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I hope the Jews will stop pestering me from now on. -- President Chirac was quoted as saying after his declaration of French responsibility for Vichy crimes



Monday, April 22, 2002


Le Pen ultimate

FROM the balcony of his home in the prestigious suburb of Saint Cloud, Jean-Marie Le Pen has a sweeping view of Paris, that takes in the Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse, and the white Sacre Coeur church in Montmarte, at the northern edge of the city. The big three-story house is surrounded by a green metal fence. Nothing about it would arouse any curiosity; there is no guard posted at the entrance, and if there are any security cameras, they are very well hidden. The only obvious nod to security is a standard intercom at the gate.

A young man in a dark suit opens the front gate. We walk along the edge of an expansive green lawn. Two statues of black butlers dressed in bright green and holding lanterns flank the front door. Between them are two very large straw baskets, of the kind used for pets. Their unusual size piques my interest. "Oh that," the young man says. "Those are for Monsieur Le Pen's two Dobermans. They're out in the yard now."

Statues of Joan of Arc fill the house; they can be found in every corner - some on horseback, others in gold, silver and in marble. In the first-floor room that serves as Le Pen's study, an oil painting in a polished wood frame draws a visitor's attention. The portrait shows a smiling Le Pen (several decades younger) against a black background. He is wearing a black patch over his left eye.

"It was about 40 years ago, during an election campaign," he explains. "Political rivals attacked me. I was savagely beaten. I was kicked in the face and I lost my eye as a result."

His opponents might see the story of the patch as epitomizing his life. They say he is a racist provocateur, someone who loves a fight, who stirs up strife and contention; a despised and dangerous man who went looking for a violent dust-up and lost his eye as a consequence. His contrasting version of events fits in well with his regular complaints of being politically slandered, of the deep-rooted misunderstandings and about systematic abuse from the establishment.

Even the more jocular aspect that he seeks to ascribe to the whole episode perfectly suits his personality: "On one occasion, a female political rival claimed that I was looking at her with a `hard stare.' I replied: `But of course, madam. You are looking at my glass eye,'" he says with a boisterous laugh.

An encounter with Le Pen can be a bit of a culture shock. The man is blessed with a rare, intoxicating charisma. Not for nothing did one Jewish political activist in Paris tell me that, if it weren't for the anti-Semitic overtones, he might well have been persuaded by Le Pen and ended up casting his vote for the man. He looks different from up close. His features are softer. His eyes (including the artificial one) are bright. He is wearing a black suit and a blue and gray striped tie, with a matching handkerchief in his jacket pocket. He continuously breaks into raucous laughter that all the other people in the room find infectious.

Le Pen has good reason to smile. In 1998, his National Front experienced a major crisis. His second-in-command, Bruno Megret, stepped down and founded a competing party. In France, talk of a collapse of the extreme right was rife. The media abandoned Le Pen. He was practically forgotten. Yet, in recent weeks, he has gained surprising momentum. His support in the polls stands at 13 percent. He has passed the Trotskyite Arlette Laguiller and the nationalist-leftist Jean-Pierre Chevenement and established himself as "the third man": the person whose statements and voters could determine the identity of the next president of France in the upcoming presidential elections, the first round of which will be held just two days from now, on April 21.

Anti-Semitism in France? There's no such thing

These days, Le Pen is trying to portray himself as more moderate in an effort to distance himself from the scandals of the past. He is still an avowed opponent of immigration. He still holds extreme nationalist, Euro-phobic and anti-American views, but he is careful to avoid saying anything that could get him pinned once again with the anti-Semitic label and tie him to the current wave of attacks in France. He watches the anti-Semitic events from afar and agrees with the consensus that says they are an import of the conflict in the Middle East.

"There has definitely been a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts in the past year and a half," he says. "Curses and graffiti have given way to attacks and incitement. It's all an outgrowth of what's happening in the Middle East now. The height of the flames depends on how the conflict develops, on the parties' readiness to reach a compromise."

It is very comfortable for Le Pen to observe all the anti-Semitic incidents from the sidelines, explains Jean Daniel, editor of the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. He no longer needs to sully himself. The "Arabs" are doing the job for him, say other analysts. They are "the real anti-Semites" and, at the same time, they are earning the public's hatred. Moreover, says the analysts, Le Pen is killing two birds with one stone: He believes the Muslim immigrants are "a grave phenomenon," perhaps the biggest problem facing France at the start of the 21st century. "There is a general problem of gangs that live in the suburbs of the big cities. They are using the events [in the Middle East] as ideological cover for their actions," he says.


