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The Constitution of the new French Republic, adopted by referendum in 1958, and the institutions established to serve it were, for decades, associated with ideas of progress and a strong, dynamic French nation.

“One of the essential features of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic is that it endows the State with a head,” observed Charles de Gaulle when speaking of the text which had been drafted, at his request, by Michel Debré, the man subsequently to become his Prime Minister. There is a touch of irony, as France is well known for the fate reserved for certain heads of State in the past.

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Today, more than sixty years later, the Fifth Republic is struggling, under pressure from the ongoing financial crisis, an increasingly divided society, the concentration of power in the hands of an elite, terrorism, demagogy, and the social unrest of the “gilets jaunes” protest movement. All of this has shaken the Republic to its foundations, and now it has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The photographic report covers the ups and downs of politics and society under the Fifth Republic, exploring the way it operates and is seen today.

The five-year term of President Emmanuel Macron has featured centralized power and the Jupiter-like character or role of the president, but he will soon be reaching the end of his current term of office. During the crisis of the pandemic, the question of the type of governance needed for the country became a matter of secondary importance, but it could well come up again in 2022, the election year, particularly as the institutions of the Fifth Republic do not seem to have solutions to deal with the current crises.

Guillaume Herbaut

I wish to thank the photography section of the newspaper Le Monde for the support provided since the beginning of the project.

Guillaume Herbaut

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