LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW : Jean Marie Le Pen : The Strong Voice of France's Far Right

Scott Kraft is Paris bureau chief for The Times. He interviewed Jean-Marie Le Pen in his home study

The big shock in last year's first round of French presidential elections wasn't the winner or even the runner-up. It was the strong support for Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right National Front.

Le Pen collected 15% of the vote, his best showing in three tries for the presidency, on a campaign to expel France's 3 million immigrants. And the stocky, silver-haired politician is still basking in the glow.

The National Front is now the third most popular party in France, behind the ruling conservatives of President Jacques Chirac and the Socialists. Front candidates won mayoral races in three southern cities last summer. And, in a recent opinion poll, 28% of the French said they were "in agreement" with Le Pen's ideas. That figure was 18% just two years ago.

But Le Pen, at 67, hasn't exactly become mainstream. Those same opinion polls indicate 71% of the French consider his party "a threat to democracy," and analysts place him on the right-wing fringe of the political spectrum.

Although Le Pen insists he is neither racist nor anti-Semitic, his party shares the rhetoric of European neo-Nazi groups. Card-carrying members of his party have been implicated in several highly publicized deaths of Arabs in France. He once suggested that people with AIDS--"a deadly disease, contracted mainly from sodomy," he says--be confined to specialized homes, which he dubbed "Aidatoriums."

These days, Le Pen prefers to talk about immigration, an issue that hits home with small merchants, factory workers, farmers and others who blame "foreigners" for debilitating unemployment, which currently is 12%. Le Pen sees himself as an unappreciated visionary. "I'm always in the situation of telling people, in advance, what is going to happen," he says. "So I am very poorly regarded."

Yet, he has always thrived on the notoriety. A gifted, charismatic orator, he emerged onto the political scene in 1956, as the youngest member of the French Parliament and, in 1972, created the National Front.

He was born in a seaside village in Brittany, the son of a fisherman. He joined the Foreign Legion, serving in Indochina and Algeria. He later founded a record-publishing house, which today produces cassettes and compact discs on contemporary history with a militaristic, right-wing slant.

He has three grown daughters and three grandchildren and lives with his wife in a large, hilltop chateau in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris. The house is filled with statues of Joan of Arc, matron saint of the extreme right. His second-floor study offers a stunning view of Paris' Left Bank, home of many of the left-wing intellectuals he disdains.

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Question: How is the right doing internationally these days?

Answer: Although politically incorrect, and despite the obvious media adversity, we haven't stopped advancing.

Q: What is the reason for that growth?

A: The global policy of removing borders has created a fantastic growth in immigration and provoked unbearable economic and social consequences. And those conditions have shown people that the idea of the "nation" remains the most effective way to protect security, liberty, identity and prosperity.

To live in harmony, people need a minimum sense of affinity. Just because all human beings have a soul and equal dignity doesn't mean one can mix them all with good results. In order to tolerate each other in communal life, people need common ways of being, ways of living and ways of feeling.

Q: But many immigrants from Third World countries have, in fact, become French citizens. Don't they share this common reference?

A: Those immigrants are, in fact, double nationals . . . . One cannot make a French people from massive immigration. To live in security and harmony, people need a certain homogeneity.

Q: What about European immigrants who came generations ago?

A: For those, no problem. These Italians, Spanish and Portuguese have really become French. They are of the same culture.

The problem we must face is the large mass of immigrants from the Third World who are often people with their own strong ethnic or cultural makeup. It's not like in the United States--where they come from Mexico. Here they come from white and black Africa, from South America, from Eastern Europe and especially from the immense Asian reservoir . . . .

That creates--and people don't understand--a very real danger of submersion. And just because this immigration is done without weapons doesn't mean it isn't an invasion. If the Nazi Germans had come in 1939 wearing suitcases and hats, it still would have been an invasion.

Q: Are you saying some immigrants are better than others? Some are able to become French and others really never can?

A: That is one element of the problem. But another is, is it in the interest of France to accept foreign immigrants?

Your question assumes that when people come to your country, you are obliged to take them in, even if they aren't adaptable. But France is not a country of immigration. In fact, since 1974, our official policy has been to refuse immigration. It is only the laxity and cowardice of governments that have let them enter and have even pumped them in.

I don't hold it against the immigrants. Someone who in Africa or in Asia earns 100 francs a month by working, and who knows here he will earn 5,000 francs without working, comes. Obviously.

But these huge numbers create a mortal danger to our civilization. The Western civilization. We're the hen that lays the golden eggs. But if the hen dies, there are no more eggs, are there?

People say: "Yes, but they want to come and you must share." We can share if there are nine of us and one of them. But we cannot share when there are three of us and seven of them.

Q: Is there any amount of immigration that you would tolerate?

