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Le Pen Chides Boycotting Artists, Calling Them Yelping Puppies

June 21, 1995

PARIS (AP) _ Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen scoffed today at artists who announced plans to boycott towns where members of his party won mayoral races, comparing them to ``yelping puppies, poorly washed and badly trained.″

Several artists said Tuesday they would cancel concerts, performances or exhibitions in Toulon, Orange and Marignane _ southern cities where Le Pen’s National Front won weekend mayoral elections _ and in Nice, where a former party figure became mayor.

``That is not going to stop the Mediterranean from being blue, nor the National Front from continuing its political action in favor of the French treated like pariahs in their own land,″ Le Pen told reporters.

The National Front is accused of promoting racism by advocating preferential treatment for French citizens and the expulsion of non-European immigrants.

Artists, especially those of non-European descent, are divided over how to respond to the National Front victories. Several said they would forgo engagements in the cities.

Popular singer Patrick Bruel, who is of North African Jewish origin, canceled summer concerts in Toulon and Orange. ``I don’t think they’ll die in Toulon,″ said Le Pen.

Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, who is of Albanian descent, canceled plans for her company to become the National Contemporary Ballet of Toulon.

In Nice, where former National Front official Jacques Peyrat won the mayor’s race, three artists have said they will boycott the city. Peyrat left the National Front a year ago, but still espouses a far-right philosophy.

Helene Lola Gassin, who heads what is considered one of Nice’s most important galleries of avant-garde art, announced Tuesday that she is closing shop. Photographers Denis Roche and Arnaud Claass canceled plans to take part in a major exhibition in Nice in September.

But other artists condemned the boycotts, saying their public was more important than politics.

``The artist does his job of being an artist,″ famed singer Charles Aznavour, who is of Armenian origin, said on French radio. ``Will surgeons no longer operate in Orange?″

Aznavour said he sang ``for the public, without thinking of its skin color, its political color, its social or religious situation. ... And I will continue to do so.″

Black American opera star Barbara Hendricks, whose work is much appreciated in France, said Tuesday she would not withdraw her name from a new high school in Orange, where she has performed many times.

``I feel solidarity with this region that has always welcomed me with affection without ever thinking of the color of my skin,″ she said in a statement.

Culture Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, a conservative, said he would meet with artists to discourage them from a boycott. He said a cultural boycott would amount to a ``double defeat″ for the cities.

``Culture,″ he said in a radio interview, ``should look after society’s wounds.″

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