The article translated below, published several weeks ago in Paris Match, is an interesting account of the background of Ségolène Royal, the likely Socialist Party candidate in next year’s presidential elections in France.  --  Philippe Alexandre, author of a new book on her family and her relationship with Socialist Party first secretary François Hollande, gives some insight into the reasons many of the leading figures of the party have resisted her candidacy, despite its popular appeal.  --  The free-wheeling style of the piece is a warning that its contents should be viewed with a bit of scepticism.  --  NOTE:  On Wed., Nov. 29, in the main lounge of Hong International Hall on the PLU campus, the French Program of Pacific Lutheran University will sponsor a discussion entitled “Politics and the Media:  The Case of Ségolène Royal”; the public is welcome to attend....


[Translated from Paris Match]

By Philippe Alexandre

** In Les Éléphants malades de la peste (‘The elephants sick with the plague’ [alluding to La Fontaine’s “Les Animaux malades de la peste” (Fables, II, VII)], journalist-author Philippe Alexandre tells the story of the irresistable rise of the madonna of Poitou-Charentes. For Match, he recounts her family and conjugal itinerary. **

Paris Match
October 5-11, 2006
Pages 54-55

Before Gérard, there was Antoine, the brother who is closest fo Ségolène, her junior by two years, born like her in Dakar, where their father, a colonel, was stationed. The first one targeted to hit her, the socialist diva, in one of those nasty affairs that always comes up in presidential elections. At the same time that Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy, via the Clearstream drama, are exchanging blows (beneath the belt, of course) that they hope will be fatal.

Of the eight children of the Royal tribe, Antoine is the most rebellious. The only boy to refuse the education of the troop of children: “If you send me there, I’ll never see you again in my life.” The colonel gave in, and Antoine is also the only one to have visited his sick father when the whole family had abandoned him.

One fine day last April, Antoine, now at the head of a cabinet-making business in the Vosges, was arrested and taken into custody for questioning by the Nancy police. The departmental health insurance agency had been blaming him for years of improperly receiving 300,000 francs after the death from cancer of his wife. His accusers were his former parents-in-law. The provincial courts usually let this sort of case die, in which one catches a whiff of a Simenon-like aroma of family vengeance.

Antoine Royal is locked up. He stays there for twenty-four hours, like a criminal, under a lamp to prevent him from sleeping. In the morning, Le Parisien breaks the story by publishing a copy of the crime squad’s “summary note.” The journalist alerts Gérard Welzer, the lawyer of this defendant with a famous name: he’s a former socialist deputy and he at once suspects foul play. He rushes over to talk to the investigating magistrate, who’s a neophyte who came from . . . Social Security. It’s the first the magistrate has heard of the crime squad’s note. The lawyer Welzer objects heatedly. Antoine Royal is released on 100,000 francs bail, to be paid by the month. With discreet malice, the newspaper notes that the Nancy criminal squad had immediately contacted the Interior Ministry. [Nicolas Sarkozy is minister of the interior.]

Antoine, on the other hand, has not alerted his sister. That’s not their way in the family: each of them leads his own life, in his own way. When Ségolène learns about her brother’s problems, she sighs: “I have seven brothers and sisters and there’ll be more trouble to come.”

And, indeed, last Sept. 29, the day that Ségolène declared her candidacy in Vitrolles, before the Bouches-du-Rhône socialists, it was the turn of Gérard, the colonel’s oldest son. He did not betray the family law: he served in the army as a Special Forces combat swimmer. He participated in the unfortunate, pitiful Auckland operation against the “Rainbow Warrior.” Ségolène, who at the time was writing reports in an annex of the Élysée, a minor hand scarcely brushed by the gaze of the sovereign that some called God [François Mitterrand], would only learn of her brother’s deplorable exploit several years later. Without emotion.

Questioned by Le Parisien, Antoine declares that his brother told him, once he left the military, that he himself placed the bomb that sunk the Greenpeace boat, killing a photographer. Certainly, the “Rainbow Warrior” affair, which caused so much damage to Mitterrand’s reign, and, indirectly, Laurent Fabius’s time at Matignon [the prime minister’s residence], has long been over, wrapped up with an agreement reached between France and New Zealand by means of a substantial payment. And Gérard Royal started a business . . . dealing with economic intelligence.

