Jean-Marie Le Pen
|Jean-Marie Le Pen|
|President of the National Front|
5 October 1972 – 15 January 2011
|Preceded by||position established|
|Succeeded by||Marine Le Pen|
|Member of the European Parliament|
Assumed office |
10 June 2004
24 June 1984 – 10 April 2003
|Member of the French National Assembly|
2 April 1986 – 14 May 1988
19 January 1956 – 9 October 1962
|Constituency||3rd district of the Seine|
21 March 2010 – 13 December 2015
22 March 1992 – 24 February 2000
16 March 1986 – 22 March 1992
13 March 1983 – 19 March 1989
|Constituency||20th arrondissement of Paris|
20 June 1928|
La Trinité-sur-Mer, Brittany, France
National Front (1972–2015)|
Pierrette Lalanne (1960–1987) |
Marine Le Pen (daughter)|
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (granddaughter)
Cross for Military Valour|
|Years of service||
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
First Indochina War|
His progression in the late 1980s is known as the "Lepénisation des esprits" or lepénisation of spirits due to its noticeable effect on mainstream political opinion. Le Pen focuses on issues related to immigration to France, the European Union, traditional culture and values, law and order and France's high rate of unemployment. He advocates immigration restrictions, the death penalty, raising incentives for homemakers, and euroscepticism. His controversial speeches and his integration into public life have made him a figure who polarizes opinion, considered as the "Devil of the Republic" among his opponents or as the "last samurai in politics" among his supporters.
His progress to the second round in the 21 April 2002 presidential election left its mark on French public life, and the "21st of April" is now a frequently used expression in France. His longevity in politics and his five attempts to become president of France have made him a major figure in French political life. He was expelled from the party by his daughter Marine Le Pen on 20 August 2015 after new controversial statements and found himself marginalized in the French political landscape.
Childhood and schooling
Jean-Marie Le Pen was born on 20 June 1928 in La Trinité-sur-Mer, a small seaside village in Brittany, the son of Anne Marie Hervé and Jean Le Pen, a fisherman. He was orphaned as an adolescent (pupille de la nation, brought up by the state), when his father's boat was blown up by a mine in 1942. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and studied at the Jesuit high school François Xavier in Vannes, then at the lycée of Lorient.
In November 1944, aged 16, he was turned down (because of his age) by Colonel Henri de La Vaissière (then representative of the Communist Youth) when he attempted to join the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). He then entered the faculty of law in Paris, and started to sell the monarchist Action Française's newspaper, "Aspects de la France", in the street. He was repeatedly convicted of assault (coups et blessures). Le Pen started his political career as the head of the student union in Toulouse. He became president of the Association corporative des étudiants en droit, an association of law students whose main occupation was to engage in street brawls against the "Cocos" (communists). He was excluded from this organisation in 1951.
After his time in the military, he studied political science and law at Panthéon-Assas University. His graduate thesis, submitted in 1971 by him and Jean-Loup Vincent, was titled Le courant anarchiste en France depuis 1945 or "The anarchist movement in France since 1945".
After receiving his law diploma, he enlisted in the army in the Foreign Legion. He arrived in Indochina after the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, which had been lost by France and which prompted prime minister Pierre Mendès France to put an end to the war at the Geneva Conference. Le Pen was then sent to Suez in 1956, but arrived only after the cease-fire. In 1953, a year before the beginning of the Algerian War, he contacted President Vincent Auriol, who approved Le Pen's proposed volunteer disaster relief project after a flood in the Netherlands. Within two days, there were 40 volunteers from his university, a group that would later help victims of an earthquake in Italy. In Paris in 1956, he was elected to the National Assembly as a member of Pierre Poujade's UDCA populist party. Le Pen, 28 years old, was the youngest member of the Assembly.
In 1957, he became the General Secretary of the National Front of Combatants, a veterans' organization, as well as the first French politician to nominate a Muslim candidate, Ahmed Djebbour, an Algerian, elected in 1957 as deputy of Paris. The next year, following his break with Poujade, Le Pen was reelected to the National Assembly as a member of the Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans (CNIP) party, led by Antoine Pinay.
Le Pen claimed that he had lost his left eye when he was savagely beaten during the 1958 election campaign. Testimonies suggest however that he was only wounded in the right eye and did not lose it. He lost the sight in his left eye years later, due to an illness. (Popular belief that he wears a glass eye is unfounded.) During the 1950s, Le Pen took a close interest in the Algerian War (1954–62) and the French defence budget.
