Cordon sanitaire

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Cordon sanitaire (French pronunciation: ​[kɔʁdɔ̃ sanitɛʁ]) is a French phrase that, literally translated, means "sanitary cordon". Though in French it originally denoted a barrier implemented to stop the spread of disease,[1] it has often been used in English in a metaphorical sense to refer to attempts to prevent the spread of an ideology deemed unwanted or dangerous,[2] such as the containment policy adopted by George F. Kennan against the Soviet Union.

Diplomacy[edit]

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau is credited with the first use of the phrase as a metaphor for ideological containment. In March 1919, he urged the newly independent border states (also called limitrophe states) that had seceded from Russian Empire and Soviet Russia to form a defensive union and thus quarantine the spread of communism to Western Europe; he called such an alliance a cordon sanitaire. This is still probably the most famous use of the phrase, though it is sometimes used more generally to describe a set of buffer states that form a barrier against a larger, ideologically hostile state. According to historian André Fontaine, Clemenceau's cordon sanitaire marked the real beginning of the Cold War: thus, it would have started in 1919 and not in 1947 as most historians contend it did.

Electoral politics[edit]

Beginning in the late 1980s, the term was introduced into the discourse on parliamentary politics by Belgian commentators. At that time, the far-right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok party began to make significant electoral gains. Because the Vlaams Blok was a racist group, the other Belgian political parties committed to exclude the party from any coalition government, even if that forced the formation of grand coalition governments between ideological rivals. Commentators dubbed this agreement Belgium's cordon sanitaire. In 2004, its successor party, Vlaams Belang changed its party platform to allow it to comply with the law. While no formal new agreement has been signed against it, it nevertheless remains uncertain whether any mainstream Belgian party will enter into coalition talks with Vlaams Belang in the near future. Several members of various Flemish parties have questioned the viability of the cordon sanitaire. Critics of the cordon sanitaire claim that it is also undemocratic.

With the electoral success of nationalist and extremist parties on the left and right in recent European history, the term has been transferred to agreements similar to the one struck in Belgium:

  • In Belgium, the far-right party Vlaams Blok was excluded by cordon sanitaire in 1989, although it gained 17.17% of public votes.
  • After German reunification, East Germany's former ruling party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, or SED), reinvented itself first (in 1990) as the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and then (in 2005 before the elections) as the Left Party, in order to merge with the new group WASG that had emerged in the West. In the years following 1990, the other German political parties have consistently refused to consider forming a coalition with the PDS/Left Party on a federal level (which was possible in 2005), while on state levels, so-called red-red coalitions with the SPD were formed (or red-red-green). The term cordon sanitaire, though, is quite uncommon in Germany for coalition considerations. A strict political non-cooperation (in which The Left would participate, should the instance ever arise) is only exercised against right-wing parties, such as The Republicans.
  • In France, the policy of non-cooperation with Front National, together with the majoritarian two-round electoral system, leads to the permanent underrepresentation of the FN in the National Assembly. For instance, the FN won no seats out of 577 in the 2002 elections, despite receiving 11.3% of votes in the first round, as no FN candidates won a first-round majority and few even qualified (either by winning at least 12.5% of the local vote with 25% turnout or by being one of the top two finishers with less) to go on to the second round. In the 2002 presidential election, after the Front National canditate Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly defeated Lionel Jospin in the first round, the traditionally ideologically-opposed Socialist Party encouraged its voters to vote for Jacques Chirac in the second round, preferring anyone to Le Pen.
  • In Sweden, the political parties in the Riksdag have adopted a policy of non-cooperation with the Sweden Democrats in the municipalities. However, there have been exceptions where local politicians have supported resolutions from SD.
  • In Norway, all the parliamentary parties had consistently refused to formally join into a governing coalition at state level with the right-wing Progress Party until 2005 when the Conservative Party did so. In some municipalities however, the Progress Party cooperates with many parties, including the center-left Labour Party.[4]
  • In Canada, resistance to the formation of coalition governments among left-of-center parties has often been attributed to an unwillingness to be seen as collaborating with the Bloc Québécois, which advocates for the independence of Quebec.

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2], 1927
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ "- Nulltoleranse mot Frp-samarbeid", Arbeiderpartiet[dead link]
  5. ^ "Guardian: Cameron: vote for anyone but BNP". The Guardian (London). 18 April 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  6. ^ BBC News (3 November 2008). "UKIP rejects BNP electoral offer". Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  7. ^ Traynor, Ian (9 July 2009). "UK diplomats shun BNP officials in Europe". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 October 2009.