France | 02/16/2022

France 2022 February

Key developments

On the parliamentary scene, the race for the presidential elections (10th and 24th of April) continues, just as the fluctuations in the polls that go with it. Florian Philippot, leader of Les Patriotes and a front personality of the anti-covid pass movement is no longer a candidate. Nor is François Asselineau (Union Populaire Républicaine, UPR) who failed to collect the 500 support signatures needed to compete. During February, more Rassemblement National (RN) executives have left the party to join Éric Zemmour’s campaign, including Stéphane Ravier, the only Senator of the party, and Nicolas Bay, European MP, accused of communicating strategic information to the Zemmour campaign. Éric Zemmour furthermore happily reported to have spoken to a supportive Donald Trump on the phone on February 15th.

In the wake of the billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré acquiring more and more media in the last decade, therefore endangering the plurality of opinions and consequently the democratic debate, this article from ACRIMED, the critical observatory of media, reports on the normalisation and “mainstreamisation” of far-right themes in the public debate. The latest example might be when the candidate of the right-wing party (Les Républicains, LR) Valérie Pécresse, openly spoke about the existence of a “Great Replacement” at her political meeting in Paris on February 13, referring to the conspiracy theory popularised by the French author Renaud Camus, denouncing an alleged ongoing replacement of the white European peoples by non-white extra-European populations.

On the extra-parliamentary scene, February 6th saw its yearly commemorations. This date is symbolic for the far right for two reasons. First, because of the events of February 6th 1934, when right-wing and far-right anti-parliamentarian groups demonstrated in Paris against the new government, which had just dismissed the Paris Police Commissioner, known to be far right friendly. The demonstrations escalated and a dozen of people died, mainly demonstrators, and this event is often thought of as an attempt from fascists to overthrow the Republic, in a context of Mussolini and Hitler already in power in neighbouring countries. Second, on February 6th, but in 1945 this time, Robert Brasillach, antisemitic writer and journalist, was executed because of his collaboration with the Nazi regime. Far-right groups continue to commemorate “their” deaths on that date, through demonstrations and gatherings on Brasillach’s grave.

On another note, the foundation Polémia, headed by Jean-Yves le Gallou, held its yearly (since 2010) parodic event on February 7th of “Bobard d’Or” (Golden lies awards) supposedly denouncing “fake news” by mainstream media and the occasion to gather the far-right bourgeoisie in a Parisian theatre to feed their narrative of the alleged corruptness and unreliability of mainstream media, while promoting the need for their task of “re-information”.

Ukraine-Russia conflict

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken the Russia-friendly positions on the French far right. The Rassemblement National (RN) has historically supported closer relations with the Kremlin and high-executives of the party have regularly visited Russia and Marine Le Pen herself was officially welcomed by Vladimir Putin in 2017, before the presidential elections. The RN has moreover reportedly received loans from Russian oligarchs and banks both in 2014 and 2017 to finance the EU and presidential campaigns respectively. Journalist have highlighted the connection between the RN’s positive attitude towards the Russian annexing of Crimea in 2014, and the allowance of a loan a few months later – refuted by Marine Le Pen, who justified it by her inability to be granted a loan from French banks. Mediapart especially highlights the role of Konstantin Malofeev in the financing of the party, but this oligarch is also close to other far-right personalities in France and beyond, such as Philippe de Villiers.

Éric Zemmour has voiced a similar support to the Putin regime in the past, in line with a general fascination for the authoritarian and sovereignist leader among the far-right. Neither him nor Marine Le Pen believed in the accuracy of an imminent invasion, and, even more in the context of the 2022 presidential elections, were forced to operate a 180 degree turn on their positions from the first days of the attacks. Despite the strict condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the narrative remains one that portrays Putin as a victim of NATO’s expansion. As expressed by Éric Zemmour, Putin is the “only guilty one”, but not “the only responsible one”. Similarly, Paul Marie Couteaux, a former Front National (FN) executive and today in the closest circles of Éric Zemmour, affirmed that Putin was led to invade Ukraine by the humiliation caused by NATO, and that the war is primarily serving US interests.

Additionally, while Éric Zemmour strongly prefers to restrict Ukrainian immigration by supporting the direct neighbour countries, the RN is instrumentalising the crisis to give a more humanist image to the party: Louis Aliot, RN mayor of Perpignan, exemplifies the double standard discourse regarding refugees. He went to Lviv in person to welcomed refugees from Ukraine, and turned of course the event into a public relation campaign. Last August, the RN was rather busy with organising a petition against the welcoming of Afghan refugees.

On the extra-parliamentary far right, there is a dominant support to Ukraine among nationalist groups such as Luminis Paris, Bordeaux Nationalistes, Les Zouaves Paris, Les Braves, Lyon Populaire. They have organised collects of money and goods for Ukraine. However, the support is unsurprisingly channelled towards Ukrainian ultranationalist groups such as the Azov movement and regiment, known for its neo-Nazi ideology – an ongoing and underlying support since the start of the war in Dombass in 2014. The leader of Zouaves Paris, Marc de Cacqueray-Valmenier, had been to Ukraine in 2019 and met with Azov members. However, Streetpress had also reported in 2016 on the involvement of (at least) 23 French far-right activists who had joined the battleground on the pro-Russian separatist since 2014.

A group that stands out by its unequivocally pro-Russian position is Les Nationalistes and the rest of the bubble revolving around Yvan Benedetti. He has described Ukraine as “an artificial country”, supporting a re-organisation of the borders according to “historic realities”.

In short, despite various and contradictory positions at times, the war in Ukraine is instrumentalised to serve typical and historical far-right narratives, whether it is islamophobia targeting the Chechen troops sent by Putin, or antisemitism when portraying the war as yet another action of the Judaic world order/globalist elites trying to operate a “Great reset” to better fool and control people. Moreover, the admiration for the Ukrainian resistance also feeds hyper-masculinist and ultra-nationalist tropes of European territorial defence in front of an othered enemy. Additionally, the overwhelming support to welcome Ukrainians fleeing the war is of course to be celebrated. Yet is also shows a racist judging of who is “a good” refugee and who is not, as shown in the treatment of non-white people also fleeing the war in Ukraine, and more generally by the previous attitude to refugees fleeing the middle east or African countries, also at war.

Lastly, the support for support for Ukrainian troops and people has led to collaboration among far-right European groups. This is best exemplified by the Identitarians, who, at the initiative of Generation Identity Denmark, organised food and basic care products collection and brought it to Budapest, where they celebrated the cooperation from activists from France, Hungary, Germany and Denmark to help Ukrainian refugees who had arrived in the Hungarian capital.