In the gilded late-day light of a Paris sidewalk café, the baby dozed the blissful sleep of those who know nothing of the headlines. Beside his carriage, however, his mother sat in a state of extended shock. Thanks to a frivolous twist of fate, a few days earlier the two of them had just missed being among the 14 mangled dead and 200 screaming wounded in the rubble left by Munich’s Oktoberfest neo-Nazi bombing. “It could have been us,” she kept repeating. But her reflections did not end there. “You know, if there is another swell of anti-Semitism in Europe, I just wonder how many of our so-called friends would rally to defend us.”
To the casual eavesdropper, those musings might have seemed a non sequitur.But the connections were perfectly obvious to a woman with a Star of David around her neck, who had escaped one nightmare only to be greeted back home in Paris by another: a neofascist spree that left a synagogue, a Jewish day-care centre and a memorial to Jewish martyrs under the Nazi occupation all strafed by machine-gun fire and blackened by swastikas.
Her fears, in fact, were to prove horrifyingly prophetic.
Friday night, shortly after sundown, her shaking voice on the telephone announced that a bomb had just ripped into the synagogue around the corner from her 16th arrondissement apartment killing at least four people and injuring two dozen others of the 400 Sabbath observers.
It was the 31st neo-Nazi terrorist attack in the country in less than three months, and if it outweighed all previous ones for sheer bloodiness, the accumulation of abominations provoked French Grand Rabbi Jacob Kaplan into thundering against the apparent impotence of the country’s gendarmes; and his was not the only voice to cry out against a marked failure among European police forces to smash rightist extremism with the same gusto that they customarily lavish on the left.
The main reason for that reluctance may have been pragmatic. Until recently, terrorism in the name of Marx and Mao had simply succeeded in creating more havoc, from the slick Baader-Meinhof kidnappings, which paralysed Germany, to the bloody dismantling of Italian social trust by the assassins of the Red Brigades. But in the past year, as the stragglers from ’70s “terrorist wanted” posters were being scooped behind bars with almost routine regularity while right-wing violence struck with deadly frequency, another conjecture began to become dread reality. As events over the past two months have revealed, some law and order forces were riddled with neofascist activists.
The supposition first took shape in the wake of the Bologna railway station massacre last August, which left
82 corpses and 200 maimed in a random neo-Nazi dream of death. Afterward, a socialist cabinet minister accused Italian police of collusion with the rightists. Investigations, however, promptly led to France and, in fact, are partly responsible for tripping the latest wave of anti-Semitic horrors. On a tip-off from Bologna police, French authorities arrested Paul-Louis Durand, a 25-year-old inspector trainee with the secret service responsible, among other things, for terrorist surveillance and protection of VIPs.
At one time Durand had even been assigned to guard Kaplan, despite the fact that his superiors apparently knew he was a leading militant and editorial writer for a 150member French neo-Nazi group called FANE, the Federation of National European Action, which made no secret of its mottoes: “One race, one combat” and “Israel must be destroyed.” Days before the Bologna bombing, Durand had met with neofascist extremists there and attended a training camp in the Abruzzi mountains for right-wing advocates of violence.
In the ensuing inquiry into— and prompt outlawing of— FANE, the French government was less than pleased by the revelation that as many as 30 of the movement’s 150-odd faithful were policemen, among them a high-ranking personnel officer responsible for promotions and cadet schooling. As Bernard Thomas of the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné put it: “Why be surprised when investigations of fascist attacks never make
any progress?” And a French newsmagazine revealed that not only did FANE have ties with Germany’s neo-Nazis, Spain’s right wing and the Ku Klux Klan, but that they had recently visited their counterparts in Munich.
The sinister threads that link Europe’s right-wing terrorists are only now beginning to surface in a bloody tapestry that more than rivals the tableau of violence etched across the continent by the left. In France, however, the design has taken on the darkest colors of all. Late last month, after the first wave of anti-Semitic attacks in Paris, an organization, which called itself FANE’s successor, the Federation of European Nationalists (FNE), promised still more mayhem unless FANE’s former chief, a 44-year-old bank employee named Marc Fredriksen, is acquitted of disseminating racial hate when sentenced Oct. 17.
Friday’s synagogue bombing was their gruesome reminder. But as French authorities rushed to calm the country’s enraged Jewish community and urge it not to respond in kind, the hope was that the explosion would prod the ribs of those in power not only in France but all over Europe. Terrorists of the right have the same goal as those of the left: to bring down the curtain of social chaos and set the stage for their own vastly different—but not in the end dissimilar-brand of totalitarianism.
Marci MacDonald is Maclean ’s Paris correspondent.
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