Local hero?

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

France's extreme right leader and presidential hopeful Jean-Marie Le Pen makes much of his Breton roots. Hugh Schofield went to his home town of La Trinté-sur-Mer, to see what locals think of him.

Bald, very large, rheumy-eyed and at ten in the morning well into his bottle of rouge, retired sailor André Bellec fondly recalls the days when he and France's far-right champion Jean-Marie Le Pen won themselves the nickname "The terrors of La Trinité." 

"He was a tough one all right. Hard, just like his father, who I remember ran a fishing-boat called Esperance (Hope), and you didn't want to get on the wrong side of him!" says Bellec who, like Le Pen, is now 73 years old - though rather less active.

"We were in the same class at school up on the hill here, and we used to get up to all kinds of mischief. I remember shooting the glass out of street-lamps with our catapults. And then when he was 18 Jean-Marie just took off and left."

A picture-book village on the southern coast of Brittany, La Trinité-sur-Mer does not boast of its most famous son - no streets are named after him and the craft shops are devoid of Le Pen memorabilia - but nor is it particularly ashamed.

Many people would simply prefer to ignore him. "It's ludicrous that we are for ever tied to this man. The image the public has of La Trinité is totally distorted because of Le Pen. It's an instant stigma," said a weatherbeaten yachtsman, Luc, working on the waterfront.

The man today being universally reviled as the harbinger of a European xenophobic revival was born here in June 1928, the son of a fisherman and a local farm girl. Early black-and-white pictures show Le Pen on his father's boat, or in stiff confirmation clothes at the local church.

And since entering politics the National Front leader has deftly played on his Breton roots to conjure his vision of a pristine and unadulterated France. 

He still keeps a home here and campaign posters show a tanned and windswept man at the helm of a yacht.

La Trinité has changed enormously in the last decades. Along the promenade handsome Paris couples now push designer buggies and discuss the price of faux-sailor knitware. The marina is one of the most sought after in Brittany.

It is rich and free of immigrants and lies in a part of France that has traditionally proved resistant to the Le Pen charm. But here too last Sunday saw big gains for the far-right leader, with one in five of the town's 1200 voters choosing him in the presidential first round.

"Of course I voted for him," said florist Alexandre Le Trionnaire, 29. "He's a client and on a personal level I like him a lot."

"People say he is a racist, but when I delivered some flowers to his holiday house here I was surprised to see that a woman of colour opened the door - so he can't be," she said.

At a nearby pizzeria, owners Michel and Danielle Dhedin did not vote for Le Pen because they found his idea of taking France out of the EU and abolishing the euro to be "ridiculous," but they said his views on crime and immigration were accurate.

"The people who voted for him are not weird racists. They did it because they are just fed up, and no one in Paris cares. The crime is even beginning to take hold out here. We have more and more break-ins and car thefts," said Michel, 43. ery large, rheumy-eyed and at ten in the morning well into his bottle of rouge, retired sailor André Bellec fondly recalls the days when he and France's far-right champion Jean-Marie Le Pen won themselves the nickname "The terrors of La Trinité." 

"He was a tough one all right. Hard, just like his father, who I remember ran a fishing-boat called Esperance (Hope), and you didn't want to get on the wrong side of him!" says Bellec who, like Le Pen, is now 73 years old - though rather less active.

"We were in the same class at school up on the hill here, and we used to get up to all kinds of mischief. I remember shooting the glass out of street-lamps with our catapults. And then when he was 18 Jean-Marie just took off and left."

A picture-book village on the southern coast of Brittany, La Trinité-sur-Mer does not boast of its most famous son - no streets are named after him and the craft shops are devoid of Le Pen memorabilia - but nor is it particularly ashamed.

Many people would simply prefer to ignore him. "It's ludicrous that we are for ever tied to this man. The image the public has of La Trinité is totally distorted because of Le Pen. It's an instant stigma," said a weatherbeaten yachtsman, Luc, working on the waterfront.

The man today being universally reviled as the harbinger of a European xenophobic revival was born here in June 1928, the son of a fisherman and a local farm girl. Early black-and-white pictures show Le Pen on his father's boat, or in stiff confirmation clothes at the local church.

And since entering politics the National Front leader has deftly played on his Breton roots to conjure his vision of a pristine and unadulterated France. 

He still keeps a home here and campaign posters show a tanned and windswept man at the helm of a yacht.

La Trinité has changed enormously in the last decades. Along the promenade handsome Paris couples now push designer buggies and discuss the price of faux-sailor knitware. The marina is one of the most sought after in Brittany.

It is rich and free of immigrants and lies in a part of France that has traditionally proved resistant to the Le Pen charm. But here too last Sunday saw big gains for the far-right leader, with one in five of the town's 1200 voters choosing him in the presidential first round.

"Of course I voted for him," said florist Alexandre Le Trionnaire, 29. "He's a client and on a personal level I like him a lot."

"People say he is a racist, but when I delivered some flowers to his holiday house here I was surprised to see that a woman of colour opened the door - so he can't be," she said.

At a nearby pizzeria, owners Michel and Danielle Dhedin did not vote for Le Pen because they found his idea of taking France out of the EU and abolishing the euro to be "ridiculous," but they said his views on crime and immigration were accurate.

"The people who voted for him are not weird racists. They did it because they are just fed up, and no one in Paris cares. The crime is even beginning to take hold out here. We have more and more break-ins and car thefts," said Michel, 43.

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