France to ban far-right group after deadly street fight
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After 19-year-old left-wing activist Clément Méric died in a clash with ultra-right militants, France has vowed to ban the group linked to the killing. France24.com takes a look at why France is taking this action, and how it can be implemented.
France will shut down a far-right youth group after a leftist student was killed in Paris last week, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Saturday.
The death of 19-year-old Clément Méric in a street fight between ultra-right and far-left youths on Wednesday, June 5 came on the heels of several months of violence from extreme right activists in reaction to France’s legalisation of same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples.
The group to be dissolved, the Revolutionary Nationalist Youths, is the militant wing of a broader far-right movement called the “Third Way”.
“I have asked [Interior Minister Manuel Valls] to immediately begin the procedure...to proclaim the dissolution of the Revolutionary Nationalist Youths,” Ayrault said in a statement.
Though the group’s leader, Serge Ayoub, questioned by the police, has denied any links to Méric’s death, at least one of the suspects in the fatal beating has admitted to being a member of the “Third Way” movement.
Meanwhile, Ayrault added that the government was looking into whether other far-right groups could also be dissolved, and vowed to “cut into pieces” neo-Nazi and fascist groups in France.
Crackdown on fringe groups has roots in French history
Dissolving a group essentially consists of the government saying “you have no right to demonstrate in the streets, no right to publish anything, and no right to engage in any kind of political activity”, explained Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist specialised in European far-right movements at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) in Paris.
In a first step toward the ban, French authorities cancelled a far-right demonstration scheduled for Saturday night in the southern city of Toulouse.
France, along with several other European countries, have banned fringe political groups in the past (such as the far-left Action Directe in 1982) – unlike countries like the United States, where even ever-dwindling numbers of white supremacist Ku Klux Klan members still occasionally emerge for a constitutionally protected public rally.
“We in Europe had an experience with fascism and National Socialism in the 1930s, which America never had,” Camus noted. “There were many groups in France, Belgium, and even the UK that were funded by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, aimed at establishing dictatorship in our countries.”
Consequently, Camus said, “we decided to have legislation [voted in 1936 and amended several times since] to allow a state ban any movement that could aim to overthrow the legal government”.
The Revolutionary Nationalist Youths, founded in 1987, only has approximately 30 members, according to right-leaning French daily newspaper Le Figaro. Those members, the publication reports, are typically muscularly built skinheads around 40 years of age, who dress in black clothing and often have tattoos.
‘If they want to go underground, they will’
Though the French ban on the group will severely curtail, if not completely eliminate, the group’s public activity, nothing can prevent them continuing to meet in private.
“If they want to go underground, they will,” Camus said, though he was careful to add: “But if they try to establish another movement under another name, for example, they will go to jail.
According to Camus, given the group’s small size, the French government’s dissolution of the Revolutionary Nationalist Youths will probably mean “the end of this particular group”.
But, he warned, “there are still many other groups, probably around 15 to 20 of them, which are as violent, radical, racist or anti-Semitic, if not more”.
“France can’t dissolve those groups, because it’s a democratic state and needs to have solid legal ground in order to do so,” Camus explained. “That means the groups need to be inciting ethnic, religious, or racial hatred in a very serious way -- through physical violence, for example – or seek to overthrow the government. France can’t dissolve a group preventively, as Germany can because of the very specific German history with these types of movements.”
Links with Marine Le Pen?
The Revolutionary Nationalist Youths have no official ties with France’s far-right National Front party, though the group’s leaders generally urge its supporters to vote for the party in local and national elections.
The National Front, for its part, has distanced itself from the Méric killing, qualifying it as “appalling”.
Still, there have been suspicions of links between Marine Le Pen and Revolutionary National Youths leader Ayoub. According to a book published by two journalists from centre-left French daily Le Monde, the two dined together in Paris as recently as the summer of 2010.
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