Long read

French youth leans towards the (far-)right

After The Revolution, Now What?

15/02/2022

They are young people in their twenties and define themselves as conservative and patriotic. Their first concerns are assimilation, security and putting a stop to immigration, as they believe they’re losing France, a country that has been dreamt up by presidential candidates whose constant refrain is “this is our home”. The following is an encounter with young people who believe that the Arab-Muslim population is eroding its culture and who epitomize the ever closing gap between the right and the far-right.

Like every morning, at the Notre-Dame square in Versailles, the atmosphere is vibrant in the covered market. It’s the first Thursday of December 2021 and this great spot for French gastronomy built under Louis XIII welcomes its loyal and wealthy customers. They examine the stalls before placing an order for their Christmas meals. Not far, Wandrille awaits me at the XV, a pub located outside the aisle of antique dealers. It’s 10 a.m. As a black man cleans the windows, we set up upstairs. 20-year-old Wandrille is a law student in Paris. He was raised in the royal city [editor’s note: Versailles] where he still lives, is a former pupil of Hoche – a Napoleonic high school – and for several months now, he’s been coordinating the Yvelines division of Génération Z. Here, the name doesn’t refer to those born between 1997 and 2010 but to the youth movement created to support the presidential campaign of far-right polemicist Éric Zemmour, running for the upcoming elections in April. “I started getting into politics during the 2017 presidential elections and then in 2019 at the Convention de la droite (‘right-wing convention’) where I was struck by Robert Ménard’s [editor’s note: Béziers’s far-right mayor] speech,” he declared at once. “He said we couldn’t lose anymore, and that young people truly needed to get involved. Then I fostered (sic) the idea of a right-wing alliance and kept up my interest in politics by attending conferences of the Éveilleurs d’Espérance.” 

His involvement in the program ended after he was condemned for inciting racial hatred. This, however, didn’t prevent him from further spreading his ideas, on other channels like CNews

“We will soon be underrepresented”

EVE – for those in the know – is an organization based in Versailles, affiliated with former far-right deputy Marion Maréchal, who gained recognition for supporting the campaign against same sex marriage. “I define myself as conservative, for the greater good,” Wandrille says. “Being conservative doesn’t mean constantly looking back on our past. It’s being aware of our heritage in order to pass it on to our children.” Our interview quickly turns into a prosecution against immigration and a celebration of assimilation. Wandrille points to the challenge of the “great replacement” which he believes the country to be facing. “Just looking into the number of foreigners in French jails is enough,” he justifies. “Immigration and security problems must be dealt with. We also need a ministry of public instruction. I don’t want woke culture to be passed onto our children. We’ve won great battles, made great breakthroughs. I don’t think we should constantly be apologizing for our past. We should be proud of being French. My ancestors were Gallic. Éric Zemmour – who is Berber – says it himself. He has assimilated. On the bus you see more people of immigrant backgrounds. It’s the truth. The great replacement exists. It’s a demographic phenomenon. It’s a fact. We’ll soon be underrepresented. This is why we have to receive, love, protect, and transmit. For the survival of this civilization, for the love of our motherland and the pride of being French.” The survival of this civilization? Meaning… He adds: “The name Jean, in Europe, is soluble. There’s John in English, Juan in Spanish, Johann in German. The name Mohammed on the other hand isn’t soluble in a Judeo-Christian Europe. This is France: beautiful landscapes and bell towers you don’t hear ringing in villages anymore.” We stop here.

“A country is not a patchwork of communities”

Photo credit : Florian Dacheux

Three days later, I’m headed towards the Paris-Nord Villepinte exhibition center in an attempt to understand what motivates some other youngsters attending their mentor’s rally. Right here, like a symbol, in Seine-Saint-Denis, France’s most culturally diverse department. With a jacket bearing the image of Napoléon Bonaparte, businessman Jean-Pierre Chalançon is one of the first people to enter the pit. Not far, Génération Z Auvergne Rhône-Alpes campaigners are busy helping VIPs with directions. A business school student in Grenoble, their adviser, 23-year-old Timothée, speaks up: “I used to have a membership to the RN [editor’s note: he campaigned for Marion Maréchal in the Vaucluse], and every time, we knew we would get to the second round but without any chance of winning the presidential election. With Éric Zemmour, merging the electorates of LR (The Republicans), of the RN (National Rally) and the abstentionists, we know we can win, become a great country again and be proud of being French. Because if we keep on going this way, we’re headed straight for disaster, with all the lost territories of the Republic where policemen and firefighters won’t even go anymore. What we want is a country united by the same culture with the same ideas. A country is not a patchwork of communities.” Beaming, even boasting about having lived as an expat in six African countries during fifteen years, he goes on: “We’re driven by the assimilation model. It’s dramatic that we don’t even know what our French culture is anymore. We can see this hammer, the woke ideology, destroying everything on its path. Too much advocating for minorities isn’t a good thing. You can absolutely be Muslim and French. As long as Muslims practice their religion at home, without proselytism, it’s fine. School also needs to become school again, go back to meritocracy.” Inside, there are thousands of young people waving small blue, white and red flags in a crowd of 15,000 exhilarated supporters about to celebrate the creation of a new party called “La Reconquête”, a reference to the Spanish “Reconquista”, a period from the VIIIth to XVth century when Jewish and Muslim people were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. 

