- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

Some conservatives liken Sabine Herold, a 22-year-old student, to Joan of Arc, and others nickname her “Mademoiselle Thatcher” after she took on France’s left-wing labor unions this summer.

Many in France see her as a symbol of a growing revulsion among young French libertarians against a ruling class that punishes excellence and rewards mediocrity.

“A generation of reformers, who can’t bear the blocking of the [French] society anymore, is emerging. There will be soon an electoral power of people who really want to change the status quo,” said Miss Herold.

In March 2001, she co-founded the group Libert, J’Ecris Ton Nom, or “Liberty, I Write Your Name,” which now has about 2,000 adherents.

“We are in favor of the freedom of business, but we consider that the market is not an end in itself,” Miss Herold told The Washington Times. “It is a means in the duty of individual liberty.”

She first came to public attention in May during a nationwide strike that had paralyzed her hometown in France’s Champagne region, Reims.

In the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral — where Joan of Arc once crowned a king — Miss Herold began denouncing the bus drivers, schoolteachers and other union members who were striking for pension reform.

The French newspapers reported that about 2,000 people cheered and applauded as she spoke. Within a month, she stood before an estimated 80,000 cheering Frenchmen in Paris with the same message.

She castigated the trade unions as “terrorists of the social action” and “strongholds of egoist conservatism.”

“In France, we are unable to have negotiations before strikes,” she said. “The principle of preventive strikes prevails. The contract proposal is still not written, and there are already union members in the streets.”

When the British news media found out, they crowned Miss Herold the new symbol of the free-market conservatives in Europe. The London Daily Telegraph called her “the new Joan of Arc on a crusade to stop French unions’ causing misery to millions.” The Sunday Times hailed her as “Mademoiselle Thatcher.”

Asked in a telephone interview about the latter comparison, she praised former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for taking on militant trade unions, which Miss Herold called “the real mafias.”

“The aim is not to break trade unionism in general but the excesses,” she said, defending reformist trade unions, “who are conscious of realities.”

Last June, the London Telegraph invited her to the other side of the Channel, where she met politicians, including the now retired Mrs. Thatcher.

“I love Britain. I love Margaret Thatcher. I love the way you have overcome the unions and are not afraid to privatize. I love the way you work so hard. In France, we have become lazy and staid. … We need a dose of Thatcherism,” she said then.

“I don’t think it would be impossible to establish [this] in France. It’s sure that it would require a lot of education, but it would mainly require political courage of a government who would decide not to give up in front of trade unions,” she said.

A few months earlier, during numerous demonstrations in France against the coming war on Iraq, she led pro-war demonstrations in front of the American Embassy in Paris.

By opposing the war, she said “France denied its values and supported a tyrant.”

It was a very contemptuous attitude towards Iraqis, whom we then considered as settled for servitude, Miss Herold said.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in public administration last July at the prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and is a student at HCE France, an internationally renowned school of business finance and management.

Born into a family of teachers in a small village near the northern Champagne-producing city of Reims, she said she was not interested in politics until only two years ago. Lots of reading, including works of Alexis de Tocqueville and her favorite, the Nobel economics prize-winner Friedrich Hayek, inspired her political ideas.

“Libertarianism is not anarchy. It implies liberty and responsibility” she said.

Earlier this month, she took up a new and again not-so-popular cause, supporting research on genetically modified foods.

“Behind the fight against [genetically modified] food are concealed the reactionary ideas of a French far left that have nothing in its list of honors except the defense of all the bad causes of the 20th century, from Pol Pot to [Fidel] Castro and Mao [Tse-tung],” she said.

She does not hesitate to describe communists as “disgusting” or to call the French far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the best speaker, even if what he says “is so dreadful.”

She said she has no intention of ever leaving France to live in a foreign country, but that she looks at British and American societies with admiration. In Great Britain, and even more in the United States, there is a culture of success, she said.

“If somebody succeeds by working, he will be admired. … In France, it’s as if we need to excuse for earning money,” she said.

She also denounced the French educational system.

“We try to tell ourselves that we have the best educational system because it’s free. Whatever it is, there is more social mobility in the United States than in France,” she said.

As for the attitude of many French people toward the United States, she said that anti-Americanism has become a kind of reflex in French society. Because of schools and the news media, people are immersed in this climate, she said. “We don’t understand very well this unconditional rejection of a country so close to our society.”

As a libertarian, Miss Herold is distant from many views held by conservatives in the United States. She supports the legalization of marijuana and homosexual “marriages.”

“Actually, we neither belong to the left-wing nor to the right-wing,” she said.

Her notoriety has increased in Britain and the United States, perhaps more so than in France, thanks to publicity generated by numerous libertarian Web sites.

“If libertarians need a icon, it doesn’t disturb me,” she said.

In France, left-wing newspapers note the element of provocation in the name of her organization, Libert, J’Ecris Ton Nom. It is the name of a poem by Paul Eluard, a World War II-era communist and resistance leader.

The left-wing French newspaper Liberation has called her “the new hero of the private sector.”

Alain Ruscio, historian and essayist, writing in the communist daily L’Humanite, dismissed Miss Sabine’s organization as a “gathering of young upper-class people.”

“I love my country and I am confident about my ideas,” she said.

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