Elected deputy of the French Parliament under the Poujadist banner, Le Pen voluntarily reengaged himself for two to three months in the French Foreign Legion. He was then sent to Algeria (1957) as an intelligence officer. He has been accused of having engaged in torture. Le Pen has denied these accusations, although he admitted knowing of its use.
Le Pen directed the 1965 presidential campaign of far-right candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, who obtained 5.19% of the votes. He insisted on the rehabilitation of the Collaborationists, declaring that:
"Was General de Gaulle more brave than Marshal Pétain in the occupied zone? This isn't sure. It was much easier to resist in London than to resist in France."
In 1962, Le Pen lost his seat at the Assembly. He created the Serp (Société d’études et de relations publiques) firm, a company involved in the music industry, which produced both chorals of the CGT trade-union and songs of the Popular Front and Nazi marches. The firm was condemned in 1968 for "praise of war crime and complicity" after the diffusion of songs from the Third Reich.
In 1972, Le Pen founded the Front National (FN) party, along with former OAS member Jacques Bompard, former Collaborationist Roland Gaucher and others nostalgics of Vichy France, neo-Nazi pagans, Traditionalist Catholics, and others. Le Pen presented himself for the first time in the 1974 presidential election, obtaining 0.74% of the vote. In 1976, his Parisian flat was dynamited (he lived at that time in his castle of Montretout in Saint-Cloud). The crime was never solved. Le Pen then failed to obtain the 500 signatures from "grand electors" (grands électeurs, mayors, etc.) necessary to present himself in the 1981 presidential election, won by the candidate of the Socialist Party (PS), François Mitterrand.
Criticizing immigration and taking advantage of the economic crisis striking France and the world since the 1973 oil crisis, Le Pen's party managed to increase its support in the 1980s, starting in the municipal elections of 1983. His popularity has been greatest in the south of France. The FN obtained 10% in the 1984 European elections. A total of 34 FN deputies entered the Assembly after the 1986 elections (the only legislative elections held under proportional representation), which were won by the right wing, bringing Jacques Chirac to Matignon in the first cohabitation government (that is, the combination of a right-wing Prime minister, Chirac, with a socialist President, Mitterrand).
In 1984, Le Pen won a seat in the European Parliament and has been constantly reelected since then. In 1988 he lost his reelection bid for the French National Assembly in the Bouches-du-Rhône's 8th constituency. He was defeated in the second round by Socialist Marius Masse. In 1991 Le Pen's invite to London by Conservative MP's was militantly protested by large numbers coordinated by the Campaign Against Fascism in Europe, CAFE, which led to a surge of anti-fascist groups and activity across Europe. In 1992 and 1998 he was elected to the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur.
Le Pen ran in the French presidential elections in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2007. As noted above, he was not able to run for office in 1981, having failed to gather the necessary 500 signatures of elected officials. In the presidential elections of 2002, Le Pen obtained 16.86% of the votes in the first round of voting. This was enough to qualify him for the second round, as a result of the poor showing by the PS candidate and incumbent prime minister Lionel Jospin and the scattering of votes among 15 other candidates. This was a major political event, both nationally and internationally, as it was the first time someone with such far right views had qualified for the second round of the French presidential elections. There was a widespread stirring of national public opinion as virtually the entire French political spectrum from the centre-right to the left united in fierce opposition to Le Pen's ideas. More than one million people in France took part in street rallies; slogans such as "vote for the crook, not the fascist" were heard in opposition to Le Pen. Le Pen was then defeated by a large margin in the second round, when incumbent president Jacques Chirac obtained 82% of the votes, thus securing the biggest majority in the history of the Fifth Republic.
In the 2004 regional elections, Le Pen intended to run for office in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region but was prevented from doing so because he did not meet the conditions for being a voter in that region: he neither lived there nor was registered as a taxpayer there. However, he was planned to be the FN's top candidate in the region for the 2010 regional elections.
Le Pen again ran in the 2007 French presidential election and finished fourth. His 2007 campaign, at the age of 78 years and 9 months, makes him the oldest candidate for presidential office in French history.
After he left office in January 2011, his daughter Marine Le Pen was elected by the adherents of the party against Bruno Gollnisch. He became honorary chairman of the party and won his seat again at the European elections in 2014.
