Yesterday and Tomorrow: The rise of the extreme right in France
A year ago, Ideas producer Philip Coulter went to France to record interviews for a documentary series about the rise of the extreme right. Those three programmes were broadcast just before the May elections that brought Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche party to power. At the time, there was great anxiety about the right-wing National Front party and it's leader Marine LePen, and the possible consequences for France and for Europe should she win the presidential election. Today, with Emmanuel Macron in power, and relative quiet on the right wing of politics, that concern has receded. But no one is under any illusion. The young are still unemployed and disaffected, and their mantra is still France for the French. **This episode was originally broadcast May 5, 2017.
"We are normal people; I have a job, I have colleagues, I have relationships, so I don't think we are radical, I don't think we are extreme. We fight against extremism, we fight against people who want to destroy our identity, our conception of women, our liberty. They are the bad, the evil, we are not." – Pierre Larti
He's intelligent, articulate, modest and persuasive. Sitting in the basement of a student cafe near the Pompidou Library, Pierre Larti looks and sounds like everyone else in the room, but later in the evening he'll put on his yellow jacket and everyone will know he's a member of Génération Identitaire. He and his colleagues will walk the streets handing out leaflets and putting up posters in support of the Front National. The youth of Génération Identitaire have an even more extreme agenda than the political party they favour, and they frighten a lot of people with their hardball tactics. If many people see echoes of fascist parties of the past in the Front National, they also see in Génération Identitaire echoes of the blackshirts and brownshirts, the bully boys doing the dirty work of otherwise legal political parties. We're not there yet, but the past casts a long shadow, and many people are worried about what Génération Identitaire could become.
She's sophisticated, worldly and just as articulate and persuasive. Lucile Schmid is without doubt everything that Pierre Larti is against, one of the elite — formerly a diplomat, a local politician, a mover in both the Socialist party and nowadays, the Greens. In the editorial offices of the politics-and-ideas journal Esprit, she talks about the possibilities of coming up with new ideas about a new France, bridging the gap between the old status quo politics that's failed so many people, and the rage and extremism that's been the outcome.
Two visions of France: one that harkens back to a past that probably never was — a monocultural society with jobs for all, turning its back to Europe and the world, and another France, one that can remake the old political certainties and fashion something new, diverse and open.
Guests in this episode:
- Pierre Larti, from the extreme right youth political action group Génération Identitaire.
- Lucile Schmid, president of the non-profit Foundation for Political Ecology, former diplomat and politician.
**This episode was produced by Philip Coulter.