Marine Le Pen had her big Paris rally last night, at the Zénith. I planned to go but then hesitated, as I already know the Front National up close, having attended several of its events—Fête des BBR, marche de Jeanne d’Arc, meetings at the Salle Wagram—in the late ’90s-early ’00s and seen Jean-Marie Le Pen speak four times, not to mention most other major FN personalities present and past. One must see an FN event once—if one has a particular interest in French politics, of course—, but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. C’est toujours la même chose, le même discours, les mêmes antiennes… And I didn’t think I would be able to stomach listening to Marine LP’s haranguing the FN faithful with her abject demagoguery. I am not a fan of her or her party, to put it mildly. But I figured I should go anyway, as I’ve already covered the Mélenchon, Sarkozy, and Hollande rallies and should not miss this one. I’m glad I went. Voilà my photos.
Coming out of the metro.
I missed this one. Wasn’t even aware it had happened. Had I been aware, I still would have missed it.
Arriving at the Zénith, toward 7:30 PM. Last time I was here was in 1996, to hear Cheb Mami in concert. I’ll take Cheb Mami over Marine Le Pen any day (his music over her politics). My teen daughter came here last fall for her very first concert. Wiz Khalifa. I had never heard of him. Now I have. No comment.
The faithful arrive.
Security was very strict. Airport-like. I had to remove everything metallic, belt included, until the metal detector stopped beeping. And my backpack was thoroughly examined. A contrast with security at the Sarko rally on Sunday, where the detectors were permanently beeping but the control was perfunctory.
The event was supposed to begin at 8 PM but was already underway when I entered the arena. The speaker: Paul-Marie Coûteaux. He’s a militant souverainiste and orthodox Gaullist—a true believer—, a compagnon de route of Pasqua and de Villiers in the ’90s, supported Chevènement’s candidacy in 2002, was a founding member of ATTAC, ended up with Marine LP when she took the helm of the FN. He’s not an FN member (so far as I know). For Coûteaux, France and la nation take precedence over left and right. He’ll frequent anyone and any group that is anti-European Union.
Coûteaux’s speech was militant but professorial in tone. Almost literary. He’s an énarque and an intellectual. Not dumb. One either shares his world-view or one doesn’t (I don’t and can’t, and not only because I’m not native born French; I loathe nationalism of any variety and from anywhere). Needless to say, absolutely everyone here (journalists apart) shares his world-view 100%. He attacked “la marchandisation et l’américanisation du monde.” Coûteaux, as with all souverainistes right and left, does not care for America. Other targets: the dictatorship of finance and “la droite et la gauche des bobos” (big applause), and immigrants “qui ne connaissent rien de la France” (thunderous applause). La Nation, la Nation et rien que la Nation…
The arena was packed. Seating capacity of the Zénith is 6,300. This was Marine LP’s biggest rally of the campaign. A far cry from the multitudes at Mélenchon’s open air rallies, or Hollande’s and Sarkozy’s events last Sunday. The FN has never been able to turn out really big crowds. Those who come to its events—the militants and active sympathizers—are a small subset of the FN’s larger electorate, which has a relatively low educational level, tends to be unpoliticized, and could vote for other candidates and parties depending on the circumstances. The FN remains what it has been for the past thirty years: a relatively small party surfing on a huge wave of popular discontent, alienation from the system, and anger toward the political class of both left and right.
FN militants have historically not liked journalists. Journalists used to be insulted at FN events and made to feel unwelcome. No more.
Next speaker: Gilbert Collard, the very high media profile lawyer and president of Marine LP’s comité de soutien. He’s been all over the place politically, supporting Mitterrand in the ’80s, flirting with Lambertiste Trotskyists for a brief moment, before lurching to the right, then to the center, back to the right, and then the hard right, before landing with Marine. Anyone who has regularly watched the TV news in France over the past two decades has seen Gilbert Collard countless times. He’s been an effective spokesman for Marine: well-spoken, no dummy, and not a facho.
The crowd at the Zénith liked his beating up on the right and left, and particularly Sarkozy. Much more dumping on Sarkozy last night than on Hollande, BTW. He gave a good speech (the form, not substance bien entendu)
Reporting live for the TF1 evening news.
Looks like they came straight from the office.
Getting ready for Marine’s entry. The big screen is showing a fast sail boat on the high sea (marine, get it?).
Everyone is on their feet. Screaming, cheering, stomping.
Et voilà !
It’s 8:20 PM.
Unfortunately a lot of my photos were blurry. Don’t know how that happened. This young man’s jacket reads “Fier d’être Français et catholique.”
Wearing a beret. A real BBR.
As I was holding my camera throughout I couldn’t take notes on what she was saying, which is too bad. Lots of good lines. The FN world-view from A to Z.
