Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 86-year-old founder of the extreme right-wing National Front (FN), risks losing his title of honorary president and even expulsion from the party he founded in 1972.
Le Pen's interview in the April 9th issue of the extreme right-wing weekly Rivarol is a declaration of war on his daughter Marine's strategy of dédiabolisation which has sought to bring the party into the French mainstream and to make Marine a credible candidate for the presidency of France.
Ms Le Pen, president of the party since 2011, reacted vehemently in a communique announcing she will oppose her father’s heading the FN list for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region in next December’s regional elections.
“Jean-Marie Le Pen is in a spiral between a scorched earth strategy and political suicide,” Ms Le Pen wrote. “His status as honorary president does not authorise him to hold the National Front hostage to such crude provocations, whose objective seems to be to harm me, but which, alas, strike a very hard blow against the entire movement.”
The FN is in "an unprecedented crisis", Ms Le Pen told Le Monde. "The political break" with Mr Le Pen "is henceforward total and definitive", tweeted Florian Philippot, the party's vice-president and Ms Le Pen's right-hand man.
Louis Alliot, an FN member of the European parliament and Ms Le Pen's companion, called Mr Le Pen's interview in "an anti-Semitic rag… perfectly scandalous", adding: "Our political disagreements are irreconcilable."
This is not the first crisis between Le Pen
père et fi
. In 2005, Mr Le Pen told the same magazine that “the German occupation was not particularly inhumane”. His daughter temporarily left the movement. She was furious last summer when he created another scandal by speaking of “an ovenful” of Jewish opponents of the FN.
The current crisis started on April 2nd, when Mr Le Pen told radio and television stations that the Holocaust was “a detail of history”, an allegation he had made at least four times since 1987. The ministry of the interior opened an investigation for denial of crimes against humanity, and Jewish and human rights groups filed lawsuits.
Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie's adored grand-daughter Marion, who is a deputy in the National Assembly, and virtually the entire party leadership condemned the statement.
Mr Le Pen reacted to the outcry, telling Rivarol: "I'm not a man who changes his opinions or crawls on the ground." He seemed to raise the possibility of a dissident candidacy, noting that he won 33 per cent of the vote in PACA in the last European election and has been a regional councillor and president of the FN group there since 1992. "Thus, I am legitimate to lead the FN list in the region."
Mr Le Pen claimed on April 2nd that there were “ardent Pétainists” in the FN, a reference to Marshal Philippe Pétain , who led the collaborationist Vichy regime during the second World War. Marine Le Pen responded angrily, saying she knew of none.
"I never considered Marshal Pétain to be a traitor," Mr Le Pen said. "They were really hard on him at the Liberation. And I never considered the French who respected him to be bad… I believe there's a place for them in the National Front, as there is for those who defended l'Algérie Francaise."
Mr Le Pen complained that France is “governed by immigrants and the children of immigrants at every level”.
The Spanish-born prime minister, Manuel Valls, who was naturalised at the age of 20, "has been a Frenchman for only 30 years; I've been French for 1,000 years. What real attachment does Valls have to France?"
Ms Le Pen has insisted on the FN’s adherence to “Republican values”. Her father said that “Valls’s endless reference to the Republic… they’re all starting to get on my nerves with the Republic!” He could understand people questioning, or even fighting, democracy, Mr Le Pen added.
Gilbert Collard, one of two FN deputies in the National Assembly, called Le Pen "an old actor, on an old stage, reciting his sad text". Perhaps Collard was thinking of King Lear, whose daughters betrayed him. "One is always betrayed by one's own," Le Pen told Rivarol.
Left-wing politicians said Le Pen was the real voice of his party, and that his daughter has hidden its true nature. If Le Pen no longer represents the party's thinking, then "he has become a dissident within his own party", said Le Monde's editorial. In that case, "it is up to his daughter, his heir, to disavow him and to deprive him of status and a mandate to stand for office. Marine Le Pen must chose between her father and her party."