As a researcher into political communication my current research interest is the mainstreaming of peripheral parties via ownership of salient issues, and their strategic dissemination. My doctoral research uses the democratic nationalist populist parties of Western Europe and their criticism of Islamism as case studies.
Whilst doing research into the Front National (FN) I came across a movement seemingly unknown in the English-speaking world – the Bloc Identitaire (BI).
Considering my background reading into the Flemish Vlaams Belang, and the northern Italian (Padanian) Lega Nord I was interested in another manifestation of a political tendency I will refer to as Europeanist ethno-regionalism (EET).
Unlike the FN or the Sweden Democrats for example, the BI were different in their focus on the primacy of the regional identities that composed France, and perhaps more importantly their guerrilla media tactics, more typical of the Anarchist movement. This decentralisation would likely match the new communication modes enabled by social media.
Bloc Demonstration in Lyon Attended by EDL Members
The terrible legacy of WWII has seen the evolution of those parties that could be described as nationalist populist, consciously move away from the aesthetics and doctrines of fascists and Nazis to more moderate positions, deliberately avoiding associations with totalitarianism. Instead they tend to speak of democratic traditionalism and ethno-cultural autonomy against Islamist, corporate, mass immigration and other perceived globalising forces.
BI Symbol Adopted from the Film 300
Much like the rest of the nationalist populist movements in France the issue of Islam is a key campaign feature of BI. Their protests against the French equivalent of McDonalds, Quick, were notable.
The issue of halal food in is becoming increasingly politicised in Western Europe. Halal is the Muslim ritual slaughter of animals by having their throats cut, whilst the Muslim butcher states, “Allah al Akbar” (God is great). The animal is then ‘bled out’.
The issue became controversial for three principal reasons. Firstly halal meat was the only option available in certain food outlets, many non-Muslims were reportedly eating halal meat without their knowledge, and lastly the certification of halal meat comes at a cost. This cost is born by the consumer who maybe non-Muslim.
The actress Bridgette Bardot has gotten herself into some legal trouble after declaring halal butchery inhumane. More recently it has become a topic of debate between Le Pen and Sarkozy.
Of course the issue of halal was symbolic of the place of Islam in France specfically and Europe generally.
To protest against Quick’s use of halal meat BI activists staged a protest at the premises where they donned pig masks and danced around a Quick outlet in protest.
The March of the Pigs
Media stunts designed to provoke, in conjunction with social media usage make them a worthwhile study. As a relatively small movement they need to utilise strategic provocation in order to get create newsworthy events and raise their profile, or at least their issues. Fabrice Robert, leader of the BI, reports the media strategy of Green Peace is an inspiration in the following interview.
In terms of mainstream coverage the most successful of such provocative events was the Saucisson et Pinard (Sausage and Wine) party planned for a Friday in a location close to a Mosque whose worshippers frequently spilled out on the street. The party aimed at highlighting the primacy of European culture in Paris by drinking wine and eating pork, both of which are forbidden in Islam – and feature heavily in traditional French cuisine.
Sausage & Wine Party
The party was subsequently banned in order to avoid conflict, but it received international media attention – and made concerns about street prayer a topic of debate at the national level.
Not quite as famous, but again, using pork as a provocation, was the handing of out of soupes identititaires (identity soups) to homeless people. The soups contained pork. Hence, the soup couldn’t be eaten by Muslim and Jewish people wishing to adhere to their specific religious diet.
The pork soup was banned in Strasbourg as a threat to public order after claims that it was racist.
As the FN under Marine Le Pen has shown a gentler face while adhering to their core platforms (the primacy of native French culture, law and order, concern about Islamism, economic nationalism, immigration) the BI has taken a deliberately activist approach to politics in order to gain coverage rarely received by smaller movements.
Introduction to the Interview
A leading researcher into contemporary populist nationalism and far right parties and social movements, Cas Mudde, reports he finds the subjects and ideas current within the nationalist milieu are commonplace amongst a large portion of the native populaces in many European countries. Like other researchers into European nationalism he notices a change in tone and hue in the communication of their platform. The communication of this change is the core issue of my research.
When interviewing members of movements contentious in nature it offers the researcher a number of challenges and ethical issues too substantial to discuss here. The end point is the development of nationalist movements in Europe and elsewhere, and their strategic communication is a worthy subject of study and one of the most considerable issues in European politics at this point in time. Being as balanced as possible and maintaining objectivity is the key in such circumstances.
As you can see there are a number of issues which arise from this interview (performed by email), which will serve as the future topics for research such as the power of nostalgia in nationalist political advertising, agenda setting by media provocation, and the integration of Gramscian thought into nationalist communication strategy using social media.
Of interest would be a comparison to other nationalist regionalist movements in and beyond Europe, such as Baluchs, Tibetans, Japanese nationalists, Basque Nationalists and Kosovar Serbs. Of course the circumstances, platfroms and the severity of the particular movements are radically different, but there appears to be some overlay in aesthetics and methods of strategic communication.
The most apparent similarities are a sense of being overwhelmed by a non-native group, the rigorous and deliberate of maintenance of native culture (and in some cases the rediscovery of it) and it’s public expression, and the application of strategic nostalgia as a key tool in political advertising and communication.
Fabrice Robert is a self-confessed former radical nationalist militant. The direction his movement has taken in adopting pop culture icons (such as the Spartans from the film 300) and the movement’s use of social and guerrilla media make it rare in nationalist politics and worthy of investigation.
This interview covers basic questions about the movement with a particular emphasis on communication.
To my knowledge this is the only interview with Fabrice Robert in English.
Like Matthew Goodwin of Northampton University, interviewing party activists and members would be useful to garner a thorough understanding of the parties. According to Goodwin such parties are likely to remain strong and gain amongst large sections of European communities. How they reach those potential movement members and voters is a subject worthy of study.
Interview with Fabrice Robert – President of Bloc Identitiare
This interview was conducted via email
Fabrice Robert Holding Mike
1. Firstly could you tell me the name/s and position/s of the party members responding to this questionnaire?
Fabrice Robert, 40, I am the president of the Bloc Identitaire. Postgraduate in the field of strategic information, I earn my living as an internet consultant. Former militant of the radical right, I created the Bloc identitaire in 2003, a movement often described by political scientists and analyst as an ideological think tank providing ideas to others parties.
With the Bloc identitaire, my purpose was to bring under the same roof all those who had at the heart of their consciences the defence of our ethnic identities. Our choices in matters of strategy and methods of action, enabled us to surprise the media, to grab the attention of our countrymen and, at the end, to have a significant impact on the political life of the country.
To give you an example, I am one of the main co-organisers of the flash street party «Sausisson-pinard » (sausage- wine) in Paris on June 18th 2010. Six months later, we were able to organise the first the international conference on Islamisation. Those two events draw the attention of the media, not only in France, but also in the whole world and contributed to the freedom of speech on Islam in France.
2. How many members and affiliates are there in the BI ?
The Bloc identitaire by itself has over 2,000 party members. If you include all the peripheral organisations we count 3000 militants active in political, cultural and social fields.
3. Could you describe your organisational structure?
The identity block is headed by a Bureau Politique (sort of National Executive Committee) and the Conseil fédéral (sort of National Policy Forum). The movement run on a day to day basis by regional coordinators.
The Bloc Identitaire is at the heart of every political initiative at a national level in defense of our identity. It may work in synergy with other structures (non-profits, think tanks, political parties…).
The Bloc Identitaire is a crucial component of the whole identity movement, whose other partners include movements (such as Nissa Rebela in Nice, Alsace d’abord, an Alsatian identity movement and many others), the Houses of Identity (La Traboule in Lyons, Lou Bastioun in Nice, Ty Breizh in Brittany, etc.), our youth branch (l’Autre jeunesse), and specialised structures (publishing, internet, social networks, etc.).
All these parts of the identity movement gather at the Conseil fédéral, which is the expression of all the “realities” of the identity movement, those who do the actual work.
The Bloc Identitaire never used the traditional pyramidal structures of the old parties inherited from the XIXth century. We favour an efficient network of local structures and specialised bodies. The Bloc identitaire is the national label for all the local initiatives.
The Bloc identitaire is better defined as a network rather than a conventional political party.
“Things Have to Change” – Emphasis on Regional Identities “Rebels from Nice”
4. For most English speakers the nationalism in France is usually equated to the Front National. Could you tell me what the key differences in your policies are?
What sorts of relationship do have with Front National?
What is your opinion of Marine Le Pen?
First of all, we differ from that party by the methods. The Front national focuses only on the electoral battleground. We believe that the power does not come only through the ballot box. The electoral process is only one possibility of action and not an end in itself.
We are good followers of Antonio Gramsci. Thus, we believe that in order to take the political power in a country, it is still necessary a preliminary and successful conquest of the minds. The struggle for the cultural hegemony must be total and therefore take different modes of action: agitprop operations, community network development, creation of alternative media, development of our presence on of the Internet, etc.
We also substantially differ from the Front national on the ground of the ideas. The National Front is hostile to European ideals, to regionalisation and to the idea of an ethnic identity. We firmly believe in three levels of belonging : region / nation / Europe.
The National Front stands for a vision of national identity closely associated with the acceptance of “republican values” inherited from the French revolution. It would therefore be enough to any foreigner to accept these values to become a full French? It’s not our point of view. For us, it is necessary to defend a vision of ethno-cultural identity. That’s why our struggle is directed to the defence of our three different levels of identity : local (regional), historical (French) and civilizational (European). For the Front national, these identities are antagonistic. For us, they are complementary, they belong to a whole.
Concerning Marine Le Pen, as the French like to say : « I will not insult the future ». But, to my knowledge, Marine Le Pen does not share most of the ideas we stand for, even if it sometimes has reused some of our themes. Moreover, we should see how much the Front national is ready to adopt important points for us: to end the birthright citizenship, to stop the policy of Family reunification and to reverse the migratory flows. With respect to Islamization, I am also waiting to see if Marine Le Pen is hostile to the building of any mosques on French soil, or if she is only hostile to the building of mosques publicly funded, which is very different.
5. From your manifesto it appears that you are heavily influenced by GRECE [The intellectual group associated with the Continental New Right] intellectuals, Guillaume Faye in particular? Can you tell me what influence they have had on your movement? Are there any other intellectuals that have influenced your platform, historical and contemporary?
We trace our political roots in the Catholic social teaching, in the French socialism of a Proudhon or a Sorel, in the European federalism of a great European like Coudenhove-Kalergi or a brithon [Breton] like Yann Fouéré who dreamt a Europe of a Hundred Flags, a Europe base on the rich fabric of our different regional identities, without of course forgetting the contributions of the” New Right ” where Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye played a crucial role. But those predecessors are more role models or sources of inspiration than strict ideological masters.
The European identity movement, in France as well in the rest of the continent, a new phenomenon, both in its composition and in its modes of operation, which cannot legitimately be attached to any past movement.
The GRECE, that set the pieces in motion in the late years of the sixties, especially in the field of ideological war, remains for us a major source of inspiration. I note that their action was often limited to discussions in Parisian salons. Our ambitions are different. We want to have results on the practical ground, to change people’s lives. One might consider that the Bloc is a mix between the GRECE metapolitical action and Greenpeace field operations.
6. The Lega Nord has a range of political tendencies amongst its members; does this occur in the BI?
And if so how do you manage different factions? For example there are social democratic regionalists, traditionalist Catholics (Society of Pope Pius X), those who are primarily interested in the environment, pre Christian religions (Celtic and Germanic paganism).
There are no, strictly speaking, political tendencies within the identity movement. Most of our members join when they begin to understand that mass immigration and Islamization are a danger to our civilization. Some may have different religious backgrounds (Catholic, atheist, polytheist, etc.), some may have different interests (ecology, social, cultural, etc.).
But once in the movement, the militants have a purpose stronger than their differences: the survival of our identity.
That is the efficiency of the network. To unite different profiles and different skills, enabling the development of projects that will serve the entire community.
The identitarians arise from the idea that we are the fruit of a land and a lineage, a link in a chain of life. To be an identitarian does not refer to a dogma – with its unique truth – or an ideology – with its intellectual constructions far away from reality –, to be an identitarian refers to the reality of our lives.
7. The BI is noted for a media campaign that could be considered a nationalist situtationism. Protests seem to feature acts that are likely to grab attention of the media and the public. For example the soupes identitiares and the protests against halal Quick involving pig masks? Could you tell the story about the pork sausage and wine parties and Sylvie Francois ?
We do not indulge in vain chattering or in useless jabbering. We act to provoke a debate in our society and to get concrete results.
For instance, the now famous “Apero saucisson pinard” held on June 18th, 2010 in Paris. To do this, we put under the sunlights a character, Sylvie Francois, who presented herself to the media as a resident of the Goutte d’Or, shocked by the illegal Muslim prayers organized by militant Islamist on the streets of her neighborhood. She then proposed to organize an “Apéritif saucisson pinard” to protest publicly against the Islamization of our country.
