While a guest on Long Island’s North Fork I casually picked up Suite Française, a novel by Irène Némirovsky, my hostess’s current read, a paperback with a handsome Humphrey Bogart-Casablanca flavored World War II cover that had caught my eye.
As the back page of the dust jacket advertises Suite Française, like Casablanca, made it to silver screen complete with strafing Messerschmitt fighters, dashing Wehrmacht officers in dress uniforms, a soupçon of the Résistance to be and the tragedy of the loss of love in time of war, playing out in the beautiful, bucolic, romantic country side of Normandy.
What caught my attention was that the novel, a romance of some sort, “chick lit” if you will, had an Appendix. Not one, but two. I was reading the Appendix at page 177 when the very first paragraph on the page caught my eye:
“The French grew tired of the Republic, as if she were an old wife. For them, the dictatorship was a brief affair, adultery. But they intended to cheat on their wife, not to kill her. Now they realize she’s dead. Their Republic. Their freedom. They’re mourning her.”
I thought of that day’s dinner conversation, about the present state of affairs with Donald Trump the President of these United States. In my mind, I altered Ms. Némirovsky’s paragraph to read:
“Americans grew tired of democracy, as if she were an old wife. For them, the Trump Presidency was a brief affair, adultery. But they intended to cheat on their wife, not to kill her. Now they realize that she’s dead. Their democracy. Their freedom. They’re mourning her.”
LEAD OPINION ARTICLE EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] ON JANUARY 31, 2017
In 1957 Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav dissident called the victorious post war communist elite the “new ruling class” and predicted that Communism’s eventual demise would be caused by it and its excesses. For that he was muzzled, silenced and jailed. In 1989 while predicting the disintegration and destruction of Yugoslavia he declared that economic “centralization will not succeed because it will run up against the ethnic-political power bases in the republics. This is not classical nationalism but a more dangerous, bureaucratic nationalism built on economic self-interest.”
Change Milovan Djilas’ “centralization” to “globalization”, “ethnic power” to “racist xenophobia” and you have our current state of affairs and predicament. The collapse that he predicted for socialist Yugoslavia came to pass in a bloody mess. Today the United States and the European Union, once democratic republics, are besieged by a far left and ultra-right coalition and in danger of becoming dictatorships.
His prescient world view holds true. Yugoslavia in the 1940’s and 50’s experienced a transformation from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing one without regard to social and economic consequences and long term costs. The United States and the European Union have recently experienced a like change. The two have gone from labor intense manufacturing economies to a service and technology oriented ones with a major loss of jobs and job security. The result has been the elimination of the middle class with the control of power, political and economic, vested in corporate vested interests and the rich one percent.
Djilas’ second catch word was “nationalism”. Nationalism for Yugoslavia was a word that had many definitions: it spoke to ethnicity as in Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; it spoke to racism as in Slavs, Albanians and Gypsies; it spoke to religious intolerance as in Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim; it spoke to culture and politics - the West for the Croats, Russia for the Serbs and Medina for the Muslims. It was nationalism writ small, no better than base tribalism.
The United States, the land of immigrants, has nationalism geographically defined by a 2,000-mile wall on its southern border, Presidential Executive Orders declaring Muslims persona non-grata and Mexicans rapists and criminals. Racism was front and center in the 2016 United States Presidential election with David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan running for office and African-Americans hectored to vote lest “a racist is going to be president” responding with a “Really? Again?”
“The rich are” - you don’t have to add Scott Fitzgerald’s words to make the point. Laws and rules are different for the likes of them when it comes to crime. Last July, I wrote about crime in the genteel, well-mannered world of art - forgery, money laundering, tax evasion and the like [“Art Crime Death and Taxes”]. Million dollar felonies by millionaires became mere accounting errors punished by the filing of amended tax returns and the payment of taxes due, without interest or penalties. Nice work if you can get it.
The lead case then pending was France’s $600 million tax evasion prosecution of Guy Wildenstein, his family, their bankers and retainers which had been ongoing since 2013. A blanket of silence had obscured the proceedings since that January and “[m]y inquiries about the resolution of the l’Affaire Wildenstein were met with stone silence.”
I believed and wrote that the prosecution would end with a whimper; the French authorities would apply liberté, égalité, fraternité, leavened with an ample dose of “the rich are”, and drop the charges. After all, Guy Wildenstein is one of the elite, a friend of President Sarkozy, a member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, a Chevalier of the Légion D’honeur, a wealthy man, not a man likely to do time.
Last October I was gobsmacked to read that the prosecutor was asking France’s High Court for Financial Crimes to find Guy Wildenstein guilty of tax evasion and money laundering, sentencing him to four years in prison – with two years suspended – and fining him $275 million dollars.
I thought, finally France has declared open season on tax evasion by the rich and famous, justice will prevail. I started drafting a new conclusion to my article. Not so fast.
Last Thursday the French court applying a reverse variation of noblesse oblige acquitted M. Wildenstein and company of all criminal charges. Olivier Géron, the Presiding Judge read the court’s decision acquitting Guy, his family and retainers even though he found the judgment “defies common sense” and was contrary to the “clear intention [of the defendants] to conceal their wealth across generations”.
In other words, they are guilty as sin, they meant to do the crime but won’t have to do the time, proving once again that the rich are.