Racism has been brought back to public attention this year when, in the French presidential elections, the leader of the French National Front Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen has entered the second round of the elections along with the current President, Jacques Chirac, shocking the entire world with the victory over the Socialist Party’s candidate, current Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. This has raised huge debates all around Europe and in the US over what has changed in Europe’s mentality, in its openness towards people of all races and religions.
Jean-Marie Le Pen was by no means a new figure on the French political scene. Actually, he first ran for President in the 70s, but, until now, he has never had such an impact on the people’s votes. His speech has always been a very strong one, with powerful racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic connotations. He actually referred once to the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history” ( HYPERLINK "https://www.cnn.com" Associated Press: “Analysis: Europe’s steady shift to the right” p.2).
But it is actually the political leaders that have given him the opportunity to go this far, because they have ignored the immigrant issue, an issue that is frustrating for many of the French people, and Le Pen was the only one to address it; this has brought him huge electoral benefits.
France has a very large immigrant community, mostly composed of people from Africa, the former French colonies, and from the Middle East. These immigrant communities have not blended into the French society so they live somehow segregated from the rest of the people, situation that has caused lots of discontent in the communities, a high crime-rate that has expanded beyond the communities into the entire French society and a lot of unspoken tension between different groups of people. Also, because of the segregation, these people, lacking other options, will work for less money than the native French, and this causes lots of resentment from the rest of the society, because people feel like they have an unfair competition for their jobs. By being the only one that has addressed these issues, even if he did it in an extreme and tough manner, Le Pen has managed to draw huge support from people that are more exposed to these issues.
Also, because President Francois Mitterand has tried to destabilize the right-oriented parties in the late 80s and early 90s, he has given the opportunity to LePen’s
far-right National Front to gain votes from the people who were unsatisfied with the other two major parties, the Socialist and the Center-Right parties, parties that have dominated the French political scene for a long time (The Independent- “It is not enough to heave a sigh of relief and say Mr Le Pen will never win” p. 2). This has caused people to take the path of a negative vote in the elections, a vote that is not given in order to support one or another ideology, but in order to show discontentment with the major parties’ politics. And Le Pen was the one who took advantage of this situation too
Another major political issue that Le Pen has benefited from is the current globalization trend that is active all over Europe, not just France. Michael Elliot states, when talking about the French society, that “for many of its elite, the people who work for Vivendi and Airbus, have Harvard M.B.A.s and speak perfect English – globalization and a free-market economy offer glittering opportunities. But for others – and this is true elsewhere in Europe – the modern world is a threat” (Michael Elliot - “Why Le Pen polled so well” p.2). The shifting of the executive powers from Paris to Strasbourg, where the European Union’s Parliament is located, frightens the French people. And in consequence they have chosen Le Pen because he is the only candidate that has promised “to turn back the clock, to rebuild a world where to live in France means that you speak, eat and buy French” (Elliot, p.2)
The events that have followed the shocking results of the First Round of this year’s Presidential elections have proven nonetheless that France isn’t turning towards racism. The impressive public campaign that the entire political class and civil society have launched against Le Pen and the support this campaign has received, combined with the devastating victory in the Second Round of President Jacques Chirac, with 82% of the votes, have proven beyond doubt that it isn’t the fact that the French people are racist that has caused this surprise, but the unspoken immigration issue that is frustrating for lots of people aswell as the strong competition between the main parties which has allowed a third party to rise(Anne AppleBaum, “Lessons of politics”).