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French press review 7 April 2018

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Hungarians vote for a new parliament on Sunday. Washington and Moscow continue to trade blows over elections, espionage and invasions. The French singer-songwriter Jacques Higelin has passed away at the age of 77.


Left-leaning Libération looks ahead to tomorrow's parliamentary elections in Hungary. The likely outcome will see the right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban collect his third successive mandate, it believes. And Hungarian democracy will take another hard knock.

Orban is famous for having lost the 2002 elections after four years as prime minister and then saying that any system where he ran the risk of losing was a bad system. The rest of us call that system "democracy".

Since then the bad loser has made a sufficient number of adjustments to limit the risk of another setback.

Orban has sacked thousands of civil servants at every level, replacing them with loyalists. He has placed his own men in key institutional positions, like the Constitutional Court and the public accounts watchdog.

He virtually controls the media, organising virulent propaganda against migrants and other threats to the stability of the Hungarian state. National radio and five public television channels are effectively controlled by one of the prime minister's closest advisors. The editorial procedure is worthy of North Korea according to one commentator.

Washington hits Moscow in the oligarchs. Ouch!

Le Figaro looks at the latest round in the slugfest between Washington and Moscow over alleged Russian interference in the last US presidential election.

The US struck President Vladimir Putin's inner circle yesterday, imposing sanctions on seven of Russia's most influential oligarchs and stoking a diplomatic crisis some have dubbed a new Cold War.

Those hit include metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, described as operating for the Russian government, as well as Alexei Miller, director of state-owned energy giant Gazprom. Any assets they hold in areas under US jurisdiction will now be frozen.

Also on the list are tycoon Suleiman Kerimov, under investigation in France over allegations he brought in millions of euros in suitcases full of cash, and Kirill Shamalov, a billionaire reported to be Putin's son-in-law.

Russia's state arms exporter, a key tool in Putin's efforts to support the modernisation of his own military by selling advanced hardware around the world, was also added to the sanctions list.

In all, President Donald Trump's administration targeted seven oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian officials and the state-owned arms export company.

The Kremlin has promised a powerful response. Pow! Zap!

Jacques Higelin fondly remembered

The French singer-songwriter Jacques Higelin, who died yesterday at the age of 77, gets the front-page honours everywhere.

Le Monde quotes him as saying that "the world is too serious for us to take it seriously".

Le Figaro notes that he was great value for money, frequently disrupting television interviews with his uncompromising style, singing for four hours at a stretch at the Casino de Paris, and that at the age of 72.

Libération gives him the front-page treatment, and a six page special inside. The headline self-describing quote reads "Earthbound, eyes on the sky, head in the air, in love."

He was guest editor of Libé for one day back in 2010. Higelin was asked about death, a frequent subject of his songs and poems. He said it was only disagreeable for those left behind. And that it was possible to depart with nobility, with exemplary dignity.

Higelin believed that everybody talks about basically the same things - love, life, death - but that the style of the talking is what creates the magic. The style of Jean Genet, Arthur Rimbaud, Victor Hugo, where every sentence is a masterpiece, a magical flight.

And Jacques was a lover of the early morning, frequently inspired at dawn. "When everyone else is asleep," he said, "you get the impression that those who are awake are collecting the dreams of the others."