Back To the Past

photo: protest paraders, saturday

Protesters marching towards Bastille on Saturday.

Springtime for Patrick Dils

Paris:- Monday, 29. April 2002:- A lot of people like to write opinions about France because France is not quite like other countries - which are not much like each other either.

But France gets special attention because it is seen by many, especially 'les Anglo-Saxons,' as being different on purpose, as if the main purpose of France is to be out-of-step with everybody else.

Despite what foreign media has to say about the place, many many people come to visit it year after year, mostly because it isn't 'like home.' But to the French, of course, it is home - and to be absolutely truthful, not many French understand France all that well either.

However, while visitors can 'go home,' the French have little choice but to stay and make their lives as best they can with what they've got.

What 'they've got' at the present moment is a super schmozzle. Even by French standards, it is a dilly.

Up until Sunday morning a week agophoto: parade banners French voters thought they would be going to polling stations next Sunday to decide who will be president of the country for the next five years and they were convinced that the names on the ballots would be Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin.

Ordinary people, all colors, all professions, all marching.

What a surprise then a week ago, to learn that Lionel Jospin would opt for early retirement instead, and that the man to face Mr. Chirac would be everybody's favorite bad guy, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The foreign press, which usually contents itself with casual and random sideswipes by opinionated columnists, suddenly had to do a crash course on France.

A lot of French TV-viewers also got a shock on Monday night after Mr. Le Pen outlined his campaign platform.

If elected, he intends to tinker with the country's constitution, get France out of Europe's grasp, restore the franc, cut taxes, line the borders with customs and immigration agents, institute a 'national preference' for hiring, fire half the civil servants, make sure artists produce only 'good French stuff,' and ship the 'immigrants' home.

Several people told me they heard he has also proposed setting up 'transit camps,' while the new deportation branch of the government searches for likely 'homes' for 'immigrants,' but I did not hear this myself nor see it written anywhere.

What I have definitely seen is the idea that Le Pen wants to eliminate legal immigration. I suppose this could be quite easily done, by simply making all of it illegal.

But 24 hours before he got his main themes off his chest, on Sunday night after the polls closed, the anti-Le Pen demonstrations began, and since then they have been a daily occurrence all around France.

Granted that many students were enjoying their 'Easter' holidays, and jumped at the chance to do something a little 'different' this year, but as time has passed more and more of everybody else has jumped on the marching in the streets bandwagon.

Here it is called 'beating the pavements' and I even helped out a bit with it on Saturday, during the smaller scale rehearsal for next Wednesday's May Day parade, which only attracted about 40,000 people of all diverse shapes, sizes, professions and cultures.

It has taken exactly seven whole days for the employers' association to make public its disaffection with Le Pen's plans to shut down the country's import-export trade.

Another item bothering the employers, isphoto: parade banner the idea of shutting down immigration. The bosses have done their sums and they have a good idea of which classifications of workers France either lacks or will lack in the near future.

With signs, banners, slogans, chants, and 'high' signs.

On the 'immigration' score, the latest figures available say that 'immigrants' amounted to about five percent of the active population in France, and this is down from about 6.5% a few years earlier.

Without going into more details, it seems safe to say that Le Pen's proposals have managed to upset just about everybody who didn't vote for him - not to mention some that possibly did.

With a non-platform like Mr. Le Pen's the French really lose out. Everybody in the country knows that serious reforms are long overdue - they always have been - but without a serious candidate to face Mr. Chirac, none are going to be discussed, much less enacted.

By this time next week Jacques Chirac will probably be re-elected as Président of France for five years. He has been president for seven years, so he knows the ropes and everybody here knows who he is.

Whether his party and the ones affiliated with it can get a working majority in the soon-to-come election of representatives is another matter. This will be another two-round affair and it might come out quite a bit differently after the scare the French have given themselves.

Tonight, France-2 TV-news announced the results of the first poll taken by IPSOS since the first round. They see Mr. Chirac getting an average of 78% and Mr. Le Pen getting 22%. The margin of error seems to be about 5%.

The maximum downside for Mr. Chirac and the maximum upside for Mr. Le Pen, still leaves the result heavily in the favor of Mr. Chirac.

Springtime for Patrick Dils

On a rare sunny day last week Patrick Dils was paying the first visit in his 31-year life to the green and pleasant gardens of the Tuileries. He said the colors were 'fantastic,' adding, "It's all wonderful - the smells too."

Patrick was making the visit in the company of his mother and father, and a crew from France-2 TV-news. He put his first comments into perspective by comparing the Tuileries to the close and grey concrete walls of the tiny prison cells he had been sitting in for 15 years.

On Wednesday, the Rhône assize court declared that he was not guilty of murdering two little kids on 28. September 1986, for which he had been convicted to perpetual imprisonment on 27. January 1989. In a cruel twist, a court of revision annulled the lifetime conviction in April of last year, but ordered him kept in custody.

