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Madame Le Pen and Austrians Nostalgic for the Third Reich

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In Europe, the event didn't cause as much of a stir as it should have.

Yet it's at least as important as the recent performances of Hollande and Sarkozy.

In a word, Mme Le Pen, third in the race for the presidency, hot on the heals of the other candidates and threatening a new 21st of April*, may have ruined her chances to make it to the second round of the French presidential elections in a matter of a few short hours.

What happened?

Unique in Europe, in Vienna there is a lovely and lively tradition, that of the grand balls like those that were once a legend of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs.

But among these 500-some-odd balls that mark the season, beginning with the ultra-chic Emperor's Ball on the 31st of December, is an event in jarring contrast with the rest that even brings shame to the city, a ball so reviled by all that Austrian society counts as democrats or reputable conservatives that, each time it is held, it requires police protection, a ball that, by the way, may just have been held for the last time, for the authorities seem to have decided to prohibit it from now on. This ball is the ball of the Burschenschaften, these student associations that were born in the mid-19th century and grew with the hatred of Napoleonic France and its emancipated Jews, bodies that, still today, have close ties to all the enthusiasts of antisemitism and Naziism of Austria.

Now it is to this very ball that Mme Le Pen was invited as the guest of honor, last Friday, accompanied by Martin Graf, the head of the hard-line right wing of the Austrian extreme right party, the FPÖ. She appeared at the  Burschenschaften ball, this ball of all that is base and bad, so proud in her long black [sic] dress, to the applause [re-sic] of the usual troop of aging students, those nostalgic for the Third Reich, whose membership is signalled by a dueling scar on the cheek, the mark of the combat of swords of their youth, the height of their initiation.

Given her self-styled strategy of de-demonization, why did the candidate commit what can only appear to be an error?

How could she take the risk to waltz at the sole ball of Vienna that was off-limits, in fact, to both Jews and journalists?

How, and why, did she expose herself in this manner next to the militants of Olympia, one of the most hard-line, extremist, and openly "neo" of these Burschenschaften, who were the ones who issued the invitation?

Perhaps it's the fault of Jean-Marie Le Pen who, four years ago, was the guest of honor at the same function and seems, decidedly, less "distant" from his daughter's electoral campaign than has been reported.

Perhaps, yes, it was the compulsive loser who, this weekend, put lead in the wings of his daughter's campaign with two new provocations: one concerning Intouchables, the film that has deeply touched French audiences, in which he chose to see only the metaphor of an ailing France, saved by sneaky an ill-intended immigrants ; the other concerning, precisely, this ball, at which he supposedly heard only -- ah, the graceful play on words -- "Strauss, without Kahn."

Or else it was she alone, Marine Le Pen who, clueless as to such things as well as many others, actually confused the Opera Ball, the Blumenball, the Kaiserball, or the Ball of the Wiener Philharmoniker with the kitsch and corrupt mise-en-scene of a neo-Nazi celebration (hence the pathetic Front National press release in response to press coverage of the affair and to the reactions of French Jewish and anti-racist organisations).

Or else -- and this is the most likely -- it is the truth, just the truth, that of language, of memory, of political subconscious that is, as always, the law governing all things and that, naturally, resurfaced like a shot.

In any case, here is the result.

Mme Le Pen has put herself on display with known antisemites.

Mme Le Pen has marked with her presence a place where, every year, negationists like John Gudenus or David Irving are fêted.

On the day of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Mme Le Pen danced with the "combating students," petty and ridiculous samurais who, in certain cases (members of the Innsbruck association), include the former commander of Treblinka death camp, posthumously, among their comrades.

Before the ball, Mme Le Pen took the time to dine with Heinz-Christian Strache, number one of an FPÖ which just reaffirmed a radical pan-Germanism that, for any Austrian ear with a sense of history, has the ring of Naziism.

And while she was at it, Mme La Pen took the occasion, during a "working meeting," to encounter again her partners of the European Alliance for Freedom, founded in late 2010, which, from the FPÖ to the Flemish Vlaams Belang and the Slovakian and Hungarian nationalist organisations, gathers together all the continent counts of anti-Europe fanatics, those obsessed with the Jewish and Tzigane menace, or supporters of an Iranian regime "threatened" by Israeli bellicism.

That a candidate for the presidency that the polls credit with 17 to 20% of the electorate should commit such a disgusting act is not great news for democracy.

But it is news that, at least, has the merit of clarifying the debate. Last week, I said that Mme Le Pen does not love France. Well, that is normal, because she flirts with those who have always sought the ruin of the country, and of its values.

*April 21, 2002, was the day Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second in the first round of presidential elections, qualifying him, rather than Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, for the run off in the second round against Jacques Chirac, who won the election.