Bad French Connections

Jewish Light Editorial

The French elections over this past weekend were not only upsetting to the ruling Socialist Party of French President François Hollande, whose party suffered an overall setback in the voting, but are a cause for alarm over the strong showing of the ultra-rightist National Front Party.

In-depth articles on the French elections in Monday’s editions of the New York Times, by Alissa J. Rubin and Lilia Blaise, and the Wall Street Journal, by Gabrielle Parussini and William Horobin, point out that while Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party held on to its grip on Paris with a victory by its candidate, Anne Hidalgo (the first woman to be elected to that prestigious post), the Socialists overall “suffered a stinging setback in the final round of local elections,” according to the WSJ.

The thumping overall Socialist defeat leaves Hollande “in a bind,” not only because it will adversely affect his plans for economic reforms, but because it was accompanied by an unusually strong showing by the ultra-nationalist, and historically pro-fascist National Front Party. The Times reports that the National Front won at least eight cities, along with Henin-Beaumont, the northern French town it had taken in the first round of voting on March 23.

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, announced Sunday that the Socialists had lost at least 155 mayoralities with more than 9,000 people. The ministry also said that nationwide the National Front had elected 934 local council members. They had less than 500 previously, so this was a substantial increase and allows the party to have a presence in a number of localities even where they do not have mayors.

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Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader and daughter of the party’s founder, Jean Marie Le Pen (who was regarded as a Holocaust minimizer with anti-foreign and anti-Jewish inclinations), said — in a speech that the Times described as “resolute” — that “The National Front has been born as an autonomous political force … This is only the beginning,” alluding to the European Parliamentary elections that will be held in May and in which the party is expected to do well. Senate elections will be held in September, giving the National Front another opportunity to gain political traction.

Marine Le Pen has “sanitized” the National Front by explicitly distancing herself from her father’s xenophobic, pro-fascist and anti-Jewish views, but the party remains on the ultra-right of the French political spectrum. We hope that Marine Le Pen has purged the National Front of any remnants of her father’s original political allies who shared his ultra-nationalist and bigoted views. Regardless, the strong showing by an ultra-right party in a major European nation is cause for alarm. The openly anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary has gained ground in several recent elections and the openly pro-Nazi Golden Dawn Party elected several members to the Greek Parliament until its extremist views and alleged criminal activities resulted in its expulsion from the legislative body.

European democracies like France and Italy formerly had strong Communist parties which would often do well in municipal and regional elections. The Communist victories were not interpreted as a desire on the part of the majority of French or Italian citizens to ally themselves with the former Soviet Union or join the Communist bloc. Rather, voting Communist was taken as a sign of voter frustration over the perceived weaknesses of the ruling majority mainstream parties. Perhaps some of the votes for the National Party candidates result from a similar protest vote. But the history of Europe over much of the past 100 years is replete with examples of extremist parties that won increasing numbers of seats in democratic elections which resulted in some alarming results. The classic example was the German election of 1932 in which the National Socialist Party on the far right and the Communist Party on the extreme left dominated the Reichstag.

The strong showing by the Nazi Party in the 1932 German elections placed Adolf Hitler into the position of power that resulted in his being named Chancellor of Germany. Democratic leaders of Germany hoped that Hitler would just be an interim leader, a “passing fancy.” History bitterly proved that the rise of ultra-right and extreme parties in European democracies can have truly catastrophic results.

We hope that the citizens of France will not place the National Front on a path of increased political power which could result in the erosion, if not the elimination, of democracy in that nation.