National identity: Are you proud to be French? | NewNationalism | DW | 08.05.2017
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National identity: Are you proud to be French?

On her investigative trip to nationalist strongholds around the world, DW reporter Fanny Facsar's latest stop was France. There she met up with young patriots - and found a few surprises.

A lot had been said about the National Front, the far-right party of Marine Le Pen. I had read analysis of growing nationalism in the country and it started me wondering what makes young people turn to someone who is ready to fence the country off, close its borders and turn away from the European Union?

Why do young people vote for Le Pen?

I wanted to understand their motivation. In the department "Cher," a region in central France I met with Julie Aprecina, a 25-year-old campaigner with the right-wing "Front National."

She was quick to give me the run-down of all the well-known arguments: That the current political system failed to reduce unemployment, failed to guarantee stability and failed to increase security in a country under constant terror threat.

Indeed, 21 per cent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted for Le Pen in the first round. Only the far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon received more votes from the young.

Both the far left and the far right talk about national identity, a strong France, EU-skepticism. But they differ when it comes to the topic of immigration. While the far left aims to integrate refugees, the far right coins them as a threat to stability and prosperity.

"Refugees will end up in the banlieus"

"I don't understand why refugees come here just to end up in the banlieus," says Julie, referring to the Paris suburbs with high numbers of immigrants and of unemployed. Her father is an immigrant from Italy.

"Immigrants from Italy, Portugal, Spain know how to integrate, but that is not the case with the ones who arrive now," she says.

And the more I talk to her, the more I understand that Le Pen effectively turned the image of her party around: Turning it from an extreme right to a mainstream party, which in the eyes of millions has become totally normal to vote for.

"If it were a racist party, I would not be a member," says Julie describing herself as patriot. Being patriotic is in vogue in many parts of the world. It is part of a positive attitude, it is seen as nothing to be ashamed of.

But Le Pen’s brand of patriotism excludes a certain group of people.

France for the French

"I agree with that term, only that France is all of us of course. Turkish, Kurdish, African," says Barci Durmaz, 23. She is a social worker in Evry, a "banlieu" south of Paris, where she grew up. She shares the dreams of Julie in Cher: More jobs, more security is what she wants.

But her approach is different.

She wants better education for young people so they have more opportunities. She has voted for the far left in the first round of the presidential vote.

The question of national identity, how to move the country forward was a topic in every political party or movement in this election campaign. On election night, I hear a lot of chants of “Vive la France” and see a sea of French flags at the Louvre in Paris, where tens of thousands await their new President: Emmanuel Macron.

The diverse crowd includes young, old, immigrants, refugees and more than once a question is proposed to them: "Are you proud of France?" Next to me in the crowd stands a young man from Sudan. He doesn't speak French yet, he just received his asylum status but when I translate to him that "ensemble" means "together" his eyes are smiling. "I am happy because I want to be part of France," he says.

Split over the meaning of "nation"

What happens with those who voted for Le Pen and their stance of a strong nation? Can national pride in the end result in unity vs. division? Le Pen’s nationalism is not going to disappear in France just because Emmanuel Macron won.

I am leaving France with one main thought: Macron is now president of a country that is divided over the question what "Nation" actually means.

 

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