News

France's Far Right Gets Boost From Ethnic Unrest

More than two weeks of violence in France has sparked soul searching about whether the country treats its ethnic immigrants fairly. But the violence has also sharpened simmering anti-immigration sentiments among some French. Such feelings are being stoked by France's far right, which is enjoying a new surge of attention.

Several hundred people gathered on a chilly Monday night for a boisterous rally across from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The rally was organized by the far right National Front party, whose 77-year-old leader Jean-Marie Le Pen showed he could still motivate a crowd.

For years, Mr. Le Pen bellowed, the National Front has been repeating its warning against massive immigration from outside Europe and the fact that it will ruin France and bring misery to the immigrants themselves.

Mr. Le Pen and his National Front party have been repeating this anti-immigration, law-and-order message for years. But it is now making new waves, after two weeks of rioting and arson attacks across France which have been blamed on ethnic immigrant youths.

"This kind of violence among immigrants naturally fits into the theses of Jean-Marie Le Pen," said Steven Ekovich, a French politics professor at the American University of Paris. "And he is indeed trying to profit from it. And we've already begun to see this recently. He's going to try to profit from this and try to rebuild his political fortunes based on a fear of a violence coming from the suburbs. Not only from the immigrants but also the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

Mr. Le Pen's National Front reports some 3,000-4,000 people have joined the party since unrest began in France in late October. It's unclear whether those figures are correct. But a number of those who attended the Paris rally said they shared Mr. Le Pen's opposition to immigration. That includes one 71-year-old retiree who gave only his first name, Robert.

Robert said the French government has allowed too many immigrants to enter France over the years. Now, he said, France feels invaded.

Nearby, 45-year-old Remy Carillon agrees. He lives in the suburbs of Paris, where the violence first broke out two weeks ago after the accidental electrocution of two youths of African origin.

"The recent wave of violence is just the last straw for many French", Mr. Carillon says. "The bigger problem is that French never wanted immigrants to come here in the first place. But the government never consulted them. If they had been asked, French and other Europeans would have said no to immigration years ago."

The National Front wants a zero immigration policy and to expel all illegal immigrants living in France. And more recently, Mr. Le Pen has been suggesting that some ethnic immigrants - those who were born in France and entitled to French citizenship - should also be deported, if they refuse to obey French laws. Citizenship, Mr. Le Pen argues, is not just a piece of paper. It must be earned.

Many French disagree with Mr. Le Pen's arguments. The far-right leader nonetheless shocked the nation in 2002, by placing second in presidential elections, with 18 percent of the vote.

Mr. Le Pen says he will run for president again in 2007 - when he will be nearly 79 years old. Despite his age, many of his supporters hope he'll finally win the elections.

And while Mr. Le Pen's anti-immigration stance remains controversial, his law-and-order platform does appear to be resounding in many parts of France. A poll published last week showed that nearly three-quarters of French supported the government's declaration of a state of emergency to reestablish order. And more than eight out of 10 French said they were scandalized by the riots.

But Nonna Mayer, an expert on far-right voters at the Center for Study of French Political Life in Paris, says those sentiments won't necessarily translate into political success for Mr. Le Pen.

"The situation is difficult," said Nonna Mayer. "Jean-Marie Le Pen says people are coming to his party at the moment. But he has two problems. First, the elections aren't tomorrow and many things may happen, and people may have forgotten about the riots by the time we get to the presidential elections of 2007."

Mr. Le Pen's party is also deeply divided between an old guard and a new one led by his daughter. And, Ms. Mayer notes, Mr. Le Pen has competition.

Another rightist politician, Philippe de Villiers, is echoing his anti-immigration stance. Mr. de Villiers embodies a less radical right than Mr. Le Pen.

Even France's popular Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of hardening his law-and-order rhetoric to attract National Front supporters. Mr. Sarkozy is reportedly eyeing a presidential bid as well.

Mr. Le Pen, however, appears as confident as ever. During an interview on Radio Monte Carlo this week he said he wasn't afraid of other politicians - including Mr. Sarkozy - copying his ideas. "Bravo," he said. "It shows my ideas are getting somewhere." He described it as the LePenization of thinking.

Ms. Mayer, the analyst, is not so sure. Particularly not when it comes to Mr. Le Pen's thinking on immigration.

"There is the opinion among some that there is illegal immigration and we much fight it," she said. "But tomorrow, as the population gets older and older, maybe well be very happy to have these waves of immigrants to pay for our social security, to pay for our retirement funds."

So even as Mr. Le Pen's anti-immigration message draws new supporters today, it's far from certain how long that will last.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs