Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Growing Pains of Modern France

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Growing Pains of Modern France

Article excerpt

AT THE HEART OF A TIGER: CLEMENCEAU AND HIS WORLD 1841-1929 By Gregor Dallas Carroll & Graf 620 pp., $28.95

THE circumstances sound freshly familiar: fortifications around a seat of government, defending "the people" not against a foreign power but against another branch of domestic government; a mini-civil war - pitting the rural population against a hard core of urban radicals - that bloodies the streets of the capital; and Draconian measures, including cutoff of basic supplies and, subsequently, wide-scale press censorship, to force the surrender and silence of rebel forces.

Elements of the recent ill-fated Moscow rebellion, you say. But they are also pieces of the vivid picture Gregor Dallas paints of the Paris Commune of March 1871 in his biography of French statesman and man of his times Georges Clemenceau.

The similarities between the Moscow of 1993 and the Paris of a century ago, when the "communards" battled the national government set up in Versailles, suggest just one of the interests of a book chronicling French political growing pains of the last century. Today as we watch Russia and much of Eastern Europe march, with varying success, toward "democracy," it can be enlightening to review how the same path was cleared by one of our era's established democracies.

When Dallas describes the ill-fated Commune as "a nostalgia for a golden past ... an eight-week passion that devoured tens of thousands," his words come to life in part because solid research allows him to paint captivating pictures of the Montmartre barricades or the battle of Neuilly. Yet the interest is more than simply historical because the reader's ears still ring with the Russian parliamentarians' bitter nostalgia for the lost glory of the Soviet Union, and with the booming tanks that slammed Moscow's White House to end a rebellion.

This book is titled "At the Heart of a Tiger," but the subtitle - "Clemenceau and His World 1841-1929" - suggests the book's real interest. …

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