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UB Human Rights Expert Says Le Pen Success in French Election Signifies Emerging Racism, But Europe Can Handle It

Release Date: April 23, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jean-Marie Le Pen's electoral success on Sunday in the qualifying race for the French presidential election, which the London Daily Standard referred to as "the awakening of a vampire," will be "dealt with responsibly by European nations," says human-rights expert Claude Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Political Science.

Welch's remarks were made in response to the rise of Le Pen and his ultra-right wing National Front, which has been publicly deplored through out Europe, even by the right, for its virulent racism and attacks on immigrants and immigration laws.

"Like everyone else," he says, "I was surprised at Le Pen's showing in the election. It demonstrates the streak of racism that can emerge in the privacy of the voting booth.

"I think his success so outraged the French because France has Europe's third largest Jewish population, as well as a history of anti-Semitism to which the French government and people are very sensitive," Welch says.

He adds, however, "This election should not be the immediate concern of Americans, since Le Pen almost certainly will lose the run-off elections.

One thing Americans should keep an eye on, according to Welch, is the recent success of right-wing political parties in Norway, Italy, Denmark and Portugal that may be seen again in the upcoming Dutch and German elections.

"Le Pen represents something larger than himself -- the underlying streak of racism that exists in nations throughout Europe. Even though now it does not have widespread popular support, it could be a threat to civil liberty," he said.

"If moderate governments were to react to the activities of the right wing by clamping down on free expression everywhere, they would sorely test the limits of free speech.

"I want to stress, however," Welch adds, "that Europe is a made up of mature, responsible societies that certainly will deal with the far right and its activities in a reasonable way.

He says the current rise in support for the European right wing is due in part to the fact that Europe -- including France -- has a higher rate of unemployment than we do in the U.S., and many blame North African and Turkish immigrants for taking jobs away from native Europeans.

Welch is a widely-published author, researcher and scholar in the field of human rights. He has consulted frequently with agencies of the United States government on democratization, human rights and civil-military relations. He is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, an international human-rights monitoring group.

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