Friday, 27 April 2012

The Red Flag of bleu marine

France: the contemporary cradle of revolution, philosophy, literature, wine, garlic and cheese.  Despite its short distance from the white cliffs of Dover, French culture and society is so unlike our own. It may surprise you to know that the Parisian superstar, Serge Gainsbourg, on his first visit to London described England as “the most exotic place on earth”. In my opinion, however, it is the politics of modern France which make the country so interesting.

 The French are not ashamed of their revolutionary tradition. Extremism and radical ideology flourishes across the political spectrum with parties such as ‘The Worker’s Struggle’ (Lutte Ouvrière) ‘The New Anticapitalist Party’ (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste) ‘The Pirate Party’ (Parti Pirate) ‘Hunt, Fish, Nature Traditions’ (Chasse, Pêche, Nature Traditions) ‘Arise the Republic’ (Debout la République) ‘National Centre of Independents and Peasants’ (Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans) and ‘The National Front’ (Le Front National/FN). The latter has been compared to our own British National Party, an extreme right party notorious for its xenophobic, racist policies – sadly it is our only “mainstream” extremist party (the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain has never got the respect it so deserves). As a nation we zealously reject Nick Griffin and his “insane, offensive ideals” – so why just 21 miles across the channel, did Marine Le Pen (leader of the FN) win almost 20% of the first round’s votes*? That’s almost 10 million citizens.

 Why do such a high proportion of the French population vote for Le Pen when she proposes the expulsion of illegal immigrants, the reinstitution of the death penalty and the exit from the EU? With France’s unemployment rate at 10% it is understandable why workers in the industrial northern regions have supported Le Pen’s measures to put ‘French citizens’ first. I don't think it is too bold to suggest that certain islamaphobic sensibilities were inflamed during the tragic Merah affair last month when 7 people, including 3 children, were shot dead. Surprisingly, The Guardian recently revealed that 18-24 year olds also rally and canvas for Marine: the party is, in fact, fundamentally anti-establishment. The French have grown sick of Sarkozy’s ‘bling-bling’ image (his rise in salary, expensive dinners and supermodel wife) – in this time of crisis and austerity they want radical change and they want it now. Similar ideological patterns are springing up across Europe: the Swiss have demanded the abolition of minarets; the Dutch parliament is partly-ruled by Geert Wilders and his far-right Party for Freedom; even the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian serial killer, with his salute that conjures up images of Nazi Germany (see below) highlights the stronger presence of extreme right politics on the continent.

 The thing that really strikes me is that in Britain, the economic situation is the same – yet where is our rise of the extreme right? The answer to this lies in our established, pragmatic, past, specifically, 1688 - the year of the Glorious Revolution. But perhaps that story will have to wait for another day… 

* for those unfamilar with the French electoral system, the two winners won around 28% (Hollande) and 26% (Sarkozy)

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog