A Divided France Splits Over Death of Robert Badinter

By John Mercury February 15, 2024

In a solemn ceremony, France paid its respects on Wednesday to Robert Badinter, the lawyer and former justice minister who came to represent the conscience of the nation, but sharp political conflicts shattered any show of unity.

The family of Mr. Badinter, a lifelong Socialist who led the campaign resulting in the 1981 abolition of capital punishment in France, demanded that neither the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, nor the far-left France Unbowed party founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, be allowed to attend the ceremony. Mr. Badinter died on Friday.

Between them, the two parties hold about 30 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, or the lower house of Parliament. A ceremony conceived to celebrate one man’s embodiment of the soul of France revealed instead a fissured country whose identity and essential values are contested.

Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally, formerly the National Front, has espoused many of the views most detested by Mr. Badinter — antisemitism, xenophobia, rejection of European unity — so the request from Mr. Badinter’s widow, Élisabeth Badinter, was perhaps predictable. The party duly respected her wishes.

But the sharp rebuke to Mr. Mélenchon, who as a fellow socialist sat with Mr. Badinter in the Senate for many years, was a stark indication of the splintering of the left in France and the eclipse of the moderate social-democrat views embraced by the former justice minister. The Socialist Party has been in sharp decline since Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, upended traditional alignments in 2017 and became president.


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