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Far-right gains alarm French left

Despite the National Front's electoral success, many in France people are taking to the streets against nationalism.

Last updated: 28 Jun 2014 13:54
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The National Front won European parliamentary elections in May [Jonathan Rozen/Al Jazeera]

The National Front (FN) political party in France may be celebrating its most recent success in the European parliamentary elections, but many in Paris and across France want to make it known that the party's far-right policies are not for them.

On May 25 when the results of the European parliamentary elections were announced, French high-school student Lucas Rochette-Berlon, 16, went to his computer and, through social networks, launched a "call to mobilisation". Four days later thousands of French citizens took to the streets in over 20 cities and towns to announce their disapproval of the FN's electoral success.

"What was really interesting about the [demonstrations] in May was that it was the youth," Rochette-Berlon told Al Jazeera. "In Marseilles I saw a lot of young people who had never gone to a [demonstration] or acted in politics."

Similarly, in Paris, the large turn out of students dominated the demonstration.

On June 7, another anti-far-right rally marched though Paris in protest against the rise of French "fascism," in connection to the FN.

FN success

Defined by French nationalism, social conservatism and anti-European Union protectionism, the National Front jumped to first place among the parties in May's election, with 24.86 percent of the vote and 24 of the 74 French seats, according to the French Ministry of the Interior.

French far-right party poised for poll gains

This electoral success marks a dramatic increase from their previous 6.34 percent and sixth place ranking in the 2009 European election.

Bernadette de la Bourdonnaye, a press officer for the FN, stated they won because they merely represented the best ideas for France's population. "You can win because you are the best, and you can win because others fail. We have got both. We give the right answer to the French problems and the challengers are in a very weak position."

While the party's new leader Marine Le Pen has managed to make the FN's image more accessible to the French population, distancing herself from her father and former party leader's xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic sentiments, many people do not see the difference.

It is the significant rise in FN electoral success that has sparked the notable public disapproval from French political activists, members of civil society and citizenry.

"It is really important that lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and feminists say that we are against fascists and the far-right in France," Delphine Aslan, spokesperson for Soyez FièrEs, a French lesbian, bisexual, transgender and feminist association, explained to Al Jazeera during the June 7 demonstration in Paris.

"They use homosexuality and feminism for their ideas, they use us," she continued. "They say that black people and Arab people are against homosexuals and against women."

The continuing disapproval with the rising political presence of the FN can also be noted in French street art and graffiti. Throughout Paris stenciled or stickered anti-FN imagery can found and spray paint writing compares the FN to fascists.

Differences from 2002

This is not the first time FN electoral success has sparked public unrest. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN leader of the time, advanced to the second round of the French presidential election causing large public demonstrations, significantly greater than those in May and June 2014.

The smaller demonstration turn out following the European election is because the French population feels less connected to the European elections and the European parliament than they do to the French presidential election and the national government, explained Rochette-Berlon.

If the FN experiences continued gains in the 2017 presidential election, he expects a much bigger reaction.

Bourdonnaye dismisses these claims, saying that the demonstrations were "nothing of interest" and too small. She also states that it does not bode well for other political parties.

"I cannot imagine that it is getting better for the [other] parties, I don't see blue sky for them in the next three years," she said.

Moving forward

For many who oppose the National Front, the results of the May election has been a rallying point.

The election has made it evident that the organisations that oppose this kind of far-right politics must stand together, Elodie Leborcq, 39, of the National Coordination Against the Extreme-Right (CONEX), told Al Jazeera.

"We need to be together, we need to say things together, we need to be in the streets," Aslan concurred.

But for others it is not enough to just express disapproval.

There is a need for greater unity on the left and to find ways to reconnect with our bases

- Wolf Jacklein, General Confederation of Labour spokesperson

"We need to show that … we cannot agree with [the approach of the FN]," Wolf Jacklein, spokesperson for the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), one of France's largest trade unions, told Al Jazeera. "But that does not mean that it is enough to organise demonstrations and to show that we are not in agreement … we have to do something … to advance some sort of practical work."

From a trade union perspective, he feels that a political void has opened in the working class, and this void has been filled by "extreme-right" politics.

"There is a need for greater unity on the left and to find ways to reconnect with our bases," he said.

For other less politically engaged people, simply voting is an active strategy to shift France's politics.

Parisian resident Mat Legrand, 29, was not happy to see the FN do as well as they did, voicing regret over not having voted. Seeing French politics shift in this way has motivated him and his friends to vote next time, he said.

With an approximate 43 percent electoral turnout in the May 2014 election, significantly lower than the roughly 80 percent turnout for the 2012 presidential contest, Mat explained that if he and people like him cast their ballots, things could change. That being said, he remains disillusioned with French politics.

"There is so much music against the FN, artists making videos and things," he told Al Jazeera. "But many people who are against the FN don't know who they are going to vote for next time … it is very easy to just disagree."

For Lucas Rochette-Berlon, who still has two years before he can vote, combating the success of far-right politics in France stems from a better public understanding of the problems in the country, which he feels have led to the FN's political power.

"We can't beat the National Front or the abstentions by just saying it's bad to do that or by denouncing the ideas, we have to act more deeply to beat the social problems," he said. "A [rally] is important when you have an event like an election, but it is not a long-term action, it is just punctual. We have to work on the long-term now."

Despite his anger, Bourdonnaye believes that the electorate will once again vote in their favour.

"We are sure that part [of the population that didn't vote in the European elections], will vote for the National Front [in 2017]. It's quite obvious … Marine Le Pen will be very credible because of the European election and next [regional] election," she said.

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Al Jazeera
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