TIME

Former French First Lady’s Tell-All Book Adds To Hollande’s Woes

Valerie Trierweiler in the gardens at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris in 2013.
Valerie Trierweiler in the gardens at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris in 2013. Thomas Samson—AFP/Getty Images

Valérie Trierweiler's account of her life with the French President has sparked controversy, as a new poll shows that his popularity ratings have sunk to 13%—the lowest of any French leader in about 70 years

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes, meaning that it takes a cool, level head to deliver just the right sucker punch. That might be the most telling lesson from the scandal that has erupted this past week in France, over the former First Lady Valérie Trierweiler’s explosive tell-all book about her life with President François Hollande. “Thank You For This Moment” appeared in bookstores last Wednesday, with no forewarning to French officials, and its initial print-run of 200,000 sold out within days, inspiring countless front-page articles about the apparently callous behavior of a never-married president towards the women in his life. Yet there has been equally harsh criticism of Trierweiler, whose stinging words have sounded to many like petty whining, at least when compared with the severe economic crisis Hollande is struggling to fix.

To recap (if readers need reminding): Hollande’s domestic life imploded in spectacular fashion last January when the French gossip magazine Closer published photographs of him sneaking out of the sumptuous Napoleonic palace on his motorbike, to spend the night with his alleged lover, the French actress Julie Gayet. Three weeks later (hours after TIME interviewed Hollande inside the Elysée) Hollande declared his seven-year relationship with Trierweiler over, in a bland 18-word written statement. While the world lapped up the details, inside the palace, the couple spiraled into a private hell that threatened Trierweiler’s physical wellbeing, according to the former First Lady. Trierweiler, 49, describes the president frantically trying to prevent her from swallowing a fistful of sleeping pills the morning the news broke. “I swallow what I can. I want to sleep. I don’t want to live through the coming hours,” Trierweiler recounted to Paris Match magazine, where she has been a longtime staff writer; her book was splashed on the magazine’s cover last week. “I want to escape. I lose consciousness.” Trierweiler then spent a week in the hospital, with officials claiming at the time that she was suffering the effects of extreme stress.

Bad as that account is, other parts of Trierweiler’s book that take aim at Hollande’s battered political standing could be even more damaging for the French leader. Trierweiler casts herself as a working-class woman at sea within the cocooned political elite into which she was thrust—and with no empathy from Hollande. She claims the Socialist leader, who won power in 2012 by casting the then-President Nicolas Sarkozy as representing only the rich, was “bored to tears” when dining with her family in their low-income home, preferring, she says, to visit the Gayets’ grand chateau in southwestern France. “He campaigned as the enemy of the rich but the truth is that he despises the poor,” Trierweiler writes, saying that Hollande mocked the poor as “sans-dents” or toothless, referring to the cost of dental treatment.

The claims have put Hollande under withering scrutiny, even from reliably friendly sources. “Who are you François Hollande?” asked the weekend front page of the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, which supports the ruling Socialist Party. Inside, its editorial says that the president, most often vilified for being soft-edged and ineffectual, emerges in Trierweiler’s book as hard and cynical, adding, “The marshmallow president becomes the flint president.”

The new image will not likely help Hollande, who has overseen a worsening economy and rising unemployment. On Sunday the polling agency IFOP released a survey taken on Friday and Saturday (after Trierweiler’s book came out) showing that 65% of Socialist Party voters did not want Hollande to run for reelection in 2017. A separate poll on Friday by TNS-Sofres showed that Hollande’s popularity ratings had sunk to 13%, the lowest of any French president in about 70 years. And although only five percent of those IFOP surveyed named Hollande’s rocky private life as their top criticism of him, some believe Trierweiler’s revelations could well be a turn-off for many voters. “He looks like a man who really does not behave well at all,” says Colombe Pringle, a long-time observer of Elysée politics, and editorial consultant to the celebrity magazine Point de Vue. His bad behavior, she says, is “not only with his “toothless” remark but also in his daily life with women in general, and with her [Trierweiler] in particular.”

There is one woman to emerge stronger from this latest scandal: Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s far-right National Front party. This weekend’s IFOP poll showed that Le Pen would beat Hollande in a second-round presidential race, if the elections were held today—something that no far-right leader has come close to accomplishing in France. Delighted by the result, Le Pen told party members at a rally on Sunday that it “shows there is no longer a glass ceiling that would block our electoral victory.” Much could change between now and the next elections, which are two and a half years away, but for now, the upheaval in French politics appears a boost for Hollande’s foes.

