France is a divided nation – but Notre Dame has brought us together | Marion Van Renterghem
The liberal elite, the gilets jaunes, young, old, the Catholic right – we are united in grief at this tragedy
Emmanuel Macron is apparently agnostic. But if he believed in God, he might have wondered if the Lord was sending him a message on Monday evening. At around 6pm, just as the French president prepared to record a highly anticipated address to the nation to be broadcast on TV later, flames were overwhelming Notre Dame Cathedral. Macron’s team first thought of postponing the broadcast, which was scheduled for 8pm, before it became clear that the disaster was so grave it would have to be cancelled altogether. Instead the president went from the Elysée to Notre Dame and stood among the crowds, looking as flabbergasted as the rest of us, stunned by the violence of the flames and the extent of the devastation. It was exactly 7.53pm when the spire of the world’s most famous cathedral snapped in two and collapsed into the furnace.
Macron’s address was to have been a key political event after months of unrest unleashed by the “gilets jaunes” uprising which first prompted and then threatened to derail Macron’s “great national debate” on the future of the divided country. Earlier on Monday, the big question was: how was Macron going to respond politically to a politically unclassifiable movement; a movement without parallel in recent French history, disparate, leaderless, legitimate in its initial demands but containing elements that are violent, racist, populist, undemocratic, with no other aim than taking over the Elysée, the National Assembly and the institutions of the Republic? How was he going to respond to a people who claim they are undivided, while expressing multiple, and contradictory aspirations – lower taxes but more public services, more democracy and more referendums, demanding to be listened to but rejecting the notion of being represented?