What is amazing, for Ségolène, is that he told his brother such an explosive secret. Once again, this is not the way things are done in this atypical family, which is not just divided but rather which has blown up, and where members meet only by chance. One lives in Saint-Étienne, another in Saintonge, a sister lives in Montpellier, another in the Paris region. Antoine merely crossed paths with François Hollande one day at a political meeting in Lorraine, but not with his sister Ségolène. The eight children only reunited for the funeral of the colonel in 1982, almost a quarter of a century ago. “But,” says Antoine, “we’re surely the only ones who are not on the extreme right.”


The story of this family would have delighted Maupassant, with its rules, its sufferings, its exalted virtues in the Lorraine countryside between Épinal and Nancy, where big gray clouds promise rain and weigh down people’s lives. There’s no place for softness or tenderness. In the beginning, we find a grandfather with a highly unusual destiny. Son of a penniless sharecropper, he lives in a farm deep in the woods on the road out of Chamagne, a little village whose only claim to fame is having seen the birth of the painter Claude Gellée, known as le Lorrain [Claude Lorraine (1600-1682), the famous landscape painter].

He’s a small boy, but he has a bright eye and is noticed by a “monsieur Royal” who has no children and decides to adopt him to carry on his line. A good pick, since the son of the peasant will go on to study at the Polytechnique [France’s élite science school]. When he finished the Great War of 1914-1918, he’s wearing on his tunic the decorations and stars of a general. Back home, he marries a rich heiress, owner of several houses in Chamagne, where the couple settles down to raise a family. Of the children, Jacques, Ségolène’s father, is the oldest, and he reproduces with respectful exactitude the paternal model: the army, wars -- but these are colonial ones, without the reward of victory. When he returns from Indochina, his general father finds as his wife the daughter of a good Nancy family that owns beautiful houses on the Côte d’Azur and on the Normandy coast. An arranged marriage, fitting, under the sign of God, fatherland, and dowry. It seems like a dream...

Jacques Royal leaves the army at the age of 45, in 1963, settles in the big family house in Chamagne, in the center of the village, a few dozen yards from his general father, who rules over everyone: “To tell the truth,” says Antoine, “a real pain in the ass. When I was 15, I was a head taller than he was. I pinned him to the wall and threatened to punch him in the face.” Ségolène has told in fragments the story of her childhood with this father and his shaved skull, wearing a monocle, who raised his children like légionnaires, by means of corporal punishments and drudgery. At home, the third story has only two big rooms transformed into dormitories, one for the five boys, the other for the three girls. The school is nearby, opposite the church with a black bulb-shaped roof where on Sunday the whole family attends mass in the morning and afternoon vespers, the women on one side, the men on the other. The father now works for a brother-in-law and often travels to Germany. Then the house is cheerful and the mother makes the children laugh. Vacations are spend with the maternal family, in Cannes or in Villers-sur-Mer, near Deauville.

The old general never stops telling his son that his wife is a bad mother and mediocre teacher who is mostly interested in her animals. The colonel, to frighten her, writes to her to dismiss her. At once, Mme Royal mounts on her bicycle and goes to Nancy, where she spends the first night on a public bench.

Ségolène is 19 years old. She will begin a proceeding to force her father to provide for her mother’s needs. Thanks to her, her mother is living, surrounded by her animals, in Villers-sur-Mer, in the handsome property inherited from her parents. Sometimes she goes to play bridge in Deauville. But she only receives her children separately, fearing disputes. No outsider is allowed into her house.

Antoine has corrected the image of a masculine Folcoche that his sister has given of this father, a domestic tyrant from another age. [Folcoche, a tyrannically authoritarian mother, is a character in Hervé Bazin’s first novel, Vipère au poing (1948).] While Ségolène refuses to confront her heavy past in Chamagne, where she has never returned, her brother, who came back to settle in the Vosges, grew closer to his father: “We went hunting together. Well, without ever shooting anything. He was in pain. He had a cancer, and his last years were horrible. He was wearing a hairshirt...” What did he want to atone for? It wasn’t having brought up his children too harshly. “We owe to him that we stand tall,” says his son. “But perhaps it was not having served his country well enough . . . So many colonial wars lost . . .”

Ségolène’s rivals, the elephants of the Socialist Party, explain by this childhood, so little socialist, scented with incense and the Gregorian chants the colonel adored, the distance, even the distrust, that the candidate keeps toward the party. While her comrades were beginning to drink at the springs of Marxism, she was going to kneel and pray at Domrémy for the little fighting shepherdess whom she still reveres. [Joan of Arc was born in Domrémy.] Above all, she owes to this father, an absolute sovereign, a rebellion against men, against the male, which is like the guiding thread of her irresistible rise. Speaking of the force that she displays toward everyone without exception, she hastens to say that she gets it from her mother, whom she also resembles physically.

But for the socialists, the real mystery, the only one, is the Ségolène-François couple. If she has never wanted to marry, is it not to avoid reproducing the artificial couples, “loveless” in her brother Antoine’s words, of her grandparents and parents? She states: “I have always wanted to keep my independence.” Among her in-laws, they whisper that she prefers the Royal name to that of Hollande.

Yet it’s a couple, a real and longstanding couple, with quite a brood. A strange couple, like so many, at the same time an association, a competition, a connivance, a rivalry. For a long time the duo’s unusualness didn’t stand out. He was the only one you saw, brilliant, clever, gifted with an exceptional political sense, but also with a ferocious opinionatedness beneath a jovial mask. The nicknames that people applied to him, “little jokes” or “wild strawberry,” were useful to him. Ségolène stayed in the background, listening to him without losing a single crumb of the lesson. Today she proclaims herself the spiritual daughter of Mitterrand, but it’s from Hollande that she learned everything.

She also stands aloof from the party, at least from the socialist party apparatus where in feverish fury ambitions are manufactured. The committees, the P.S. commissions, the sweaty mens’ meetings, lined with dirty jokes that she hates with a passion: not much to her taste. She has been pursuing her own path, alone, without a network, without a stable, without a close friend, whether male or female.

And did he see her coming? His number two man, François Rebsamen, the mayor of Dijon, isn’t so sure: “During the European referendum campaign, there was a big meeting in Burgundy where some bigwigs were participating, notably former minister Hubert Védrine. She spoke without notes for three quarters of an hour, and the hall gave her a standing ovation. I called François to tell him something was happening, and he seemed surprised.”

When she got underway, with a Paris Match interview that the elephants thought was almost insolent, Hollande thought she wouldn’t go the distance. It was also by chance that she went to Chile. Normally it was Jack Lang who should have gone. But for once, the effervescent Jack did not scent the impact of the woman candidate Michelle Bachelet. He declined the invitation. Ségolène replaced him. When she began in France her tour of socialist talks, Hollande, full of solicitousness, told the official adviser who accompanied her: “Take care of her. Don’t make her travel too much.”

Between them, there were squabbles and vocal outbursts the whole party enjoyed. But today, it’s the four children who are supporting their mother. Ségolène dealt a nasty blow to the contract when she hired their oldest son, Thomas, on her team. It had been agreed that the children would stay out of their respective paths. François was already angry about her posing for a photograph with their youngest childe, Flora, 13. Political life has inevitably pulled them apart. When the children were little, they took turns taking them to their districts. When, by chance, they both had a Sunday free, they would get together for a snack in an upscale hotel on the right bank.

Then the summer of 2006 came and, as in years past, the vacation in Mougins, in the house the couple bought. With Julien Dray as neighbor, who distanced himself a bit from François to follow Ségolène. The first days, there was something of a chill in the air: “But soon,” says Dray, “everything was as before with the children, ours and theirs. We all laughed together.”

A short interlude, and Mme Hollande mère, who lives on the Côte d’Azur, is not deceived. François is suffering. She is, too. For she took care of the children a lot so that Ségolène could pursue her career in the same way as a man.

Day after day, Claude Allègre, a Jospin follower, repeats his incantations: “François is our ally. He is the last to wish for Ségolène’s candidacy. If she’s elected, it will be the end of everything for him. He hasn’t led the Socialist Party for ten years in order to end up as mayor of Tulle or a laywer in some office.”

Like Joan of Arc “inhabited” by her mission, she will go all the way, all the way to the victory she has promised to herself, she will be irreproachable, clad in virtue and dignity, présidente de la République in the making.

