Paris attacks boost popularity of French Tricolor flag, reverse far-right connotations

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A young Parisian who once might have stopped and stared in distaste now walks nonchalantly past a large Tricolor flag flapping in the November rain on a home in Paris' 8th district.

Flying the French flag in a garden — for decades considered bad taste or a symbol of ultranationalism — is now back in favor with the French after the deadly attacks on Paris.

The famed blue, white and red stripes are ubiquitous — dangling from Parisian balconies, lining avenues, plastered across shop and restaurant windows. Printers are buckling under the demand and even running out.

Paris' main flag-maker has recorded a 500 percent increase in Tricolor sales since the Nov. 13 attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group, that killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded.

"It normally means, you know, you're ultra-rightwing. But since the attacks, it's become a symbol for solidarity with the victims," said 23-year-old Lucas Leblanc, one of millions who shaded his Facebook profile photo in tricolor in remembrance of the victims.

"Why should our flag have all these negative connotations, anyway?" he asked.

A poll taken last week suggests that almost two-thirds of French now see it as a positive thing to fly a flag outside a home or in a garden. Until now, flags were mostly raised on official buildings or flag poles — not on private residences.

"It's incredible. There has only been two other times in French history that the flag has been popular on this scale. One was (when France won) the World Cup in 1998. The other, the end of the second World War," Herve Burg, director of flagmaker Paris Drapeaux, told The Associated Press.

Burg says he received so many orders that the factory ink machine ran out.

French President Francois Hollande is adding to the flag comeback. On Wednesday, he asked French citizens to fly the Tricolor at their homes for Friday's official commemoration ceremony for Paris attack victims at the Invalides monument.

Hollande said it would be a way for people who can't attend to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the worst attacks in France in recent times.

The French flag — known as the Tricolor from its "blue, white and red" bands — first appeared in 1794 after the French Revolution did away with the monarchy. The white band in the middle represented royalty and the red and blue the city of Paris, or the people. But the original meaning of republican unity gradually eroded in the late 20th century.

"There's always been the powerful revolutionary meaning behind France's flag, but since the 1970s, it was, like in Britain, taken over by the far right," said Robert Gildea, historian at Oxford University.

Jean Dolande, a 50-year-old artist, said he would have never dreamt of hoisting a Tricolor in his garden, but he did so following January's attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris that killed 20 people, including the three attackers.

"It always meant the love of our country. But it got re-appropriated and had fascist connotations," Dolande said. "This year was a game-changer."

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, were illuminated in the colors to honor the victims, as were monuments elsewhere, such as Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

But not all are convinced this flag-bearing is a good thing. Some believe it will boost French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigration policies in December's regional election.

"The resurgence of the French flag is going to benefit one person: Le Pen. She's up 10 percent in the polls since last week," said architect Jean-Francois Daures. "The flag waving encourages racism and intolerance and is a step back into the past."


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