The announcement provoked a real scandal in the mass media and let no other alternative to the government to react to the real scandal, the illegal occupation of several streets of Paris for prayers organized by Islamist. The liberal press and the intellectual pundits denounced an unacceptable provocation intended to stigmatize the Muslim presence in France.
Finally, the television broadcast images of prayers in the street and the general public discovered a fact that was left in the dark for a long time. Our intervention has helped to arise awareness among the French and enabled ordinary people to speak freely about the Islamization of our land.
Our initiative evolved to be an outstanding success.
A few months later, we several members of the French political class integrated our discourse in their own. Then Claude Gueant, Interior Minister, announced a ban on Muslim prayers in the streets. Meanwhile, in an Ifop / Le Monde’s poll, 68% of the French considered the integration of people of Muslim origin a failure. This poll illustrates two important points: we are in harmony with the French and we play a crucial role in the awakening of our people.
Our operation « Apéro géant saucisson et pinard à La Goutte d’Or » was an astonishing success and validated our methods and concepts.
8. Is the theatrical nature of your protests designed to grab media attention? How successful have they been? How did you develop this style of campaigning?
Our purpose is to be present everywhere, to wage a permanent media war on the news front, to appear as the grain of sand in the gears of the system and to win victories bringing hope to our people.
The Bloc identitaire today is the movement with the know-how to use provocation to open a public debate. But the real challenge is not to stage an action, is to let it know to the general public. We achieved that goal thanks to our mastery of the Internet. We have activists versed in new technologies that could be called “dissidents 2.0″. With the development of web 2.0, every activist can become a medium in its own and become an individual force of opposition. Thus, we produce our own news content, which are then picked up by mainstream media. For example, is what happened with the invasion of a muslim fast food. Our video was relayed by large French TV channels to become the buzz of the week.
I often say that the street and computer networks are our offices. On the ground, close to our people, we are also launching our web appeals to traditional values.
9. Could you discuss the response to the soupes identitiares from the other parties, the media and the legal system? Did you except the response you received? By using contentious acts do you hope to promote media coverage even if it isn’t favourable? Would you prefer no media coverage or negative media coverage?
When you are in the middle of rough political action, we must accept the idea of being reported – sometimes agressively and in a biased way – by the media and violently denounced by your opponents. The plain facts we report are not always pleasent to the ears of our elites. But we think that today has opened a big gap between the few who govern us – the world hyper class – and the true french people.
The latter is no longer taken in by some lies, he can learn through other channels – including through websites réinformation – it is sensitive to the straight-talking and those who speak their words by transcribing what ‘they suffer on a daily basis. Until recently, a study Ifop / Paris Match / Europe 1 (November 2011) revealed that 76% of French people think that Islam is growing too. Our opponents may well denounce us and we try to criminalize. The fact remains that if they speak to us – even negatively – they make us better known to the general public. However, recent surveys show that a majority of the general public is more in tune with us on issues such as immigration and Islam …
10. Of your protests which do you deem to be the most successful and why do you believe this to be the case?
We lobbied against rap groups with insulting lyrics for the French-born and we successfully broke the wall of media censorship and imposed the idea that there is also an anti-white racism.
Through initiatives like the Identity soup, we recalled that social activism should not remain the monopoly of the xenophile left and the dire tragedy of our people in need.
Developing communication tools such as Novopress.info, we now have our own media. We are now able to expand our audience and connect with a wider audience.
Multiplying initiatives against the rampant Islamisation of France (call of the muezzin, streets renamed with Islamic names, etc…), we have contributed to open the eyes of the French on the development of Islam.
The Bloc identitaire is a firm believer in the value of lobbying and street activism to favour our cause. With this long shot strategy, we have thus advanced the political debate in France on topics as diverse as anti-white racism, self- defense, localism or Islamization.
But our main victory is semantic. Who eight years ago used the word “identity”? Nobody. Today, almost everyone uses it. This word means something important in the present French and European political debate.
11. There has been criticism in France that the BI is racist. What is your response to this charge?
We uphold a vision of ethno-cultural identity. For us, identity is what differentiates one Nation from another. The diversity of nations it’s also what makes the rich fabric of mankind. As identitarians, every People on the surface of the earth has an inalienable right for its own and distinct identity. Our motto has only two words : be yourself.
When we see the development of anti-white and anti-French racisms and the various political and religious communitarianism [sectarianism?], we face a very big problem. We believe that the multicultural and multiracial societies often become «multiracist». In defending identities, we fight to achieve a more harmonious society. Our slogan “100% identity, 0% racism” sums up our position. Every nation must grow on his land.
