TIME Travel

Paris: What to See and What To Skip

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris on Feb. 13, 2014. Ludovic Marin—AFP/Getty Images

Tourists have long cherished Paris’s spectacularly preserved traditions and history, from its Napoleonic architecture and wrought iron bridges over the Seine River, to the dozens of artisanal chocolatiers and cheese-makers who can describe their products with passion and precision.

All that is still there and it wows millions of visitors every year. But now a new generation of Parisians, whose cultural references come as much from Manhattan as Molière, is ripping up the city’s old-world conservatism and experimenting with entirely new ways of eating and living. And for those of us who live in Paris, it’s a hugely welcome change.

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Young couple looking at map on Alexandre III bridge in Paris, France. Jean Luc Morales—Getty Images

Call it le backlash.

For those who have already visited Paris, now is a good time to return. This time, consider skipping the Louvre and hitting the streets. One counter-intuitive rule of thumb about what’s new in the city is to choose places that use English to advertise their hipness; for many Parisians, it’s a not-so subtle dig at their old-fashioned French-centric upbringing. Hence, ‘le popup’ and ‘le speakeasy’ signal new, interesting places to shop and eat. Both have proliferated recently on the trendier Right Bank side of the Seine. (That’s right, the right bank is the hip side now.)

The new speakeasy Blind Pig, which is set to open on June 24 in the Marais neighborhood, promises in its announcement that it will offer “charme brooklynien,” no translation needed. There will be no maestro in residence in the kitchen, but rather a revolving cast of fast-food chefs who have taken French cuisine’s attention to detail and freshness and tweaked it to reflect a far more casual, experimental era. “Just as Paris has influenced other major world cities with its bistros, so the Anglo-Saxon world has truly inspired Paris,” says Alexandre Cammas, founder and president of the French online magazine and guide Le Fooding, which now holds events in New York too.

Cammas says Paris eating has drastically transformed since a decade ago, when it was “frozen” in place, with hundreds of cookie-cutter bistros and brasseries offering dishes that have not evolved in decades. Tourists still pack the better known among those establishments every night, perhaps for lack of knowing where else to go, or because their sentimental literary history lures the romantics back time and again. Cammas’ advice (in saltier language) is, save your money for new eateries where you will meet locals, not other tourists. In addition, the service is likely to be far friendlier than the tourist haunts, which tend to feature surly responses from waiters who know they will likely never see you again.

Far different from the myth, Parisians do in fact walk the streets in sneakers, and eat while doing so too. “Paris has places for chic, gentrified, fast food that proves that street food can be really delicious,” Cammas says Since wandering the old alleyways and majestic avenues in any case the richest visual experience Paris can offer, you can now combine that with sampling excellent French food on the go.

François Flohic—Courtesy of Septime

On weekdays, try Chez Aline, which is situated in a former horse butcher and now prepares gourmet lunch boxes, or gourmet kebabs from Grillé, near the Paris Opéra. For those who cannot snag a reservation at the high-end restaurant Frenchie, run by chef Grégory Marchand (formerly at the Gramercy Tavern in New York), it now has a takeout section nearby called Frenchie To Go (in English, bien sur). And for indoor dining, Cammas recommends the neo-bistros Chateaubriand and Septime.

But perhaps the best way of all to sample traditional and new French cuisine is in city’s many superb open-air markets. The all-organic Sunday market on the Left Bank’s Boulevard Raspail attracts hundreds of tourists as well as chefs and foodie Parisians. There you can sample individual shucked oysters, wines, saucisson, bite-sized tartelettes, fresh-from-the-farm produce, or dishes prepared in the market, including soups and paella. Then fill your bag and head to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens or the river to picnic.

Bicycle And Electric Car-Sharing Schemes Ahead Of Paris Mayoral Election
Velib’ bicycles in Paris on March 13, 2014. Balint Porneczi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

To work off all this eating, hop on a Vélib bicycle. Paris’s share-bike system began in 2007 as one of the world’s first, and there are now about 20,000 bicycles at stations across the city, including on the riverbank itself—a not-to-be-missed new Paris destination. Since the Vélibs are part of Paris’s public transportation system it costs roughly the same as a metro ride.

Flow Restaurant Guillaume Leroux—Courtesy of Flow

One year ago, Paris closed its Left Bank river-level road to traffic, and now “les berges,” as the 2.3-kilometer (1.43 miles) path is known, is one of the city’s most dynamic spots, no matter the weather. You can cycle, run, rollerblade, picnic, play chess, watch skate-dancing, and from midday to midnight you can also sink into one of the orange deck chairs at the new Flow restaurant with a bottle of rosé, and watch the passing spectacle. You can even learn how to garden, draw graffiti on the chalkboard wall, take kickboxing or swing-dancing lessons, and for kids there are fencing and boxing lessons, wall-climbing and labyrinths. Check the daily program online.

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A woman enjoys the sunny weather near the Louvre Museum pyramid in Paris on May 16, 2014. Patrick Kovarik—AFP/Getty Images

Finally, if you cannot imagine a trip to Paris without visiting its great museums, you can now begin at the Louvre Museum at the eastern limit of Les Berges, and then walk, run, cycle or skate along the water westwards, emerging at the Quai Branly Museum, with its extraordinary collection of emerging-world artifacts and art.

Le eating:

  • Chez Aline: 85 Rue de la Roquette, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.71.90.75. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Sat and Sun.
  • Grillé: 15, rue Saint-Augustin, Paris 2. Tel: 01.42.96.10.64. Open weekdays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Closed Sat and Sun.
  • Frenchie restaurant: 6 Rue du Nil, Paris 2. Tel: 01.40.39.96.19. Open weeknights only. Two seatings at 7 p.m. and 9.30 p.m.
  • Frenchie to Go: 9 Rue du Nil, Paris 2. Weekdays 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Sat and Sun: 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
  • Chateaubriand: 129 Avenue de Parmentier, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.57.45.95
  • Septime: 80 Rue de Charonne, Paris 11. Tel: 01.43.67.38.29. www.septime-charonne.fr
  • Boulevard Raspail market, Paris 6: Between Rue Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes: Non-organic food on Tuesday and Friday 7 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. All-organic food on Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market also has clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and wooden toys. http://www.mairie6.paris.fr/mairie6/jsp/site/Portal.jsp?page_id=39

 

Le seeing and doing:

  • Vélib bikes: Check map of depots, and buy a 1-day ticket (€1.70) or a 7-day ticket (€8).
  • Les Berges river path: Access from the Left Bank quais or bridges between Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.
  • Flow: on Les Berges near the Alexandre III Bridge, Paris 7. Tel: 01.45.51.49.51. Open 12 noon to 12 midnight.
  • Louvre Museum: 162 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or 9.45 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday). Closed Tuesday. €12 entrance. Book ahead and skip the long lines.
  • Quai Branly Museum: 37 Quai Branly, Paris 7. €9 entrance. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.