"There is an Islamic population in France, most of which comes from the North African countries. Though some may have French citizenship, they don't have the French cultural background or sociological structure. They operate according to a different logic than most of the population here. Their values are different from those of the Judeo-Christian world. Not long ago, they spat at the president of the republic. They booed when the national anthem was played at a soccer game [in Paris, between the national teams of France and Algeria]. These elements have a negative effect on all of public security. They are strengthened demographically both by natural reproduction and by immigration, which reinforces their stubborn ethnic segregation, their domineering nature. This is the world of Islam in all its aberrations."

Could "classic" anti-Semitism join with the "new" anti-Semitism in France?

"I have no idea what `classic anti-Semitism' is. I'm not familiar with this term. I don't know where it comes from and what connection it has to France and what is occurring here. There wasn't anti-Semitism in France. An isolated incident can always happen. When two drivers curse each other on the road, and one of them happens to be a Jew, you can't define that as anti-Semitism. In recent years - before the intifada - there were three or four incidents of anti-Semitism a year, and that's out of 18 million crimes and violations of the law."

There has never been anti-Semitism in France? Aren't you forgetting some things? What about the Dreyfus Affair?

"The Dreyfus Affair is an exceptional case. It's true that here and there you can find some dregs of anti-Semitism, but the situation is the same in every country. After all, you're not exactly a nation like all the other nations. You are unique, if only because you are such an ancient people, and because of the way you are spread all over the world and your obvious success in many fields. But, in all honesty, anti-Semitism in France has always remained on a minimal level, at the verbal level only. It never went as far as pogroms."

And in the Vichy period?

"Vichy is a case unto itself. The Vichy government was under occupation and carried out the orders of the German occupier. In French politics, there isn't a single anti-Semitic party, from the political-ideological standpoint."

Do you agree with Jacques Chirac's 1995 statement about France's responsibility for the crimes of the Vichy government?

"No. France was not responsible for this criminal policy. France was an occupied country, a country that surrendered and was left without the right to choose. Therefore, to be fair, you cannot say that it was a willing partner in this policy. On this I agree with De Gaulle [who viewed France as a `resistance country' - A.P.], and with practically all the French leaders aside from Jacques Chirac. I am sure that he made this statement for electoral reasons. It was a showy move designed to win sympathy in certain circles."

Which circles?

"In this case, Jewish circles. In a successful book that was published recently ["L'homme qui ne s'aimait pas" - "The Man Who Didn't Love Himself"], Eric Zemmour, a journalist from Le Figaro, quotes President Chirac as saying after his declaration of French responsibility for Vichy crimes: `I hope the Jews will stop pestering me from now on.'"

Do you consider Chirac's declaration a historic mistake?

"Yes. You cannot speak on behalf of a nation when you have no mandate to do so. You also cannot speak on a nation's behalf about things that happened in the past. He can express his personal opinion, but not in the name of France. It's no coincidence that not one of Chirac's predecessors, including De Gaulle - the great fighter against Vichy - did not make such a statement. I'm always suspicious of people who repent of other people's sins."

In the past, there were Nazi collaborators in your party. Has there been a deliberate change in the party, or have those people simply died out?

"I don't think it is accurate to say that the movement was founded or run by Nazi collaborators. First of all, my influence in the party has always been decisive and I have never compromised on these things. In the movement itself, there was no mention of fascism or national-socialism. In my speeches, I always condemned communism, national-socialism and fascism. Incidentally, I define all of them as leftist movements that were spawned by the French Revolution. The only reason that our movement was pegged with the extremist label is because of our loyalty to the principle of `French Algeria' and our opposition to the policy of separation from Algeria, which De Gaulle instituted.

"There was no reason to label us as anti-Semitic. No reason at all. I do not know one person in the National Front who committed even the most minor hostile act against a Jewish person or Jewish property. As for me, even though I have been accused of anti-Semitism countless times, no one has ever heard me make anti-Semitic statements or engage in anti-Semitic behavior. There just are people, organizations, that need an adversary and they want the public to believe that this adversary is dangerous."

Xenophobe or anti-Semite?

