18 percent of the vote in the presidential elections three years ago, beating the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party into third place. Le Pen wants an immediate end to all immigration, and the forcible deportation of all illegal immigrants and their families, and of all immigrants convicted of crimes.
In his address to the nation, Chirac tried to pick a middle way, saying discrimination "drains the foundations of our Republic" but also insisting on law and order. "Those who attack must know that in a republic, one cannot break the law without being caught, judged and punished," he said.
He called on the media and the political parties to bring in more minorities so the TV screens and the political faces "better reflect the reality of French society today." But at the same time, he ruled out American-style affirmative action to give immigrants preference in jobs and high education.
"There is no question of entering into the logic of quotas," Chirac said. And he went on to defend the French model of integration, which in effect denies ethnicity, refuses to collect statistical data on ethnic origin, and claims to treat all citizens equally. "At stake is respect for the law but also the success of our policy of integration," Chirac said.
The president called on companies and trades unions to encourage diversity and support employment for immigrant youths, and announced the formation of a national volunteer corps that would offer training for 50,000 youths by 2007 and help them to get jobs.
"Everyone must commit themselves, companies too - how many applications end up in the bin because of the applicant's name or address?" he asked.
Back at the dinner table of Francine and the police chief, they spoke approvingly of the Paris suburb of Draveil, where Mayor Georges Tron has announced an end to benefits run by his local council, which includes services like school canteens and child care, for the families of youths convicted of rioting or arson.
"That's more like it," said Francine.