Jean-Marie Le Pen

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Portrait of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Jean-Marie Le Pen (born June 20, 1928) is a controversial French politician.

He is the president of the nationalist party Front National, widely considered to be far right. Le Pen is known for advocating a ban on immigration to France from countries outside Europe, and withdrawal or at least far greater independence from the European Union. He has run in several French presidential elections, qualifying for the second-round of the 2002 election, where he challenged current president Jacques Chirac.

Contents

Biography

Le Pen was born at La Trinité-sur-Mer, a small Breton harbour, as the son of a fisherman. Le Pen was orphaned as an adolescent; his father's boat was blown up by a mine. Nowadays he is a wealthy businessman, mostly because of a large inheritance received in 1977 from a political supporter.

Le Pen studied political science and law, and was at one time the president of an association of law students in Paris.

From his first marriage (June 29, 1960 - 1985 or 1986) to Pierrette Lalanne, he has three daughters and nine granddaughters. The youngest of his daughters, Marine Le Pen, is a ranking officer of the Front National.

On May 31, 1991, Jean-Marie Le Pen married Jeanne-Marie Paschos ("Jany"). Born in 1933, JM Paschos was previously married to Belgian businessman Jean Garnier. Pascho's father was a Greek merchant, and her mother is partly of Dutch descent.

Political career

A decorated veteran of the French paratroops in Indochina (1953), Suez (1956), and Algeria (1957), Le Pen started his political career in Toulouse when he became the head of the students union. In 1953 he called Vincent Auriol, President of the Republic at the time, and by using his former status he got approval for a volunteer rescue project to carry out disaster relief after a flood in the Netherlands. Within two days there were forty volunteers from his university, a group that would go on to help victims of an earthquake in Italy. In Paris, 1956, he became the youngest member of the French National Assembly, with the party of Pierre Poujade.

In 1957, he became the General Secretary of the National Front of Combatants (FNC). The next year, he was re-elected as deputy to the National Assembly and adhered to the parliamentary party National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP), led by Antoine Pinay. During this period, Le Pen actively followed issues of the war and defense budget. In 1965 Le Pen became the director of the presidential campaign of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour.

In 1972, he founded the nationalist, far-right party Front National. The electoral results of the Front National have been on the rise since the municipal elections of 1983.

In 1984 and 1999 Le Pen won a seat in the European Parliament. He was deprived of his seat by the European Court of Justice on April 10, 2003 (see below). In 1992 and 1998 he was elected to the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. His political career has been most successful in the south of France.

Le Pen ran in the French presidential elections in 1974, 1988, 1995 and 2002. In the presidential elections of 2002, Le Pen obtained 16.86% of the votes in the first round of voting. This was enough to qualify him for the second round, as a result of the poor showing by the Socialist candidate and incumbent prime-minister Lionel Jospin and the scattering of votes among fifteen other candidates. This was a major political event, both nationally and internationally, as it was the first time an extreme right-wing candidate had qualified for the second round of the French presidential elections. There was a widespread stirring of national public opinion, and more than one million people in France took part in street rallies, in an expression of fierce opposition to Le Pen's ideas. Le Pen was then soundly defeated in the second round when incumbent president Jacques Chirac obtained 82% of the votes.

In the 2004 regional elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen intended to run for office in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur région but was prevented from doing so because he did not meet the conditions for being a voter in that region: he neither lived there, nor was registered as a taxpayer there. Le Pen complained of a government plot to prevent him from running. Some argue that this event was merely a scheme of Le Pen's to avoid defeat in the election.

In recent years, Le Pen has tried to soften his image, with mixed success. He has manoeuvred his daughter Marine into a prominent position, a move that angered many inside the National Front, concerned with the grip of the Le Pen family on the party.

Controversy

See National Front for a summary of Le Pen's political proposals.

Le Pen is a controversial figure in France. While he consistently receives about 15%-18% of the vote, he is also disliked by a wide section of the population. Opinions regarding Le Pen tend to be quite strong; a 2002 IPSOS poll showed that while 22% of the electorate have a good or very good opinion of Mr Le Pen, and 13% a favorable opinion, 61% have a very unfavorable opinion [1] (http://www.ipsos.fr/CanalIpsos/poll/7542.asp). Le Pen and former National Front leader Bruno Mégret top the unfavorable ratings, with 74% and 75% respectively.

As described above, at the 2002 French presidential election, Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of balloting. On May 1st, millions of people walked the streets protesting Le Pen, in an unprecedented move against a presidential candidate. Le Pen was then soundly defeated at the second round, with voters from the whole political spectrum, aside National Front voters, voting for his opponent Jacques Chirac — including a high proportion of voters who did not support Chirac, or even disliked him. Slogans such as "vote for the crook, not the fascist" were heard.

Le Pen and the National Front are described by all commentators except those from the Front to be far right. Le Pen himself disagrees with this label. Earlier on, Le Pen described his position as "Neither left nor right, but French" (Ni droite, ni gauche, français). He later described his position as right-wing, opposed to the "socialo-communists" (and other right-wing parties, which he deems are not real right-wing parties). Le Pen criticizes the other political parties as the "establishment" and lumps all major parties (PC, PS, UDF, RPR) into the "Gang of Four" (an allusion to Communist China's "Cultural Revolution").

Le Pen has been severely criticized (See CNN comments on political progress in 2002 (http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/04/22/france.election/)) both at home and abroad for perceived xenophobia and anti-Semitism. This perception is based on a string of remarks that Le Pen has made over the years, and positions he has taken, as well as Le Pen's acquaintance with former Nazis and Vichy France officials.

As an example:

  • He has made remarks which are widely considered to be anti-Semitic; for example, on 13 September 1987 he referred to the Nazi gas chambers as "a point of detail of the Second World War." Le Pen once made the infamous pun "Durafour-crématoire" ("crematory oven") about then minister Michel Durafour, a Jew; the corpses of the victims of the Nazi gas chambers were burnt in such ovens. In February 1997, Le Pen accused President Chirac of being "in the pay of Jewish organizations, and particularly of the notorious B'nai B'rith".
  • In May 1987 he advocated isolating those infected with AIDS (whom he calls "sidaïques1") from society by placing them in a special "sidatorium".
  • On June 21, 1995, he attacked singer Patrick Bruel on his policy of no longer singing in the city of Toulon because the city had just elected a mayor from the National Front. Le Pen said "the city of Toulon will then have to get along without the vocalisations of singer Benguigui". Benguigui, a Jewish name, is Patrick Bruel's real name.
  • In 2005, he claimed that the occupation of France by Nazi Germany "was not particularly inhumane".[2] (http://www.lemonde.fr/web/recherche_resumedoc/1,13-0,37-887101,0.html?message=redirection_article) During the Second World War, Nazi Germany occupied France, deported section of its Jewish population to extermination camps, retaliated against Resistance actions by killing civilians, tortured people suspected of being in the Resistance, and took civilians into forced labor.

In April 2000 he was suspended from the European Parliament following prosecution for physically assaulting Socialist candidate Annette Peulvast-Bergeal during the 1997 general election. This ultimately led to losing his seat in the European parliament in 2003.

It has also been established that he practiced torture in Algeria. Although war crimes committed during the Algerian War of Independence are amnestied in France, this fact was publicised by the newspapers Le Canard Enchainé and Libération and by Michel Rocard (ex-Prime Minister) on TV (TF1 1993). Le Pen sued the papers and Michel Rocard. This affair ended in 2000 when the "Cour de cassation" (French supreme jurisdiction) concluded that it was legitimate to publish this fact. However, because of the amnesty and prescription, there can be no further criminal proceedings against Le Pen for the crimes he committed in Algeria.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has been criticized for his connections to figures associated with the Nazis, Vichy France or the Organisation Armée Secrète [3] (http://www.col.fr/racisme/fn/oas.html), including:

On December 5, 1997, during a public meeting with ex-Waffen SS Franz Schönhuber in Munich, he retirated that "the gas chambers constituted a detail in the history of the Second World War". He was sentenced on December 26 by the Large Claim Courts of Nanterre for this affirmation ;


Le Pen supporters applaud his nationalistic pride and economic stance. However, Bruce Crumley in Time International, 6/5/022 writes: "Denunciations of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his xenophobic National Front (FN) as racist, anti-Semitic and hostile to minorities and foreigners aren't exactly new. More novel, however, are such condemnations coming from far-right movements like the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), which itself won international opprobrium in 1999 after entering government on a populist platform similar to Le Pen's."

Critics sometimes attribute Le Pen's political success in southern France to economic concerns and mounting racial tensions, especially against the Arab community.

Le Pen's success in the first round of the 2002 French presidential election - he finished second, but ultimately lost by a wide margin in the second round against incumbent president Jacques Chirac - is generally explained by the impatience of the French electorate with respect to the reduction of crime. The electoral campaign had largely been focused on an alleged burst of criminality in the recent years. Le Pen advocates tough law-and-order policies.

Another factor in his success is his anti-establishment posture. Le Pen denounces the control that the main political parties (UMP and PS, which he groups as "UMPS") have on French political life. He argues that these parties are ineffective and corrupt (see corruption scandals in the Paris region).

Le Pen's recurrent verbal excesses have led some in his own party to distance themselves from him. Bruno Mégret left the National Front to found his own party, claiming that Le Pen kept the Front away from the possibility of gaining power. Mégret wanted to emulate Gianfranco Fini's success in Italy by making it possible for right-wing parties to ally themselves with the Front, but claimed that Le Pen's attitude and outrageous speech prevented this. Le Pen's daughter Marine leads an internal movement of the Front that wants to "normalize" the National Front, "de-enclave" it, have a "culture of goverment" etc.; however, she is now out of favor with Le Pen. (Le Canard Enchaîné, March 9, 2005).

Quotes

The 'sidaïques1', by breathing the virus through all their pores, put into question the equilibrium of the nation... The 'sidaïque' is contagious by his sweat, his saliva, his contact. It's a kind of leper.

-- Jean-Marie Le Pen, May 6 1987 on the TV station Antenne 2

Yes, I do believe in the inequality of races!

-- Jean-Marie Le Pen, August 31 1996.

Olympic games show clearly inequalities between the black and white races concerning, for example, athletes, and runners in particular. It's a fact. [...] I'm stating what I see. [...] Egalitarianism is simply absurd.

-- Jean-Marie Le Pen, September 9 1996.

If you take a book of a thousand pages on the Second World War, in which 50 million people died, the concentration camps occupy two pages and the gas chambers ten or 15 lines, and that's what's called a detail.

-- Jean-Marie Le Pen, December 5 1997 Munich.

Notes

1 "SIDA" = Syndrome d'immunodéficience acquise, the French name for AIDS. "Sidaïque" is a word coined by Le Pen, meaning "person infected with AIDS".)

Further reading

See also : Politics of France

External links

es:Jean-Marie Le Pen fr:Jean-Marie Le Pen fi:Jean-Marie Le Pen nb:Jean-Marie Le Pen nl:Jean-Marie Le Pen sv:Jean-Marie Le Pen

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