Les no-no’s:

  • Stay away from large bistros which attract hordes of tourists, and whose menus have not changed in years.
  • If you are physically mobile avoid taxis, which are fiercely expensive and often unavailable. You are usually a few blocks from a métro or Vélib station.
  • Use your Paris guidebook with great caution, allowing it to tell you only about famous buildings and sites, and not where to eat, drink, or shop. For that, follow Parisian blogs.
  • Do not feel obligated to spend your time visiting the Louvre and Orsay Museums, or the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, sadly Parisians themselves rarely do. There is a wealth of art and history to be seen simply by walking the streets of central Paris, and for a bird’s eye view of Paris, take the elevator to the top of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris 5.
TIME France

France’s Far Right Could Benefit From Sarkozy’s Legal Woes

Nicolas Sarkozy
Sarkozy's legal cloud puts his political future in doubt Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images

The former French President is under investigation, putting his political future under a cloud—and giving Marine Le Pen an opening

Even in a country where political scandals are a constant, the French were stunned to see their former President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled into a police station on July 1 for 15 hours of interrogation. Sarkozy was brought before judges well after midnight that day, where he was formally placed under investigation for corruption and influence peddling, relating to suspicions that Sarkozy had tried to wrest information from a senior judge about a legal case being built against him. An exhausted-looking Sarkozy was shown on television in the back of a police car, clearly shaken by his ordeal. “Is this normal?” Sarkozy asked in a national television and radio interview on the evening of July 2—his first such Q&A in two years—that had millions of viewers spellbound. “I’m profoundly shocked at what has happened.”

But besides his shock, Sarkozy, who lost his reelection bid to President François Hollande in 2012, might already be plotting his next political move—a move that could involve casting himself as the victim rather than the villain in his latest legal drama. As the French absorbed the newest accusations against Sarkozy, the ex-president has emerged in this week’s blanket media coverage as a lone wolf up against the establishment. That’s an ironic twist for a politician whose image as the consummate insider partly led to his reelection defeat. Two days after Sarkozy’s 15-hour police grilling, Sarkozy watchers say they believe he has several options ahead—not all of them bad. “He could become chief of the opposition in fighting both Hollande and the judges,” Christophe Barbier, editor of the French newsweekly L’Express, told TIME on Thursday. “That seems the most probable solution.”

Sarkozy has faced so many investigations since winning the presidency in 2007 that he and his lawyer had tried to avoid surveillance by using prepaid telephones registered in other people’s names. Police tapped those phones, however, leading them to focus on whether the two men tried to wrangle details about the case against Sarkozy from a top appeals-court judge—the subject of his grilling on Tuesday. The charges could lead judges to bring the case to trial, with Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog potentially facing a five-year sentence and a $680,000 fine if found guilty. To say the least, that would hugely complicate Sarkozy’s ambitions for a comeback against the beleaguered President Hollande in the 2017 elections.

Even if the former president beats this new investigation, however, it is not his only legal battle. Last year, investigators finally dropped charges alleging that Sarkozy took advantage of the aging billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt by taking millions of euros from her to fund his 2007 presidential bid. But they are still probing allegations that Sarkozy sought some $68 million for his 2007 campaign from then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi—the investigation in which he is now suspected of interfering with the senior judge.

But this week’s grilling cuts to the heart of a deeper issue, and it is one that rankles French voters: whether the alleged behavior of Sarkozy was just business as usual for the country’s famously cloistered elites. It could be “simply part of the bullying tactics of people in power that have been tolerated so far,” says Agnès Poirier, author and columnist for the political magazine Marianne, writing in the Guardian on Wednesday. Sarkozy, says Poirier, has regularly demanded information from officials about investigations against him, including once calling the head of the French intelligence service. “If nothing else, this new episode is shedding some more light on “‘le système Sarkozy,’” Poirier said.

Still, Sarkozy is hardly ready to hang it up politically. After laying low for Hollande’s first year in office, he has spent months angling for a return, and has said he intends deciding his next moves—including a possible presidential bid—by summer’s end. Enraged and combative on television on Wednesday night, Sarkozy nonetheless worked hard to dismantle the image of himself as someone accustomed to special access. He called the new charges “grotesque,” but quickly added, “I’m not demanding any privilege.” His voice dropping to a low rasp, he said, “If I have made mistakes I will face the consequences.”

Yet some of the consequences of Sarkozy’s legal battles are already contributing to the deep disarray of French politics. Sarkozy fares much better than President Hollande in most polls, and the former president is popular among many UMP voters, with supporters mobbing him on the sidewalk after his interrogation on Tuesday. Yet the UMP is locked in its own struggle for power. Jean-Francois Copé was appointed as leader only after bitter infighting. Since he resigned in May three former prime ministers have been running the party in an awkward, interim arrangement, as they wait to see what Sarkozy will do.

In fact, there is only one clear winner in this political upheaval: Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, which won the most French votes in the European Union elections in May, and which grabbed nearly one-quarter of the votes in France’s municipal elections last March, largely by slicing off support by disaffected UMP-ers. Pitching the two major parties as corrupt and ineffectual, Le Pen has soared in the polls. She told TIME in May that she believes she is headed for the top, that she intends running for president and that she believes that “the National Front will be in power within 10 years.”

Barbier, editor of L’Express, believes that much will depend on whether Sarkozy can cast himself as a new man: calm and reflective, rather than the volatile, temperamental man the French remember from his time in office. “If he is more calm, more tranquil, if he goes into it in that style,” Sarkozy could perhaps prevail, Barbier says. He believes Sarkozy’s first move might be to take back control of the UMP, and knock it into shape, ready for the presidential race in 2017.

