'Why Does Everybody Hate Me?'

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In
this exclusive interview, Jean-Marie Le Pen heaps contempt on the
palm-greasers, opportunists and back-scratchers who make up the
French political establishment.

If
there is calm in the eye of the storm, it was certainly to be found
at Jean-Marie Le Pen’s sumptuous villa in Saint-Cloud, Paris, on
Tuesday afternoon. In the world outside, the international media
reverberated with an orgiastic denunciation of the man the world
loves to hate; in Parc Montretout, the brisk click of the sprinklers
on the immaculate lawns, and the distant cry of a peacock were the
only sounds to disturb the fragrant spring air. A Dobermann lying
on the gravel looked at me lazily as it basked in the sun.

Jean-Marie
Le Pen’s office, which commands a magnificent view of the city,
contains an appealing jumble of old telescopes, icons, Louis XV
chairs and a statue of St Joan of Arc. I hand him my card. ‘You
are from the land of the laughs,’ he quips, roaring with laughter
himself, and throwing his head back so that the trademark chin sticks
out horizontally.

In
order to kick off the conversation on a theme he likes – Europe
– I show him a map recently published by the European Parliament.
All the great nations of Europe are cut up into little pseudo-ethnic
sub-regions, but there is a huge Großdeutschland in the middle,
incorporating Alsace, Austria and most of Switzerland. It is published
by the Radical Group. ‘These people are Radically Bonkers,’ says
Le Pen, collapsing in another thunderous chuckle. ‘The same people
who are in favour of quickie divorces are trying to weld together
the ancient nations of Europe in a perpetual marriage. What are
they going to do if we want to leave the EU? Send in the Wehrmacht?
The Germans suffered a lot at the end of the war. It was their own
fault, of course. But now they want to take their revenge, and so
Europe will be dominated by Germany – America’s most obedient
ally.’

Le
Pen means ‘the boss’ in old Breton but his allure is boyish. The
official hagiography has sepia photos of little Le Pen in shorts
– on the beach, in boats, chaperoned by ladies in hats and
by grim Jesuits in soutanes – and, aged eight, the wicked grin
is already distinctly recognisable. But the caption says, ‘A vision
of France as it used to be’, and this is the point: Le Pen is a
man gripped by an apocalyptic vision of France’s national, political,
social and moral decline but through whose deep pessimism there
constantly erupts a desire to laugh, and a sharp urge to provoke
or even to shock. The various attempts on his life have done nothing
to deter him. ‘It’s not me who has become extreme Right,’ he says.
‘It’s the whole of society which has become extreme Left. They put
me in jackboots and a helmet and say I am Hitler. But they have
been doing that for 50 years now. That’s the only way they can try
to get me because I haven’t had my hands in the till. But when I
was 16, I took my father’s revolver and joined the Resistance. I’m
not saying I was a great hero. But what little I did was on the
right side.’

Le
Pen sees himself as the man who sticks up for little people against
the big guns of the French political establishment. His victory
speech on Sunday night sounded like the Sermon on the Mount, so
often did he refer to the poor and the meek. He refers to all his
most notorious remarks, like the one about the gas chambers being
‘a detail in the history of the second world war’ (a comment for
which he later apologised, and which he claims was misunderstood
in the first place) as being nothing but the result of political
provocations manufactured by his very numerous enemies. ‘You must
realise,’ he tells me, ‘that my victory was won by someone who does
not have one hundredth of the means at the disposal of my adversaries.
I would be 10 per cent ahead of them if I did. But nothing is lost,’
he says, referring to the second round on 5 May. ‘I have a 10 per
cent chance of winning. The gaggle of media sycophants’ – whenever
he insults anyone, which is often, each rude word is savoured slowly
in a crescendo – ‘which, by the way, is totally dominated by
Marxists and which is a nauseating world I hold in utter contempt,
immediately rushed to support Chirac. It means that Chirac has now
been formally crowned as the uncontested leader of the French Left.
The Communist party, the Trotskyites, the Socialists, the Freemasons,
the Unions – they have all acclaimed him as the godfather of
their Mafia. But I am the candidate of France – against euro-globalisation!

‘In
any case,’ he adds, ‘this is not a French presidential election.
It is an election for the governor of Kansas. In fact, it’s worse.
Kansas can at least decide to reintroduce the death penalty’ –
something Le Pen regards as the ‘indispensable cornerstone of any
penal system’ – ‘but, here, we have made so many compromises
on national sovereignty that we are no longer an independent state.
Indeed,’ he gestures through the open French doors to the city of
Paris outside, ‘huge cities and massive migratory flows are the
two sure signs that a society is dying. If nations are mortal, as
Valéry writes, they all die in the same way. Did you know
that Babylon had a peripheral avenue three times longer than the
Paris périphérique?’