On 4 May 2015, he was suspended from the party. This came after he refused to attend his disciplinary hearing at the party for describing the gas chambers used in concentration camps during the Holocaust as a "detail" of history. But Jean-Marie Le Pen won two legal cases: the first one decided in June to cancel this dismissal of membership and the second one decided in July to stop voting operation. On 10 July 2015, the members of his party were to vote to accept or reject a whole series of measures aiming at changing the National Front's status including the Honorary Presidency of Jean-Marie Le Pen. But on 8 July 2015, another French court ruled to suspend the vote and urged the party to organize a Congress in presence of its members as Jean Marie Le Pen sued the National Front again. The party decided to appeal against both of these decisions. Although a French court decided to suspend the vote of its members, the FN decided, on 29 July 2015, to count the votes on the suppression of his Honorary Presidency, which showed that 94% of the members were in favor of this decision.
Personal life, wealth and security
His marriage (29 June 1960 – 18 March 1987) to Pierrette Lalanne resulted in three daughters; these daughters have given him nine granddaughters. The break-up of the marriage was somewhat dramatic, with his ex-wife posing nude in the French edition of Playboy to ridicule him. Marie-Caroline, another of his daughters, also broke with Le Pen, following her husband to join Bruno Mégret, who split from the FN to found MNR, the rival Mouvement National Républicain (National Republican Movement). The youngest of Le Pen's daughters, Marine Le Pen, is leader of the Front National. On 31 May 1991, Jean-Marie Le Pen married Jeanne-Marie Paschos ("Jany"), of Greek descent. Born in 1933, Paschos was previously married to Belgian businessman Jean Garnier.
In 1977, Le Pen inherited a fortune from Hubert Lambert (1934-1976), son of the cement industrialist Leon Lambert (1877-1952), one of three sons of Lambert Cement founder Hilaire Lambert. Hubert Lambert was a political supporter of Le Pen, as well as being a monarchist. Lambert's will provided 30 million francs (approximatively 5 million euros) to Le Pen, as well as his opulent three-storey 11-room mansion at 8 Parc de Montretout, Saint-Cloud (the home had been built by Napoleon III for his chief of staff Jean-Francois Mocquard. With his wife, he also owns a two-story townhouse on the Rue Hortense in Rueil-Malmaison and another house in his hometown of La Trinité-sur-Mer.
In the early 1980s, Le Pen's personal security was assured by KO International Company, a subsidiary of VHP Security, a private security firm, and an alleged front organisation for SAC, the Service d'Action Civique (Civic Action Service), a Gaullist organisation. SAC allegedly employed figures with organized crime backgrounds and from the far-right movement.
National Assembly of France
- Member of the National Assembly of France for Paris: 1956–1962 / 1986–1988. Elected in 1956, reelected in 1958, 1986.
- President of the group of National Front (France): 1986–1988.
- Municipal councillor for the 20th arrondissement of Paris: 1983–1989.
- Member of European Parliament: 1984–2003 (Sentenced by the courts in 2003) / Since 2004. Elected in 1984, reelected in 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009.
- Regional councillor of Île-de-France : 1986–1992.
- Regional councillor of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur: 1992–2000 (sentenced by the courts in 2000) / Since 2010-2015. Reelected in 1998, 2010.
Issues and policy positions
- See also National Front for a summary of Le Pen's manifesto.
Le Pen has been accused and convicted several times at home and abroad of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. A Paris court found in February 2005 that his verbal criticisms, such as remarks disparaging Muslims in a 2003 Le Monde interview, were "inciting racial hatred", and he was fined 10,000 euros and ordered to pay an additional 5,000 euros in damages to the Ligue des droits de l'homme (League for Human Rights). The conviction and fines were upheld by the Court of Cassation in 2006.
- In May 1987, he advocated the forced isolation from society of all people infected with HIV, by placing them in a special "sidatorium". "Sidaïque" is Le Pen's pejorative solecism for "person infected with AIDS" (the more usual French term is "séropositif" (seropositive)) The term "sidatorium" was coined by François Bachelot.
- On 21 June 1995, he attacked singer Patrick Bruel on his policy of no longer singing in the city of Toulon because the city had just elected a mayor from the National Front. Le Pen said, "the city of Toulon will then have to get along without the vocalisations of singer Benguigui". Benguigui, an Algerian name, is Bruel's birth name.