Sarkozy’s makeover might already have begun. After a mostly combative TV interview on Wednesday night the former president struck a more conciliatory tone afterwards, tweeting: “I love my country passionately and I am not a man to be discouraged.” His supporters hope that passion and tenacity will be enough to carry their man through.

TIME France

Obama, Putin Honor D-Day Veterans Amid Tensions Over Ukraine

Obama, Putin and other world leaders gathered during a time of diplomatic conflict to honor veterans from one of history's greatest battles

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For just a few warm sparkling hours on Friday, the fractious tensions over Ukraine between the U.S., Europe and Russia, were swept aside as 17 leaders—including Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin—converged on Normandy’s coast to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which would help crush the Nazi occupation of Europe and end World War II. With the fraught politics between Western leaders and Russia left unspoken, it was a day to remember an era when all these countries shared a common enemy: Nazi Germany.

Friday’s ceremonies capped a week of intense emotion on these beaches, where U.S., British, Canadian and other troops stormed into Europe under heavy bombardment on June 6, 1944, and then fought their way, village by village, through Normandy for three months, crushing or driving out German soldiers. About 100,000 soldiers on both sides died in Normandy, many of them just teenagers who landed on the beaches with no combat experience. Of those who died, 9,387 Americans are buried in the U.S. war cemetery in this small Norman village, on the cliffside overlooking Omaha Beach, where U.S. forces clambered ashore on D-Day in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

At a wreath-laying ceremony Friday with French President François Hollande, President Obama delivered a heartfelt speech to about 12,000 people. The speech, which was both intimate and poetic, said that D-Day was a display of the U.S. commitment to freedom, since young Americans were willing to die “to liberate people they had never met.”

Although there was no talk of the current-day conflict over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Obama appeared to make a veiled reference to those tensions, saying that Americans had helped rebuilt Europe after World War II, and then went home, and “claimed no land” in Europe. Yet the presence of Putin at the D-Day celebrations ensured that the issue of Ukraine was not entirely forgotten. Asked on French television Friday about why world leaders had included the Russian president, Hollande said testily, “How can you not invite the president of a people who left nine million dead in the battle against Nazism,” and said the D-Day landings were only possible since the Red Army held the Eastern front.

For the dwindling numbers of U.S. veterans—now in their late eighties and early nineties—this has been an intensely emotional week in which thousands of Normans, as well as people from across Europe and the U.S., have visited villages hard hit during the war. Hundreds of veterans made the grueling trip, many at the French government’s expense, in what will be the world’s last glimpse of them in any significant number. About 200 of them sat on stage with Obama and Hollande Friday, and were given two long standing ovations by the crowd, once when Obama said to the veterans, “Gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.”

Indeed, in a far more cynical world, the U.S. veterans who have hobbled on canes or been pushed in wheelchairs around the villages of Normandy this week have been mobbed by young Europeans and Americans, who have traveled to France for the D-Day celebrations. Many simply stare at them, press them for stories about the D-Day battles, and even ask them for autographs.

On Utah Beach, where the 4th U.S. Infantry Division stormed ashore on D-Day, several veterans answered questions from shy French schoolchildren Thursday evening. “This is the first time I’ve been back in 70 years, and we must have done a good job, because France has been free for 70 years,” said Charles Wilson, 88, from Carlisle, Kentucky, who said he’d ridden his tank into Paris on his 19th birthday, the day allied troops drove the Nazis out of the city. Recalling the moment he staggered ashore on Utah Beach at 18, Wilson said, “I was scared to death. None of us had had any combat experience.”

Some veterans admitted after Obama’s speech on Friday that the trip had been both physically and emotionally draining. “I would not have missed this for the world,” said Leo Cohen, 94, from Queens, N.Y. He arrived in France on Tuesday for his first trip back to Normandy since 1944. Cohen said he had landed on Utah Beach about 20 miles East of here, nine days into the D-Day invasion, to offload supplies for the U.S. Army, and recalled hiding in an apple orchard while U.S. bombers flew ahead. Despite the emotional experience of his return to Normandy, Cohen admitted that the trip had been “an ordeal.”

With hundreds of veterans in Normandy this week, the contrasts to today’s U.S. military—what Obama called in his speech on Friday “the 9/11 generation of service members”—are clear to the U.S. military’s top ranks gathered here. “We were all in as a nation, as nations,” Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, told TIME on Thursday, recalling the final months of World War II. “We mobilized the economy, we mobilized the nations,” he said. “The contrast to today’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the U.S. is that less than one percent serve.”

That sense—that a more idealistic era is fading from view forever—has been stark in Normandy this week, and could explain the fascination people have had when meeting those who lived through the climactic fight against Nazi occupation. Gazing across the packed cemetery from the podium, Obama said, “Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men.”

TIME

At D-Day Commemoration, Few Mourn the War’s Losers

Visitors walk among gravestones at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried on June 5, 2014 at La Cambe, France.
Visitors walk among gravestones at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried on June 5, 2014 at La Cambe, France. Sean Gallup—Getty Images

In the cemeteries to Germany's war dead in Normandy, France, visitors see the other side of the Allied Forces' greatest victory

It may surprise the many Americans who have arrived in Normandy in France this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but the largest burial place here is not, in fact, the iconic U.S. war cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer about 10 miles from here. That site’s forest of sunlit, erect white crosses in perfectly symmetrical rows marks the graves of more than 9,387 Americans, memorialized for later generations in Hollywood movies, including the closing scene of the Tom Hanks hit, Saving Private Ryan.

Instead, among the many cemeteries for the 100,000 or so soldiers killed in the mammoth seaborne invasion on June 6, 1944 known as D-Day, and the three-month Battle for Normandy that followed, the biggest number of graves by far honor 21,222 soldiers who fought on the losing side: The Germans.

For many modern Europeans, the well-tended cemetery seems to symbolize a unified continent—a sign that old enemies are now allies within the 28-nation E.U., ironically, with the strongest and biggest nation being Germany. And yet, it was only in 2004 that a German leader, then Gerhard Schroeder, wasfirst invited to attend the D-Day anniversary ceremonies. This year, Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend Friday’s international ceremony for 17 world leaders, including President Barack Obama.