Ségolène is a candidate and François is not. Nevetheless, she needs the first secretary by her side. And François will be a man of duty, if only with respect to his children: he will fight for her as he would have fought for another candidate chosen by the socialists. He can no longer ask himself questions about her abilities, her lack of weight, of experience, of mastery of the dossiers that Sarkozy has been studying for years.

Hollande has been warning socialists for a long time now: “Watch out, I know her. She’s afraid of nothing. And of no one.” On her side, she says with a jubilant tone: “All the attacks, all the hits, no matter how low and despicable they are, only increase my courage.” Asked about the role of her brother Gérard in the “Rainbow Warrior” team, she didn’t show the slightest sign of embarrassment. It’s only if her children are touched that the madonna would become a tigress.

Les Éléphants maldes de la peste (Éditions Albin Michel), 256 pages, 18 euros, available after Oct. 18.


Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
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[Additional material (pp. 50-53)]

** Nothing seems to detract from her 'mission.' Neither the revelations about her family, nor her political rivalry with her companion, François Hollande, nor the attacks of her friends on the left... **

[Page 50] She said "yes, I accept" with the smile of a young bride on her lips. Ségolène Royal has just won the first round in the bet she made one year ago, in Paris Match: "If, at some time, it turns out that I'm the one best placed and therefore am urged by the Socialist Party because I can make our side win, I'll do it." At the time there were very few professionals to took her statement seriously. One year later, the polls show how wrong they were. The most recent one, conducted Sept. 28-29 for Le Journal du dimanche by IFOP, shows that 49% of those who sympathize with the Socialist Party would choose " 'la' Royal," far ahead of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (14%, Laurent Fabius (6%), and François Hollande (8%). For the first time in the recent history of the Socialist Party, the first secretary will not be seeking the endorsement of his friends for the presidential elections. For the first time in the history of the Republic, Monsieur will give way to Madame.

[PHOTO CAPTION: On Sun., Oct. 1, for the Fête de la rose in Guingamp. After her announcement the day before, Ségolène Royal is applauded by party activists. To her right, Michel Morin, first secretary of the Fédération socialiste des Côtes-d'Armor.]

[Page 52] For those seeking the endorsement of the Socialist Party, the Royal-Hollande couple causes distrust. François Hollande has been Ségolène Royal's companion for twenty-five years, but he is also the leader of the Socialist Party obliged to remain impartial until the "primary" on Nov. 16. To a question about the "candidate of his heart," he recently answered: "My heart . . . you know where it stands." As they say, the heart has reasons that reason . . . cannot be unaware of. All the polls are encouraging Ségolène. On year ago, she explained to us: "With François, there's no disagreement. But we don't necessarily have the same centers of interest. Thus I am more focused than he is on social questions: the environment, the struggle against violence that affects children and adolescents; on those subjects, he's rather indifferent. He thinks that those are not political questions. . . . That's not my opinion." Placing delinquents in military settings, the school card, and, finally, the support for one of her brothers who is thought to be implicated in the attack on the "Rainbow Warrior" have tested the family motto: united ('solidaires') but free.

[PHOTO CAPTION (pages 52-53): Friday evening, after announcing her candidacy at Vitrolles, Ségolène and her . . . twelve apostles, at the Marseille restaurant La Piazza. To her right, Patrick Mennucci, city councillor, whose son, Alexandre, is seeted near the first secretary of the Fédération des Bouches-du-Rhône, Eugène Caselli. To her left, Jean-Noël Guérini, president of the Bouches-du-Rhône conseil général. And MIchel Vauzelle, president of the Paca region [Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur]. Below: On Sunday, at Guingamp, the sports arena of the Parc des expositions is full; 1,500 people came to encourage the candidate.]

[PHOTO CAPTION: Sad weekend for the first secretary. Far from him, the mother of his children is attracting crowd who are forgetting about him -- On Sat., Sept. 30, François Hollande dines with party activists in Saint-Ouen. To his left, Bruno Le Roux, national secretary for elections. From the back, wearing black, the president of the M.j.s., [Mouvement des jeunes socialistes] Rassye Hammadi. His day began in Tulle. In the afternoon, he was in Sallanches (below), where he joined local officials on the stand at the Fête de la rose.]