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Jewish World Review May 7, 2002/ 25 Iyar, 5762

Richard Z. Chesnoff

Richard Z. Chesnoff
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Now, France's real work begins |
Paris Now that neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen has been so overwhelmingly defeated in the decisive 2nd round of the French presidential elections, France's real work begins. President Jacques Chirac may have carried 82 per cent of an odd-fellow coalition of the reasonable right, center and left, but the fact is that veteran rabble rouser Le Pen - a man who makes the late Benito Mussolini seem suave - won 18 per cent of the national vote (and more than 25 per cent in some areas of the country).

Le Pen's pyrrhic success resulted from the frightening fact that his xenophobia, racism and endemic anti- Semitism appealed to a nervous French population increasingly fearful about rising crime, unemployment and immigration. Then there is the widespread open disdain for Chirac whose five year presidency has been marked by one scandal after another (one 2nd round placard read "Vote for the crook, not the Fascist"). Add to that Le Pen's demagogic conviction that France's national identity is being hijacked by rabid pan- Europeanism, and you find him attracting not just skin heads and traditional right wingers - but ordinary Frenchmen of all ages - albeit almost all of them White and Christian.

The shift to the right is not a phenomenan limited to France. In the Netherlands, that bastion of West European tolerance, Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay high living professor of sociology,l made an impressive showing in last March's Rotterdam municipal elections with his Liveable Netherlands Party. Running on an anti- immigration platform, Fortuyn, whom the British press has dubbed "The Dutch Dandy", announced that Holland was "full" and Islam a "backward" religion. Holland's legal bans on discrimination, he said, should be dumped.

Nor is this dangerous Euro-trend new. Austria's far- right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party joined the Vienna government two years ago and similar surprise gains by neo-facist parties have been made in Belguim, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and Italy. All have run on nationalist, law-and-order, anti-immigrant -- and very often anti-E.U. platforms.

That may be a key factor. Increasing numbers of Europeans fear that efforts by the European Union to do away with borders and refashion traditional political, social and economic relations among members will not only rob them of their nation state, but will open the flood gates to an increasing influx of refugees and illegal immigrants from the Third World.

Le Pen, says JWR's British columnist Barbara Amiel, "sees two dire threats: first, France's large number of unassimilated, undigested Muslim immigrants; and second, the usurping of French sovereignty by the European Union."

Not coincidentally, Le Pen's other European counterparts use much the same arguments.

This is not a pleasant time in Europe. Anti-Semitic attacks - always a barometer of danger to democracy - are on the rise especially in France. Most of the perpetrators may be young angry, pro-Palestinian Muslims who are also ironically scared of Le Pen - but they are no longer Algerians, Turks, or Moroccans. Indeed, unless you subscribe to Le Pen's philosophy, they too are now French, German, Belgian, etc.

Le Pen himself, who once dismissed the Holocaust's gas chambers as "a detail of history, speaks openly about establishing "transit camps" for illegal immigrants and "special trains" to deport "undesirables".

The odd fellow union that prevailed in the Presidential election won't last in the June parliamentary elections. France may well end up with another cohabitation: a conservative president and a socialist parliament. But it will almost certainly be a parliament with serious representation from Le Pen's National Front. Unless France and the rest of Europe deals with the social, economic and governmental problems plaguing it, the next time it may be someone else like him who crawls out from under a rock, and successfully slithers into the presidential palace.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.

Richard Z. Chesnoff Archives

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