Apart
from this brief reference, he does not mention immigration. Various
French acquaintances I consulted before the interview confirmed
that immigration formed little or no part of his presidential campaign.
‘Le Pen is not a racist,’ said one. ‘It’s only the other parties
who talk about immigration now,’ said another. Le Pen’s campaign
was based instead on law and order, unemployment, and on his policy
of abolishing income tax. ‘Why am I so viciously attacked in the
British press?’ he asks me. Le Pen’s views on immigration are the
same as Norman Tebbit’s, while his views on urban blight, social
collapse and the decline of traditional values can be found every
week in the columns of the Daily Mail or The Spectator. The Sun,
for that matter, has spent the week enumerating Le Pen’s various
hateful policies, such as closing the refugee centre at Sangatte
or opposing the right of homosexuals to adopt children, but the
obligatory photograph of Hitler with which it adorned the rant did
little to distinguish the list from everything the Sun itself generally
supports. Le Pen accuses the Left of exploiting the immigrant as
its new totem in the place of the worker, but without really ever
having cared for either. ‘What makes me sad,’ he has written, ‘is
that the great majority of the immigrant community just wants to
live in peace, and yet the Left takes up an immigrant cause which
is in reality only that of a minority of delinquents.’ But the idea
that Le Pen proposes to ethnically cleanse France of its present
immigrant population is nonsense.

When
people in this country ask, ‘Could it happen here?’, the answer
depends on what you mean by ‘it’ and ‘happen’. Leaving aside the
important historical fact that the far Right in France is strong
when Gaullism is weak, and vice versa – it fills the political
vacuum left by the weakening of that state authority which the French
so ardently crave – the political earthquake on 21 April was
not the sudden rise of the Front National. Le Pen’s party has had
very solid support for years, and on Sunday it polled only slightly
more than it did in 1995 and 1997. Instead, the truly momentous
event was the electoral humiliation of the governing duopoly. The
candidate of the Socialist party which has ruled France for the
last five years polled 16 per cent: this is less than half the level
at which a British government would be considered to be in catastrophic
crisis. Meanwhile, the ‘President of all the French’ is supported
by less than one in five of them. Despite this, France’s political
system is so deeply dysfunctional that the same old politicians
who were discredited on Sunday will probably be re-elected to power
as if nothing had happened. People forget what a remorseless merry-go-round
French politics is: Jacques Chirac, the man who on 5 May will be
elected to another five years of judicial immunity, first served
as prime minister when Harold Wilson was in No. 10 Downing Street.

Indeed,
the esteem in which the French political class is held by its own
supporters was encapsulated with depressing frankness by the slogans
which schoolchildren were made to parade around the streets on Monday:
‘Votez escro, pas facho!’ – ‘Vote for a crook, not a fascist.’
What a choice! Le Pen, meanwhile, heaps contempt on the whole miserable
band of palm-greasers, opportunists and back-scratchers. But in
any case, the first round of any French election is the political
equivalent of a punt on the 2.15 at Doncaster: it makes no difference
to the final outcome, and is merely a chance to have a flutter on
one’s own little personal exotic fantasy. When I put it to my friends
that the world thought Le Pen was within reach of power, they laughed
in derision.

For
that matter, Le Pen gave me the distinct impression of not being
particularly interested in power himself. ‘You know,’ he said, with
a backward wave of the hand, ‘great historical events are the result
of a concatenation of people and of Providence. I have spent all
my life fighting losing battles, starting in Indochina. As St Joan
of Arc said, "You fight, you fight – and maybe one day
God will hand you victory."’ The reference to St Joan is not
the only time Le Pen displays a rather mystical quality. ‘I can
foresee things,’ he tells me, ‘because I stand up straight, instead
of staring at my navel like most politicians. I have spent seven
years of my life at sea; I have sailed the oceans and stared at
an infinitesimal part of the billions and billions of stars in the
heavens. My beliefs are simple ones. I believe in the nation and
the family. Together with the nation, the family is the crucible
for what little possibilities there are for human happiness. Society
must have certain fundamental values or else there can be no personal
development. I see all this in constant decline.

‘And
another thing,’ he says, drawing our conversation to a close. ‘You’ll
think this is odd, coming from a politician in the middle of an
election campaign. But I regard it as pre-apocalyptic that people
are, right now, fighting around the stable of Jesus. If there is
a massacre at the Church of the Nativity, if blood is shed, I will
take that as a serious sign, as a warning from Heaven. But life
must go on,’ he says, and giggles.

April
30, 2002

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