Tea for two: France’s Mélenchon pays Julian Assange a peculiar visit
When Julian Assange rapped on the door of the Ecuadorian embassy in June, he had probably packed no more than a weekend bag. Five months later and purportedly suffering a nasty lung infection, the world’s most wanted Australian is not only in need of a little vitamin D, but also lacking good company.
Luckily for him, France’s firebrand leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (pronounced Mel-on-shon) was in town on Friday, and decided to pay the ‘imprisoned’ whistle-blower a much-needed visit.
A fiery Marxist with a terrifying sneer, Mélenchon’s power-to-the-people rhetoric won him more than 11% of votes in the first round of May’s presidential election. Known for speaking his mind, he’s prone to spit rather than speak his words, and is likely to jab his finger at any rival, journalist or member of the public who dares cross him. So strained is his face during these impassioned and frequent outbursts, it’s a wonder his skin hasn’t hardened into a permanent grimace; an angry version of Carla Bruni’s fixed Cheshire mask.
So... not most people’s first choice for afternoon tea. But for Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for five months with a only a treadmill, a West Wing box-set, and – according to the man himself – “a racking cough”, Mélenchon’s wrinkled mug must have been a sight for sore eyes.
The pair had never met before, and do not share a common language. Nonetheless, they are not quite strangers. In fact, they have ‘performed’ together before.
In August of this year, Mélenchon spoilt his new friend with an exceptional gift. Speaking at the Parti de Gauche’s summer congress, Mélenchon telephoned Assange on stage, allocating him a good five minutes of speech-making for a captive audience of thousands. The line cut out several times and the delivery was delayed further by the translation process (Assange was speaking in English), leaving some members of the crowd looking bemused; others bored. But in the end, there was a great cheer as Mélenchon thanked his “comrade” for honouring the event from his London enclosure.
At around the same time, Assange was also trying to court Russia’s jailed Pussy Riot feminists with an appeal from his London balcony. That didn’t go so well, but perhaps an alleged rapist isn’t really their thing.
Understandably, Pussy Riot would have been a much bigger catch for Assange. Few people would recognise Mélenchon outside of France, and his Marxist cause is certainly less sexy than the Russians’ call for gender equality and gay rights.
So what did the pair discuss over tea? Except for their mutual mistrust of the US and UK governments, they seem to have little in common. One passion they undeniably share is the heat of the media spotlight. Perhaps if they keep making appearances together, they can just about stay under it.