Two years ago, I sat in a concert hall in Grenay, northern France, while the mayor of the town used our performance as a backdrop for his political speech. According to him, our orchestra was ‘a fine example of how the youth of today were the people who would break down barriers and share their qualities regardless of nationality’. (A lie, he would have seen, had he witnessed the xenophobia of a number of our group, walking through the streets that morning.) The slogans dominating one end of the market place, displayed that the Communiste Municipal Party were playing for the votes in that town.
A contrast then, to the recent electoral victory in Vitrolles, in the south of the country, for the National Front who promise ‘French first’. In the German newspaper, ‘Berliner Zeitung’, Catherine Megret, winner of the mayoral election for the French National Front in February, was quoted saying that their voters “wanted us to scare people who don’t belong.” If the newspaper can be trusted, she has an agenda which is far from the left-wing utterings in Grenay two years ago. The true picture is unclear since, in response to criticism, she claimed that what she said had been twisted. She was reported to have said that welfare payments for immigrants would be cut and the money, instead, would go to the French. Left-wing books would be removed from libraries and the music of black artists would be barred. Her justification? She apparently stated that “any halfway reasonable person would agree there are differences between races.”
The response to the decidedly racist policies and views emerging in France has not been subdued however. In recent weeks, 100,000 protesters marched peacefully against government legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants. Three days later, a smaller protest turned violent and left 40 protesters in police custody. Although there is little danger that the Front could gain power in government, it is worrying that it is not supported by only a tiny minority. While some may be relieved by the analysts’ observations that its nationwide strength has peaked at the 15 per cent level, others may be more than a little concerned that it has even that much might. Immigration might seem like just the right target for blame in a country with more than 12 per cent unemployment, but, for people who actually use their brains, the logic is a mystery.