A second trial in an assize court for minors - Dils was 16 when the murders were committed - with the original charges, began in June of 2001. Despite an appeal for acquittal by the attorney general, Dils was convicted again by a jury and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The third trial began on Monday, 8. April of this year, and ended with his acquittal on Wednesday.

In the new trial, the attorney general, whophoto: headline, bottez utile, canard enchaine expressed personal doubt, asked the jury not for a penalty, not for conviction, nor for acquittal. The jury, composed of eight women and six men - three of whom were magistrates - decided there was doubt enough for acquittal.

Asked about it later, an attorney general at Paris' court of appeals said that an acquittal did not necessarily mean somebody was innocent.

The protesters know France has a collection of revolutions.

He also said that this case demonstrated the difficulty of a procedure that depends on confessions somewhat more than the willingness to find other proof. "The confession is no longer the 'Queen' of proof," he added.

The attorney general for Dils' third trial, while not insisting on anything, more or less said Dils was 'guilty' of making 'confessions' that allowed the real killer to remain free.

At the time of the crime, Dils' parents said he left the house for either five minutes, or 15 minutes, making a difference of 10 minutes. Investigators endlessly interrogated Dils about this, while preventing visits from his parents for 22 months.

Patrick Dils was initially arrested seven months after the double murders when he was 17. Under intense interrogation he eventually cracked and made a confession, then made others. He claimed these were forced from him, and that he was coached by his interrogators.

What didn't help during his trials was that he had a 'poor presence' in court. in France trials can be emotional affairs, with the families of victims taking part as witnesses - even if not as material or eye-witnesses. Dils' seemed incapable of 'acting' innocent.

What introduced doubt to the case was the statement by a six-time convicted serial killer, Francis Heaulme, that he came upon the bodies of the two murdered children before they were discovered by searchers.

He has retracted this statement more than once, but with Dils' acquittal he is likely to be charged with the crime.

Tomorrow Patrick Dils starts a new - his first - life in Paris, with a job at a printing plant in Montreuil. His lawyers will be seeking compensation under article 626 of the criminal procedure code, which allows the innocent to claim indemnification for errors of justice.

The huge claim that is likely to be made, in a case that Le Parisien has compared to the injustice done to Dreyfus, may be reduced by a judge if he is convinced that Dils made his confessions in order to thwart justice.

The American Library Loves Alice B. Toklas

On Friday I received an invitation to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of Alice B. Toklas at the American Library in Paris. This event takes place this evening - when I'm supposed to finish this column. I will not get anything to eat tonight inspired by the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

Apparently the library is threatened by a 'catastrophe' - the ALP's Trustees are examining a mergerphoto: protesters at bastille with a local university. I have been unable to learn the details of this, but more information about the crises may be on the American Library's Web site, which has its link below.

The 'alert' does say, 'the library of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Richard Wright - and so many others - may soon disappear.'

More signs, slogans, posters, paper headlines.

The American Library Association established the Library War Service in 1917, for the purpose of sending books to France for the use of US troops during WWI. In 1920, with community support and the 30,000 books left over from the original service, The American Library Association founded the American Library in Paris, at 10. Rue de l'Elysée.

The library has been in difficulty before. In 1936 it had to move its 60,000-book collection to a new location. French libraries were closed in 1939, and Parisians began to use the American library which was still open. The library continued until closed down by the war in 1941, then reopened again in 1948.

Sylvia Beach closed her Shakespeare & Co. in 1951 and donated its circulating library to the American Library. Two years later the library moved to a choice location on the Champs-Elysées, only to find Senator McCarthy's investigators Roy Cohn and David Schine on its doorstep a year later to look for subversive literature. They did not get library cards.

In the '60s and '70s patrons included Richard Wright, Irwin Shaw, William Styron, and Mary McCarthy. When the Drugstore landed on the Champs-Elysées in 1964, the library moved its present location.

Now the library is threatened again and needs your help. You can contact the non-profit aid committee, which also has a Web site called AidALP.

Check out the web site of the American Library in Paris, located at 10. Rue du Général-Camou, Paris 7. Métro: Ecole-Militaire. InfoTel.: 01 53 59 12 61. You can also send email for the library to

Spring Weather Alerts

France, a pleasant and green place, does have weather that might be dangerous to your health - or on a lesser scale, cause you some serious discomfort if you happen to be in a more remote place than Paris.

Weather warnings are provided by a service from our friends at France-Météo. Youphoto: manif at bastille are supposed to use this service before you get into ugly situations because using it afterwards will not help you at all.

At Bastille, the rain, and the march only halfway over.

Paris is not an exciting weather area. The alert service is mainly for northern, central, mountainous, eastern, western Atlantic coast, all types of southern and offshore areas of France - that occasionally or regularly have more extreme weather than the Ile-de-France region.

If you are curious or want to know more about France's so-called spring weather, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts. Check out the warning-prone 'Vigilance-Météo' area on the opening page.

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