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Jean-Claude Lord, filmmaker June 7, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/351950/il-etait-une-fois-un-leader-genial
Photo Caption: Students protesting at Place Emilie-Gamelin in Montreal. Could it be that this youth craving a more just and humane society are not merely a flash in the pan, but that they will make the human being slumbering in each one of us proud?
Let me tell you a story, a story with a lesson… fictional of course. After all, it’s been my work for nearly fifty years to be a storyteller.
Once upon a time, there was an absolutely brilliant government leader, who sincerely cared for the welfare of his population. For many years, his people had been sleeping. The baby boomers had turned their backs on the “utopian” ideals of their youth to lazily enjoy the rewards of their struggles of days long past. Meanwhile, the leader and his cronies, feet firmly grounded, cast an aura of wealth and certainty.
Even the young generation, apathetic and individualist, preened in contentment, oblivious to the alleged injustices all around them that were gradually becoming more and more repugnant.
But what was bound to happen, happened. Students, the envious, rebels, extremists of all stripes, decided to protest his power. This “minority” mobilized to challenge the unfreezing of tuition fees. An act of lese-majeste, to be sure.
The stew simmers
But their premier was resourceful… He let the stew simmer for a few weeks. He was even delighted. All the media attention was on how a so-called social crisis progressed, which let their dear leader duck his many past mistakes, even erase them from memory. Always clever, he chose to use the word “boycott” instead of strike… Strategic! Brilliant! Jubilant!
The protests kept up and were happening at a hellish pace. The conflict became polarized. There were excesses. Vandalism, allegedly committed by rioters (!), was on the rise. He kept quiet. He rubbed his hands happily. His plan was working out beautifully. He was getting ready to teach them a real lesson in democracy.
Closer to the brink
He lobbed his first bombshell. Since it was a boycott, not a strike (a gray area in the law gave him the leeway), students who wanted to cross the picket line were to be let through. They weren’t strike breakers going against the majority strike votes of their associations.
The injunctions were ignored. Trade unions and artists weighed in and supported the radical protesters. The public was split. However the older generation fearfully and in great numbers stuck by his side.
He decided to push closer to the brink. He publicly ridiculed this horde of young extremists in front of a friendly audience who lapped up his words. Of course, this unleashed the ire of the protesters.
Advancing his strategy, he decided to allow talks between representatives of his government and those little scofflaws… out of classes but who turned out to be a bit too eloquent and resolute. But his plan was to never give an inch while giving the illusion of just the opposite. They were going to see his true mettle.
An exceptional law
The students, realizing that they got suckered, reacted strongly. This is what the great leader was waiting for. Now was the time to act as a stern father to ease the fears of the “silent majority” and the well-to-do who were waiting for just that.
The exceptional law. The special law meant to restore peace and order. The students’ winter term officially carried over to August at the end of the summer. Discontent mounted. The noise of the casseroles got louder. He couldn’t keep himself from laughing.
He decided to strike the final blow. Another round of “negociations” from which he would walk away while blaming those radical students who nearly dealt him a tough setback during these “last ditch” sessions.
Sure that an even more violent reaction would occur in August when classes resumed, he would sail to a guaranteed election victory in the name of law and order. An overflowing confidence, an ever present arrogance and a touch of anger would keep the stew boiling. He was taking action. All that would be left to the crushed youth would be to swallow their anger and their defeat.
What an incredible movie script! In fact there was a feature length movie in the early seventies that told the story of a party leader who sowed unrest in order to win an election on a platform of law and order. “Bingo” was the title. Has the time come for a remake?
But I might rewrite the ending a bit. Could it be that this youth eager for a more equitable and humane society is not just a flash in the pan? That it does proud for the human being asleep in each one of us? Could it be that this youthful drive survives and leads us to a better world? We can dream…
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.