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Wednesday, April 29 2015
France/ Family Feud : Le Pen vs. Le Pen
Game of Thrones at the French National Front.
Game of Thrones, the famous TV saga, has roots in French history : it was modelled after The Accursed Kings, a novel by Maurice Druon about the French medieval monarchy that was turned into a cult serial on black and white TV back in the 1960’s.
About time for the loan to be repaid ? It is now French politics that looks increasingly like Game of Thrones. Or at least French Far Right politics. Marine Le Pen, 46, the National Front’s chairman since 2011 « declared war » on her father Jean-Marie, 86, who founded the party in 1972 and ran it for almost forty years. And Jean-Marie is striking back.
On the face of it, antisemitism is the issue. On April 2, Jean-Marie Le Pen reiterated on BFM TV a view he first held in 1987 according to which « ascertaining wether there was such a thing as gas chambers was a diminutive detail in WW2 history ». Asked whether he retrospectively « regretted » having said such a thing, the elder Le Pen replied : « Absolutely not, because this is the historical truth. »
Five days later, in a interview with the Far Right weekly Rivarol, the elder Le Pen said again that he « would neither change his mind nor crawl » in front of public opinion on these matters. Moreover, he praised Marshall Philippe Pétain’s pro-Nazi regime (which was instrumental in the persecution and rounding up of Jews from 1940 to 1944) and insisted that guilt over the Shoah was the main reason why France was not able to cope with its immigration problem. Finally, he resorted to classic Christian antisemitism to describe Marine Le Pen as a modern « Judas » and her advisors as a « Sanhedrin ».
Marine Le Pen’s « sadly » but dryly took note of Jean-Marie’s « scorched earth », « suicidal », behavior, that went against the party line and the party’s interests. As a result, she made clear she intended to take sanctions against her father, including barring him from running as the top National Front candidate in Provence in the coming régional elections next december.
Several of Marine Le Pen’s closest friends and advisors were even more explicit in their condemnation of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Louis Aliot, the Front’s vice chairman and Marine’s partner, posted on his Twitter account that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s interview with « that nondescript antisemitic publication, Rivarol » was « absolutely scandalous ». Florian Philipot, another vice-chairman and the architect of the present National Front’s « soft » strategy, posted that the point of no-return was reached. The National Front’s rank and file seem to agree : 86 % of the National Front’s supporters agree with Marine Le Pen and disapprove with Jean-Marie’s behaviour.
Many observers think that the real issue might be internal feuding within the Le Pen family. While Marine, Jean-Marie’s younger daughter, managed to keep the National Front alive and even to bring it to new electoral heights (over 20 % of the national vote as an average), she has a potential rival in the person of her younger and charismatic niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, 25, a granddaughter of Jean-Marie by another daughter. Marion seems to enjoy Jean-Marie’s support. On many topics, she is taking a much more rightwing stand than Marine.
Indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested in his Rivarol interview that Marine’s party line (neo-Gaullist nationalism rather than racism, antisemitism and Petainist nostalgia) is as productive as it was supposed to be. Last year, the National Front emerged as France’s first political party in the European ballot, with 25 % of the vote, ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party (20 %) and of François Hollande’s socialist party (14 %). However, it garnered 22 % only in the counties elections last month, way behind UMP and its centrist allies (45 %) and even the global Left (32 %).
For years, Marine Le Pen insisted that she was loyal to her father as a person and as a political leader, even if she differed on many issues. In an autobiographical book, she said she had been emotionally devastated as a child when her parents divorced. Without her father’s blessing, it is unclear whether she could have succeeded him as party chairman. Finally, she has been living until recently with her father and his second spouse at Montretout, a mansion in the Paris Western suburbs. Clearly, something went sour between the two of them.
Still, some observers venture that there is no feud at all between Jean-Marie and Marine. The whole story, according to them, may have been staged in order to comfort Marine’s image as a moderate. And to pave way to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as the party champion in Provence.
© Michel Gurfinkiel & The American Interest, 2015
Michel Gurfinkiel, a French journalist and public intellectual, served as editor-in-chief of Valeurs Actuelles from 1985 to 2006. He is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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