- In February 1997, Le Pen accused Chirac of being "on the payroll of Jewish organizations, and particularly of the B'nai B'rith"
- Le Pen once made the infamous pun "Durafour-crématoire" ("four crématoire" meaning "crematory oven") about then-minister Michel Durafour, who had said in public a few days before, "One must exterminate the National Front".
- On many occasions, before and after the World Cup championship, he claimed that the French World Cup squad contained too many non-white players, and was not an accurate reflection of French society. He went on to scold players for not singing La Marseillaise, saying they were not "French".
- In the 2007 election campaign, he referred to fellow-candidate Nicolas Sarkozy as "foreign" or "the foreigner."
Arguing that his party includes people of various ethnic or religious origins like Jean-Pierre Cohen, Farid Smahi or Huguette Fatna, he has attributed some anti-Semitism in France to the effects of Muslim immigration to Europe and suggested that some part of the Jewish community in France might eventually come to appreciate National Front ideology. Le Pen has made statements denying climate change and linking climate science and communism.
Prosecution concerning Holocaust denial
Le Pen has made several provocative statements concerning the Holocaust which have been interpreted by the legal system as constituting Holocaust denial. He has been convicted of racism or inciting racial hatred at least six times. Thus, on 13 September 1987 he said, "I ask myself several questions. I'm not saying the gas chambers didn't exist. I haven't seen them myself. I haven't particularly studied the question. But I believe it's just a detail in the history of World War II." He was condemned under the Gayssot Act to pay 1.2 million francs (183,200 euros).
In 1997, the European Parliament, of which Le Pen was then a member, removed his parliamentary immunity so that Le Pen could be tried by a German court for comments he made at a December 1996 press conference before the German Republikaner party. Echoing his 1987 remarks in France, Le Pen stated: "If you take a 1,000-page book on World War II, the concentration camps take up only two pages and the gas chambers 10 to 15 lines. This is what one calls a detail." In June 1999, a Munich court found this statement to be "minimizing the Holocaust, which caused the deaths of six million Jews," and convicted and fined Le Pen for his remarks. Le Pen retorted ironically: "I understand now that it's the Second World War which is a detail of the history of the gas chambers."
Other legal problems and allegations
- Prosecution for assault : In April 2000, Le Pen was suspended from the European Parliament following prosecution for the physical assault of Socialist candidate Annette Peulvast-Bergeal during the 1997 general election. This ultimately led to him losing his seat in the European parliament in 2003. The Versailles appeals court banned him from seeking office for one year.
- Statements about Muslims in France : In 2005 and 2008, Le Pen was fined, in both case 10,000 euros for “incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence towards a group of people”, on account of statements made about Muslims in France. In 2010. the European Court of Human Rights declared Le Pen's application inadmissible.
- Personal associations : Le Pen has also been criticized for ties to "suspect" individuals, such as Roger Holeindre, a member of the political bureau of the Front National and a former member of the Organisation armée secrète (OAS), a movement against Algerian independence. However, Holeindre was also a Nazi resister during the Second World War. Another one is Roland Gaucher, a cofounder of the National Front in 1972, who was also a former RNP member.
- Allegations of war crimes in Algeria : Le Pen allegedly practiced torture during the Algerian War (1954–1962), when he was a lieutenant in the French Army. Although he denied it, he lost a trial when he attacked Le Monde newspaper on charges of defamation, following accusations by the newspaper that he had used torture. Le Monde has produced in May 2003 the dagger he allegedly used to commit war crimes as court evidence.
Although war crimes committed during the Algerian War are amnestied in France, this was publicised by the newspapers Le Canard Enchaîné, Libération, and Le Monde, and by Michel Rocard (ex-Prime Minister) on TV (TF1 1993). Le Pen sued the papers and Michel Rocard. This affair ended in 2000 when the Cour de cassation (French supreme jurisdiction) concluded that it was legitimate to publish these assertions. However, because of the amnesty and the statute of limitations, there can be no criminal proceedings against Le Pen for the crimes he is alleged to have committed in Algeria. In 1995, Le Pen unsuccessfully sued Jean Dufour, regional counselor of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (French Communist Party) for the same reason.
Criticism of European Reform Treaty
Le Pen has been a vocal critic of the European Reform Treaty (formally known as the Treaty of Lisbon) which was signed by EU member states on 13 December 2007, and entered into force on 1 December 2009. In October 2007, Le Pen suggested that he would personally visit the Republic of Ireland to assist the "No" campaign but finally changed his mind, fearing that his presence would be used against the supporters of the NO vote. Ireland finally refused to ratify the treaty. Ireland is the only EU country which had a citizen referendum. All other EU states, including France, ratified the treaty by parliamentary vote, despite a previous citizen referendum where over 55% of French voters rejected the European Reform Treaty (although that vote was on a different draft of the Treaty in the form of the Constitutional Treaty).
