The two frontrunners in the French presidential election are poles apart: one stands for identity and culture; the other for globalism and free movement
As Victor Hugo once proclaimed, we have not yet done with being French
Marine Le Pen, launching her presidential campaign in Lyon on 4 February
What keeps France united is the acceptance of the diversity of origins and destinies and the refusal of fatalism
From Revolution, Our Battle For France, by Emmanuel Macron
Marie-Solange Werners eyes glisten with pride as she recalls the tumultuous life and times of her grandfather Auguste, who fought for France in both the first and second world wars. He was an extraordinary patriot. He grew up in Alsace in territory that was contested, so he had to choose whether he fought for France or Germany. The Germans tried to enlist him, but he was a true Frenchman and put his life on the line for France. With a family history like that, how can I use my life for anything other than fighting for French values? How could I not be in the Front National?
Werner, a 55-year-old who has a small business, is an elected FN councillor in the historic Burgundy town of Sens. In a packed hall on the outskirts of town, she is not the only one buzzing on a surge of patriotic elation. Along with about 700 other FN supporters and some curious onlookers Werner is at Senss Salle des Ftes to listen to Marion Marchal-Le Pen, the partys MP for Vaucluse and niece of Marine Le Pen, the first FN presidential candidate to have a genuine chance of power.
Marion is so right to put France first, and patriotism first, says Werner. I have limitless admiration for Jean-Marie Le Pen [the founder of the FN]. But the women of the family can appeal to a broader audience in this election.
At 27, Marchal-Le Pen is already a political star. Beautiful and fervently Catholic, she has earned a reputation for remaining ideologically hardcore, even as her aunt has laboured to detoxify the FNs historic association with racism, antisemitism and far-right extremism. Around the hall, leaflets are scattered featuring a gentle soft-focus portrait of Marine, accompanied by a saccharine text which describes the rise of a female politician in a world of men; a mother and a sister. The genre is self-consciously Paris Match. But on a mild spring evening, dressed in a simple white shirt and blue jeans, her niece does not disappoint those looking for stronger stuff.
Marchal-Le Pens theme is the defence of a core Frenchness endangered by three principal antagonists Islam, globalism and the European Union. As evidence, she offers the reported words of a Muslim cleric, Marwan Muhammed, at a conference in the mosque of Orly, near Paris. Muhammed said: Who has the right to say that France, in 30 or 40 years time, will not be a Muslim country? Who has the right to say that?
We have the right! answers Marchal-Le Pen, as the overwhelmingly white audience chants a Front National favourite: On est chez nous. (We are at home.)
France is a country with Greco-Latin and Christian roots, she continues, to some of the loudest cheers of the evening. We will place this heritage in our constitution, and we will put an end to those eternal debates which lead to Christmas cribs being banned from town halls.
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