Lots of trashing Sarkozy (loud boos), a little less for Hollande (boos), an occasional dig at Bayrou (grumbling), and the well-timed jab at Mélenchon (very loud boos). Mélenchon has gotten under the FN’s skin. They really don’t like him. He’s a street brawler like Marine’s père, which they’re not used to from the left.
One reason to attend an FN event is to look at the people and talk with a few. There is a long held, widespread view on the left that FN rallies are frequented mainly by neo-Nazi skinheads or other lowlifes and that one risks physical aggression, if not worse. Lefties seem to think that the FN is a French version of the Ku Klux Klan. Even yesterday, before going, an academic friend (and centrist in her political views) wondered if I would have problems taking photos, that I would be met with hostility. But what strikes one almost immediately at an FN event is how ordinary the people are. They’re just regular French people—des Français moyens—, who one crosses on the street and encounters every day. And they’re no less polite or civil than anyone else. They’re mostly middle class, petit bourgeois and even bourgeois. They are utterly non-threatening.
French politicians don’t use teleprompters. There may be one on the lectern here, as she’s periodically looking down. She’s not skipping a beat.
She’s giving a very good speech, I’ll hand her that.
They’re often on their feet.
She’s giving particular attention to Europe—as in the EU—, globalization, the domination of finance, and all the other malevolent forces from the outside that are bringing about France’s ruin.
On dirait qu’elles sont françaises et qu’elles aiment la France…
He looks kind of Muslim to me (as Sarkozy would say)… BTW, there are always persons “of color” at FN events. No problem for the frontistes, as if they’re there it’s ’cause they must like the FN (and a few persons “of color” indeed do).
Marine must have gotten in a good blow against Sarkozy here. Or the left. Or against Europe. Or against immigration. Or against something they don’t like. The list of FN demons is long.
In America they’d be Rush Limbaugh ditto heads.
She embarked on a defense of les services publics, the Sécu, the SMIC and other pillars of the French social model. And she attacked ultra-libéralisme. This is totally new for the FN, a Marine innovation. The FN of Le Pen père never engaged in such neo-gauchiste discourse. But she did take pains to defend liberté (such as the FN has traditionally understood it; and which the FN’s US counterparts would too).
Saving the pièce de résistance for the last, she launched into the subject of immigration. The FN’s bread and butter. She declared that “Nous ne sommes pas xénophobe ! Nous ne sommes pas raciste ! Nous sommes profondement francophile !” The arena goes wild. Frontistes get all worked up when they’re accused of being racist, just as Tea Party GOPers bridle when accused of the like (as an explanation of their hatred of Obama). It’s a complex subject. Certainly some are—both FN and GOP—but more are not. If a French citizen of Muslim Maghrebi or black African/Antillian origin shows up at the FN and says “J’aime la France et je soutiens le Front National,” s/he will be welcomed with open arms. Likewise with Afro-Americans on the GOP right-wing (e.g. Herman Cain, J.C. Watts).
Marine mentions the “le franco-algérien Mohamed Merah” and how we don’t want people like that in France. The arena is delirious. They’re chanting: “On est chez nous ! On est chez nous !”
She’s been talking for almost 1 hour 20 minutes.
Ça y est ! The outstretched arms, just like her father. Comme père, comme fille….
She’s done. Youngsters rush on stage.
Everyone in the arena is on their feet.
♪♫ Allons, enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé ! ♪♫
♫♪ Contre nous de la tyrannie, l’étendard sanglant est levé ♫♪
♪ ♫ L’étendard sanglant est levé, entendez-vous dans les campagnes mugir ces féroces soldats ? ♫♪
♪ ♫ Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras égorger vos fils, vos compagnes ! ♪ ♫
♫ ♪ AUX ARMES, CITOYENS ! FORMEZ VOS BATAILLONS ! ♪ ♫
♫ ♪ Marchons, marchons ! Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons ! ♪♫
Greatest national anthem in the world! Hands down.
Confetti. À l’américaine…
La jeune génération. Lots of young people here. They look like kids at my daughter’s high school. I need to learn more about them and what motivates their political convictions.
Overheard by several on the way out: “Superbe” “Elle était excellente”… And it’s true. She gave a very good, indeed excellent speech. On form, not substance bien entendu.
Comme père, comme fille… Mais elle est un brin moins antipathique…
Heading for la sortie.
Outside. They were thrilled. As I’ve said, this is the French Tea Party. For more on the US comparison, see my post from last November on Le Pen and America.
Frontistes may be for France first but this young man seems to have been around.
It’s 10 PM.
Back in France, la France mondialisée, pour le meilleur et pour le pire...
Gotta go home.