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"At 14, a destiny can be determined by a matter of miles"

Salome Berlioux begins her book, the Invisibles of the Republic (1), by a personal anecdote. A few years ago, she went to Paris, from the Nièvre, for an interview at Sciences-Po. A student, not really bad intentioned, calls him: "You're a girl, a bursary, you're from the countryside … Miss more than you're disabled too." That day, she wears her grandmother's high-heeled shoes, with her feet overflowing. Since then, almost thirty years has come a long way: she is now a political advisor.

With Erkki Maillard, quadra, enarque and executive in energy, she created the association Chemins d'avenirs, to accompany young people far from major cities, in their career and wrote this book. It is punctuated by a guideline: equal opportunities is a paraplegic concept when you come from a very remote village, far from globalized centers. The movement of yellow vests gives a particular resonance to their story, sum of testimonies and trajectories (in the Allier, the Vosges, the Pyrenees-Orientales), which recalls the descriptions made, decades ago, of the suburbs worse off and more resigned. Release crossed the two authors in Paris.

Given the invisibilisation you are talking about, one might wonder why it is rather quiet in rural areas …

Salome Berlioux: For a high school student from these territories, the feeling of disconnection prevails over anger or oppression. The screens accentuate that. A young person sees a field of possibilities, mobility, globalization, travel … and he tells himself that he is not entitled or that it is not necessarily for him. Which inspires certain questions. Am I too "nil"? Am I so "different" because I come from the countryside?

Erkki Maillard: More than a feeling of revolt, we have seen and heard dismay. The situation is potentially dangerous because these young people are putting themselves at the margins. At their scale, they do not reach their full potential, which is in itself problematic. On a larger scale, we touch on the cohesion of society when a part of the youth feels a need for withdrawal.

Salome Berlioux:Disarray is also born from this feeling of not being equipped for the future.

From a distance, we could limit ourselves to a very simple grid of reading: many villages are deserted, so young people move …

E.M .: Mobility is positive when it is chosen. If you have to go to live when you do not want to, it becomes a problem.

S.B .: For a young person from a big city, going to high school is not a subject when he wants to. It will be much more for a young person from this "peripheral France". If the school is a forty-five minute drive away, or even further, you may need to consider an internship. Who can not take everyone. A selection is made, students are left out. Failing to study in second general, he may go to a vocational high school. At 14 or 15, a destiny can be determined by a matter of miles. Who puts this forward?

How do we succeed when we come from an isolated village?

E.M .: We must stay in the nuance. Peripheral France is not simply composed of deserted villages, peasants or even families that have no material means. What about some municipalities that attract locals? But the less successful who "compensate". With hindsight, they evoke, in order to "compensate" precisely, a waste of time, a loss of energy. And then, they talk about luck.

S.B .: Leaving home after the third, at age 15, to study and build a future … it's very early. At 17 or 18, after the baccalaureate, it can be just as complicated. The young person of a great metropolis, whatever his way, can stay with his parents, and thus forbid himself less. Some tell us that they succeeded because at some point someone trusted them in their journey, without any objective reason. But we can not get back to luck when it comes to his destiny. This is not enough.

The movement of yellow vests started from the price of fuels. You put forward a statistic: 93% of the journeys in the territories that you describe are done by car. Did you see the dispute come?

S.B .: There is a form of family exhaustion. For services, children's recreation … the journeys are long. In reality, the idea is not to say that these journeys constitute something insurmountable but to put it in context: in these peripheral territories, it is not an obstacle that must be overcome but all a sum. It goes from mobility to the psychological mechanisms engendered by isolation, through the digital divide and the financial means to send his child to study elsewhere.

E.M .: Seeing the movement, no … But it's not surprising that this issue of transportation takes up so much space. Beyond the price of gas, we must not underestimate the length of journeys. Those of a bus school bus for example … it is very long. Until then, no politician has really looked into this invisible France. The yellow vests provide an opportunity to see if the thinking will move in the right direction.

From when are we in this peripheral France?

E.M .: The geographical boundary is a debate in itself. In a way, we put it aside by asking this postulate: since there is no possibility to access every day a large metropolis connected to globalization, we are there. A commuter from Clichy-sous-Bois, in Seine-Saint-Denis, will have difficulties to go to Paris. But how long is it? A quarter past one ? It will be more complicated for a young person from Charleville-Mézières, in the Ardennes. Although in Seine-et-Marne or Essonne, there are communes that could enter the definition.

S.B .: The danger would be, one repeats, to oppose districts and campaigns, for example. The reasoning is more global. If we have succeeded in getting things done in the lower-income neighborhoods, we can also act in the territories we are describing. Moreover, associations that worked in the suburbs inspired us on the methodology to adopt. Because if there are issues specific to the campaign and neighborhoods, there are obvious commonalities, especially in self-esteem.

What neighborhoods in this peripheral France that you describe?

E.M .: It's double jeopardy …

There is a paradox: in the "Parisian elite", many people come from these rural areas or small isolated towns …

E.M .: This is a fundamental point. Teachers and school heads, for example, often raise it: young people need identification. To know that people in the field of art, sports, culture, journalism have overcome these issues. The idea is not to glorify one's membership to the point of becoming ridiculous, but not to hide it. Some do it. But not enough yet.

S.B .: The main theme of this book is not so much to say "We must send all these young people in all the major schools", it would be counterproductive. If a schoolboy wants to go to a pastry CAP, that's fine. Simply, he must have the choice.

This periphery is glorified in election time in the tone of "the true France", "the country that suffers but does not revolt". Did the people you met feel manipulated?

E.M .: There are two pitfalls in which one must not fall. First, to shift the debate to the next question: "Do these difficulties in these territories really exist more than elsewhere?" The second would be to let a political chapel take over. We, sometimes, here and there, people explain that they self-organize. What we are saying is that this country has institutions. They are imperfect, but they exist. The challenge is to get in to change them. Which raises the question of representativeness.

S.B .: The elected representatives we have met so far have never denied the problems and have never been reluctant to actions on the ground. On the contrary. But there is a gap with the urgency or actions too isolated. When we talk about peripheral France, we talk about desertification, the closure of public services and factories … But young people? This is a subject aside, which requires adapted solutions.

There is a lot of talk about missing codes in rural areas, for example when entering a big school. Can we talk about discrimination?

S.B .: We would rather be on the issue of equal opportunities. Among the obstacles, there is the whole information component: the young person from the peripheral France does not always know how to put forward his experience. There is this boy who, for example, built a cabin at his home. He installed water, electricity … It did not appear anywhere in his CV while it is valued in an interview. Yet what he has manufactured is called project management, which can largely replace a trip to the United States. To tell the truth, the school can not do everything in this peripheral France – it would make it carry too much burden. Other actors (elected officials, chambers of commerce, associations …) must come in support.

The political discourse, when it comes to financial means, often evokes the money put in neighborhoods to the detriment of the countryside. This is a speech that you heard?

E.M .: Never … Maybe there are debates, we do not know. But these young people we accompany never talk about it. They are much too focused on their situation and their own territory.

(1) Editions Robert Laffont.

Ramses Kefi



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