The tiny French village of Guindrecourt-sur-Blaise, population 45, gave the National Front its biggest score in regional elections on Sunday. FRANCE 24 went to find out why all but three voters chose the far right.
Pascal Demerson, the mayor of this sleepy village located some 250 kilometres east of Paris, is hardly accustomed to the glare of the media.
“Another journalist! We’ve never had this many!” he jokes as a third car pulls up in front of the local church. “For once, people are coming to see me, and not General de Gaulle!”
Sunday’s first round of regional elections, which saw the far right triumph across France, has placed Demerson’s commune on the political map – and momentarily eclipsed the nearby village of Colombey-les-deux-Eglises, where the French wartime hero is buried.
All but three of the hamlet’s 21 voters backed far-right candidate Florian Philippot, giving Marine Le Pen’s National Front a whopping 90% share of the vote – its highest score nationwide.
Guindrecourt is part of the so-called Grand-Est region, which stretches from the French capital’s easternmost suburbs to the German border, and includes the cities of Strasbourg and Metz.
Philippot, one of Le Pen’s closest aides, picked up 35% of the regional vote. With the third-placed Socialist candidate refusing to pull out of the race, the FN is now favoured to take the coveted region in next Sunday’s run-off.
Nothing to hide
The far right’s stunning result in Guindrecourt is not exactly a surprise. At the last presidential election in 2012, 60% of first-round voters backed Le Pen. Among them was 34-year-old Fanny Misa, a local municipal councillor, soon to be a mother of two. She insists hers is not a protest vote.
“I’ve been voting FN for years and I don’t hide it,” she says. “I want politicians to help French people, that’s all. It’s already hard enough for us, but what about our children? I’m scared for them. Scared they won’t find jobs. Scared they won’t manage to make ends meet.”
Last year, the Haut-Marne department around Guindrecourt was the only French territory to see a slight dip in the unemployment rate. But at 9.7% it remains a blight on local businesses and households.
Here as elsewhere, people blame the economic crisis on mainstream parties from left and right, which have alternated in power for decades but have failed to stem France’s job haemorrhage.
FN voters commonly say they feel abandoned by the political mainstream, whether President François Hollande’s ruling Socialists or the conservative opposition led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. That feeling is palpable in Guindrecourt, where only the FN candidate bothered to show up during the campaign.
“Philippot is the only one who put a poster up. The others, nothing!” blasts Demerson. “Can you imagine the kind of message that sends to voters? It’s not because we’re small that our votes don’t count.”
While polling stations across France are covered in ubiquitous election posters, the designated spaces in Guindrecourt are indeed desperately barren – with the exception of FN manifestoes.
“When you want people to vote for you, the least you can do is go out and meet them,” says Demerson. “I swear that if other candidates – whether right-wing or left-wing – had put up posters or talked to us, I would have considered voting for them.”
This sense of neglect is typical of France’s semi-urbanised rural areas, where vulnerable populations have flocked to the far right.
“Our villages are emptying and our shops are closing,” says Guindrecourt’s mayor, who works at a nearby smelter. He rails against a form of “social injustice” routinely denounced by Marine Le Pen’s party.
“I earn little more than the minimum wage for working at the factory, whereas others prey on state benefits,” he seethes. “It’s crazy what you hear on TV these days. It’s as if the jobless were more pampered than those who actually deserve it.”
His wife, a part-time worker and mother of five, is even more scathing: “Here, we don’t like people who don’t work and then go and buy flat-screen TVs with their benefits.”
‘It’s not as if they brandished swastikas’
With few exceptions, the people of Guindrecourt avoided mentioning immigration, terrorism and security – the FN’s favourite topics on the campaign trail.
“They’re banning pork from school canteens, and I don’t like this,” lamented a woman in one such outburst. When a neighbour asked whether her children were concerned, she replied: “No, but I hear they’re doing it elsewhere and I don’t want it to happen here.”
There was an awkward silence when the mayor chaffed: “Migrants, here? They’d be welcomed with gunshots!”
The National Front has long argued that France already has too many immigrants – particularly Muslims – and can take no more. More recently, it has railed against a decision to welcome Syrian refugees, arguing that this would let Islamist terrorists into the country.
When gunmen slaughtered 130 people in coordinated attacks on Paris cafes, a nightclub and the national stadium on November 13, the FN claimed it had been vindicated.
Surveys suggest fear of terrorism fuelled the party’s election success on Sunday, particularly in remote areas that have few immigrants and are least threatened by the Islamic State group.
It is not a view shared by one 87-year-old voter, who did not wish to be named, and for whom the Paris attacks had no bearing on the election in Guindrecourt.
“We have other preoccupations here, such as ensuring young people find work in the area,” she says. Regarding the plight of refugees, she would rather “we looked after our farmers, who toil all their lives for a puny pension.”
Another voter, who works for a local energy company, chose to back Le Pen’s party for its defence of “French values”.
He says this has nothing to do with racism: “We’re not voting FN to rid France of Muslims. People have to stop fearing this party. It’s not as if they brandished swastikas.”
Date created : 2015-12-08