[Marxism] Rural roots of French neofascism
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 7 08:31:52 MDT 2006
NY Times, October 7, 2006
French Farm Town Is Fertile Ground for National Front
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
CHÂTEAURENARD, France The neat rows of apple
trees and grape vines that lined the road heading
into this once archetypical French farming town
disappeared long ago. In their place is a
landscape of prefabricated warehouses, auto parts
dealers, a chicken-processing plant and fields overrun with scrub.
This is not the romantic Provence of the author
Peter Mayle, where the villagers are quaint, the
views picturesque and the farmers happy.
Rather, Châteaurenard, a town of 13,500 like
dozens of other farming towns that were once the
bedrock of rural France seems to have lost its
soul. The farmers are retiring and abandoning
their unprofitable fields, and half the working
residents here now travel to jobs somewhere else.
Our farms are becoming the monuments of the
dead, our town is a bedroom community that
services others, said Bernard Reynès, the
center-right mayor of Châteaurenard. We are
losing our confidence that life will somehow get
better, losing our roots, our rural identity.
Much of the French countryside remains
resplendent, of course, with rich farmland and
impeccable towns. Yet the transformation of
Châteaurenard buffeted by international
pressures suggests that more of Frances
regions will not escape the same kind of upheaval.
One change is seldom spoken of openly: up to 20
percent of this towns residents are ethnic
Arabs, many of them young, under-educated, unemployed and isolated.
The result, locals and experts say, is contagious
fear for Frances economic future, of
globalization, of the immigrant that makes the
Châteaurenards of France fertile terrain for the
extreme right National Front in next springs presidential election.
I take off my hat to those immigrants who took
the boat here to work, said Jean Courtois, 61, a
retiree who until 2001 sat on the city council as
a National Front representative. But there is a
huge problem with those who dont want to
integrate. When I see a woman in a veil walking
in Châteaurenard, it revolts me.
During the first round of the last presidential
election in 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National
Front candidate, came in first here, with almost
twice as many votes as the second-place finisher, President Jacques Chirac.
In a nationwide referendum last year, the town
voted by a 2 to 1 ratio larger than the
national average against a European
Constitution seen by many here as a ploy to open
Frances doors to cheap immigrant labor and cede
more of Frances sovereign rights to the European Union.
[Ségolène Royal, the favorite to win the
Socialist Party nomination for the presidency,
announced her candidacy on Sept. 29 in a speech
from Vitrolles, a nearby town that was once a
National Front stronghold. She referred to
Vitrolles, which elected a National Front major
in 1997, as a symbol of the victory of the left,
which wrested it back from the National Front in 2002.]
In so many places particularly in the south
you have people in revolt: unhappy farmers, ones
who are anti-immigrants and ones trying to assert
their Frenchness, said Jean Viard, a political
scientist and author of a book on the National
Front in Provence. The collective identity has
been weakened. So the National Front occupies a
space that has been left empty.
Mr. Reynès, the mayor, put it more bluntly. The
extreme right becomes the receptacle into which
people put all their frustrations, he said. You
could put a National Front hat on a donkeys
head, and it will get 20 percent of the vote.
Part of the concern is simply the disappearance
of a way of life. There are about 590,000 farms
left in all of France, one-fourth the number 50
years ago. A third of the French earned their
living by farming then; today less than 5 percent do.
The Châteaurenard area has 150 working farms,
down from more than 800 in the 1960s. In 10 years, only 50 farms will be left.
Though it is near Avignon, one of Frances top
tourist attractions, Châteaurenard has little
star quality. The medieval fortress is crumbling,
the church unlit and often closed, the museum a
one-room collection of old farm tools.
At night, the streets of the town belong to young
ethnic Arab men, most of them of Moroccan origin,
whose fathers came to France to farm decades ago.
There is no new industry, and young men whether
ethnic French or ethnic Arab are repelled by the idea of farm labor.
At the social center in the towns overwhelmingly
Arab neighborhood, the young men explain why.
My father came here with his children to find
success, said Mohamed Sghiouri, 18, a high
school student who hopes to be come an
electrician. He was a farmhand for 30 years, and
now hes at home on disability with back
problems. Since the time I was small, he told me
to work, work hard in school so I could do
better than he did and stay off the farm.
Even Laurent Ioss, who grew up here and now heads
the towns youth social services program, defends
that argument. You work like a beast on the
farm, and theres no real sense of dignity, he
said. When you call someone a peasant, its like calling someone an idiot.
The ethnic communities tend to keep separate. The
Arabs congregate in one cafe; the Gallic
Frenchmen in another. The Arabs gather in the
shade of trees around the central town square on
hot afternoons; the Gallic Frenchmen retreat
indoors. When the mayor walks the streets, he
reaches out to shake the hands of the old-timers, but leaves the Arabs alone.
Every Bastille Day, the town celebrates the arts
and crafts of daily life a century ago. Last July
14, Mr. Courtois ran an old-fashioned open-air
cafe. A retired pharmacist ground potions with a
mortar and pestle. A baker made big loaves in a
communal oven. Residents dressed in period
costume sang old French country songs. Children
rode ponies. The Arabs stayed home.
It is that disruption of traditional rural life
that has contributed to the rise of the extreme right in the area.
The malaise hovers over the vast regional
wholesale produce market on the towns outskirts.
There, six mornings a week during the harvest
season, hundreds of farmers and distributors
gather at 6 oclock to buy and sell in a frenzied, one-hour ritual.
They lament that the wholesale price of their
lettuce is the same as the retail price in the
supermarket off the highway, and that boats
docked in Marseille are filled with cheap pears from Chile.
And tomatoes. Tomatoes are the real losers here.
First, there was the invasion of the Spanish
tomato. The Moroccan tomato followed. But the
decisive blow to the homegrown Provençal tomato
was dealt two years ago when the Chinese
industrial tomato giant Xinjiang Chalkis bought
the local canning factory and began shipping tons
of tomato paste all the way from China to can it
in France. The price of local tomatoes plummeted.
I used to grow tomatoes, wonderful tomatoes
here, said Richard Ferretti, 49, a farmer who
was sipping coffee at the bar after the market
closed one morning. But price is everything. The
Chinese dont want to pay. So I stopped.
Mr. Ferretti now earns a living not from his 200
acres but as a Europe-wide distributor of
customized four-wheeled Japanese motorcycles.
One local hero is Michel Chauvet, 63, a
third-generation farmer has been working the land
for 45 years. He runs a picture-perfect farm of
80 acres near Châteaurenard of peaches, grapes,
pears and seven varieties of apples.
Over the years, he has taught young students the
secrets of farming on his farm at no charge. Of
his 17 interns, only 3 have become farmers. An
agrotourism project went nowhere; a direct-sale
business on the Internet failed. All around him
are abandoned farms with broken vines and fallow fields.
Mr. Chauvet promised his daughter, Hélène, now
36, that he would not abandon the farm. She
contributes a portion of her income as a
pharmacist to keep the farm going, but neither
she nor her husband, a bank officer, wants to take it over.
The last two years have been financially
disastrous, but Im still a dreamer, living with
my apples and my pears and my peaches, Mr. Chauvet said.
Mr. Chauvets only full-time worker is Ali Dahbi,
67, a Moroccan who has worked for him for 35
years. Mr. Dahbis son Redouan, 19, wants to be
an auto mechanic. Until then, he said, he helps
his father, for one reason only: out of duty.
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