Elections in France: The baker defending migrants who wants to be a deputy for the Mélenchon alliance | International
It is still night in Besançon, the candidate Stéphane Ravacley has slept just over three hours after giving a rally before hundreds of people and a tough day awaits him, the last one before the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday. First, a radio debate with his rival. Afterwards, he distributed leaflets throughout his constituency in this city of 115,000 inhabitants in western France, near Switzerland.
But now it’s 4:45 a.m. and candidate Ravacley is practicing his usual trade: he kneads the buns and the baguette and puts them in the oven of his bakery in the old town of Besançon. Although he is focused on the task, in his head he cannot stop turning over and over what he has done so far – the dazzling career from anonymity in Besançon to national stardom – and what awaits him when shortly dawn.
“I can’t stop thinking about the radio debate,” he confesses in a pause. “I haven’t had much time to study.”
La Hûche à Pain, which is the name of the bakery, is the official headquarters of the campaign, the place where, as he says, he designs the strategy in his mind while making the bread. And it is the place where Ravacley forged a reputation that may land him in the National Assembly on behalf of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES), the alliance of left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
It was in this bakery that, in January 2021, he went on a hunger strike to prevent the French government from expelling Laye Fodé Traoré, his Guinean apprentice. Traoré had arrived in France as a minor undocumented immigrant after a journey through Africa and the Mediterranean. At the end of 2010, after turning 18, he was notified that he had to leave the country.
The hunger strike made Ravacley a minor celebrity. The authorities, after resisting for several days, regularized the apprentice. He now works in another bakery 90 kilometers from Besançon, in Dijon, has a girlfriend and is about to obtain a diploma in professional studies.
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“It took 11 days of hunger strike for the French Administration to call me and tell me that they would take care of the kid,” Ravacley complains. “This told me there was a problem.” And that’s how the political bug bit him. The rejection in the Senate of a law, which proposed to facilitate the regularization of minors once they had reached the age of majority, ended up convincing him to take the step.
“Listening to all the lies that were told in the Senate about learning and about immigration, I told myself that I had to go into politics,” he recalls. “I thought that if we didn’t get into the institutions, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Now Ravacley is one of a handful of candidates in the legislature who are not political professionals and who come from trades not usually associated with government or parliament. Another candidate, also from NUPES, is Rachel Keké, a hotel room cleaner. A year ago, after 22 months of strike and protests, Keké obtained, along with other employees of an Ibis on the outskirts of Paris, an improvement in working conditions and wages.
“The more people there are like Mrs. Keké in the National Assembly, or like me, the more the laws will resemble us, because we will be the ones who will have voted for them,” argues Ravacley. “If you have a trade, you live the real life.”
After World War II, one in five deputies in France were employees or workers; now there are 4.6% employees and no workers, according to the non-governmental organization Observatory of Inequalities.
It is not unusual for there to be representatives of civil society in Parliament. But it is to see precarious employees like Kéké or small businessmen like Ravacley, a baker who does not intend to leave his trade if he is elected.
“I have known poverty and hunger, I have lived in poorly heated houses, I know the difficulties of running a company,” Ravacley lists to point out the experience that would distinguish him in the National Assembly. And what can he or Rachel Keké contribute? “A little humanity, kindness, beauty.”
In the previous legislative elections, in 2017, the most visible candidates from civil society belonged to Emmanuel Macron’s party. He had just been elected president and offered a refreshing and youthful image: a break with the old politics. Now Macron represents the system and many of his candidates are figures of the establishment. It is Mélenchon who, despite being the oldest of all active politicians, presents the most visible candidates from civil society with NUPES.
On June 12, in the first round of the legislative elections, Ravacley won 32.5% of the vote in his constituency of Besançon. The Ensemble candidate —the Macronist coalition— obtained 31.4%. Both will dispute a seat this Sunday.
Ravacley does not belong to any party. But he has been a socialist sympathizer for years and, within the NUPES coalition, he concurs as an environmentalist. The son of a peasant and motherless since he was four years old, he left school at 15 and entered a bakery as an apprentice. “My father told me: ‘If you dedicate yourself to this, you will never go hungry.’ He was a pastry chef in the French Army in Djibouti and has run La Hûche à Pain for 25 years.
Thursday, 9 pm: the hall of the Micropolis pavilion in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Besançon has filled up to see the NUPES candidates in the city. The star is Ravacley. “It is part of the show business”, he smiles as he is introduced by the rally’s master of ceremonies, a local communist leader. “No, no, no,” the baker replies with a shake of his head.
At the microphone, Ravacley jokes about the heat in the room — “it’s cooler in my oven” — and recalls his hunger strike and his reasons for entering politics.
“We want to work to live and not live to work,” he proclaims, although he does not apply it to himself: his schedules are Stakhanovist. “I am a work marathoner”, he justifies. “I do not get tired”.
“Ravacley is a good candidate,” judged, before the rally began, a candidate named Martine Ludi, who was defeated in the first round last Sunday in another district. “But it bothers me,” she said, addressing the journalist, “that you have come here only because he went on a hunger strike. It’s a shame to talk only about him.”
The hunger strike by his Guinean apprentice has not been Ravacley’s only solidarity action. In March, after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, he stockpiled food and clothing and organized a 23-truck convoy from Besançon to the Polish-Ukrainian border. When asked if he is not bothered that, until the time of the invasion, his leader Mélenchon was so accommodating to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, he replies: “He is a member of my family, and I do not always agree with him. the”.
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