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France

Government seeks to turn page after ‘Nazi’ jibe

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-02-08

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant (pictured) has been accused of reviving Nazi ideology by saying some civilisations are more equal than others. The government is hoping the dust will settle quickly.

The French government was desperately trying to turn the page Wednesday after an opposition lawmaker accused Interior Minister Claude Gueant of flirting with Nazi ideology.

On Tuesday, members of the centre-right ruling UMP party stormed out of the National Assembly after Serge Letchimy, Member of Parliament for French Caribbean territory Martinique, accused Gueant of pandering to voters “nostalgic” for the far-right politics of the mid-20th century.

Letchimy was referring to a speech made by Gueant to right-wing students at the weekend, in which he said: “Not all civilisations are equal. Those which defend liberty, equality, and fraternity seem to us superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred.”

“We need to protect our civilisation,” added the interior minister, whose hard-line stance on immigration has prompted accusations that the ruling UMP party has pulled out all the stops to attract voters who have drifted over to the far-right National Front.

Letchimy challenged Gueant on Tuesday in the National Assembly: "You … bring us back day after day to those European ideologies which gave birth to the concentration camps. Mr. Gueant, the Nazi regime, which was so worried about purity, was that a civilization?

“You are trying to woo those obscure elements of French society that are still nostalgic for that bygone era. It’s a dangerous game.”

Far-right magnet

Gueant is no stranger to controversy. In March 2011 he told left-leaning daily Le Monde that the “flow of immigrants into the country had left French people feeling that they were no longer living in their own country.”

He also accused (Islamic) religious leaders of fanning the flames of racial prejudice in secular France by holding prayer meetings in the streets of Paris.

And throughout 2011 Gueant intensified restrictions on immigration, including barring foreign students graduating in France from being eligible to work in the country.

Gueant wrote to the French Council of the Muslim Religion this week explaining that he was not singling out Islamic cultures or the Muslim faith in his comments.

But his record has left him open to accusations that he is the party’s unofficial magnet for voters who may otherwise be leaning towards the National Front in the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections.

Do both sides benefit?

On the surface, this is uncomfortable territory for the UMP. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Francois Baroin said it was “a matter of urgency” that the political discourse move away from the issue, while claiming that Gueant’s statement’s had been “exploited” by the opposition.

“This has been going on for three days now,” he told RTL radio. “This is a free country and everyone is entitled to their opinions. What Gueant said has been largely exploited and what happened in the National Assembly yesterday was appalling.”

When asked if he thought Gueant needed to be told that his comments were unacceptable, he replied: “We have an election coming up, and he expressed his opinion. Now he’s being made the victim of a witch hunt. That’s what is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Francois Bayrou, presidential candidate for the centrist MoDem party, said the debate and the divisions Gueant's comments had caused had, in fact, served both parties well.

“Talking about Nazis and concentration camps … in the wake of Gueant’s extremely insulting comments … is purely and simply unacceptable,” he told TFI television.

“But I think both the Socialists and the UMP will be delighted that they had this run-in,” he said. “Both parties are finally able to separate their positions [...]  into two distinct camps, something they were always hoping to achieve.”
 

Date created : 2012-02-08

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