12 March 2007

Chirac bids politics farewell

I'm sure there will be official translations of French President Jacques Chirac's farewell address to the French people, but I wanted to do my own. Chirac announced last night that he would not seek a third term as president, and he did not endorse any other candidate. The voting will start on April 22.

Here's a link to the text of his speech in French, and here's my version. I hope it is faithful to the spirit, meaning, and "flavor" of the original:

* * * * *

My esteemed fellow French citizens in France, the overseas territories, and abroad,

This evening it is with heartfelt love and pride for France that I appear before you.

France is an impassioned and independent nation. France is a nation committed to justice and peace. France’s voice rises above partisan interests.

My dear compatriots, I love France passionately. I have put all my heart, all my energy, all my strength at her service, at your service. Serving France, serving the cause of peace, that has been the commitment of my life.

I would have loved, of course, to shake the foundations of the old ways and partisan interests even more, to respond more quickly to the difficulties confronting many among you. But I am proud of the things we have been able to accomplish together. Proud to have worked with you to restore the fundamental values of the French Republic, including the principle of secularism. Proud to have helped bring about important reforms, to protect your retirement pensions and better see to the needs of senior citizens and the disabled. Proud to have fought the good fight against crime and to have reduced delinquency. Proud to see French women and men on the road to innovation and progress. And especially proud to have demonstrated that we are not powerless against the scourge of unemployment. Even though we have far to go, unemployment is lower now than it has been in a quarter of a century. France is living up to its responsibilities. France is asserting its position in the world.

All that is true thanks to you, to your talents and your creativity. Thanks also to the hard work you have been willing to do, and which I do not underestimate.

My dear compatriots, as the term as president you have accorded me comes to an end, the time has come for me to find new ways to serve you. I will not be a candidate for a third term. In new ways, but with undiminished enthusiasm and a passion to act in your interest, I will continue the struggles that have been ours, the struggles that have always been my priorities, for justice, progress, peace, and the greatness of France.

On the subject of the current presidential election, I will have other opportunities to reveal my personal choices. But this evening, and in the name of the confidence you have placed in me, I would like to speak on several other subjects.

First, I want to urge you never to go down the road of extremism, racism, antisemitism, and exclusionism. Historically, we have seen extremism threaten our very existence. It’s a poison. It divides. It perverts and destroys. Everything in the French soul says no to extremism.

France’s true calling, France’s glorious mission, is unity and solidarity. Yes, our values have meaning! Yes, France is enriched by diversity. Yes, honor in politics requires working for equal opportunity for all, and making it possible for everyone, for every young person in France, to have equal opportunity. This struggle, despite all obstacles and the long road we have ahead of us, is under way. We must stay united to succeed. It is one of the keys to our future as a nation.

The second thing I want to say is that you must always believe in yourselves and believe in France. We have so much going for us. We must not fear change in the world. Instead, we must embrace a changing world. We have to continue to make our mark. And we must never sell short our French political system and model. It defines us. And the French system is right for today’s world, as long as we continue to adapt and modernize it.

We must continue resolutely down the road to reform, with an emphasis on hard work, innovation, and initiative.

My third point has to do with Europe.

In the 2005 constitutional referendum, you expressed your doubts, your worries, your expectations. It is vital that we continue to build Europe. Nationalism has done such damage to our continent and could resurface at any moment. Alone, we would be less able to withstand the economic dislocations of today’s world. France must reaffirm the need for a strong European union. A political union. A European Union that will protect our social model. Our future is at stake. Let us not abandon this ideal, nor our will to succeed.

The fourth thing I want to say is that France is not “just another country.” France has special responsibilities that we have inherited from our history and from universal values that we have helped to forge. As a result, faced with the danger of a war between civilizations, confronted by the rise of extremism, and especially religious extremism, France must defend tolerance, dialog, and respect among peoples and among cultures. The stakes are peace and the security of the world.

In the same way, it would be immoral and dangerous to let unchecked market forces widen the gap that separates the world of the rich from that "other" world, where billions of men, women, and children live in poverty and despair. The duty of France is to weigh in with all its influence so that the world economy can come to understand that economic development must benefit absolutely everyone.

Lastly, the ecological revolution is now under way. If we do not succeed in reconciling the needs of a growing economy and the suffering of a planet that is near exhaustion, we are headed for catastrophe. What is required is a revolution in our thinking as well as worldwide change. We must forge a new relationship with nature and invent a new kind of economic growth. With our scientists, our business leaders, our farmers, and with the progress we have made in the area of nuclear energy and our commitment to renewable energy sources, France is well positioned to live up to this major challenge of the 21st century.

My dear compatriots, as you can imagine it is with much emotion that I speak to you this evening. Not for one instant have you ever been absent from my heart and mind. Not for one minute have I stopped working at the service of our magnificent France. This France that I love as much as I love you all. This France rich because of its young people, strong because of its past and its diversity, and hungry for justice and a desire to move forward. This French nation that has not yet finished astonishing the world.

Long live the Republic! Long live France!

* * * * *

One of the hardest expressions to translate is le modèle français, which means, I think, not so much the French way of life (cf. "the American way of life") but the way France is organized politically, economically, and socially, including the radical secularism of its institutions. Religion and government are carefully and widely separate here. Religious freedom, which is protected, does not mean that public displays of religion are encouraged; just the opposite is true. Religion is treated as a private matter, and French politicians do not invoke God and the church in their public utterances. The French Model is the expression of the culture's values.

I invented one term, or at least the spell checker thinks I did. It's "exclusionism" — my translation of le rejet de l'autre. That means rejection of others who are different from us. It's the opposite of embracing diversity.


  1. Nice translation Ken. I watched Chirac give the speech on TV but I haven't read the text in French. So it was very interesting to read your English version and match it to my understanding of the speech from the televised broadcast.

    You left the comment WHERE are we :))... in the photo we are just outside of Caune-Minervois in the Aude/Languedoc. But we live in Montpellier. So we are "big city" folk. Ha!

    Best Regards.

  2. We have become bumpkins in many ways, after years of living in Paris, Washington DC, and San Francisco.

    A friend of ours from SF plans to be in Montpellier for a work thing at the end of March. We hope he'll be able to come to St-Aignan at the end of his trip.

  3. Thanks for the translation, Ken. I also enjoyed reading the speech in French. I noticed the word, "cur" and I think it meant "coeur"- it was used twice.

    I will always admire Chirac for telling the truth about WMD in Iraq.

    My favorite parts of the speech are the ones where he speaks of his love of peace and France and also warns against "exclusionism."

  4. Evelyn, yes, "cur" is one of those character issues. Fonts, I mean. The special œ character is apparently not being displayed on that le Figaro site. So the word is cœur or coeur.

    Chirac gives a good speech when the occasion calls for it. One of his best was the speech he made when François Mitterrand died in 1995 (or was it 1996?).

  5. Et bien, grâce à toi, Ken, j'ai révisé mon "histoire de France"... F. Mitterrand est décédé le 8 janvier 1996. Voici le discours de J. Chirac :


  6. Hmm, j'ai l'impression que l'url est trop longue... Elle apparaît comme tronquée dans mon message... Désolée ! Marie


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