French elite march for immigrants

The figures tell the story. More than 100,000 people (not 30,000 as the police begrudgingly insisted) marched through Paris at the weekend to protest against a proposed new law to control illegal immigration.

Similar demonstrations in the provinces, however, attracted only small crowds: 2,000 in Toulouse, 1,000 in Strasbourg, 300 in Marseilles. The revolt against the new law - and by proxy, the far right - has been led by prominent intellectuals and artists and seems to be disproportionately a Parisian affair.

According to the polls, more than 60 per cent of French people support the new immigration Bill, which is due to be finalised in the National Assembly tomorrow. Paradoxically, the same polls suggest that just over 50 per cent of French people support the scores of petitions of protest against the Bill, which led to Saturday's march.

The arithmetic is not necessarily as strange as it sounds: it has been clear from the beginning that the real target of the protests is Jean- Marie Le Pen's xenophobic Front National, following its electoral victory in Vitrolles, near Marseilles. This was evident from the banners and placards on Saturday, divided more or less equally between attacks on Jean-Louis Debre, the interior minister who drafted the proposed law, and attacks on the FN.

The march began at the Gare de L'Est, as a deliberate reference to Jews deported from that station during the Second World War. In an atmosphere of solemn carnival the parade filled the whole of the Boulevard de Magenta - at least one mile long - by the time the last marchers left the station square.

The protesters were mostly under 50; mostly, but not all, smartly dressed; mostly, but not all, white; mostly, but not all, leftish in their politics. Although some of the most famous petitioners (Catherine Deneuve; Isabelle Huppert) were nowhere to be seen, the marchers did include the cinema director Bertrand Tavernier, the wife of the late president, Danielle Mitterrand, the former Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius, and the Communist Party leader, Robert Hue.

"Nous sommes tous, tous des immigres [We are all immigrants]," the marchers chanted. According to a recent demographical survey, this is not a huge exaggeration. Something like 20 per cent of the French population is descended from immigrants who arrived in the last 70 years. "What of Joyce, Wilde, Hemingway?" asked one placard, referring to famous - but certainly not illegal - literary immigrants to France.

The apparent confusion between legal and illegal immigration runs throughout the protest against the Debre law. The protest leaders argue that the centre-right government of Alain Juppe - and the whole of French politics - have become infected by Le Pennist ideas. They have seized on the law, months after it was first promulgated, as a way of fighting back against the Front.

But the law, though clumsily drafted, is mostly a tightening of procedures against illegal immigration which have existed for years. Its most controversial clause - requiring French people sheltering certain categories of foreigners to inform the authorities when the foreigners move on - has already been dropped. Though impressive and well-intentioned, the protests risk alienating a section of the working and lower-middle class, already vulnerable to the FN assertion that the nation's elite cares more for foreigners than for the French.

Police yesterday cleared 400 "sans papiers" or illegal immigrants from the Saint Jean-Baptiste church in Belleville in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. The immigrants, mostly ethnic Chinese, occupied the church on Saturday to protest against the Debre law.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue