Charles de Gaulle famously observed that France had “la droite la plus bête au monde” [“the dumbest right-wing in the world”]. Events over the last couple of days reveal that the French Right continues to work hard for bragging rights to that dubious moniker.
At the start of the week Christian Vanneste, a deputy of the ruling UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), dismissed as a “legend” the deportation of homosexuals from occupied France. This was not the first time that Vanneste, who represents a district in northern France, proffered his views on homosexuality. In 2005, for example, he declared: “Homosexuality is a threat to the survival of humankind.” The difference, of course, is Vanneste was then holding forth as a moral philosopher, whereas he now pretends to speak as an historian.
Yet professional historians immediately gave the lie to Vanneste’s version of the “dark years” of the Occupation. Both the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation, as well as the historian Mikael Bertrand, who published last year a scholarly work on gays under the Occupation, declared that the archives tell a very different story. The Nazis arrested and deported several dozen men accused of homosexuality from both Alsace-Lorraine (which had been annexed by Germany) and other regions during their occupation of France. In an interview, Bertrand added that since archival research continues, the numbers are not final.
The timing could not have been worse for the UMP. This week was to have been devoted to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s declaration that he was running for a second term of office. What had been, at worst, a non-event — Sarkozy started running for his second term the day after he won his first election—or at best a much-needed jolt for Sarkozy’s hopes — he trails by dramatic margins the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande — was suddenly overshadowed by Vanneste’s remarks. The party’s leader, Jean-François Copé (who happens to be Jewish), denounced Vanneste’s remarks, as did every other leading member of the party, including Sarkozy. Copé also announced that the party would not sponsor Vanneste in his re-election campaign for his seat in the National Assembly.