After the Irish "No" vote, Le Pen addressed the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accusing him of furthering the agenda of a "cabal of international finance and free market fanatics." Ireland has since accepted the treaty in a second Lisbon referendum.
Le Pen is often nicknamed the "Menhir", due to his "granitic nature" as he is perceived as someone who does not give way to pressure or who cannot be easily knocked down. It also connects him to France's Celtic origins. Le Pen is often described as one of the most flamboyant and charismatic orators in Europe, whose speech blends folksy humour, crude attacks and rhetorical finesse.
However Le Pen remains a polarizing figure in France, and opinions regarding him tend to be quite strong. A 2002 IPSOS poll showed that while 22% of the electorate have a good or very good opinion of Le Pen, and 13% an unfavorable opinion, 61% have a very unfavorable opinion.
Le Pen and the National Front are described by much of the media and nearly all commentators as far right. Le Pen himself and the rest of his party disagree with this label; earlier in his political career, Le Pen described his position as "neither right, nor left, but French" (ni droite, ni gauche, français). He later described his position as right-wing and opposed to the "socialo-communists" and other right-wing parties, which he deems are not real right-wing parties. At other times, for example during the 2002 election campaign, he declared himself "socially left-wing, economically right-wing, nationally French" (socialement à gauche, économiquement à droite, nationalement français). He further contends that most of the French political and media class are corrupt and out of touch with the real needs of the common people, and conspire to exclude Le Pen and his party from mainstream politics. Le Pen criticizes the other political parties as the "establishment" and lumped all major parties (Communist, Socialist, Union for French Democracy (UDF) and Rally for the Republic (RPR)) into the "Gang of Four" (la bande des quatre – an allusion to the Gang of Four during China's Cultural Revolution).
Relations with other groups
Some of Le Pen's statements led other right-wing groups, such as the Austrian Freedom Party, and some National Front supporters, to distance themselves from him. Controversial Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who has often been accused of being far-right, has also criticized Le Pen. Bruno Mégret left the National Front to found his own party (the National Republican Movement, MNR), claiming that Le Pen kept the Front away from the possibility of gaining power. Mégret wanted to emulate Gianfranco Fini's success in Italy by making it possible for right-wing parties to ally themselves with the Front, but claimed that Le Pen's attitude and outrageous speech prevented this. Le Pen's daughter Marine leads an internal movement of the Front that wants to "normalize" the National Front, "de-enclave" it, have a "culture of government" etc.; however, relations with Le Pen and other supporters of the hard line are complex. Over the years, Le Pen gained widespread popularity among neo-Nazis and white nationalists throughout Europe, North America and South America.
Perception by American commentators
As Le Pen, like many other European nationalists in recent years, has made statements highly critical of American foreign policy and culture for which he has received notice from American conservatives. Conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter called him an anti-American adulterer but said his anti-immigration, anti-Muslim message "finally hit a nerve with voters" after years of irrelevance. Paleoconservative commentator Pat Buchanan contends that even though Le Pen "made radical and foolish statements," the EU violated his right to freedom of speech. Buchanan wrote:
As it is often the criminal himself who is first to cry, "Thief!" so it is usually those who scream, "Fascist!" loudest who are the quickest to resort to anti-democratic tactics. Today, the greatest threat to the freedom and independence of the nations of Europe comes not from Le Pen and that 17% of French men and women who voted for him. It comes from an intolerant European Establishment that will accept no rollback of its powers or privileges, nor any reversal of policies it deems "progressive".
Jean-Marie Le Pen is the subject or the inspiration for some protest songs.
- JM by Rasta Bigoud;
- La bête by Zebda;
- La Bête est revenue by Pierre Perret;
- Un couscous pour Jean-Marie by Les Betteraves;
- Tout le monde il est beau by Zazie;
- Nique le système by Sinsemilia
- Officer of the French Foreign Legion
- Cross for Military Valour
- Croix du combattant
- Colonial Medal
- Indochina Campaign commemorative medal
- North Africa Security and Order Operations Commemorative Medal
- Middle-East operations commemorative medal
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- 20 minutes
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