Is Le Pen anti-Semitic? Surprisingly, observers do not have an unequivocal reply to this question. For Jean Daniel, he is "a nationalist who hates foreigners, but is not necessarily anti-Semitic." Theo Klein, a former leader of the Jewish community in France, tends to concur: "Le Pen is a xenophobe first and foremost. His attitude toward Jews is a product of his theory that only someone who was born in France, and has no other affiliation, is French." Noted commentator Dominique Moisi says that any change in Le Pen is solely tactical. "Since crime is the main issue in the elections, and since this is `his' issue, he can portray himself as the expert and fully exploit the `I told you so' tactic by calling on the public to vote for the `original' and not for poor imitations. He no longer needs to make anti-Semitic statements, but fundamentally, he is still an anti-Semite."

Pierre-Andre Taguieff, who has closely studied the National Front and published a number of books about the party and about racism in France, says the picture is somewhat complex: "Le Pen's electorate is definitely the most anti-Jewish. According to polls published at the beginning of April, about 52 percent of his supporters are wary of Jews. Le Pen has to take note of this statistic. He also certainly identifies with the conspiracy view held by 34 percent of the French, who feel that the Jews have too much power, that they control politics and manipulate it to suit their purposes."

Yet Taguieff, who recently published a best-seller about the "new anti-Semitism" in France, is not quick to call Le Pen an anti-Semite: "It's very hard to say. I'm convinced that his ideal is a France without Jews and North Africans. But no one has ever been able to identify him unequivocally as an anti-Semite. The anti-racist and anti-fascist circles in France tend to exaggerate their legal victories against him and to forget those in which he emerged triumphant. Overall, you could say it is a draw."

His wealth of past statements do not leave much room for doubt. The biggest scandal arose in wake of a 1987 interview in which he was asked about the Nazi gas chambers: "I'm not saying that the gas chambers didn't exist. I couldn't see them myself. I haven't devoted any special study to the subject, but I believe it is just a detail in the history of World War II." When asked to elaborate about this "detail" in 1997, Le Pen explained: "If you take a thousand-page book about World War II, the concentration camps would take up two pages and the gas chambers would take up 10 to 15 lines. That's what I call a detail."

He referred to the former socialist minister Michel Durafour as "Durafour Crematoire," and described Jewish television star Anne Sinclair as "a juicy kosher butcher." When asked directly by journalists whether he was an anti-Semite, he responded: "I don't like Chagall and my favorite composer is Wagner. Does that make me anti-Jewish?"

To return to the question of the so-called "new anti-Semitism." Some say that the French government is closing its eyes to the problem for electoral reasons. How big a part does the Arab vote play in these elections?

"I don't think there is such a thing as the `Arab vote' in France. The residents of the suburbs who are responsible for the violent incidents don't take part in the elections at all. The French government is simply fleeing from responsibility. It is declining to grapple with the violent activity. It fears that tackling it would heighten the violent atmosphere and so it is preventing the security forces from intervening. This is a very risky approach because you cannot retreat indefinitely: In the end, it won't be possible to put off a response, and by then it will have to be at a much higher level of violence than if it were done today."

Do you agree with claims that Israeli accusations of French anti-Semitism were meant to encourage French Jews to move to Israel and perhaps to also keep France from playing a role in the Middle East?

"I think that it is the Americans, more than Israel, who wish to keep France from playing a role in the Middle East. In my judgement, there is a basic popular sympathy for Israel in France, but the demonstrative sympathy tends to go to the other side. In the current conflict, the French media is pro-Arab for two reasons: The large Arab and Islamic presence in France combined with the weight of the billion Muslims in the world, and the fact that Sharon is a rightist. The hostility would be less if a leftist prime minister was pursuing exactly the same policy."

Are you talking about just the media?

"I'm talking about the government and the French intelligentsia, too. The government would have preferred not to take a stand, but the constant presence of the Israeli-Arab conflict on our television screens made it an issue that could no longer be avoided. The result is that you are now experiencing what we experienced in the war in Algeria: The Israeli government says that it is a victim of terrorist activity, but this activity is less visible than the military strikes. I belonged to the 10th paratroop division that was ordered to destroy the terror in Algiers. This was after a series of terror attacks against civilians in public centers. The division did wipe out terror, and it didn't do this by being gentle with the terrorists. A war on terror is a brutal thing."

Does it include torture?

Le Pen's strong, deep voice fills the room; he is almost shouting, and frequently waves his hands. Every now and then he grimaces, and it seems as though he has forgotten he is giving an interview in the privacy of his own home. At these moments, which are relatively rare, the Le Pen we know from his public speeches comes to the surface - this is the Le Pen who ignites the masses. At this point, he loses his calm demeanor. It's clear that the subject of torture is a sensitive one.

