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French Students Protest Le Pen

By Michelle L. Povinelli

STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Students from France gathered outside the French consulate in Boston on Wednesday to show their opposition to the strong showing of extreme-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential elections. The rally drew about fifteen students and postdoctoral researchers, mostly from MIT and Harvard.

According to the rally call circulated by organizer Thomas Chaney G, the purpose of the demonstration was for French students “to express their shame and their rejection of the rise of extreme right in France,” and to stand against “hatred, xenophobia, and racism.”

Students defend image of France

Students at the rally were eager to convey that Le Pen, known for his racist comments and the anti-immigration platform of his National Front Party, is not representative of France. Stephane Vincent, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, said “Most people in France do not agree with what happened two weeks ago. I don’t want people to start thinking that France is not a friendly country.”

Jean B. Rolland, a teaching assistant at Harvard said, “We don’t want Jean-Marie Le Pen to steal the very idea of France.”

Le Pen won 17 percent of the vote in the first round, coming in second in the field of candidates. This makes him eligible to run in the second round against current President Jacques Chirac, who received the most votes.

While Le Pen lacks a majority, students at the rally nevertheless felt that it was important to express their concern. Pascaline Dupas, a visiting student at Harvard, said “We know he will not be elected, but to know that one French person out of five is racist is kind of unbearable.” Le Pen’s platform also includes opposition to abortion and the EU, and he supports the death penalty. “People have to be responsible -- when you vote for someone, you are agreeing with his program,” Dupas said.

Helene Landemore, a graduate student at Harvard, criticized Le Pen’s general platform, saying, “It’s so completely anti-everything we believe in. This is a ridiculous idea to get rid of Europe and get rid of abortion-- everything is such a shame.”

Delphine Roy, a teaching assistant at Harvard, said that it was “going back over 30 years of struggle to improve the lot of women in France.”

After gathering at the consulate, students linked arms and walked to Copley Place and back, holding signs reading “No to the National Front” and “We like smelly cheese but not Le Pen.”

The rally day was chosen to coincide with much larger protests in France, where an estimated one million people rallied in the streets against Le Pen and the National Front.

Le Pen does poorly in Boston

Several student representatives met with the Consul General of France in Boston, StÉphane Chmelewsky, to explain the rally’s message. After one student joked about a Le Pen campaign poster on the wall, Chmelewsky clarified that posting both candidates’ official posters was obligatory.

Chmelewsky showed the students the first-round election results for votes cast at the Consulate, where French nationals in New England can vote. In contrast to France, Le Pen did very poorly in Boston, with less than 3 percent of the votes, or 11 out of 429 people. Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, edged out Chirac 29% to 24%.

Like many in France, students who voted for Jospin in the first round will reluctantly be voting for the conservative Chirac in the second round to keep Le Pen out of office. Jerome Huber G said, “Some people say, ‘I’m proud to vote for a thief rather than a fascist.’” Chirac has been accused of corruption in the past.

Although the total number of people voting for Le Pen in this election did not significantly increase over previous years, his success was likely due to low voter turnout combined with a surplus of leftist candidates.