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The Danger of the Extremist National Front Party in France

The National Front, an extremist rightwing party in France, won 10 seats in the European Parliament and 11 percent of the popular vote in France last June, thus crowning the party’s electoral successes during the last two years.

The party, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, had been inching forward in various elections in France: it won 11 percent of the votes in the municipal elections of the 20th arrondissement of Paris in March 1982; 12 percent in Dreux in September 1983; and 9.38 percent and 12 percent in Aulnay and Auray, respectively, in the by-elections there.

But according to a study just released here, the greatest danger is not the number of the Front’s elected representatives, but rather its “potential political acceptability and its penetration of democratic ranks in a seemingly inoffensive way.” The study, published by the Institute of Jewish Affairs in association with the World Jewish Congress and prepared by the Center for Study and Research into Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Paris, says that “it would do more harm than good to compare the National Front to a form of fascism or Nazism — which it is not yet.”

The success of the National Front in the European elections merely endorsed the run of electoral successes over the last two years. Nevertheless, the study noted, the result came as a surprise mainly because observers understimated the extent to which conditions in France favored the revival of the far right.

THE FRONT’S CONSTITUENCY

Examining who voted for the Front, the study states that it did well among traditionally conservative elements, though this support was fragmented. It also did well among middle class elements and among members of the professions and top executives. The Front also did well in the large cities and their suburbs — Paris, Lyon and Marseilles — and in distressed industrial areas such as Alsace, Lorraine and in northern France, as well as in the Mediterranean regions where the Front won or even exceeded 20 percent of the votes cast. In the south of France, a high percentage of North African French repatriates voted for the Front, but this has always been a fruitful area for rightwing extremists, the study points out.

The success of the Front has presented the mainstream right with a dilemma: whether to accept the Front as an ally, and thus constitute more than 50 percent of the electorate, or to ignore them. The study says politicians of the right are divided on this and that it largely depends on how the Front succeeds in capitalizing on its success in future elections and whether it can build a well-structured organization throughout the country.

LEADER IS RACIST BUT SAYS HE IS NOT ANTI-SEMITIC

The study summarizes the published ideas of Jean-Marie Le Pen but concludes that “there is a certain caution in this melange of populist and authoritative measures.” Yet despite this, “the party’s intentions are expressed plainly enough at meetings and in articles of support in the rightwing press.”

Le Pen is plainly racist but he says he is not anti-Semitic, the study reports. However, there is not doubt that anti-Semitism is used at public meetings organized by the National Front, that Le Pen’s supporters are openly anti-Semitic and that Le Pen himself often picks out Jewish politicans for abuse.

“Le Pen leaves it to others to widen his message of xenophobia to incorporate anti-Semitism, but it is nonetheless, a Pandora’s Box which has already been opened,” the study says. More important than action which might turn the Front into a victim is that “the nauseous implications, rather than the literal meaning, of Le Pen’s statements be tirelessly pointed out,” the study concludes.

The study was conducted by Dr. Nelly Guttman, joint director of the Paris-based Center for Study and Research into Contemporary Anti-Semitism, which is affiliated with the Institute of Jewish Affairs.

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