But unlike Obama, who will lay a wreath at the U.S. cemetery, Merkel is not scheduled to visit the graves of her countrymen who died fighting for Normandy. And unlike the U.S., British and Canadian war cemeteries, whose funding comes from independent commissions of those governments, this one is maintained through voluntary donations under a private German association.

On Wednesday, hundreds of visitors—American and British World War II veterans, and yes, some Germans too—walked through the stone arch of the German cemetery, and into the sweeping manicured lawns of the graveyard. There, they stood almost speechless, taking in the shocking magnitude of casualties, as they gazed at the dark-brown tombstones embedded in the grass. Many seemed almost overwhelmed by the crushing sense of death, aware that Germany in the late 1940s—bankrupt, and morally destroyed—did not choose to bring their soldiers’ bodies home.

“There is a really different air about this place, somber,” said U.S. Navy veteran, John Kummer, 89, of Colombia, S.C., whose boat landed on the beach in Normandy as a gunner’s mate third class, on the U.S.S. LCI 502, on the morning of June 6, 1944, in the midst of a “chaotic, noisy, scary day.”

Like almost every veteran interviewed on Wednesday, Kummer said he felt no animosity to those who he’d fought against, regarding them as victims of Adolph Hitler’s dictatorship, rather than as supporters of the Nazis. In the cemetery, he felt deeply moved by the gravestones, often showing the dead to be just teenagers. Many, never identified, are identified only as “a German soldier.” “There was never a personal face on the enemy,” Kummer said. “It was Hitler we were fighting.”

And yet, even decades on, the brutal fighting in Normandy still seems intensely personal, especially this week. The narrow roads of these stone villages are crowded with World War II-era Jeeps driven by local war enthusiasts. Excited local children wave U.S. flags at village ceremonies, even while singing the French anthem, “La Marseillaise.” And signs are splashed across the storefronts proclaiming the American heroes, who have arrived, many in wheelchairs, in what all realize is the world’s last glimpse of the D-Day generation. “Merci a nos liberateurs!” or thank you our liberators, reads a sign, typical of the area, in La Cambe village, near the German cemetery.

But Germans visitors say their presence in Normandy is far more complicated. The D-Day invasion—the biggest seaborne wartime operation in modern history—rescued France from Nazism, and ended the calamitous war, which left millions dead and much of Western Europe in economic and physical ruin. “We are not proud of this,” said Arnd Gath, 45, from Frankfurt, as he walked across the German cemetery with two friends. Gath, whose grandfathers both fought in Hitler’s army (though not in Normandy) said he had first visited Normandy for the 65th anniversary in 2009, but had felt some hostility. “When we went into the village we got nothing to eat,” he says. “They would not serve us.”

But even those who fought on the winning side have conflicted feelings about the battle for Normandy, which killed about 100,000 soldiers on both sides. Hobbling on his cane in the midst of the German cemetery on Wednesday, David Edwards, 89, a British D-Day veteran from south Wales, said it had “taken years” for him to feel at peace about the Germans who were killed during the fighting. With his grandson Chris Edwards’ arm around him, the older man burst into tears as he looked across the cemetery. His voice trembling, he said, “These German boys never want wanted to fight us, any more than I wanted to fight them.”

The cemetery’s French conservator, Lucien Tisserand, said Germany’s World War II veterans keep a low profile in Normandy, most opting not to visit during the week of D-Day, when soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada, New Zealand and others, regularly converge on the area. Tisserand, who’s taken care of the cemetery for 23 years, says he often comforts German visitors, who seem “uneasy” when confronted by the memories of their grandparents’ war record.

His other task, he says, is explaining to European children—raised on a united continent, with a common currency—how World War II came about. “They ask me, ‘why did people hate each other?’” Tisserand says. “They just cannot understand it.”

TIME World War II

D-Day Anniversary Marks Farewell For ‘Greatest Generation’

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US WWII veteran Edward W.Oleksak, who landed on June 6, 1944 in Omaha Beach, poses in front of the statue ''Les Braves'' by French sculptor Anilore Banon, on June 2, 2014 in Omaha Beach, near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. Joel Saget—AFP/Getty Images

The 70th anniversary will be far more poignant than past ones, for one reason: It is the last time veterans will be there in any significant number

Correction appended: June 4.

It has been a long goodbye. And this week, the world might be saying its last big farewell to what’s been dubbed “the greatest generation,” those who fought in World War II, and especially in its most pivotal battle of D-Day on June 6, 1944. This raises profound questions for veterans and historians about how future generations will remember the event, when there are no survivors left—and more crucially, how to make sure they will care.

For the 70th anniversary of that momentous fight, hundreds of those still living who took part in the mammoth D-Day sea invasion of Nazi-occupied France are converging on the beaches of Normandy all week, to mark the largest amphibious landing of the war—indeed, of any modern war. The D-Day invasion broke the German occupation of Europe, finally liberating the horrifying Nazi concentration camps and ending the conflict that left much of Western Europe (including Normandy) in physical and economic ruin. The invasion force that week in 1944 consisted of a giant armada of about 5,000 warships, 54,000 vehicles and 300,000 soldiers, from the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and several other countries, who staggered ashore, and then fought their way through Normandy, village by village, crushing or driving back the German platoons in their path under heavy aerial bombardment, in a vicious three-month battle.

As they have every five years on June 6, world leaders will gather on Friday at Normandy’s war cemeteries to honor tens of thousands of fallen soldiers, including thousands of Germans, who lie buried along the French coastline of the English Channel. In all, about 100,000 soldiers on both sides, and about 20,000 Normandy citizens, died in the battle. Dozens of villages are marking this week with photo exhibitions, veterans’ gatherings, fireworks, and military fly-pasts, including from hundreds of U.S., British and Russian forces, who will jump from World War II-era planes on to the beaches.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to wrap up his three-day European trip to Warsaw, Brussels and France with a wreath-laying ceremony on Friday morning, together with French President François Hollande, at the U.S. war cemetery in the tiny village of Colleville-sur-Mer—the burial site for 9,387 young Americans, most of whom were just teenagers in June 1944, and whose names are now marked with rows of simple white crosses or Stars of David. On Friday, Obama and Hollande will join leaders from those countries who fought the Nazis in an international ceremony on Normandy’s Sword Beach, in the village of Ouistreham. In a day likely to be overshadowed by tensions over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin will take part, commemorating Russia’s heavy loss of life against German forces. And in a sign of Europe’s postwar unity, the ceremonies also honor about 23,000 young German soldiers killed in Normandy in 1944, with Chancellor Angela Merkel and many German veterans attending.

Though the cemetery scenes will closely resemble previous big D-Day anniversaries, this one will be far more poignant, for one reason: It is the last time veterans will be there in any significant number.

Dwindling fast, the comrades-in-arms of those killed are now in their late-eighties and early-nineties. For days, they have been arriving in Normandy, hobbling on canes or pushed in wheelchairs in cemeteries, their hands shakily placing flowers on the graves. Dressed in their World War II uniforms, they are acutely aware that it is likely their final visit—and in many cases, it is their only visit. While Hollywood has memorialized their courage many times, including in Tom Hanks’ hit movie Saving Private Ryan and the TV series Band of Brothers, the survivors will no longer be around to tell their stories.

D-Day veterans say they fear that as their generation fades, so too might the interest in their experience. “I know very well that for the 80th anniversary, I might not be there, and I am afraid people might forget the war, and the misery it brought,” Bernard Dargols, 94, a D-Day veteran in the U.S. Army, said while sitting in his apartment outside Paris on Saturday. “The one reason I am asked to tell my story is that there are so few of us veterans left. I didn’t read these things in books. I was there.”

Dargols, a Paris-born Jew, immigrated to the U.S. in 1938 to work for a sewing-machine distributor in Manhattan, became a U.S. citizen, and landed on Normandy’s Omaha Beach six years later as a U.S. Army staff sergeant, as part of the D-Day armada. As a native French speaker, he became a crucial U.S. intelligence agent, able to sneak into Norman villages to pinpoint German positions and determine on which roads the enemy forces had laid landmines. In 2008, Normandy officials named a road after him.

Dargols says he had badly wanted to fight the Germans, after seeing newsreel footage in a Manhattan movie theater of Adolph Hitler shaking hands with the French leader Philippe Pétain, whose government collaborated in deporting about 73,000 Jews from France to the Nazi concentration camps. Many of Dargols’ relatives and friends died in the camps, although his father and two brothers escaped to New York during the war. His mother survived the Nazi occupation of Paris by hiding in her apartment building—a fact Dargols learned only in 1944, when, as an American G.I., he drove his Jeep into the courtyard underneath the family apartment, after Paris’ liberation, and found his mother alive. He later moved back to Paris. Seventy years later, Dargols says he still recalls the intense terror he felt during the D-Day invasion, as he came ashore under a heavy barrage of bombs, with only minimal military training, and not a day’s combat experience. “I was very scared,” he says.

Perhaps because of Hollywood’s depiction, many Americans now regard D-Day and the battle for Normandy as one they were sure to win. But at the time it was an immense gamble, as U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower warned young American soldiers in a radio address before they boarded the D-Day ships on the English coast. “Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened,” Eisenhower told them. “He will fight savagely.” Bad weather had forced Eisenhower to postpone the D-Day invasion one day, and further delays could have forced a long postponement, possibly prolonging World War II for another year. “Eisenhower’s decision to go on June 6 was one of the bravest decisions of the war,” says British war historian Antony Beevor, author of “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy.” Beevor says the German forces were disciplined and strong, more tham many U.S. and British soldiers.

The D-Day story has been simplified in other ways too, including glossing over many of the tensions between then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill worried that central Europe might be left in Communist hands, if the Red Army was allowed to advance during the Germans’ collapse, and argued—in vain—for the U.S. to invade Europe also through Italy, in order to stop the Soviet advance. “The U.S. didn’t understand the implications of the post-war period,” Beevor says. “As far as the Americans were concerned, they wanted to get the war over and done with.” In the end, Churchill was proved right.

But 70 years after D-Day, one fact remains, says Beevor: The war was for many Americans the last great moral combat. “The reason why World War II has such a powerful influence on our imagination is because the moral choices were so great and important,” Beevor says. “That’s the most important lesson for younger generations.”

And at least for now, veterans like Dargols are here to teach it.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of warships involved in the invasion armada. It was an estimated 5,000 ships.

TIME

5 Key Questions about the E.U. Election Results

Why so many Europeans voted for parties that are hostile to their own political and economic union

European voters have sent their politicians into a tailspin by voting in unexpectedly large numbers for anti-European Union parties in the weekend’s European Union parliamentary elections. Those parties want to dump the euro, pull their countries of the E.U., and some of them even want to destroy the institution itself. Since the E.U. governs 503 million people in 28 nations, the implications could be far-reaching. Not surprisingly, Europe’s leaders are reeling from the results. People in Europe and around the world are wondering what it all means and what comes next. Here are some of the questions they’re asking:

 

1. Why should we care about the E.U. anyway?

The E.U. covers a huge swath of territory, from Britain to Poland, and its combined economy, worth about 13 trillion euros, is the biggest in the world, outsizing even the U.S. economy. From their headquarters in Brussels, E.U. officials implement thousands of decisions that the E.U. parliament has voted in. Those laws and regulations range from the very important – like rescuing economies from collapse and imposing sanctions on Syria, Iran and Russia, to the truly mundane. Until a few years ago, the E.U. regulated the shape of bananas and cucumbers – a response to the retail industry’s argument that it needed to know how many fitted in a box. On weightier matters, the E.U. is important to the White House. Europe is America’s closest ally in facing down foes like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Syria’s Bashar Assad, and like the U.S., France and Britain are among the only five countries with permanent veto powers on the United Nations Security Council. The E.U. is also the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, with a new, sweeping free-trade agreement currently being negotiated. One last thing: since its precursor organization was founded in 1951, Europe has enjoyed its most peaceful period in history.

 

2. But if it’s such an important and powerful force for good why did politicians who actually want to destroy the E.U. do so well in the vote?

To be fair, only 43% of registered voters went to the polls. Most appeared too indifferent, or perhaps confused (yes, Europeans find this confusing too): The E.U.’s gargantuan bureaucracy can feel impersonal and distant and voters often feel uninspired. In addition, millions of Europeans rank the E.U.’s performance very poorly. Years of recession and high unemployment, coupled with expensive bailouts of faltering economies, like those of Spain, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece, have left voters fed up, wondering why their leaders are so unable to solve Europe’s problems. Their deep alienation handed the fiercely right-wing, nationalist leaders, like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Britain’s Nigel Farage of the U.K Independence Party, or UKIP, an election gift. Both of those leaders won shock victories. There were also big wins for anti-E.U. far-left parties, like Spain’s Podemos, which didn’t exist four months ago and now has five seats in the E.U. Parliament. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising: The E.U.’s own pollsters recently found voter trust at its lowest point ever. The one bright spark, according to the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, or CEPS, an E.U.-funded think tank, is that Americans have even less faith in Congress than Europeans do in the E.U.

 

3. These gains were just in the European Parliament. Do these Eurosceptic leaders want power in their own countries too?

Absolutely. Le Pen and Farage view their E.U. victories as a big step towards taking power at home. That’s a good reason why these elections have so shaken Europe’s presidents and prime ministers; their political futures are on the line. But some political observers argue that anti-E.U. politicians are sure to lose elections at home, and that the voters in these E.U. elections simply vented their anger and frustration at Brussels by casting protest votes, which might not translate, when they need to choose the next British Prime Minister or French President. “You have very deep economic wounds,” says Daniel Gros, director of CEPS. “Since few countries can accept they got themselves into this mess, the E.U. is the best scapegoat you can think of.” That might be so. But consider that in Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, the anti-E.U. party, Alternative for Germany, won 7% of the votes.

What’s more, the far-right politicians head to the E.U. Parliament with hugely increased credibility and visibility among voters at home, who might no longer see the parties as slightly nutty and largely irrelevant fringe organizations. The parties could also use their election victories to create a ground-force of organizers back home, ready to fight national elections. For Le Pen, however, France’s two-round presidential election system will almost inevitably filter out smaller parties like her National Front. Nonetheless, anti-E.U. leaders sound supremely confident when discussing their political futures. “The National Front will be in power within 10 years,” Le Pen told TIME in an interview last month. And Farage told the BBC after his victory on Sunday, “now anything is possible.”

 

4. Does that mean the E.U. is basically dead on its legs?

No. The E.U. is not about to die any time soon, despite the anti-E.U. politicians storming the barricades. The institution’s machinery is simply too complex and deeply entrenched to collapse that easily. And even though they made big gains the so-called Eurosceptics still won only an estimated 175 out of 751 seats in the E.U. Parliament. The old mainstream politicians still outnumber them. That said, these elections aren’t likely to leave the E.U. untouched. European leaders have holed up in emergency meetings in their capitals and Brussels since the shock results rolled in on Sunday night. Le Pen and her allies are vowing to block the new trade agreement with Washington, push to end the continent’s open borders, stop any attempts to add new E.U. members to the existing 28 countries and severely limit immigration to Europe. Even with a small minority, the anti-E.U. politicians will likely be much more vocal in the parliament. Le Pen envisions being able to nudge the debates in their direction, potentially allowing anti-E.U. groups to gain broader support for their causes. Their success at the polls could also persuade traditional politicians to sharpen some of their own criticisms of the E.U., and shift their own policies. Although Le Pen is unlikely to win on major issues that go against the E.U.’s constitution, like sealing borders, there are other possibilities for her to disrupt the E.U.’s agenda, or insert her own. If she succeeds in forming a trans-national, right-wing political group in the parliament, she will be entitled to attend meetings of political leaders. She would also be able to become one of the E.U. rapporteurs who report to parliament on specific policy issues, as they make their way through the committee procedure. A rapporteur’s “opinion carries a lot of weight,” according to the European Law Monitor, an independent information service.

 

5. These anti-immigration politicians – is that a polite way of saying they have racist policies?

Many Europeans, including some Muslims, would say so. No anti-E.U. politician will admit to racist policies, however, and most have worked hard to shed any lingering sense that their parties are racist. UKIP leader Farage has rejected joining a Le Pen-led political bloc in the E.U. Parliament, saying the National Front has a history of anti-Semitism; Le Pen has virulently disputed that. What unites both UKIP and the National Front is their belief that the growing number of immigrants to E.U. countries undermines Europe’s economy. Le Pen argues that French Muslims are imposing their beliefs on the Christian majority, and abhors any push to segregate girls and boys in public swimming pools, or exclude pork on school lunch menus. “Not all Muslims, but Islamists who, now permanently in France, are constantly asking for special treatment,” she told TIME last month, She told voters at a public meeting last month that France’s immigration policy was “a catastrophe,” and after the National Front won 11 municipalities in local elections last March, she said those towns would introduce pork on the menus of school canteens. Observant Jews and Muslims do not eat pork.

 

TIME

The Star of France’s Right-Wing

TIME International Magazine Cover, May 26, 2014
Photograph by Christopher Morris—VII for TIME

Marine Le Pen, president of France's far-right National Front, sat down with TIME to discuss this month's European elections, French politics and her ambitious plan to dismantle the European Union

Marine Le Pen is shaking up French politics, three years after taking over France’s far-right National Front from her father, Jean-Marie. With record low ratings for Socialist President François Hollande, and the opposition UMP conservatives riven by internal splits, the National Front grabbed thousands of mainstream votes in municipal elections in March. Now Le Pen is plotting her assault on the E.U. in the European elections due to take place from May 22-25. She sat down with TIME on April 29 for a cover interview in this week’s European edition. In this Q&A, Le Pen discusses her plans for a radically changed Europe, and her ambitions to run France:

Q: There seems to be a strong chance you will be able to create an official political bloc within the E.U. parliament. What can you do with that?

A: We will defend the country, defend our interests, against the big financial interests, the banks. What the E.U. fights for is big financial interests, and for the banks. These interests are in contradiction with the European people. We’ll try to get pieces of our sovereignty back. We will defend European people all together, to block the advancement of the integration of Europe, which we consider a total failure. We have transferred legislative, budgetary, monetary powers [to the E.U.] Countries have fewer powers than each of the 50 states in the U.S.

Q: Which pieces of sovereignty are possible to reclaim?