We’re driven by the assimilation model. It’s dramatic that we don’t even know what our French culture is anymore. We can see this hammer, the woke ideology, destroying everything on its path

Thimothée, Business school student

“If they assimilate well, everything will be fine”

Thirty years ago, in June 1991, back when he was the RPR (Rally for the Republic) mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac’s racist comment on “the noise and smell” of immigrants started to fan the fire of the far-right youth. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen got to the second round of the presidential election against the very same Chirac. Then, Sarkozy took over the tradition, setting the bar ever so low, announcing in June 2005 his will to flush out the Cité des 4000 [editor’s note: a large public housing estate in a Parisian suburb]. Seventeen years later, at the beginning of last January, it was LR candidate Valérie Pécresse’s turn to express her wish to resort to cleaning devices in order to cleanse the hood. Meanwhile, a number of teenagers would grow up listening to Zemmour’s weekly provocations on the talk show “On n’est pas couché”, on which he was a columnist from 2006 to 2011. His involvement in the program ended after he was condemned for inciting racial hatred. This, however, didn’t prevent him from further spreading his ideas, on other channels like CNews. Those were years at the end of which the RN, stable and well identified, eventually came to represent a party that young people saw establishing itself, election after election. They know Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric very well. But can we go as far as to say this is a sign of huge momentum for the neoconservatives in denial? Two recent Ipsos-Ifop surveys published by Le Mondeweigh their influence, Le Pen nearing 30% for the 25-34-year-old demographic. Around 12% of the 18-30 years old would vote for Zemmour in the first round of the presidential election, third behind Le Pen (20%) and Macron (25%). The biggest percentage is still abstentionism. “What brings us together are altogether our concerns surrounding security, purchasing power, the economy, French identity,” Adrien and Rodrigue spell out, standing in front of the merchandising stand. Both live in the Île-de-France. “French culture is pot-au-feu and good wine, not kebabs. It’s also our vast heritage in architecture, fashion, literature, and art. This should be the standard. Instead, we are in the process of losing our identity.” A concept taken on by Jean, who’s been traveling back and forth a lot lately between the capital and his base in La Rochelle. “People don’t love France anymore, he claims. We have a beautiful history. We simply need to develop security again and regulate immigration. If they assimilate well, everything will be fine.” Are we witnessing a clash of civilizations on the verge of becoming viral?

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“The union of right-wing forces is becoming a reality” 

In any case they were the first, on social media, to ask for the polemicist to declare his candidacy. And on Twitter, they aren’t hiding anymore. “The union of right-wing forces is becoming a reality,” Antoine, a supporter based in the Côté-d’Or, tweeted at the beginning of January. “Éric Zemmour is the only one who can bring us together. For twenty years, French people have been voting for a right-wing agenda that’s never been implemented. We’ll carry it through. Whether they like it or not, France is a right-wing country.” Not more than a few weeks ago in Cannes, Gilbert Collard left the RN to join Zemmour. Even Marion Maréchal is considering it. At the beginning of February, the police union Alliance organized a grand oral in a cinema of the 17th arrondissement. Presidential candidates were invited to share their vision for security in front of an audience and reply to its questions. Only Valérie Pécresse, Gérald Darmanin (on behalf of Macron), Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen were invited. “We have to say what we think out loud,” Marguerite and Hortense, two Parisians, say. “We’ve witnessed a significant rise in insecurity since massively taking in immigrants. Half of them are not even trying to integrate. They don’t have the same culture as us, especially with Islam. We need to reestablish French identity. Gender theory and decolonial ideas are polluting our schools. This shouldn’t be part of school’s curriculum.” Drawn in by the conversation, Karim adds: “People should embrace the culture of the country they live in and not be a nuisance. I’m of Algerian origin by my parents and would have preferred having a French name to fully integrate.” A supporter who was listening adds: “The answer is demographic, and women have the key. I don’t want to live in a Muslim culture. The day there are 40% of Muslims in France, ideas and values won’t be the same. That’s why the francization of names is important.” A little bit further, standing in the middle of a row of blue plastic chairs, a young man wearing a wool beret screams his identity references. “Excessive humanism is selling France to foreigners, that’s all I have to say,” he justifies himself. “There is no patriotism in them. Loving France doesn’t just mean loving the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizens. It’s loving Louis XVI, Saint Louis, Voltaire, Rousseau.” Observing and assessing the porosity of those speeches brings to light the merging happening between the conservative right and its extreme counterpart. Wandrille – the young man from Versailles – who spoke about a “climax” and a “new beginning” outside the founding rally in Villepinte where we eventually ran into each other, has since decided not to renew his party membership to LR. “I belong to a generation who puts France before the Republic,” he who has been promoted community manager of a movement including 10 000 sympathizers specifies. “Conservatives are well in place and popular enthusiasm is huge,” he hammers home. “We will continue speaking to the French in the hope they rally behind us. I’m disappointed by the lack of courage of the Republicans (LR). We wanted the Kärcher, we got Kouchner. Then Hollande and Macron only further fractured the country. Le Pen is incapable of winning. Only Zemmour can, because he keeps a clear guideline for all those young people who feel lost and who are getting back into politics thanks to him. I call on all the right-wing young people to join us because it is time to save France.” Which France?

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