"Torture, torture - What is torture? You have to define for me what torture is."

What is your definition of torture?

"I don't know. I would define it as `a series of violent acts that cause physical injury to individuals, actions that destroy the personality and leave traces.' Police and military interrogations do not fit this definition of torture. What's surprising is that the people who fought against torture here are the communists. And the communists are the ones who used to practice systematic mass torture in their own countries. The suffering caused by the terrorists is the real torture. The struggle against terrorists sometimes requires secrecy and it has its own rules. The enemy must not be allowed the advantage that permits him to plant bombs when and where he wants. In this struggle, everyone must carry his own burden."


ON one wall of his home is a large portrait of a younger Le Pen dressed in a white uniform. His shirt is decorated with paratroop wings and various medals. The painter dedicated his work "to Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is loyal to France." Loyalty to the homeland is certainly a supreme virtue in Le Pen's book. It is directly related to his justification of torture: Everyone must carry his own burden, he says.

In 1987, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine wrote that Le Pen himself was an active participant in torture in Algeria. The Liberation newspaper later published testimony of Algerian torture victims who described his actions, which, they said, included beatings, kickings, floggings with whips and chains, submersions and electric shocks. Le Pen, who claimed that his reputation had been damaged, sued both newspapers for slander and lost (though Le Canard Enchaine eventually lost in the appeals court). Today, it seems that he does not wish to recall any details.

You were accused of having personally taken part in torture in Algeria.

"Me? I won in all the trials on this subject. All the people who made these claims were denounced."

In other words, you proved that it wasn't true?

"Yes, certainly. Actually, no - I didn't have to prove that it wasn't true. We live under the rule of law here. The burden was on the accusers to prove their claims. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the Supreme Court in Israel more or less gave legal approval for ... let's not call it torture, which would just play into the terrorists' hands. Let's call it `tough interrogations.'"

On the conflict in the Middle East, do you support a French mediation initiative, would you prefer a European initiative, or to leave mediation to the Americans?

"All the efforts at mediation are not effective. I wonder if international influences might be harmful to negotiations, if they aren't pouring fuel on the fire. There is a need for a direct understanding between Israel and the Palestinians. I recognize that it is an exceedingly difficult situation: Israel feels threatened, because it does not have strategic depth. At the same time, its settlement policy is in doubt. The settlements are perceived as an attempt to annex occupied territory. To be honest, I wouldn't want to be in Mr. Sharon's place - and even less in Mr. Arafat's place (he bursts into laughter). It's a terrible situation. Even when they are supported by the West, the Israelis are still just several million versus a billion Muslims. Fortunately, there will never be Islamic unity. They're all different from one another and hostile to each other, thank God.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is given totally disproportionate coverage. It's a kind of permanent theater, an endless violent movie that works more on the emotions than on reason."

Should the Israeli government have kept cameras out of the territories?

"That's the problem. We live in a world of entertainment. Cameras are everywhere now. Everything is done before the open eyes of the citizens of the world and these eyes don't always understand what they see. I think that all the countries in the world that were in a state of war used censorship. To conduct a war before the cameras, before the eyes of people who are sitting in their armchairs 1,500 kilometers away, is a big impediment. That's why I call it theater."

Can you understand the decision of the reservists in Israel who refused to fight in the territories?

"As a former officer in the Foreign Legion, I think that discipline is an army's main source of strength. What's happening [in Israel] is very serious. As soon as the Israeli people ceases to stand behind the Israeli army, the battle is lost."

Would you consider them traitors?

"I think that during war, you can't evade the difficult burden of war discipline."

Do you think the military campaign that Sharon is waging in the territories is justified?

"This is the policy that he declared. He is not betraying the commitments that he made. He said from the beginning, `I will wage war,' and he is waging a war with all the risks that involves. History will show if he was right or wrong."

Can you understand the complaints in Israel about the "hypocritical" European reaction?

"Certainly. After all, I got a similar reaction during the war in Algeria, when I served in General Massu's 10th division. We were called upon to fight the terrorism of the FLN (the Algerian nationalist movement that fought against French colonialism). The intelligentsia at home criticized our actions. It's very easy to criticize from the armchair in the living room. I completely understand the State of Israel, which is seeking to defend its citizens."

