Le Pen's Pals--Blood and Soil
As long as the economic crisis does not become catastrophic there is no serious risk of a Le Pen coming to power anywhere in Western Europe. In the next French elections, in the worst scenario, the National Front could conquer one region, that of Provence=Côte d'Azur, which includes Marseilles and Nice. That would be morally shameful but not politically tragic. As things stand, the Front has no prospect of winning a parliamentary majority and its leader not an earthly chance of becoming president. And yet the disease is spreading throughout society. In the most recent poll nearly one-third of the French people said they agreed with Le Pen's views on immigration; a year ago it was 18 percent. Politicians like Chirac and Giscard are carriers of the infection.
Jingoist germs are actually spreading throughout Europe. In last October's Swiss general election, the party showing the biggest progress (from two to eight seats) was the xenophobic Partie des Automobilistes (Party of Car-Drivers), which advocates deploying troops on the frontier to stop illegal immigrants. And in the November election in Vienna the anti-immigration Freedom Party nearly tripled its representation in municipal government. More worrying are the cases of foreigner bashing and arson in Germany, particularly in the former East Germany, where immigrants are few and far between. This incidentally confirms that the so-called theory of a "threshold of tolerance," beyond which the increase in the number of foreigners provokes a rejection, has nothing to do with science and is pure propaganda. These indeed are symptoms of the inner sickness of a society, like the anti-Semitism without Jews in Poland. As the nationalist tide is rising in Europe, two perturbing thoughts come to mind: First, people need ideas transcending their immediate preoccupations, and the void left by the provisional discrediting of socialism is being filled by ghosts from the past, giving scope to the priest and the jingoist preacher; second, in Eastern Europe, where the economic situation is catastrophic, the triumph of a Le Pen cannot be ruled out. But these are thoughts that can only be mentioned, not developed, in a brief entry in a diary.
Blood and Business
Blood, in the meantime, has hit the headlines in a gruesome scandal involving contaminated transfusions. Several thousand patients, many of them hemophiliacs, were literally sentenced to death, at least some of them through a mixture of ignorance, bureaucracy and greed. Since the matter is sub judice, with four important figures in the world of transfusion already indicted, we shall limit the description to well-established facts.
Around 1983, specialists began worrying about the transmission of HIV through blood transfusions. Research was then pursued in two directions: a hunt for tests to detect at once the virus in donated blood, and a search for methods to purify that blood (notably through heating). But with the whole problem of AIDS underestimated, not enough money was spent on the effort. By March 1985, when unfortunately the bulk of the damage had been done, two facts were obvious in Paris: that the French stock of blood was contaminated and that nearly safe purified blood could be purchased from abroad. Yet four more months were needed for the authorities to draw the obvious conclusion from this state of things.
All those incriminated--scientists, managers and politicians--now plead that their knowledge was incomparably smaller six years ago than it is now; then eminent scientists were asserting, for instance, that only one out of ten people testing HIV positive would develop AIDS. This does not explain, however, why blood known to be contaminated continued to be used. It was not only a question of scientific ignorance; it was also one of getting rid of stocks, of beating the foreign competition--in short, of avoiding financial loss. People are now beginning to ask questions about indemnity payments for the victims (as if their suffering could be compensated), about the misbehavior of the administrators and the responsibility of the politicians. The scandal has only begun.