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Europe

United Against Le Pen

Despite political parties, ideologies or backgrounds, the French are joining forces to prevent right-wing candidate Le Pen from winning Sunday’s election. France’s image in the rest of the world is at stake, they say.

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Thousands protest against Jean-Marie Le Pen in Paris

It’s a nightmare vision for many – a France run by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front Party, a France where xenophobia is a political principle, where immigrants are locked away in camps and deported, and where the death penalty is reintroduced.

Le Pen calls himself the people’s candidate. He campaigns under the slogan "France for the French". At political rallies throughout the country, he shouts out paroles about returning France to the way it was before the politicians corrupted it. He wants to close France’s borders, erect customs barriers, reinstate the franc and stand up to the European Union.

The voice of the people

While Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, law-and-order message strikes a popular chord among the frustrated minority looking for a scapegoat for unemployment, growing crime and social unrest, it is very unlikely that his vision will ever become reality. His chances of winning the presidential election on this coming Sunday are fairly far-fetched. He has antagonized too many people with his right-wing politics.

Wahlsieg für Präsidentaschaftskandidat Jean-Marie Le Pen in Frankreich

Far-right National Front party leader and presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen speaks from his headquarters after results showed him placed second in the first round of presidential election on April 21

And as Le Pen continues with his demagoguery, backing for the incumbent candidate Jacques Chirac grows stronger. At a May Day march in Paris hundreds of thousands of French citizens and foreigners turned out to protest against the National Front and what they fear is a revival of racism and anti-Semitism. At a rally in Lyons 10,000 people turned out to show their support for Chirac.

"What is at stake," Chirac told the people of Lyons, "is the image that people have of us in Europe and across the world, France’s reputation as a peaceful, tolerant land where human rights are respected. At stake is the honor of our great nation."

The voice of youth

The vast majority of the anti-Le Pen protestors are young and very vocal. They have no problem taking to the streets to demonstrate against the National Front leader. Every day, thousands of them pour into the French capital with banners and colorful signs equating Le Pen with the Nazis. They have become a regular presence in the evening news, and have helped attract the world’s attention to Le Pen’s questionable politics.

Anti-Le Pen Demonstration in Paris

French youth stand on the top of the statue at the Place de la Nation as an anti-Le Pen supporter holds up a poster of the extreme right wing leader

But Le Pen is undeterred by the protests. He is too busy appearing on TV and radio, drumming up support for the final phase of the campaign. He has nothing but scorn for the protest movement. "National protest? What national protest? A few thousand high school students aren’t France," he said on French television.

Some young people have taken to the streets because the feel partially responsible for what happened in the first round of voting back in April. Forty percent of young voters refrained from casting their vote. Whether it was a general political apathy or the sunny spring weather that kept them away from the polling stations, they’re intent on making sure it doesn’t happen this time around. A good number of the young voters say they will elect Chirac even though they don’t like him. Anything’s better than Le Pen, they say.

In the name of France

Jacques Chirac, französischer Staatspräsident

French president Jacques Chirac is concerned over the support for Le Pen, who received 17% of the votes in a run-off election

Members from all different central and leftist political parties have called on their traditional supporters to vote for Chirac in the race against Le Pen. Even Chirac’s most hardened opponents are gritting their teeth and mobilizing their voters in favor of him. It’s not always easy to convince some left wing parties to switch their alliances, but it’s all being done to prevent Le Pen from winning the election.

"Should we sit back and accept such a fanatical president", France’s Socialist Party Leader Francois Hollande demands of his followers. "We have to make sure this doesn’t happen. There shouldn’t be any place for this kind of candidate and these kinds of ideas in a democratic republic."

In the name of France’s future, Hollande calls upon all his fellow socialists to protest against Le Pen’s intolerance by voting for Chirac. Hollande, who is also the mayor of the small town of Tulle in south-west France, says the French need to send a clear signal to the rest of the world, that Le Pen does not speak for the French people. France is still a nation of democratic ideals, he stresses.

Viva la France

Last Sunday in Tulle, Hollande and several other French leaders gathered together for a ceremony commemorating those people who died or were deported during the German occupation in the Second World War. They were concerned that history was slowly fading from the people’s memories as the number of those who actually experienced the Nazi era die out. Concentration camp survivors and former resistance fighters expressed their alarm over the resurgence of nationalism and right-wing extremism.

One survivor was worried that the ideals of the resistance movement were no longer considered important. "The values that we fought to defend are being called into question," he told Deutsche Welle. "We fought for democracy. We oppose xenophobia. The ideals that we defended in the French resistance still hold for Europe today."

During his speech in Lyon, Jacques Chirac was keen to emphasize exactly those ideals and how much they are at stake on Sunday: "It is our France. The France that is respected throughout the world. The France of liberty, equality and fraternity."

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