Yesterday I went to see Marine le Pen speak at le Palais des Congres in Strasbourg, as part of her political campaign in the run up to the May 2012 elections. As I walked there with a friend, we discussed what we could expect from the meeting, hoping to learn something new about the Front National and its policies, other than what we know from the media about its racist and xenophobic nature. Unknowingly, we were edging towards a display of political extremism at its height.
Greeted at the doors by heavy security and a vast array of flashing “I ♥ Marine” badges (reminscent of the “Support Cedric Diggory/Potter Stinks” badges in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), I admit that I was not 100% prepared for what was in store. We found our seats amongst approximately 2,000 FN supporters, French flags scattered amongst the crowd as well as posters marked “Marine Présidente“. As I braced myself for what was to come, a young man next to me asked where I was from, noticing my accent. He proceeded to lecture me that the true aims and base of the FN was always overshadowed by accusations of racism and xenophobia. Despite my initial scepticism, I was intrigued to hear what Le Pen would talk about. Sadly for my neighbour, her speech did not support his claim. But more about that later.
The time had come for the FN’s beloved présidente to make her grand entrance, and grand it was. Le Pen was greeted by blaring music (solely French music, bien sur), a standing ovation from her adoring fans and incessant chanting. A frighteningly Orwellian scene to say the least, I immediately stuck out like a sore thumb, being the only one not chanting nor clapping, simply clutching my notebook and pen, half in fear, (and to be totally honest) half in awe. There was something about being present there, that I knew would not have been communicated through my small laptop screen.
Despite Le Pen’s abrasive political convictions, I have always tried to avoid to be swayed by the insults and accusations of the press. You will see in a previous post about her what I mean. Now, I have experienced it first hand , I feel I can form an honest informed opinion on the matter. So here goes.
Now, Le Pen’s speech, which lasted approximately an hour and a half, revolved around 3 themes : immigration, insecurity and defence of laïcité (secularism), with particular attention to Islam. Typical, huh ? I must say, I was a little disappointed. I had hoped for something new, something refreshing, not just Sarkozy-bashing and blatant racial and religious discrimination. She compared the Islamic community to Catholics, Protestants and Jews, singling them out as the only religious community to make no attempt to adapt to laïcité. Although a very convincing orator, Le Pen lacks knowledge of statistics to back up her arguments (perhaps, dare I say, because there aren’t many?). She told exaggerated accounts of non-halal butchers being harrassed and driven out of business, in order to support her claims and compared the future of France to Greece’s current plight, the only difference being, that the cause of said predicament in France would be immigration.
I had never expected to find myself agreeing with the FN, but I honestly had hoped to find a little more logic from Le Pen. Perhaps it was my still-rusty French, perhaps not, but it seemed that the only promise and plan the FN‘s president offered for the future, should she win in May, was to reduce the number of immigrants entering France from 200,000 to 10,000, through drastic measures such as suppressing birthright citizenship (droit du sol) and family reunification (regroupement familiale). The remaining hour and twenty-five minutes was spent explaining how immigrants had ruined, and would continue to ruin France, and how Sarkozy has let this happen. She said “It seems as if Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to do something about immigration (…). The French have already given him the responsibility to change things many times (…). Who can believe for one second that he can do tomorrow, what he didn’t do yesterday?”, a passage which was greeted by loud applause and aggravated cries from the crowd. The whole affair continued in a similar manner, and I left le Palais des Congres bewildered and exhausted.
Although I spent the duration of the speech scribbling notes in an attempt to escape tense glares from my neighbours and feeling quite disgusted at the things I was hearing, I was glad I went. Yes, I may have contributed €5 to the Front National, something which may linger on my conscience for a little while longer, but I came out of that meeting more informed and eager to learn all I could about the other candidates in the race to the May 2012 elections. I also had to go home and watch “Forrest Gump” to remind myself there is still hope in the world, but ultimately, it was an experience I’ll be recounting for years to come.
You can view the full speech here.
As first appeared on http://protocol-magazine.com/2012/03/07/lepen/