A: Controlling our borders. The Schengen agreement [which allows for free movement within a group of E.U. countries], we will fight against. Getting control back over our borders, and the fact that our constitution should have higher powers than the E.U. laws. The right to promote economic patriotism … When there are two people with same qualifications, the priority should be given to the national. Also, like the U.S. has, we should give priority to national companies in the bids for public tenders. Voilà.

Q: Would you rather reform the E.U. parliament, or take it apart altogether?

A: The E.U. is not reformable in its present form. It has to disappear and be replaced by a Europe of nations that are free and sovereign. You can’t reform it just by adjustments. This project is radically different. It’s a totally different ideology. In the E.U. parliament we can block the advancements towards integration. We can block things through referendums, and pose the question to the French: Do you want to stay in the E.U. or leave E.U.?

Q: What is your major argument to get out of the E.U. and the euro?

A: The E.U. has become a totalitarian structure, and if we want to stay a free, sovereign country we cannot remain in it. The only solution is to get out of it.

Q: Many leading economists say an exit from the euro, let alone the E.U., would be an economic disaster.

A: And many economists think the opposite. They think the euro is not viable and that the only path back to get jobs and growth down is to get back the national currency.

Q: Let me ask you about French politics. What effect has the National Front had on its political rivals?

A: The National Front is the center of gravity in French politics. On both right and left, they are taking our ideas. The right has taken the concept of nation, the fight against illegal immigration, getting tougher on crime. The left has totally taken our strategy and language: Giving a big role for government in economic patriotism and protectionism. We are the center of gravity, and they are taking ideology from us.

[But] even though they have taken the ideas, they have never implemented them when they’re in power, and now there’s a lot of disappointment in them in France … The local successes [in the municipal elections] gives us the local roots we need, given how the election system operates in France. Then we also can show what the National Front mayors can do. Our adversaries were saying, ‘okay you have these ideas but we’ve never seen you run things.’ Now we’ll show what we can do.

Q: How will life feel different for those people living in a National Front town under a National Front mayor?

A: We will lower taxes, which are very high. We will get tougher on petty crime. That is extremely important. The parties are victims of their own lies: They always dramatize the threat of the National Front, saying that cities were going to be a shambles and going to go bankrupt. The simple fact is that we will show that this is a lie, that it’s a caricature.

Q: But some believe you’re a threat.

A: The French no longer believe it. They see a rich country that is on verge of bankruptcy, with massive unemployment. It is easy for [mainstream parties] to instill fear in people, to scare them out of voting for the National Front. Some of our policies are being implemented elsewhere, and it doesn’t bring about catastrophe. In the U.S. you have economic patriotism, the U.S. patrols its borders, they lock up criminals and delinquents, they crack down on illegal immigrants—and it’s not a drama.

France is a country that operates in a slightly strange way, with contradictions. It’s balanced between the market economy and enterprise, and the existence of public services, and a strategic state… It’s also a secular country. It’s very brutalized by the development of communitarianism. That is to say, communities that want special treatment, and special consideration. That is totally against our history, our constitution and way of life. The French are one and indivisible.

Q: Give me an example.

A: For example when a religion demands that at school, kids should be taught sports separately, girls and boys, in order to respect the religion. For us, that is [makes strangling motion]… It is shocking to us. Or a public swimming pool with different opening times for men and women.

Q: You’re talking about Muslims.

A: It’s the big religions, fundamentalist, not just Muslims. Not all Muslims, but Islamists who, now permanently in France, are constantly asking for special treatment.

Q: Right after the municipal elections in March, the first statement you made was a plan to reintroduce pork into the school canteens in the National Front towns. Why make an issue of this? It seems harmless keeping pork off the menus.

A: The fundamentalists began by demanding substitutes for pork. Then they wanted pork and non-pork not be served together. Now they want pork to be banned altogether. Air France now facilitates this by not serving pork, just in order to accommodate a minority. The minority’s needs are being imposed on the majority. If our political adversaries are tacking right, that is not by accident. It is a mischaracterization. Every time people say we are ‘extreme right,’ people think we are racist. The use of the term ‘far right’ is used because they know that it really scares people. In the U.S., that means the Ku Klux Klan in white robes and hats.

Q: You’ve said the immigration situation in France is a “castastrophe.” What’s so disastrous about it?

A: We have no control over our immigration. That is why it is a disaster. As opposed to the U.S., we actually help these people even when they are here illegally. We treat them for free. Their children go to school for free. We give them housing in the projects. We have five million people who are unemployed. We cannot bear this burden. I believe that if the U.S. treated its illegal immigrants as we do, the Americans would be much more against immigration than they are today. The French are treated less well than foreigners, in their own country. This brings about a deep feeling of unfairness. It is grounds for future potential for conflict.

Q: Your opponents hear you talk about immigration and say the party is racist and discriminatory. How do you react to that?

A: Our program is about nationality. We’ve never had anything in it about ethnic background. Now it is certain today that 40% of foreigners in France are unemployed.

Q: Your critics are quite vociferous. Do you receive a lot of threats?

A: We receive death threats all the time. By Facebook, Twitter, and letters, always. Of course. Because there are people who don’t support our ideas and cannot stand the idea that we think differently from them. And the political class contributes to it, by pillorying us and characterizing us as a threat, all the while using our own political arguments as elections approach. It is almost as if they are trying to incite people and pushing them to be violent.

Q: You have said you think the National Front will be in power in a decade. How do you get from here to there, from having just a few seats in the Assembly to actually being in power?

A: This path might be shorter than what one might think. The way elections in France work, the elections for President can change completely the legislature. The legislative elections always follow the presidential elections. Some polls show that I could reach 46% in a runoff in the presidential election.

Q: But your father faced a similar situation in 2002. He got into the second round in the presidential elections, and then he faced a huge vote against him in the second round. Why would it be different with you?

A: I think the situation is not at all comparable to 2002. The National Front has gone from being a movement of opposition and protest, to a party that is ready to govern. France has changed as well. People realize that the choices that were put before them were wrong choices. By definition, we have become a party that represents 25% of voters that has restructured itself in a way that is capable of governing.

Q: How different politically are you from your father?