In contrast to Le Pen’s buoyant speech, the woman at the heart of the roiling scandal—Trierweiler—quietly slipped out of France on Saturday, flying to Madagascar with a photographer on an unnamed assignment, according to the conservative Figaro newspaper. Politicians of all stripes have condemned Trierweiler for sullying the office of the president, by revealing prurient details best left unknown. “It is a disgrace for France,” Le Pen said of Trierweiler’s book. Even from over 5,000 miles away, Trierweiler might be wondering whether her tell-all book will backfire on her, leaving her as isolated as the two-timing president. “It will be very difficult for her to continue leading her life and being a journalist,” Pringle says. “I think she will pay a very high price.”

TIME europe

Europe Considers Getting Tough on Russia After Plane Disaster

A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine.
A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

European leaders have been reluctant to impose heavy sanctions on Russia. That may now change

Correction appended, July 18 2014

With Europeans reeling at the calamitous downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet on Thursday, European politicians have already begun debating whether they have fallen short in applying pressure on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. European leaders have for months tiptoed around imposing muscular sanctions against Moscow for arming Ukraine’s separatists as they try to protect the continent’s deep economic ties with Russia. The Obama Administration has taken a harder line, this week introducing a tough new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. European leaders have thus far tried to give diplomatic negotiations with Putin a chance to work, while approving some of the sanctions the U.S. has implemented.

President Barack Obama on Friday called the shootdown “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” and said at least one American had died in the crash. And at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power outlined evidence pointing to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine as having launched the missile, possibly from the arsenal recently supplied by Moscow. Like Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, she ruled out any possibility that Ukraine’s military had been responsible, as Putin has claimed. With Russia emerging as a likely culprit in the disaster, European leaders are now doing some soul-searching and discussing what their next steps should be.

It could take weeks or months for investigators to prove who exactly fired the missile that appears to have taken down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at an altitude of 30,000 feet, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch.. But the lack of firm answers hardly matters: The calls for tougher action against Russia have come swiftly, even before investigators have reached the wreckage strewn across a rural area of Ukraine near the border with Russia. “The time for illusions is over, the illusions that we can bring Russia over in a diplomatic way, that is finished,” Karl-Georg Wellmann, a German member of parliament from the ruling Christian Democrat party, told TIME on Friday. “Russia is leading a hot war in eastern Ukraine, delivering artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles,” he said. “This is not a game, it is a reality.”

Since Putin sent the Russian military into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula more than four months ago – then annexed it – the U.S. and Europe have differed over how to punish Moscow for violating international agreements that have held since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

So far, E.U. sanctions include freezing assets and banning travel of those officials deemed to have been directly involved in the Crimea operation and in backing armed militia in eastern Ukraine. The 28 E.U. countries have split over how tough the sanctions should be, with Scandinavian countries and former Soviet allies like Poland wanting stiff action, while southern European countries like Italy and Spain are balking at the hit on their own economies that action might bring.

But Europe has not — as yet — imposed sanctions that might cause real pain to Russia’s economy, or its own. Such sanctions might include blocking Russian companies from using E.U. banks or stopping European technology from being used in Russia’s critical oil and gas industries. French officials have resisted calls from Baltic states to cancel a €1.2-billion ($1.6 billion) deal to sell two Mistral-class amphibious warships to Russia. In fact, Russian seamen arrived in the French port of Saint-Nazaire just last month to begin training on the vessels, the first of which is due for delivery in October. With Thursday’s tragedy, E.U. leaders might now ratchet up the pressure on French President François Hollande to reconsider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Berlin that by contrast to the French deal, Germany had scrapped a lucrative deal to build a shooting center in Russia.

On Wednesday — just one day before the airline disaster — Obama announced the new round of American sanctions against Russia, targeting a much broader network of government officials and business leaders and freezing the assets of key Russian companies, including the giant energy firm Rosneft, with which E.U. countries have billions of dollars worth of contracts. In Brussels, E.U. leaders voted to tighten European sanctions as well, but failed to name the companies, instead giving European technocrats until the end of July to draw up the list.

But with Europeans counting their dead, politicians predict more focused action against Russia, especially if investigators confirm the claims by U.S., E.U. and Ukrainian officials that the rebels are to blame. “The climate for further measures against the Russian leadership will be different after this,” says Joris Voorhoeve, an advisor to the Dutch Foreign Ministry on peace and security issues, and a former Defense Minister. “If it is proven that the missile is of Russian origin and if it was not just a serious and bad mistake by the Ukraine government, which is not very likely, I think the position of the Netherlands government will be for further sanctions against Russia,” he said by phone from the Dutch capital The Hague on Friday. “There is general distrust of Putin and the circle around him.”

Correction: The original version of this story misrepresented Ambassador Samantha Power’s comments about the origin of the missile that brought down Flight 17.

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

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’

FRANCE-WWII-DDAY-ANNIVERSARY-US
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.

 

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