Recently the French governement (namely the Minister of Immigration ... and National Identity) have launched nation-wide debates about national identity or, more precisely, about French identity.
At first, I thought : "cool, it's gonna spur debates and let's see what people, collectively, come up with". I am myself only a few years old as an official French citizen.
But my second impression was amazement. The timing seems strange. It is a time when Europe is challenged with reforms that would make it more effective and therefore meaningful, with expansion (and celebration of the expansion) to the East etc. Europe has just (compromizingly) designated its president and its foreign affairs representative. Worldwide, countries are still struggling to get out of the financial crisis. Fighting hunger or various large-scale diseases, fighting global warming have increased the consciousness of citizens all over the world.
At this particular time, the French do not ask themselves "what is a European", nor "what is a good world citizen". No. They are busy debating about "what defines a French" ...
I also tried to ask myself these difficult questions. My family and friends are spread all over the world: my parents continue to live in Romania, my sister lives in Britain, one brother-in-law lives in Cyprus, another in Canada ... Do we all share something anything else than blood ties ?
On many media, journalists, experts very often mention that common values, such as those formalized in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, are what define Frenchship. While it is true that the French were the first to formalize them in the form of a declaration, then as a the 1791 Constitution, these values have become universally accepted by democratic countries.
The more I think about it the more I have the feeling that this debate over French identity is a buzz. A clever buzz, spread by the government in order to get people distracted from real problems (economy is shrinking, unemployement is bad, politics is as dirty as ever etc). Our hyper-prezident can relax a bit: we're all busy brainstorming about national identity. Unofortunately, this has a more vicious effect : some of us are incidentally blaming not-so-good French, citizens of unhealthy origin, as the cause of many of our problems. Demonization, nationalism, they're only a few steps away.