The endangered and ageing socialist 'principality' of the Ariège


The Ariège département in southern France has a long history as a bastion of the Socialist Party. Over several decades, it has been the fiefdom of a clan of local politicians who are accused by opponents of ruling with a surprisingly monarchic set of practices: cronyism, the hoarding by a few of multiple posts of public office, political functions handed down to groomed successors, and intimidation of opponents.  In this, his third and final report from one of the poorest and least inhabited départements in France, Mathieu Magnaudeix investigates the inside workings of what might be likened to a socialist ‘principality’.

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Two citadels stand proud above the centre of the southern French town of Foix, the administrative capital of the Ariège département (equivalent to a county), close to the border with Spain. One of them is a medieval fortress, a major local tourist attraction, and the other, at the top of a hill, is the building that houses the General Council, from where Augustin Bonrepaux reigns over the region.