Muslims and other foreigners

What is your opinion of the war in Afghanistan and of statements like that of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who spoke of a "culture war"?

"That phrase is in fashion these days. The most worrisome thing about the new Islam is the demographic data. This means it doesn't have to resort to military means to take over a country. In France, there are six million Muslim citizens who are recent arrivals. They entered in civilian dress, in jeans. They'd never let six million people with weapons enter our territory. But a person in jeans can become a soldier. If, despite their French citizenship, these Muslims feel an affiliation with another entity, they naturally become suspect in the eyes of those who one day will be compelled to confront them."

Do you see the Muslims in France as "six million soldiers"?

"Today, entire areas in France are closed even to the security forces. Sociological studies prove that potential rioters dominate in these areas. The drug trade and gang violence thrive in these places, maybe religious ideology, too. A propos this subject, I'll mention the complex problem of Israeli Arabs: The problem with Islam lies in its incredible demographic momentum. Over the next 20 years the population in four areas in the Mediterranean and Middle East - Turkey, Iran, Egypt and the Maghreb - will grow from 60-100 million inhabitants. They ought to be thought of as superpowers. Let's hope that they will be pacifistic, but this is in no way a sure thing. This is why we must protect our interests, our territory and our heritage. In this context, I prefer a regime like that of Saddam Hussein to, say, Saudi Arabia. The Ba'ath regime is secular and even permissive toward other religions. Saudi Arabia is massively funding the spread of Islam. It, rather than Iraq, should be viewed as a dangerous movement of conquest."

Moisi describes Le Pen-ism as a unique phenomenon of the radical right: "He combines pro-Israeli and even pro-Zionist attitudes with anti-Jewish attitudes, and anti-Islamic attitudes with certain pro-Arab attitudes." Taguieff says that Le Pen's internal contradictions are also expressed in the sympathy he showed in the early 1990s for the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, which fought the outgoing FLN regime; it is also evident in his nostalgia for French imperialism versus his opposition to Israeli settlements and the concept of the Greater Land of Israel.

The United States is apparently planning an attack on Iraq. How should France respond?

"A war on Iraq is nothing more than a war for American material interests. During the Gulf War, I derided all those who portrayed Iraq as the fourth most powerful army in the world. It was ridiculous: To be one of the world's most powerful armies, you have to manufacture arms and ammunition. Iraq was crushed, its army was completely destroyed and the sanctions policy caused hundreds of thousands of people to die of starvation.

"The problem with the Americans is that their disproportionate power makes them undertake policies that aren't always balanced and well-considered, and therefore dangerous. Today, there is worldwide tendency to dance to the tune of the powerful. I, on the other hand, am a French patriot concerned with the interests of France. Am I supposed to go crazy with admiration for the Americans just because they are Americans?"

Do you condone the Israeli action against the Iraqi nuclear reactor?

"Yes, of course. That was an act of prevention. True, it doesn't conform to international law, but in such a situation, there is no need to use it."

A romance with neofascism

A photographic biography edited by his daughter, Yan Marechal, says: "Le Pen always had especially warm relations with his Italian colleagues," who included Giorgio Almirante, founder of the neofascist movement MSI. On another page, Franz Schoenhuber, the former leader of Germany's radical right Republican party who served in the Waffen SS during the war, is described as "a true friend of Le Pen. Much more than just a partner."

"Le Pen has very close ties with the radical right in Europe," says Pierre-Andre Taguieff. "For 15 years, Le Pen has been openly embraced by practically all the xenophobe nationalists and anti-Semites in Europe."

Le Pen would prefer to downplay these facts. "I have no connection with Haider's party in Austria. I only spoke with Csurka (the anti-Semitic leader in Hungary) once." He professes to have a hard time recalling the name of the anti-Semitic leader of the Greater Romania party, Vadim Tudor: "I haven't seen him in three years," he says, and then immediately says something different.

In the past, you were linked with Franz Schoenhuber and his Republican party in Germany.

"Schoenhuber did serve in the Waffen SS, but there are a million others like him in Germany. After the war, he ran the television network in Munich, served as a member of parliament and headed the Republican party. His first wife was a Jew. So he wasn't an anti-Semite. In any case, this party has disappeared. Schoenhuber retired and I have no connection with them."

Do you have any connection with the NPD [the neo-Nazi party in Germany]?

"No. I don't keep track of them or of their thinking and ideology."

