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France's Le Pen Probed for Pro-Nazi Stand

Alasdair Sandford (win)January 15, 2005

French authorities have launched a criminal investigation into comments attributed to the extreme right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen about the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.

Le Pen: The Nazis were not "especially inhumane" in FranceImage: AP

In a magazine interview the National Front leader described the Nazi occupation as "not especially inhumane," despite what he called "some excesses." Politicians and several other organisations have reacted angrily, while the French justice minister has asked prosecutors to investigate.

This is by no means the first time Jean-Marie Le Pen has sparked controversy over World War II. In 1987 he described the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail of history," and he’s been convicted of racism and anti-Semitism several times.

The latest row concerns an interview he gave to a far-right magazine called Rivarol about commemorations at the end of the war. His message: The Nazi occupation of France, despite some problems, was not particularly bad for the country.

Le Pen defends comments

On Thursday morning, Le Pen appeared on the French radio station RTL to defend his comments after they were reported in the newspaper Le Monde. He was unrepentant, especially on the wartime occupation of his country.

Frankreich befreit
French civilians celebrate the liberation of Paris on Aug. 25, 1944Image: AP

"It’s true and it’s scandalous that 60 years after the war we can’t talk freely about it," he said. "Proportionately the occupation was far less painful than in other countries and the Germans’ repression was explained by the fact they were engaged in a struggle against the Resistance."

In his original interview, the National Front leader described the Nazi "excesses" as inevitable. He attacked what he called the "received wisdom" that there had been mass executions across France.

Legal action

Condemnation of Le Pen’s comments came thick and fast, and the authorities announced legal action against him.

"I’ve asked the Paris prosecutor to open a preliminary inquiry," said Justice Minister Dominique Perben.

Frankreich: Anti Le Pen Demonstration
A protestor holds up a cardboard with a swastika and the words "No to Le Pen" during a demonstration before the 2002 presidential run-off election.Image: AP

Like several other politicians, Perben added he was outraged at the offense Le Pen would cause to survivors of the Nazi regime, such as those who’d been deported to concentration camps. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in France.

LICRA - the International League against racism and anti-Semitism, is also taking legal action over the comments.

"You need an organization like our organization so that Mr. Le Pen's attitude doesn't prevail," said Philippe Schmidt, LICRA's vice president.

It’s nearly three years since Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the final run-off in the French presidential elections. Since then he’s struggled to make his voice heard. With his latest comments, he has well and truly succeeded in getting himself back in the headlines.