Professor Bruno Gollnisch in Lyon (France) October 14, 2004
France mulls ways to sanction Holocaust doubter
PARIS - France is checking whether it can take legal action against a leading far-right politician who has questioned whether the Nazis used gas chambers in the Holocaust, Justice Minister Dominique Perben said onThursday.
The University of Lyon has urged education officials to suspend Bruno Gollnisch, a professor of Japanese there, for questioning how the gas chambers were used in the wartime slaughter of the Jews and querying thedeath toll.
The president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, also called for legal action against Gollnisch, a European deputy who is also the nimber two man in the National Front party of extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
"Mr Gollnisch's comments are absolutely unacceptable," Perben told France Info radio in announcing the probe. "In an affair like this, I think the response should not only be penal ... but it should be political and possibly also professional."
France anti-racism laws have made denying the Holocaust a crime, punishable by fines and even prison.
Gollnisch, who is known as the intellectual of the controversial party, said on Monday he recognized that the gas chambers had existed but thought historians still had to decide whether they were actually used to kill Jews.
He called for an open debate about whether the total number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was actually 6 million as stated.
He also questioned the objectivity of leading historian Henry Rousso, who is investigating charges that certain Lyon lecturers were denying the Holocaust, by calling him "a Jewish personality".
The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations publicly condemned Gollnisch's comments at a news conference about Rousso's report on Holocaust denial at Lyon University.
European Parliament head Borrell said: "I would like to say clearly to public opinion in Europe and to all those who suffered from Nazi ethnic cleansing that the European Parliament will not tolerate this kind of statement."
At his Monday news conference, Gollnisch also said that serious historians no longer accepted that all the judgements of the post-war Nuremberg Trials of leading Nazis were fair.
"I don't know if I will lose my chair as professor of Japanese or even be put in prison for saying that, but I stand by it," he added.
Gollnisch, who studied law and political science at Kyoto University in Japan, holds a chair for Japanese language and civilization at the Lyon university named after Jean Moulin - the hero of the French Resistance murdered by the Nazis in 1943.
Outrage as Le Pen aide casts doubt on existence of Holocaust
By Susan Bell in Paris
FOR two years, the National Front in France has tried to present itself as a moderate, socially acceptable, right-wing party - a strategy guided by Jean-Marie Le Pen's youngest daughter, Marine.
But Mr Le Pen's deputy, Bruno Gollnisch, has blown a hole through that public relations effort by casting doubt on the existence of the Holocaust, provoking outrage.
"There is not a serious historian alive today who adheres completely to the conclusions of the Nuremberg trials," Mr Gollnisch, a Euro MP and Mr Le Pen's designated successor, said at a press conference in Lyons on Monday [October 11, 2004].
"I do not call into question the existence of the concentration camps, but as to the number of dead, historians can still have something to argue about. As to the existence of the gas chambers, that is up to the historians to determine," he added.
A leading anti-racist organisation, LICRA, said it had asked the president of the European Parliament to sanction the National Front deputy.
And demands were made for Mr Gollnisch to be suspended from his professorship at a university in Lyons.
His comments also infuriated senior members of the National Front, who have been striving to present a socially acceptable image of the anti-immigrant party.
"At his next appearance, he should just put on a hood and a Ku Klux Klan outfit and he will have got the total look," one exasperated executive said.
Until this latest controversy, Marine Le Pen had been trying hard to transform the party's image and tone down her father's frequently offensive rhetoric in a bid to attract more women and young people.
Her movement, Generations Le Pen, offered a softer, more palatable version of the National Front. Members of Ms Le Pen's camp were reported to be furious with Mr Gollnisch over his comments.
"It's unbelievable," one aide to Ms Le Pen said. "It really does not follow the line of credibleness and the culture of government which we have fixed for ourselves."
"He let himself go," said another disgruntled senior figure in the party. "This is hardly going to make us more popular, or him either, while he looks like the next leader the party will be putting up for president."
This is not the first time Mr Gollnisch has made such statements. In 1996, he sung the praises of French soldiers who served under the Nazis on the eastern front during the Second World War.
This is a sensitive issue for the brilliant but colourless Mr Gollnisch. After long being promised the party leadership upon the retirement of the ageing Mr Le Pen, he is faced with a formidable rival in the form of the boss's daughter.
Dubbed "the clone" by party insiders, the square-jawed, green-eyed blonde with the gravelly voice is the spitting image of her pugnacious father and is powerful within the National Front.
Many believe she is positioning herself to take on her father's mantle upon his retirement, rumoured to be in 2006. That led observers to say yesterday they believed Mr Gollnisch's comments were far from being a slip but instead were a carefully calculated rallying call to the ultra right-wing core of the party, which feels betrayed by Ms Le Pen's softly-softly approach.
Although the party's golden girl is clearly a chip off the old block, offering few variations on her father's anti-immigration, law-and-order message, the twice-married mother of three has riled many party militants by supporting abortion.
Mr Gollnisch, a professor of languages and Japanese civilisation, made his comments as he was reacting to the published findings of an investigation into alleged extreme right-wing activities at the University of Lyons III, where he teaches.
A report by the investigating commission, headed by the Jewish historian Henry Rousso, found "it was incontestable that the founders of Lyons III have more than just tolerated the _expression of extreme- right ideas".
Yesterday, the president of Lyons III, Guy Lavorel, said he had asked the minister, François Fillon, to suspend Mr Gollnisch from his post following his comments.
Mr Le Pen is no stranger to controversial statements about the Holocaust. Some 17 years ago, he shocking France, and the rest of the world, by describing the Nazi gas chambers used to murder an estimated 3.5 million Jews as a "mere detail of history" while speaking in Munich in the company of a former Nazi SS officer.
"In a book which contains 1,000 lines, the concentration camps take up about ten to 15 lines. That is what is called a detail," Mr Le Pen said.
Speaking on the French radio station Europe 1 in 1987, Mr Le Pen declared: "I am not saying that the gas chambers did not exist. I did not have the possibility to see them personally. I haven't especially studied the question. But I believe it is a detail in the history of the Second World War."
That comment led to him being stripped of his seat in the European
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