The President, the portrait and the village that dared to say 'non'

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The Independent Online

President Nicolas Sarkozy, aka "The Tsarkozy", holds France under his imperial spell but one village, just like in the Asterix cartoons, refuses to surrender.

The village of Sannat in the Creuse, in the empty, green heart of France, has decided not to hang a portrait of the new President in its tiny town hall.

A portrait of the last President, Jacques Chirac, a man of the right, will continue to hang there. So will a portrait of the previous president, François Mitterrand, a man of the left. Why not President Sarkozy?

The mayor of Sannat, Henri Sauthon, said yesterday: "People will say this is political but it is not really political: it is a democratic revolt. We don't like Sarkozy's way of governing. We don't like the way that he's involved in everything, in charge of everything, and the prime minister and ministers count for nothing. We believe in a different and truer kind of democracy."

The municipal council of Sannat, which has a population of 500, decided this week, by five votes to four, to refuse to accept President Sarkozy's official portrait. Such portraits are offered to every town hall in France but there is no legal obligation to accept them.

Sannat is almost in the dead centre of France, in the beautiful but empty département of the Creuse, which is the epitome of la France profonde. According to the opinion polls, President Sarkozy remains highly popular, especially in rural France. What makes Sannat so different?

"He is popular now but he may be less popular in five years' time," said M. Sauthon, an 81-year-old retired farmer. "The tide may have turned, starting here in Sannat. This could be the beginning of a large revolt, not so much against what Sarkozy wants to do but against his egotistical and autocratic way of doing it."

M. Sauthon admits that he is a "man of the Left". The commune, and the whole département, voted for Ségolène Royal in the second round of the presidential elections in May.

Nonetheless, the mayor insists that the decision to refuse the president's portrait is more than just a simple act of left versus right pique. "We have President Chirac's portrait and we will keep it but we draw the line at Sarkozy's imperial style," he said.

The small village in the Creuse – home to several "very popular" British families, according to the mayor – is not alone in having been irritated by President Sarkozy's "Look-at-me. I'm-in charge" approach to government. Even his own prime minister, François Fillon, admitted in an interview with Paris-Match this week that he had been "annoyed" by a slighting remark by the President this summer.

President Sarkozy told a newspaper interviewer in August: "I'm in charge. The prime minister is my collaborator." M. Fillon told Paris-Match that he had been annoyed by the remark, which did not represent the true relationship between one elected politician and another. Under the French constitution, it is the Prime Minister, not the President, who is in charge of the day-to-day government of the country.

President Sarkozy, however, has made it clear from the beginning that he plans to take a much more active role than his predecessors. This has earned him the nickname "Hyper-president" and "Tsarkozy" and has reportedly led to a chilling of relations with M. Fillon.

Rumours have circulated this week that President Sarkozy plans to reshuffle the government in January and that M. Fillon may be fired. Both men have rejected these reports.