To find out who your true friends and rivals really are, just gauge the reaction to news of your latest success story. It is revealing, for example, that many French officials have taken grave exception to the stunning speed and efficiency of our national vaccination programme.
This became clear at the end of January, when President Emmanuel Macron defied medical opinion by unjustly claiming that the AstraZeneca jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for elderly people. His cynical tone, remarkable even by the frosty standards of the rest of the EU, was echoed by his Europe Minister, Clément Beaune, who stated that ‘the UK has taken a lot of risks in authorising Astra-Zeneca extremely quickly’. So far neither he nor Macron have commented on the real-world data from Scotland this week which indicates that the first AstraZeneca dose reduces hospitalisations by 94 per cent: a better result than Pfizer.
Macron and Beaune’s remarks should not be brushed aside — they represent something important at work in the recesses of many a French mindset. And this can easily manifest itself, as recent developments in Paris have revealed, in a very chilling way.
Rarely spoken about or even admitted to in France, this psychological influence is a fear of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. This vague term denotes English-speaking influences, mainly British and American, that are deemed to pose a challenge not just to the prevalence and integrity of the French language but also to France’s wider commercial and strategic interests across the world, notably in former colonies, where Paris often tries to retain its influence.
As Gérard Prunier, a former adviser to the French government, has written, these Anglo-Saxons have defeated France’s great figures, such as Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte, pulverised its armies at Agincourt and elsewhere, and stolen whole swaths of its empire, notably during the Seven Years War (1756-63). ‘Everybody in France knows,’ he concludes, ‘“les Anglais” are among the worst enemies the French ever had.’ Absurd though such sentiments may sound, they can be deeply sinister, as François Graner, a lawyer and researcher for a human rights group, has discovered about the bloody events that unfolded in Rwanda more than a quarter of a century ago.
In less than three months in the summer of 1994, hundreds of thousands of Rwandan civilians, nearly all ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered by rival Hutus. Perhaps a million died at the hands of militiamen who roamed city streets, setting up roadblocks and using machetes and clubs to execute anyone they identified as Tutsi.
What still merits more attention is France’s complicity in those atrocities and the wider reasons for that complicity. From late 1990, Mitterrand’s government began to strongly support the Hutu-led Rwandan regime as it came under attack from Paul Kagame’s Patriotic Front. It did so in secret, manipulating the media and spinning an official version of events that spoke only of protecting French expatriates, while covertly airlifting huge quantities of arms and seconding army officers to provide ‘appraisal and advice’ to the government in Kigali.
Combing through the archives of President François Mitterrand, Graner has stumbled across telegrams that now reveal more about what happened. On 15 July 1994, the French envoy in Kigali, Yannick Gérard, informed Paris that in his custody were several ringleaders of violence who had personally and repeatedly called for the ‘total elimination of Tutsis’ and for the massacre of ‘women and children’. Yet a Foreign Ministry official in Paris, Bernard Emie, wrote back and ordered him to release those individuals.
Even less well-known is what drove Paris to forge this covert and bloodstained alliance. The truth is that key officials in the French capital viewed Kagame and his movement as a dangerous Anglo-Saxon influence which could undermine France’s grip on, and prestige in, Francophone central Africa. For the French government and francophone African political elites, the Anglo-Saxon was, in Prunier’s words, ‘the hissing snake in the Garden of Eden’.
One of Mitterrand’s most senior advisers, Bruno Delaye, noted with alarm ‘the complicity of the Anglo-Saxon world’ in supporting Kagame’s advance, while, according to a minister, the then president himself felt that the Americans in particular ‘were harbouring hegemonic intentions over this region and perhaps over Africa as a whole’. Kagame was deemed to be particularly suspect because he was based in Uganda, an English-speaking former British protectorate, and it was feared that his victory in Rwanda would allow ‘the bastards’ (the Anglo-Saxons) ‘to go all the way to Kinshasa’.
So determined were Mitterrand and his advisers to keep the Anglo-Saxon ‘threat’ at bay — despite all their talk about EU ‘solidarity’ — that they looked away from growing signs of fanaticism in Kigali and of growing Hutu hatred for the ‘cockroach’ Tutsis, while also dismissing calls for talks, compromise and a negotiated settlement.
Graner’s revelations have caused a stir in France, particularly because Emie now heads the Foreign Intelligence Service. But this story is also important because it is a reminder that France’s fear of the Anglo-Saxons can have dangerous, pernicious consequences, as we are discovering.
For example, by undermining public faith in the medical quality of British-developed vaccines, Macron and other Parisian officials are playing into the hands of Covid sceptics and of others who are fearful of the jab. His comments ‘can only be negative on the vaccine take-up in France, in Germany and others’, as Kent Woods, a former chief of both the UK and European Union medicines regulators, said recently.
It is ironic Macron, who in 2019 granted researchers access to previously undisclosed files in a bid to determine what happened in Rwanda, made Graner’s discovery possible. The President needs to be more open, however, about his own jealousy towards the Anglo-Saxons. He should applaud, not denigrate, our vaccine triumphs.