Sarkozy at Berlin Wall
Many world leaders claimed credit for tearing down the Berlin Wall metaphorically and thus ending the Cold War. Last year, President Nicholas Sarkozy of France went a step further by suggesting that he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Mauerspechte (Wall peckers) East German citizens in bringing the Wall down literally. On his facebook, the French President posted a photograph of him, then 34, chipping away the hated symbol of Communism. The caption claimed that he, along with two other prominent French politicians, dashed to Berlin and crossed through Checkpoint Charlie as the first tremors of the earthquake that would topple the entire Communist system were felt in that divided city on November 9, 1989.
The story seemed too good to be true — and so it was. Journalists and former French officials immediately began questioning his story. The events of that November night were so unforeseen that many politicians on the both sides of the Iron Curtain were caught unaware. Nobody even in Berlin knew the wall was about to fall; President George H.W. Bush saw the wall coming down on television while Chairman Gorbachev — like many Germans and Eastern Europeans — slept through it. While Sarkozy was clearly there in the early days of the Wall’s demise, it was certain that he wasn’t there on that fateful night. Two politicians whom Sarkozy claimed were with him, Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon, the former and current prime ministers respectively, both admitted that they were unsure about the date on which they went to Berlin. (Alain Juppé – who was to Sarkozy’s left in the Facebook photograph above – did not go to Berlin until 16 November. On 9 November he was at the annual memorial service for General de Gaulle in France.)
Although Sarkozy stood by his story, and hoped it would die down, it accelerated into internet meme. His former opponent, Ségolène Royal joked that it is equally likely that he was at the Bastille in 1789. Actively encouraged by the French media, the French netizens subsequently photoshopped Sarkozy into every important event in history from the Crucifixion to the D-Day landings. See the NYTimes article here.
Yet, Sarkozy is nothing if not a political survivor: in 1995, he was cast aside by the Gaullist right because he backed a rival candidate to Jacques Chirac for the French presidency. Four years later, he again disappointed his party for securing a mere 13% of the vote in elections to the European Parliament. But he punched his way back into the government in 2002 and secured the presidency in 2007. Now, saddled with extremely low poll ratings, Sarkozy would definitely lose the election if it were to be held today. The comeback kid will probably surprise us once more.