A: Zero, zero. Zero, excepting individual cases of people who would have shown their merit regarding our country, who bring proof of ties here. But, in principle, zero.

Q: That sounds pretty rigid.

A: If our attitude sometimes appears severe regarding immigrants who live here, it is, in large part, designed to dissuade others from coming. As long as the situation is favorable for immigrants here, the torrent will not stop.

That is the fault of the politicians and also of the intellectuals. They reason not with responsibly, but with a bleeding heart . . . . Those poor little [immigrant] boys and little girls draw tears to my eyes, too.

But, as the father of a family, I have a duty, first of all, to my children and then, if something remains, to others. As a politician, my main preoccupation is the future of the French.

I'm not sure the happiness of the Peuls or the Bantu is to live in a big glass building with central heating and a refrigerator. If one wants to impose this model on the entire world, well, the world is not viable.

Q: But don't immigrants enrich a nation's quality of life?

A: That depends on which immigrants. We have received here practically 12 million immigrants in 30 years. This is too many. We are French nationals. And we want to have in France, by preference, the French.

Take, for example, the secretary general of my party. He is married to a Japanese woman, but he doesn't argue for the entry of the Japanese into France. He was in love with a Japanese, but that doesn't shock us. My own wife is half Greek.

My secretary general has a little boy, 6 or 7 years old. One day, the little boy was crying and his daddy told him, "But you mustn't cry. You are descended from a samurai warrior." And the little boy said: "I don't want to be a samurai, I want to be a musketeer for the king." He had made a choice, and his choice is French.

Q: Yet, some see signs of hate in your rhetoric.

A: Our movement does not have the sentiment of hate, repulsion or exclusion. These are not the sentiments that inspire us. Ours are sentiments of preference, that's all.

Just because you prefer your own children doesn't mean you detest those of your neighbor. We are told, "Love everyone." But I don't feel capable of loving everyone. I would really like to but I can't.

How many of these people promoting foreign immigration accept foreigners in their villas or in their apartments? They certainly want them in the apartments of others but not in their own.

I remind you that my butler and my domestic staff are black, from Reunion, and they have been with me for 14 years. So, I didn't hire them for your interview.

Q: But if your butler wanted to immigrate to France now, what would you tell him?

A: I would tell him "no." I'll tell you a story. I was taking a cruise some years ago and there was a Senegalese, French-speaking crew. One asked me if he could come to France. He was the chief steward, a tall boy and very well brought up. But I told him, "I can't take you back. I would prefer to send some money to you because coming to France will not solve your problems." He told me, "I have five children, I don't have work in Dakar," etc. He was someone who would have been devoted to me. But I said I couldn't. Non posimus. [Not possible.]

The life of responsible people involves making choices.

Q: So, for you, it's not personal.

A: No, it's a political position. But it is the position of many countries, including yours. There are an enormous number of countries in which you cannot go settle in or work or anything else. I think dividing the world into nations is preferable to total vacuity--which would lead to irresponsibility and inevitably economic dictatorships where citizens will have no influence.

Q: Does the presidential campaign in America interest you?

A: Yes. Very much.

Q: With which candidate would you identify?

A: Patrick Buchanan is the candidate who is probably the closest to me. Yes, without a doubt, yes.

Q: What should the United States do about immigration?

A: People must achieve their aspirations inside their own borders. The Mexicans should create their own salvation at home. Rich countries should help with investments, but immigration will create problems. It is already creating problems, you know very well.

Q: And what should the U.S. do?

A: Your country is a bit different from ours. The United States is a new country with immense space. There is room.

But we are old nations, with limited territories. And immigration poses more difficult problems for us. All the more so because the Mexicans already have a common trait with the Americans. They are of the Christian culture, aren't they? I mean, not only of religion, but of culture and values.

We are facing a pressure that is Islamic, which is a system of values, beliefs, customs and lifestyles that are quite noticeably different from ours.

Q: So what can be done about immigration in France?

A: Cut off the suction pumps. Have the courage to say to potential immigrants: "Don't come to our country. We can't take you in and, henceforth, you will not have access to any of the social advantages. If you want to come here as tourists, we'd like that very much. But we can't pay for your children's schools or your medical care. Not for any of it."

That is the first measure. Stop this social egalitarianism.

Q: Do you have hope your policies will be adopted in, say, the next 5 or 10 years?

A: Either we will do it or we will die. This is clear. And any humane measure is only going to aggravate the danger.

The other day, there were 150 illegal immigrants staging a protest in Paris. When we see those mamas crying, we might tell ourselves, "Well, OK, what is 150 more or less?" But immediately in the entire world, people will say, "Ah, I can come." That is the tragedy.

So, it takes character to govern. I had three daughters. When we had to punish them, to teach them the difference between good and bad, it wasn't pleasant. It demanded character. Yet, he who loves well, punishes well.*

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