Jean-Marie Le Pen announced an historic gathering of his 'troops' on 1 May; instead of this, Workers Day became a giant meeting of anti-National Front forces. The French students of the Rome University LUISS wanted first and foremost to not remain helpless, abroad, whilst their compatriots mobilised against the extreme right and the National Front. They joined then with Café Babel and the Democratic Association of the French Abroad (L'Association Démocratique de Français à l'étranger, or the ADFE), with the firm intention of making their solidarity known to the demonstrators in France.
Wednesday 3 May 2002, the square in front of the Farnese Palace, the seat of the French Ambassador in Rome, was invaded between 11.00 and 15.00 by several hundred demonstrators (between 350 and 500). French and Italian students, international civil servants, rectors and professors, retired people and school children assembled beneath the banner of pluralism, tolerance, and the unity of European peoples, values contested by the National Front's programme. Several times during the meeting, the participants rang alarm clocks or mobile telephones to cries of "svegliati Francia! Français réveillez-vous!" (WAKE UP FRANCE!).
There was no shortage of banners, signs, songs (the resistance song "Bella Ciao" or the Italian national anthem revisited), or slogans to unite so many people of contrasting political opinions. The debates and speeches showed a real diversity, highlighting the unity before the extreme right. The phenomenon is surprising: the 5 1/2 million votes collected by the National Front raise a worrying, indeed a disconcerting incredulity before this enthusisastic consensus which denounces and fights it.
Of course the protestors feasted, sang, rallied onlookers and school groups who approached them to their cause; but they seemed not to forget that the contested event remained difficult to understand, even harder to resolve.
Which is why political discussions began, a mutual call to vote against Le Pen on 5 May, that is to say to vote for the outgoing president Jacques Chirac. "Jean-Marie Le Pen, I will never forgive you for forcing me to vote Chirac!" cried Mr Pergola of the ADFE. In fact, on this 1 May, the will to resist the rise of the National Front as well as to finish with the uneasiness, the worry of the extreme right was felt. The organisers refused any partisan interpretation of the demonstration, it was not about supporting any political movement, but about proclaiming opposition to intolerance and to a recurring political current that cannot express itself without recourse to hate, division, violence. It was stressed that the National Front is the wrong answer to problems that are certainly decisive, but which must be confronted with measure and by social dialogue, that is by the absolute primary values of democracy, values that the demonstrators consider opposite to those of Le Pen's party. Adriano Farano, representative of Café Babel, underligned the importance of social debate in Europe, poles apart from national introspection, the archway of the populist candidate's programme.
It was in any case a will transformed into a successful act. "It's a great success, above all expectations" judged one of the organisers present. It is undeniable that the spectacle gave food for thought: around the home-made banners, the tambourine players whose noise reverberated off the silent walls of the Embassy, on the pavements bathed in the May sun, gathered enthusiastic, curious, often anxious people, but all were confident of their sense of responsibility as electors and future governers.
"We must vote on Sunday" was heard around. The French television news did not fail to transmit a few Roman images: "even abroad, the French have mobilised...".
That's one objective reached, whilst the verdict of the ballot boxes, 5 May, saw another.