Is the pendulum of French politics swinging too far to the right?

​Al Gurnov
Al Gurnov is a journalist, political analyst and broadcaster. He has presented the news for several Russian national TV channels, and writes for a number of major newspapers and magazines. In the 1990s Al Gurnov was the West European Bureau chief for Russian State TV & Radio (RTR) based in London. Later he hosted several successful TV and radio shows. Winner of numerous professional awards, he has been an RT presenter and TV host since the company was founded in 2005. Al Gurnov regularly appears as a political expert on prime time TV shows on major Russian and international channels. He is a member of the Russian and International Television Academies, and Professor at MGIMO University School of Journalism (Moscow).
Is the pendulum of French politics swinging too far to the right?
The European vocabulary is changing rapidly, which wouldn’t have been ominous if it wasn’t for the direction of change. More and more words are borrowed from Slavic languages - words, which stand for notions long forgotten in “Old Europe.”

This seems to be the only reason for labeling last week’s Frankfurt protests “the Maidan.” As well as for a new French word, which is coming around in the midst of the current election campaign: “Pogrom?”

Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP and its allies edged out the National Front (FN) to come first in local elections on Sunday, with President François Hollande’s Socialists (PS) – beset by economic woes and record unemployment – coming in third. Sarkozy claimed nearly 30 percent of the vote, Marine Le Pen’s FN got a little over 25 percent, while the ruling PS and its allies were supported by 21.9 percent of voters. Just think about it: a quarter of French now consistently vote for the ultra-right wing.

Experts discuss the outcome of the vote solely in the context of the right-wing share. The FN was able to confirm results obtained in the European elections last year. It is true, that the two-round nature of Sunday's ballot means the Right are likely to win control in only a handful of departments in second-round voting on March 29, because many UMP and PS voters are expected to switch allegiance to whatever party can keep the FN out of power. But the fact that the ‘French Iron Lady’ has taken off for the upcoming presidential race – is undeniable.

Some explain such support by the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings and that the number of Muslims in the country is now more than the majority of French will put up with.

My diagnosis is different: the cancer of political correctness is devouring the ultra-liberal flesh of European democracy. Tolerance will hardly contain the disease in the present “Maidan” form for long, the next stage being the “pogroms”. From this angle it is obvious, that the main attraction of Le Pen’s policy is not the return of the franc or the death penalty, but rather their call for reduced immigration and further ultra-right, politically incorrect rhetoric.

At the start of the new century, Europe sees a resurgence of anti-Semitism (not only in France). Some even talk about a certain continuity between our times and the interwar period. False notion! History does not repeat itself, though the presence of constant factors can still be felt. However, I do not think that this is the common denominator between the extreme leftist groups and the young radicals. The “new anti-Semitism” in Europe is nourished by the identification of the Jews with Israeli policies, or rather with the hard nationalism of the Israeli right. Israel’s continuous confrontation with the Palestinians, the refusal to compromise on the creation of a Palestinian state, the claim to be the only legitimate owner of the land, the colonial situation that has come into being in the West Bank — all this helps to give rise to an anti-Semitism that in recent years has become a real social phenomenon, nourishing the ultra-right. And though they can be verbally anti-Muslim, their anti-Semitic essence will always be more important for recruiting new members to the FN ranks, including immigrants from Arab countries. Not to mention their children born on the banks of the River Seine.

Undisputed stands the fact that in recent years, thanks to the policies of Sarkozy and Hollande along with the growing influence of the National Front, the French political discourse has shifted to the right. This process has pulled even the traditional left rightward on questions of immigration, integration and even the economy. The question is: what remains of the traditional left? Almost nothing, except for the nostalgic hippy recollections from the violent 1960s. Here, a comparison with the European past is particularly helpful. The basic reality underlying the present problem both in France and elsewhere in Europe is the fact that for nationalists of every kind, the nation is one thing and the present community of citizens is another.

Some analysts say that Sunday’s result is a setback for the National Front and Marine Le Pen, who had hoped her resurgent anti-immigrant, anti-EU party would emerge on top in the first round, making her a serious presidential contender for 2017. I don’t care about Mme Le Pen’s career. What I do care about, is: will the 21st century enrich the European political vocabulary with the expression “Le fascism Francais,” replacing such anachronisms as “El nazismo,” “Nationalsozialismus,” and “Il fascismo.” I certainly hope that the French democracy is equipped well enough to ensure a civilized future. And, though the National Front has done 10 points better than it did in the 2011 local elections, its progress has stalled and it is reaching a ceiling.

Notorious was the reaction of the jubilant Sarkozy: “This first round demonstrates the French people’s profound desire for change,” he declared. “They feel they have been lied to for the last three years.”

But what about the previous five? Is Monsieur Sarkozy implying he was always frank when addressing his nation? Well, as a matter of fact, he was a couple of times – remember his gypsy remarks? Sad enough his truth cost him the presidency, which he lost to Hollande in 2012. That showed that the French are not ready to hear the truth. Now Sarkozy is putting his bet on the new conditions for a massive swing back from the left. But have you often seen a pendulum making at least a short stop in the center, without a further swing all the way to the far right? Especially in France, a country driven by emotions rather than cold calculation.

In theory, an alliance between the conservative UMP party and the FN may have been an alternative, a compromise, able to appease the ultra-right in France, but European politics today is too ideological, to care about anything, except political expediency (though Gen. De Gaulle was the last truly expeditious French politician).

Le Pen is insisting that the strong support for her party had sent a clear message to the establishment, and that “those who have brought France to its knees will be getting their marching orders.” She even called on France’s Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls to resign after his party’s poor showing. Many opinion polls had predicted a complete rout for the party. But in remarks to the press, Valls countered that the game wasn’t over and called on all voters to turn out in next week’s second round to support “republican” candidates. A very risky move: observers draw attention to the fact that the higher the turnout the better result obtained by Le Pen. And, by the way, in six districts, the candidates of the National Front were able to win in the first round, which had never happened before. No wonder that the French newspaper Libération rings the bell publishing an article headlined "No one is ashamed any more to vote for Le Pen.” Like before those who voted for the right-wing, would prefer to keep their choice to themselves, and now entire villages and small towns are willing to admit their sympathy with the extreme right in front of the cameras.

Anyway, for the National Front, today is a chance to punish the slack Socialists and get up a head of steam for the presidential elections in 2017 that some analysts believe could see the party's leader Marine Le Pen oust the lackluster Hollande. "We'll get stuck into the regions and then we're off to invade the Elysee Palace," Mme Le Pen declared yesterday. Let’s just hope this week will keep the French ignorant of the reality.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.