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What France's World Cup Run Means For The Country's Minority Population


This was the sound across Paris last night when the French soccer team beat Belgium 1-0 and clinched a place in the World Cup final.


CHANG: The French team is a huge source of national pride. And it's worth noting about a third of the players have African or Arab family backgrounds. To find out what this moment means for France's minority population, we have NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the line from Paris. Hey, Eleanor.


CHANG: So it must have been a huge moment there last night, huh?

BEARDSLEY: It was incredible. You know, I was out on the Champs-Elysees after the game. There were tens of thousands of people out there hanging out of cars with French flags, wearing flags, just dancing in the street going crazy.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: This has really been a moment that's brought the country together after much division, after the terrorist attacks of a couple years ago. And like you said, a lot of these players are from the immigrant neighborhoods where there's discrimination. But they're shining now. Kylian Mbappe is France's 19-year-old star player. He's third-generation French, but his mother's family is Algerian. His father's family is from Cameroon. He is the face of France right now. And actually, Ailsa, there's a funny slogan. You know the French motto liberty, equality, fraternity?

CHANG: Yeah.

BEARDSLEY: Liberte, egalite, fraternite - everyone's saying liberte, egalite, Mbappe.

CHANG: (Laughter) Love it. So France, of course, as you've said, has had a history of ethnic tensions. Did this World Cup moment feel like a real occasion of unity for the country?

BEARDSLEY: Completely. It was totally a moment of unity. But, I will say, it was marred by some young men who threw objects at the police. And the police responded on the Champs-Elysees. They cracked down hard with tear gas right where I was. And this happened when I was talking to - yeah - a young guy of North African descent, Yassin Amour. And you can hear how it got a bit stressful.

What's going on?


BEARDSLEY: So he helped me get out of that tear gas, actually. And he was pretty calm, really. And he said, you know what? These kind of scenes are typical in my neighborhood. Young men are always in conflict with the police. You know, they go through ID checks. He said the police don't like them, and they don't like the police.

CHANG: Did that incident spoil the mood during all of the celebrating?

BEARDSLEY: You know what? Believe it or not, it didn't. You know, even Yassin said this moment with this team gives so much hope to young people of immigrant background and to everybody - that, you know, France can come together because he said this team reflects France today. And I spoke to another woman. She was of Caribbean and Congolese heritage, Margot Tampu. She said the good feelings today are the way things should always be. But often, they're not.

MARGOT TAMPU: So if it's for a problem, nobody's French here. When it's problems, it's like Muslim people, black people, Arab people. But if it's to celebrate, everybody's French.

BEARDSLEY: So you know, everything's French when things are good...

CHANG: (Laughter) Yes.

BEARDSLEY: ...In France. Yeah. But, you know, Ailsa, 20 years ago, it was sort of a similar scenario. France won the World Cup in 1998. And the star player then was Zinedine Zidane. He was French and - French-Algerian. And the slogan then was bleu, blanc, beur, which is black, white, Arab. So there was a lot of hope. And, you know, the young man who saved me from the tear gas scene, Yassin, he said a lot of that hope dissipated in 9/11 and the terrorist attacks. You know, that took a blow.

But this is a healing moment for France. Everyone is united behind the French team, Les Bleus. And they're going Sunday to Moscow to play Croatia, who has just beaten England.

CHANG: All right. Let's hope those good feelings stay. That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Ailsa.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.