Interior Minister Hortefeux in court for allegedly racist remarks

A French anti-racist organisation has accused Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux of “public defamation of a racist nature,” for remarks he made at last year’s summer conference of the ruling UMP party. His trial starts Friday.


French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux created an enormous stir last September when he was caught on film saying what would become an oft-quoted phrase: “When there’s one, that’s fine. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems” (a video snapshot of which is caught in our photograph above). At the time he was attending the ruling UMP party’s summer conference in the town of Seignosse on the southwest coast of France.

The French anti-racist organisation Movement against Racism and for the Amity between Peoples (French acronym: Mrap) brought him to court for “public defamation of a racist nature,” and the trial starts Friday at the Paris correctional court.
Exactly who or what Hortefeux’s remark was referring to remains a matter of controversy, but since he made the statement while posing for a photo with Amine Brouch-Benalia, a young UMP supporter of Algerian descent, many concluded he was referring to North Africans.

Hortefeux faces up to a year in prison and 45,000 euros in fines if he is found guilty. Mrap lawyer Pierre Mairat said in an interview with the French news publication the Nouvel Observateur in September that the Hortefeux case was, “uniquely about a symbolic condemnation.” The lawyer is expected to make the case to the court that it should consider “circonstances aggravantes” – in other words, that Hortefeux’s governmental position makes him subject to even sterner judgment. Hortefeux himself is not expected to attend, and he did not call upon other parties to give testimony in his defence. The judgment is expected in several weeks.

He meant Auvergnats, not Muslims

The incident in question was captured by a camera crew of the state-owned political television network, LCP, which covers parliamentary events. It was, the web site companion to the French daily, that first aired the video on September 10, 2010. The public outcry that ensued was instant, and Hortefeux found himself having to give an explanation.

He has maintained that his remark made “no reference to any ethnicity, be it North African, Arab, African, or otherwise.” In fact, he said he was referring to inhabitants of the French department of the Auvergne – since the young UMP supporter was from that region.

Speaking before the Muslim Council on September 14 of last year, he expressed his “regrets,” although adding that the whole “controversy” was “useless and unjust.”

Since September, Hortefeux’s actions and subsequent attempts to clear his name have become fodder for countless parodies. One web side, “Bricetoutpuissant,” (Brice Almighty), has gone so far as to make a kind of online game of filling in the blank: “When there is one ___ , that’s fine. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” Readers are invited to type in suggestions as to how to complete the sentence, eg “When there is one Pope who protects paedophiles, that’s fine…”

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