A Scandinavian specter hovering around the gilded west wing of the Palais De Justice De Paris last Thursday might have been forgiven for concluding that ‘something is rotten in the state of France.’ Indeed, dark spirits and phantasms, whether present in court or merely represented in absentia by black gown and white ruffle clad avocats, were in plentiful supply.
Either by contingent design or delicious confluence, the Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris had scheduled its hearings of France’s three most high-profile recent cases dealing with incitement to racism and anti-Semitism for the same afternoon. The ultra right-wing National Front’s Marine Le Pen was suing for defamation just as polls were predicting that she would garner historically high levels of support amongst potential voters. The elderly academic Robert Faurisson was once again facing prosecution from the French state for Holocaust denial. Yet the case most keenly awaited by the journalists and heavy metal fans packing the courtroom was the Tribunal’s decision on whether to deport from France the Norwegian neo-pagan, death metal rocker and white supremacist Varg Vikernes for allegations of “inciting crimes against race and religion” and “glorifying war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
As a matter of law and Republican tradition dating back to 1789, the court’s proceedings are open to the public. In practice, however, the three judges presiding over the tribunal did not have the slightest intention of providing the public with a show. Case files were called out briskly by the senior judge and criminal asseverations read out perfunctorily by the madame le procureur with the intent of blitzing through as many cases as possible.
The tribunal began with the delivery of a quick procedural judgement and set the next court date for a defamation case over slurs Le Pen exchanged with a member of the European Parliament. Le Pen is also concurrently suing several French newspapers and prominent journalists and the Justice minister for referring to the National Front as “the extreme right wing” The hearings were no doubt only a minor matter and nuisance for Madame Le Pen: several days before this the Front National easily demonstrated its regional strength with a smooth victory of a by-election in the Provence town of Brignoles. Le Pen did not appear in court.
The next case on the docket was merely the latest in a series of defamation cases against the seminally obsessive academic Robert Faurisson. A consortium of concentration camp deportee associations and civil rights organizations had filed a defamation case against Faurisson regarding a recent speech in which he had once again rehashed his theories about the ‘Auschwitz myth.’ Faurisson has been tried for the same crime so many times that the tribunal’s judges were almost visibly beset by tedium over the charges’ lack of novelty. Faurission was not present in court and his lawyers requested that the trial be rescheduled for another date when he could attend. “And does your client intend to be in court during his next required appearance?” an incredulous judge demanded. “Yes,” replied his counsel, “and our client also requests that he be allotted two hours to speak.” The head judge could barely control her disgust. The request for an extension was granted.
Finally it was time for the day’s main event, the hearings for 40-year-old Vikernes, the bearded frontman of the band Burzum. Famously convicted of murdering fellow death metal guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth in the 1990s, Vikernes was charged with involvement in multiple arson attacks on Norwegian churches, though ultimately acquitted in several of the cases (he himself teases the court system about his acquittal). Even after 15 years in a Norwegian prison and exile in the south of France, Vikernes still very much possesses the bearing and aura of a rock star.
Having embraced Nordic-style national socialism in prison, he has since abandoned the label of ‘Neo-Nazi’ in favor of pan European neo-paganism. The ‘traditional’ anti-southern, anti-Mediterranean and anti-Slavic prejudices of Teutonic thinkers have been jettisoned, in favor of integrationist calls for a European Union style confederacy of racists as well as principled opposition to Christianity as a ‘Jewish import’ created for the express purpose of debasing traditional European culture. Vikernes had undergone a striking aesthetic transformation from his long haired black metal days: during this appearance in court he wore a tan pullover, army camouflage cap and backpack, track pants, and a scruffy Odinesque beard. He looked like a mix between a French farmer and an American-style woods survivalist.
Last July he was arrested in a French government raid on his farmhouse on suspicions of planning a Breivik-style attack in France after his French wife Marie Cachet had legally purchased four rifles. In an hour-long co-interview with his wife released last month, Vikernes denied the connection vehemently, stating that “you can spend one minute googling him and me, and you will find immediately that I have expressed hostility to him and his criminal actions.” (Indeed, Vikernes called on Breivik to commit suicide for having killed more “potential mothers of future Norwegian children than the entire Muslim population of Norway had done in the last 40 years”). The presiding French magistrate eventually dismissed the case after a legal firearms permit was produced and the government was “unable to identify specific terrorist plans or terrorist target.”
In response, French Interior Minister Manule Valls immediately initiated the new charges of “inciting crimes against race and religion” and “glorifying war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The French government’s case was now based on his blog writings (which are indeed manifestly racist and anti-Semitic, but would be manifestly protected speech in American court) as well as files the state had allegedly extracted from his personal hard drive. The charges represented a preemptive strike by the French state against a potential internal enemy.
The Socialist government’s stridently anti-immigrant Interior Minister (himself a Spanish immigrant) has caused a furor throughout France and riots in Paris this week after he ordered the deportation of a Kosovo-born Roma girl. The French-educated girl was seized off a bus while on a school trip and taken to the airport immediately. President Hollande had to personally make a speech calling for calm and offered to let the girl return to France while a commission of inquiry took place.
The prosecutor acknowledged the severity of the new case against Vikernes during the proceeding, explaining that the case would serve as a potential precedent: France has never deported (a non-Roma) European national since the confederation of the European Union.
The procedures required to deport a Norwegian who has a French wife and four French children are difficult to imagine, but if nothing else this is an apt indicator of the political climate in France. Also attending the hearings was Canadian-American philosopher Justin E.H Smith, who has an interest in Pan-European fascist movements and has written extensively about Vikernes. “It’s hard to imagine an equivalent American court, like the Supreme Court, having to deal with three cases like this on the same day,” he told me. “It is the equivalent of the Tea Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the American Nazis being tried all in one day. What this shows is how pervasively screwed up France is and what the preponderance of the right wing is here.”
Vikernes’ lawyer requested that the trial be postponed so he could review a 900-page file presented by France’s police counterterrorism agency to the court several days before the trial. Through his Norwegian interpreter, Vikernes informed the court that he did not understand the nature of the charges being brought against him. The court broke out in spontaneous murmurs and the judges broke off proceedings immediately, huddling for several minutes before returning with an adjournment of proceedings until June 2014.
As Vikernes exited the court into the Palais’ main hall, a tremendous ovation erupted from his supporters. Vikernes stood poised and malevolent as a Viking warrior before a scrum of journalists, onlookers, and fans, raising a triumphant open palm over his head and thanking his supporters. His French Neo-Nazi body guards formed a ring around him to keep him from getting engulfed by the crowd and they quickly exited the building, cameramen chasing him as they do fleeing rock stars.
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Vladislav Davidzon is Tablet’s European culture correspondent and a Russian-American writer, translator, and critic. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and lives in Paris.