In the confrontation between the German government and the NPD, whom do you support?

"I don't have any opinion, because I don't know what struggle we're talking about. I'm concerned only with France and its problems."

This struggle you say you know nothing about concerns outlawing the party.

"I am against such banning. Democracy is a framework for releasing natural tensions - whether social, political or economic. It wouldn't be wise to make martyrs out of people with such ideas."

You often talk about freedom of speech and expression. You even seem to be advocating unlimited freedom of speech. Where does the boundary lie?

"The struggle against certain ideas must be made by confronting them with other ideas."

Including the glorification of Hitler, or Stalin? Do you consider that acceptable?

"There are people who do this. They should be allowed to speak and they should be contended with. I do not see any danger of a conference being held in Paris where Hitler or Stalin supporters would gather. Today, there are Trotskyites and Islamists. They also must be allowed freedom of expression. If their expression is confined to words, it should not be restricted. However, no mercy should be shown toward underground terrorist activity."

Did the European Union err when it imposed sanctions on Haider's Freedom Party?

"Yes. The Austrians have a nationalist reflex and this did more to strengthen it than anything else."

So would you like the EU to impose sanctions on your party?

"I won't ask them to do so; their demonization of me is sufficient."

Did your experience in the European Parliament change your views on Europe and its process of unification?

"I insist that, even today, a nation should have the right to defend its identity, its security, its freedom and the welfare of its citizens. I do not agree that we ought to strip ourselves of our independence for the sake of a supranational organization, whose future character is not clear to me."

How do you feel about the EU's enlargement process?

"Now they're even talking about Turkey's entry into the EU, and I ask, `What does Asiatic Turkey have to do with Europe?' Having it join the EU is an American interest and not a European interest. As a rule, I support a `Europe of Nations.' In other words, a loose confederation of sovereign states with a common cultural denominator."

When you open your wallet today, you have to pay with euros. What does that do to you?

"It hurts. I call the euro `the currency of occupation'; it's the currency of the European Bank, of Frankfurt [seat of the European Bank]. It doesn't express anything for me. The franc, on the other hand, is bound to our national and historic identity. The loss of our monetary independence will lead to the loss of our budgetary independence, and then to our political independence as well."

You talk about "the currency of Frankfurt." Are you concerned about the developments in French-German relations?

"We mustn't delude ourselves. Europe is already `German.' Germany is the geopolitical center of Europe. It is the largest country on the continent, demographically and economically, and its influence will only grow after the Eastern European countries are added to the EU, since they are essentially the German hinterland."

Is the federalization of Europe a realistic possibility?

"I believe that is the direction in which we are heading. It is happening faster and faster. Now they're saying that, as we already have the euro, we should also establish a (European) government. And so we see people - like Chirac, who 10 years ago was an opponent of Europe - proposing that Europe should have an elected president, something that is of course contrary to the French constitution, of which he (Chirac) is supposed to be the defender."

In other words, you acknowledge that your camp, the nationalist camp, has been defeated on the matter of Europe?

"Certainly. It's abundantly clear that the patriotic camp lost and continues to lose. But this doesn't mean that it will always be this way."

Le Pen sees himself making it to the second round of the elections. That is what he says in public, at least. According to his rosy scenario, he will win 19 percent in the first round, surpassing Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (who will take 18 percent) and then, on May 5, run against Chirac (whom he predicts will get 22 percent in the first round). Most analysts are not ready to take this possibility seriously. Le Pen is too old, some say. He hasn't successfully reinvented himself, he's run out of steam - These are some of the explanations now being offered. Others, like Theo Klein for instance, warn that Le Pen is still "potentially" dangerous: "There are enough French people who wish to protest and find the National Front a convenient vehicle for expressing their protest. Keep in mind that at least 50 percent of the voters have yet to decide whom they're going to vote for."

Taguieff explains that any Le Pen success in the presidential elections would be especially dangerous because it would enable his party to take advantage of the momentum in the runup to the parliamentary elections scheduled for June.

Many believe that the current election campaign will be Le Pen's last. The National Front is considered a party without a political elite. Le Pen has always made sure to keep top members of his party from rising any higher; he has got rid of any charismatic and threatening figures, and anyone who seemed likely to emerge as his successor. For this reason, the prevailing assessment is that his retirement will spell the end of the National Front.

Le Pen begs to differ: "The cemeteries are full of indispensible people. My central position in the movement derives from the fact that I founded it and led it to important achievements. But when I am compelled to retire, someone else will replace me. When this happens, the press will probably publish a few long articles about my life, but three weeks later, no one will pay any attention to me, except perhaps my personal friends who will raise a toast on my birthday."


JEAN-MARIE Le Pen, 73, was born in the port city of Trinite-sur-Mer, in the Bretagne province, on June 20, 1928. When he was 14, his father, a fisherman, was killed when his ship hit a mine that had been planted by the Germans. In 1949, he was elected president of the radical right-wing student union at the University of Paris law school, where he got his degree. In 1954, he enlisted in the paratroops and was sent to serve in Indochina. In 1955, he was discharged and joined Pierre Poujade's populist movement. At age 28, Le Pen became the youngest member of parliament in France's history. He reenlisted in the army the same year, participated in the Suez campaign and was subsequently sent to Algeria.

In 1972, he founded the National Front. The first time he ran for president, in 1974, he got less than 1 percent of the vote. In 1988, his support leapt to 14.4 percent, and in 1995, it went up to 15.2 percent. He has also been a member of the European Parliament since 1984.

He is married to Jany (his second wife) and the father of three daughters from his first wife, Pierrette.

"I hope that at the end of this questionnaire, they won't put me before a firing squad," jokes Jean-Marie Le Pen, after he consents to "risk it" and play the association game.

The French Revolution - "A bloody calamity for the French people. This revolution spawned two dreadful bastards: Nazism and communism."

Socialism - "Today's socialist parties are bourgeois parties whose stance is the same as the declared stance of the centrist parties in the past. If that's the case, then why not socialism? Still, I am not a socialist."

The Church - "I don't visit it often enough. That's what my late mother would certainly think."

Racism - "I am not a racist. I do not understand the theory of the superiority of the races at all, but there is a difference between the races: Black is not white and white is not Japanese. That doesn't mean one race or another should be idealized."

Xenophobia - "I am not a xenophobe. I am a Francophile."

French culture - "I believe in it. I think that France fulfills a unique cultural role in the world and that the French language greatly enriches world culture."

European unification - "I am totally against it."

The death penalty - "I am in favor."

The skullcap - "The skullcap that Catholic priests wear? I don't have anything against the skullcap. It's a personal choice."

The Muslim veil - "It protects us from ugly women."

The Dreyfus Affair - "Dreyfus was exonerated and that concluded the affair. We should remember that among those who sided with Dreyfus at the time were people from the right, and that some from the left were among his opponents." Auschwitz - "A concentration camp that symbolizes the persecution of the Jews."

The gas chambers - "A method of extermination that also became a symbol of that persecution."

Israel - "An extraordinary challenge in the world history of a people that is trying to reconquer its homeland."

Zionism - "The movement that transformed the persistent aspiration of the Jewish people in exile into a practical theory, and realized it."

De Gaulle - "A controversial personality, but the figure of 20th-century French history."

A non-Christian president in France - "I am against it. I believe the president should belong to the religion and culture of the majority of the citizens."

Colonialism - "It had a positive influence on the development of the populations that were subject to its authority. Of course, one could argue at length about whether these populations are really happier in jeans and tennis shoes than running barefoot in the wild. I have no answer to that."

Zinadine Zidane (the French soccer star, who is a Muslim of Algerian background) - "A charming young man, a great player. Personally, I like him."

Anne Sinclair (the Jewish television star who sued Le Pen for calling her "a juicy kosher butcher," and won) - "My personal nemesis (He laughs). I never understood why she was persecuting me. I think she got me mixed up with someone else (more laughter). She always thought that I was the one using wordplay to make a joke at her expense. But it wasn't me, it was someone else."

Haider - "A brilliant opportunist who used his talents to appropriate Austrian nationalism, and thereby gained a big political achievement, without deriving any direct benefit from it."

Joan of Arc - "My favorite statesman (He uses the masculine formulation)."

Thatcher - "I admire her very much. `A real man,' like Golda Meir."

Collaborators with Hitler - "France was an occupied country. There were two kinds of collaborators: those who were forced by the Nazis to collaborate and those who viewed Hitler as the realization of anti-communist socialism. The latter were almost all leftists, by the way."

Mitterrand - "A talented statesman. He was no more of a socialist than I am, but he knew how to use the slogan of socialism for his own good, almost like Jacques Chirac."

George Bush - "A fellow who is lucky to have had a father."

Women - "I'm in favor."

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