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Success of Right-Wing Le Pen in French Presidential Race is a Fluke, says UB Historian

Release Date: April 23, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The showing of right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the April 21 qualifying race for the French presidential election, which has caused an uproar throughout Europe and in the United States, is a fluke, according to a historian at the University at Buffalo.

Liana Vardi, associate professor of history at UB, calls the election results "the unfortunate result of an overconfident political left that wanted to 'send a message' to France's socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin by voting Green or for another splinter Left party, in the first election round.

"They now have learned a very painful lesson," she says, "This is a wake-up call to the government and to the political left, and I believe it will be heeded."

She says that Le Pen, who is demanding more prison beds, an expanded police force with new powers and an end to immigration, speaks to people's fears about growing violence and unemployment that the government has not addressed head-on.

He has done so, she says, by appealing to racism and xenophobia.

"Le Pen got 15 percent of the vote in the last election and 17 percent this round -- enough to get him to the second ballot, but not enough to demonstrate a great shift to the extreme right by French voters," says Vardi.

"The drawback of his making it this far is that he will get equal time on television and will be very visible in the next 10 days."

In spite of the furious call-to-arms Le Pen's showing has provoked in left-to-center politicians across Europe, Vardi says there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Jacques Chirac will win the elections, despite several charges of corruption related to his tenure as mayor of Paris.

She points to an editorial in the French left daily, Liberation, that urged the French to vote for "the crook and not for the fascist" and to television interviews with left-wing voters that indicate that they will indeed rally to Chirac, however reluctantly.

"There has been a lot of discussion in the press about mounting anti-Semitism and demands that the government take it seriously," Vardi says.

"It seems to be coming out of the suburbs, rather than fascist skin-head groups associated with the far right and is an inappropriate, to say the least, extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto home-ground."

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