Banned French comic set for ten Swiss shows
Controversial French comic Dieudonné is set to perform in Switzerland this summer as part of a tour that faces being banned in much of France over concerns the entertainer’s routines are anti-Semitic.
The performer, who has six convictions for hate speech against Jews, was due to open the tour in Nantes on Thursday but the French city became the latest of several to ban his right to perform publicly in moves backed by French President François Hollande.
However, Dieudonné appears to be guaranteed an audience in Switzerland, where he is due to play for ten nights in June at a 460-seat venue in Nyon, a town in the canton of Vaud near Geneva.
Local official Olivier Mayor told AFP that Dieudonné could not be banned because of a precedent set when Geneva tried to ban him several years ago with a decision that was overturned by a judge.
"You can't convict someone in advance, we live by the rule of law," Mayor said.
French President Hollande on Tuesday backed attempts to ban the controversial comic as a furore intensified over his routines.
Weighing into a debate that has gripped France, Hollande urged local officials to take a hard line in applying an interior ministry circular which authorizes city mayors or police prefects to cancel Dieudonne performances on public order grounds.
"The government . . . has issued instructions to ensure that no one can use a performance for the goals of provocation and the promotion of overtly anti-Semitic theories," Hollande said in a New Year address to civil servants.
The Socialist leader said local officials had to be "vigilant and inflexible" in their response to what he described as "shameful provocation" without specifically mentioning Dieudonné.
The cities of Bordeaux and Tours have already announced they will not allow the comic to perform in their theatres, citing the risk of violent clashes between his fans and protesters who say he should be denied a platform.
But the cities' moves are expected to face legal challenges on freedom of speech grounds before the scheduled start of Dieudonné's tour in Nantes on Thursday.
Attempts to ban him have sparked misgivings amongst some opponents of the comic in France who fear that such moves only fuel his popularity further with his target audience and enhance his opportunities to cash in on his notoriety.
Dieudonné, 47, is the son of a father from Cameroon and a white French mother. He has been performing anti-Semitic material for years but he has gained greater prominence in recent months as a result of the internet-driven success of the "quenelle", his trademark arm gesture which some have described as a reverse Nazi salute.
Defenders of the comic say the gesture is simply code for an "up yours" message directed at the French establishment and thousands of ordinary French people have used it without being aware of any racist overtones.
The gesture has taken on sinister connotations however with the publication of pictures of Dieudonné fans performing quenelles outside synagogues, at a holocaust museum and in front of the school in Toulouse where Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three Jewish children in 2012.
France's reputation tarnished
Dieudonné's popularity — more than 5,000 tickets have been sold for the opening night of his tour — has exacerbated concern over a perceived resurgence of anti-Semitism in France under the guise of a brand of anti-Zionism.
In Tours, where all 2,000 tickets for a Dieudonné appearance on Friday have been sold, the mayor, Jean Germain, said a new generation had to understand that the comic's attacks on Jews could not be tolerated.
"We have to be able to say to the young that shouting 'death to the Jews' is forbidden," Germain said.
"That is not freedom of speech."
The controversy over Dieudonné's act has attracted attention around the world, partly as a result of former France striker Nicolas Anelka performing the quenelle during goal celebrations for his English club West Brom last month.
And it has come in the wake of France's international image having being tarnished by a series of incidents last year in which the country's most prominent black politician, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, was subjected to monkey taunts.
That led to commentators expressing concern that the expression of overt racism is becoming dangerously acceptable in France, a trend which some have linked to the rising electoral popularity of the anti-immigration, anti-EU National Front (FN).
Dieudonné has close links to FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is the godfather to one of the comic's children.
But Le Pen's daughter, Marine, who succeeded him as party leader, says she is as shocked as anyone else by the comic's anti-Semitism, although she believes the government is wrong to try and ban him.
"For once I'm in agreement with the very left-wing Human Rights League which has said a preemptive ban would have shaky legal foundations and uncertain political results," Marine Le Pen said on Tuesday.