12. How do you feel about having Muslim majority states like Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo in such a European confederation?
I am convinced that these Muslim national homes are dangerous. They do not follow an European agenda, they are the loyal servants of foreign interest. Among those interests, not only I mention the Islamic nations, but also the United States, eager to use the Muslim minorities to weaken and divide the Europeans. I do not forget, either, the miserable fate of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority countries (as in Kosovo …). These lands of Islam are for me nothing but warts on European soil. Only a strong Europe, proud of its identity and civilizational heritage, may solve this problem.
13. Around Europe parties that have various degrees of success have focused their campaigns on immigration and Islam in Europe?
Do you find that these issues effectively define European nationalism at this point in history?
How effective do you believe they have been in gathering support for your movement?
Regarding the phenomenon of immigration-invasion affecting Europe, we believe that integration and assimilation are only achievable on a small number of individuals. But today we are dealing with a huge phenomenon that can actually cause a substitution of populations.
On the development of Islam, this religion is profoundly inconsistent with the values of European civilization. Islam is a foreign body in our history, our customs and our political culture. We also know that Islam is not a mere faith. Both religion and ideology, Islam leads to totalitarianism. Now we have to deal with aggressive proselytizing and protest (removal of pork in the school menus, multiplication of mosques, request to segregate women in public services, etc.). It’s a challenge to our civilizational model.
But let us not forget that the development of Islam is the result of immigration. Each year, 300 000 foreigners (mostly African and Muslim) land on our shores, legally and illegally, increasing the weight of non-French communities in our country. This Immigration, coupled with rapid population growth of Muslims (3.8 children per Muslim woman in France), is the main cause of the growth of Islam.
Our continent is confronted to these threats. It explains why the question of identity is at the heart of the political debate in Europe. When Angela Merkel, David Cameron and even Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledge the failure of multiculturalism, the read a line from our program.
Each other day, more and more Europeans become aware of the increased and malevolent presence of Islam in Europe. This awareness brings a broad popular support for identitarian causes.
14. What other political parties and movements do you have a strong relationship with (EDL, Vlaams Belang, PxC for example)?
How often do you benefit from such networks and what do you hope to gain from them in the future?
Today, we feel especially close to movements such as the Vlaams Belang, the Lega Nord, PxC [Catalonian ethno-regionalist party] and OPS. We are thus the French term of these populist movements and identity that grow strongly in Europe. There are, of course, links with the leaders of these movements. Ties that we intend to develop through concrete joint actions.
As Identitaires we feel profoundly European. We believe in Europe as a civilization and therefore part and parcel of our identity.
We will not win alone. Our struggle must be waged across Europe with the movements that share our values and the civilizational consciousness.
15. John Laughland has written an article in the English magazine, the Spectator, called “Liberty, Egality, Fecundity.” In that article he describes a trend amongst traditionalist Catholics to have very large families in a ‘demographic race’ with Muslim immigrants?
Have you noticed such a phenomenon in your party members?
What do you think about the demographic issues in Europe?
I read this article too. John Laughland did not target only the catholic families. He mentioned those large families as a trend among the French families more conscious of the challenges we face, Catholic or not. It’s a fact that in the young generation, large families begin to be the norm. It’s the battleground of the cradles. Let me tell you an example. A few month ago, I was invited to a party. At this gathering, three families totaled 18 children. All the parents were middle class, not at all the kind of people Laughland described.
We must, indeed, to cope with large populations of non-European peoples who settled on our soil. This awareness is not just the characteristic of Catholic families or members of the Bloc identitaire. Having children is a militant act in its own right and that affects everyone regardless of his religious views. We realize that what we are today, we must – in large part – to our ancestors. And we know that we in turn have a responsibility and duty towards our offspring. Duties of transmission but also to save a cultural and historical heritage.
16. What sort of political organisation do you propose for the Europe?
A confederation of autonomous regions, then a national state, then a European civilisation (Breton, French, European)?
Will regions have completely independence or autonomy?
Defending the principle of a regional France in the Europe of Peoples, we advocate the full implementation of the subsidiarity principle in European construction. The higher political level only hands those tasks, which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
In this condition, Europe will finally benefit from the dynamism of its regions and energy of its people to generate a political ambition to match his heritage: a federated and strong Europe, playing on the same ground as the new emerging empires and contributing to a more peaceful planet.
The Bloc identitaire thus defends the idea of a federal France, respectful of local freedoms and identities.