A: It is the context that has changed a lot. My father spent a good part of his life fighting traces of ultra-communism. And I’ve spent a good chunk of my life fighting against ultra-liberalism. Obviously the context and the threats have changed. Today the great threat is ultra-liberalism and not ultra-communism. I’m a woman of my time. My father is a man of his time.

We are not the same generation. Economic patriotism existed then, and today it doesn’t exist at all. I have sensitivity to social conditions but that is also a consequence of the era in which I live. I’m 45 years old, and we’ve been talking about the economic crisis for 40 years. I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it is the responsibility of the leaders, that perhaps this was the responsibility of the leaders who have been governing for a long time. This crisis did not just brutally fall on us.

Q: Are you close to your father?

A: He’s my father. We have occasions to exchange opinions, and we’re able to exchange opinions. He has a lot of political experience behind him. It would be a shame to deprive myself of this experience, this knowledge, of French political life. So we arrange to see one another regularly, though probably not enough for his liking.

Q: What age did you know you wanted to go into politics?

A: I was not really conscious of it. I fell into it. I was weaned on politics my whole life. I tried to get away from politics, to be a lawyer, but it always caught me, like a virus.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

TIME Nigeria

Nigerians Critical of Government’s Slow Kidnappings Response

London Protest Against The  Kidnapping Of More Than 200 Nigerian Girls
A man holds a sign that reads "Bring Back Our Girls" during a protest outside Nigeria House in London on May 9, 2014 Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

The government's inaction and sluggish response to the kidnapping of around 279 girls by Boko Haram has left many Nigerians frustrated and critical of it

With the U.S., Britain and France now involved in the search for hundreds of girls abducted by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, Nigerians have begun to wonder whether a slow response by their own government could ignite an explosion inside the country. Their dissatisfaction is rooted in a sense that Nigeria’s missteps are a sign of greater disregard for the public good.

“It took the self-immolation of a Tunisian street trader to spark off the Arab Spring,” blogger Chris Ngwodo wrote in the Lagos newspaper ThisDay on Sunday, referring to the death in 2011 by Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the Tunisian revolution, followed by revolutions in Egypt and Libya. In a similar way, he wrote, “the debacle [of the kidnapped schoolgirls] might yet unleash seismic repercussions.”

Ngwodo’s is just one voice in a rising chorus of Nigerians frustrated over their government’s seeming inaction and slow response. The girls vanished almost one month ago, on April 15, when Boko Haram invaded a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok. They forced an estimated 279 girls into trucks, and drove them into the forest; eight more were kidnapped days later.

On Friday, Amnesty International said its researchers had proof that local officials had been alerted about four hours before the April 15 attack, after people in neighboring villages said they witnessed Boko Haram gunmen moving toward Chibok, where the girls were writing their final high school exams. Though the alarm was raised, Amnesty reported, officials failed both to send military reinforcements and to attempt to move the girls to safety.

Amnesty said it had “multiple interviews with credible sources,” and called the government’s inaction “a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians.”

Seemingly unaware of the incident’s potential to set off an emotional chain reaction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waited two weeks before speaking publicly about the attack. He also rebuffed immediate offers of help from the U.S. and U.K., according to the Associated Press on Sunday. Jonathan — who is also Commander in Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces — finally broke his silence on May 1, calling the incident “horrific” and asking for foreign help.

But by then, it seemed too late. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a chilling video on May 4 saying he intended to sell the girls, some as young as 9 years old, perhaps by trading them in Chad and Cameroon.

That fueled a global campaign, with #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter across the world. On Wednesday, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama posted a photo of herself holding a sign with the slogan, and on Saturday she made her first-ever address from the White House, saying she and President Barack Obama were “outraged and heartbroken” by the girls’ situation. Pope Francis too tweeted about the campaign:

With four weeks having passed since their abduction, finding the girls will now be immensely difficult, especially given Shekau’s warning about selling them off.

Jonathan has recently suggested that Boko Haram’s days are numbered, as it now faces international military action. A Nigerian presidential adviser Reuben Abati told TIME on Friday afternoon that U.S. military advisers had already last week and that British advisers would arrive on Monday.

Yet it is unclear what Western military help might accomplish at this point. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the U.S. is sending only military advisers, not soldiers. He warned that finding the girls “will be very difficult. It is a vast country.”

“This is not going to be an easy task,” Hagel said.

Still, in Lagos’ upscale neighborhoods — hundreds of miles and a world away from Boko Haram’s stronghold — several wealthy young people displayed red wristbands this weekend, part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Other residents hammered posters to the railing of a traffic circle, each with the silhouette of a face and the name of one of the missing girls.

Boko Haram’s bloody campaign, which started in 2009, has accelerated sharply in recent months. Of the 4,000 or so people killed in the past four years, about 1,500 of them have died this year alone. The insurgency has barely let up since the girls disappeared last month, and it could well increase with the arrival of foreign advisers. The AP reported this weekend that insurgents had blown up a bridge in the area near the kidnappings, killing several people, and that they kidnapped the wife and two children of a retired police officer.

Boko Haram’s violence isn’t isolated to the far-flung areas of the country either. The group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed about 75 people on April 19 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. A second bomb exploded close to the first site on May 2, and the Nigerian government blames Boko Haram for it too. That attack killed at least 12 more people, just days before the beginning of the World Economic Forum on Africa, hosted this year in Abuja.

President Jonathan and his government had planned for months to use the forum to show off Nigeria’s booming economy, Africa’s biggest since last month. Instead, the kidnappings dogged most conversations at the forum, and hundreds of heavily armed military and police surrounded the conference hotel and escorted visitors on transport buses. And rather than trumpeting his country’s success, Jonathan spent much of the three-day event defending his actions. On Friday afternoon, he told a small group of reporters — including TIME — that aircraft had been dispatched “immediately” after the kidnapping.

“If people give you the impression that the government is slow, that is not true,” he said. “That is not correct.”

Many Nigerians are unconvinced, however, and are now questioning whether the government has simply lost touch with its people. Blogger Ngwodo also stated in his article on Sunday that, beyond bringing back the girls, the government would need to work to “instill a culture of accountability.”

Easier said than done, perhaps. “Nigerians have never taken the regime very seriously. The government has never been proactive on any issues,” Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a political-science professor at Lagos State University, told TIME on Sunday. “That is the general perception.”

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