FROM PAPON TO LE PEN
Douglas Johnson shows the link between Vichy and the Front National
Paris ON the morning of 3 April a large crowd had gathered at Bordeaux to hear the Assize Court's verdict on Maurice Papon, who had been charged with crimes against humanity for his role in the arrest and deportation of Jews during the years 1942 to 1944. On the same morning a much smaller crowd had gathered at Versailles to hear the tribunal's verdict on Jean- Marie Le Pen, who had been charged with assaulting a Socialist candidate at Mantes- la-Jolie during the 1997 general election campaign. Papon was given a ten-year sen- tence and deprived of his civic rights. Le Pen received a suspended prison sentence of three months and was deprived of his civic rights for two years. The former was, or at least should have been, relieved at this sentence. The latter was outraged by his. Both men are appealing.
The loss of civic rights for the 87-year- old Papon is not serious and, whatever happens to his appeal, the massive trial is over. But for Le Pen the matter is impor- tant. Loss of civic rights would mean that he would have to resign as a councillor for the Provence-Alpes Maritimes-Cotes d'Azur region and as a member of the European Parliament. Unless the appeal is rapidly successful he will not be able to head his Front National in next year's European elections. Already there is talk of Tapres Le Pen' and it is suggested that such a sentence passed on a man who will be 70 next June marks the end of his polit- ical career.
Inevitably, there are those who claim that both trials occurred as the result of conspiracy. The first public denunciation of Papon came most opportunely for Mit- terrand. It appeared just before the final ballot in the 1981 presidential election and was embarrassing for the then president, Giscard d'Estaing, because Papon was his budget minister. Having benefited from the revelation, Mitterrand then soft-ped- alled the affair with all his customary skill. He had had too many friends in Vichy to wish for public trials. Consequently, organ- isations which were political, Jewish and legal exercised pressure to bring Papon to trial, and on three occasions the Appeal Court modified the definition of crimes against humanity in order to achieve this.
Le Pen has vigorously asserted that the disproportionate decision taken against him at Versailles was inspired by his politi- cal enemies, who fear him, as well as many others whom he lumps together as the media, the freemasons, the Jewish organi- sations and the establishment in general. But he had earlier claimed to detect in his trial the perfume of what he ironically called 'the mini-trial of Maurice Papon'.
During the prosecution of the former Vichy official, it was proudly claimed that France was looking at its dark years so that everyone would know the shameful things that had happened, and it has been noted with satisfaction that over 80 per cent of the population followed at least some of the trial. But the premise is false. France has for many years been obsessed by Vichy. Countless books have been pub- lished; films, television, discussions, and national and local ceremonies have com- bined to create a constant awareness of defeat and liberation, occupation, resis- tance and collaboration. It is not surpris- ing that in the inevitable opinion poll 55 per cent of those asked replied that they had learned nothing from the Papon trial.
But the most remarkable coincidence is that' the regional elections, held on 15 March, only a short time before the antici- pated verdict on Papon, were a triumph for the Front National. Not only was its vote higher in some places than ever before, but, more significantly, there was a 7 took a gamble... ' movement by some elected councillors of the mainstream Right, such as the Gaullists, to join with the Front National, despite the directives from all of their respective leaders not to do so. In other words, the enforced isolation of the National Front for a time, at least, broke down.
The Front National had been ostracised because it was racist and anti-republican. That is, it was Vichyist. One had only to look at some of its candidates in the 1997 general election: Hubert Massol, president of the Petain-Verdun association; Eric Del- croix, author of a book denying the Holo- caust; Jean-Jacques Susini, one of the leaders of the Secret Army that had vio- lently opposed French withdrawal from Algeria and the author of an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate General de Gaulle. And there is much evidence to show that Le Pen himself has the anti-Semitism and the anti-Gaullism that were typical of Vichy. But one cannot believe that the French have become 'les nostalgiques de Vichy'. Where is the explanation?
Papon was not found guilty of being an active agent of the Holocaust. The Bor- deaux court believed that he did not know what happened to those who were deport- ed. The curiously hybrid sentence of ten years in prison (when others had asked for life and the official prosecutor had asked for 20 years) was given because he had arranged for the identification, rounding up and transport of the victims. And he had said, in his statement to the jury before they withdrew to consider their verdict, that to condemn him for this would be to condemn those who were today sending illegal immigrants home in official charter planes. It is a fact that those who protest against this have sometimes worn yellow stars in order to emphasise the comparison.
Vichy attributed the 1940 defeat to those whose natural allegiance was not to France: communists, freemasons and for- eign immigrants, especially those who were Jewish. In the eyes of the Front National today, France is suffering from two serious ills: unemployment and insecurity — both largely attributed to the millions of immi- grants.
Le Pen always calls the present majority `social-communiste'. At a recent meeting in Paris, members of the traditional Right, Christian organisations and the Front National, came together to publicise the recent Black Book of Communism. Alain Griotteray, Chiraquien mayor of Charen- ton, claimed that compared to the crimes of communism Papon looks like 'tin • petit garcon'. And who was responsible for the genocide in Rwanda in the presence of the French army?
Before the Papon trial it was simple to distinguish between those who were evil and those who were heroic. Now there is a third category of whom Papon was one: those who worked the system to their own advantage.