- Open letter by a group of serving French soldiers published late on Sunday
- Soldiers warn Macron that the ‘survival’ of France is at stake after he made ‘concessions’ to Islamism
- It echoes the tone of a similar letter printed last month which warned of civil war
A group of serving French soldiers have published a new open letter warning Emmanuel Macron that the ‘survival’ of France is at stake after the President made ‘concessions’ to Islamism.
The letter published in the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles (Today’s Values) late on Sunday echoes the tone of a similar letter printed in the same magazine last month which also warned a civil war was brewing and called for military action against ‘Islamists’.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a close ally of Macron, slammed the letter as a ‘crude maneouvre’ and accused its anonymous signatories of lacking ‘courage’.
The previous letter, signed by 1,000 people including serving officers and some 20 semi-retired generals, warned of the ‘disintegration’ of France because of radical Islamic ‘hordes’ living in the suburbs.
The explosive letter sparked a furore in France, with Prime Minister Jean Castex called the letter an unacceptable interference while France’s top general vowed that those behind it would be punished for the ‘absolutely revolting’ letter.
It is not clear how many people are behind the current letter or what their ranks are – and their anonymity is likely to due to the backlash faced by the authors of the previous letter, with 18 officers who signed the letter facing disciplinary action.
In contrast to the previous letter, it is also open to be signed by the public, with Valeurs Actuelles saying more than 93,000 had done so by Monday morning.
‘We are not talking about extending your mandates or conquering others. We are talking about the survival of our country, the survival of your country,’ said the letter, which was addressed to Macron and his cabinet.
The authors described themselves as active-duty soldiers from the younger generation of the military, a so-called ‘generation of fire’ that had seen active service.
‘They have offered up their lives to destroy the Islamism that you have made concessions to on our soil.’
They claimed also to have served in the Sentinelle security operation within France launched after a wave of jihadist attacks in 2015.
They observed that for some religious communities ‘France means nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt or even hatred’.
It added: ‘If a civil war breaks out, the military will maintain order on its own soil… civil war is brewing in France and you know it perfectly well.’
The letter comes in a febrile political atmosphere ahead of 2022 elections, when Macron’s main challenger is expected to again be the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Analysts say Macron has tacked to the right in recent months to prevent Le Pen from exploiting a series of attacks in late 2020 blamed on Islamist extremists who recently immigrated to France.
‘I believe that when you are in the military you don’t do this kind of thing in hiding,’ Darmanin told BFM television. ‘These people are anonymous. Is this courage? To be anonymous?’
Former president Francois Hollande weighed in on the debate, expressing bewilderment that such sentiments could be expressed by serving soldiers.
‘How can we suggest that the army today could have such feelings and a desire to question the very principles of the Republic?’ he told France Inter radio.
Prime Minister Jean Castex had labelled the rare intervention in politics by military figures in last month’s letter ‘an initiative against all of our republican principles, of honour and the duty of the army’.
France’s armed forces chief of staff, General Francois Lecointre, said those who signed it would face punishments ranging from forced full retirement to disciplinary action for the ‘absolutely revolving letter’.
Lecointre said: ‘These general officers will each pass before a higher military council. At the end of this procedure, it is the President of the Republic who signs a decree expelling them’.
They will lose their pay and privileges as members of the reserve of senior officers, and won’t be able to use their rank.
And Florence Parly, the Defence Minister, said: ‘This is unacceptable. There will be consequences, naturally.
The soldiers behind the letter were all said to be anti-immigration activists with racist views and strong ties to the far-Right Rassemblement National (National Rally).
The lead signatory was Christian Piquemal, 80, who commanded the French Foreign Legion before losing his privileges as a retired officer after being arrested while taking part in an anti-Islam demonstration in 2016.
But a majority of French voters last month said they agree with the generals who threatened a coup if Macron cannot prevent the rise of radical Islam, according to a poll.
In signs of a deepening chasm between the president and the electorate, a poll published last month by news channel La Chaîne Info has found that 58 per cent supported the letter, while 42 per cent were opposed.
Among respondents who vote for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) party the proportion of those who supported the letter rose to 86 per cent.
Despite widespread condemnation, politicians on the right like Rachida Dati, mayor of the 7th arrondissement, continue to throw their support behind the signatories, who included 20 retired generals.
‘What is written in this letter is a reality,’ Ms Dati told France Info radio last month. ‘When you have a country plagued by urban guerrilla warfare, when you have a constant and high terrorist threat, when you have increasingly glaring and flagrant inequalities … we cannot say that the country is doing well.’
Marine Le Pen, the Rassemblement National leader, welcomed the letter, which was first published last week in Valeurs Actuelle (Current Values) magazine.
‘I invite you to join us in taking part in the coming battle, which is the battle of France,’ Le Pen wrote in a response to the letter.
Le Pen, who would become head of France’s Armed Forces if she replaces Macron as president next year, was widely criticised by her opponents on both the Left and Right for her words.
France’s current Fifth Republic has been threatened by military coups in the past, notably by far-Right activists who were eventually defeated as they tried to keep Algeria in the early 1960s.
There are some five million Muslims in France – the largest community of its kind in western Europe – and many have backgrounds in former colonies, such as Algeria.
The Rassemblement National used to be called the Front National (National Front), and was founded by Ms Le Pen’s father, the convicted anti-Semite, racist and Islamophobe, Jean-Marie Le Pen.