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Cordon sanitaire (French pronunciation: [kɔʁdɔ̃ sanitɛʁ]) is a French phrase that, literally translated, means "sanitary cordon". It originally denoted a barrier implemented to stop the spread of disease, such as the Black Death. The term is also oft-used metaphorically, in English, to refer to attempts to prevent the spread of an ideology deemed unwanted or dangerous, such as the containment policy adopted by George F. Kennan against the Soviet Union.
A cordon sanitaire is generally created around an area experiencing an epidemic of disease. Once the cordon is established, people from the infected area are no longer allowed to leave or enter it. In the most extreme form, the cordon is not lifted until the infection is extinguished, forcing everyone inside to either die or survive. The first actual use of the term cordon sanitaire was in 1821, when French troops were deployed to the border between France and Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains, in order to prevent a deadly fever from spreading from Spain into France. The tactic was also used, for instance, during the Black Death during the Great Northern War plague outbreak. Since the twentieth century, the tactic has been rarely used; prior to August 2014, when a cordon sanitaire was established around some of the most affected areas of the 2014 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak, the last time the tactic was used was in 1918, when the Polish-Russian border was closed to stop the spread of typhus.
In popular culture
The seminal use of "cordon sanitaire" as a metaphor for ideological containment referred to "the system of alliances instituted by France in post-World War I Europe that stretched from Finland to the Balkans" and which "completely ringed Germany and sealed off Russia from Western Europe, thereby isolating the two politically 'diseased' nations of Europe."
French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau is credited with coining the usage, when in March 1919 he urged the newly independent border states (also called limitrophe states) that had seceded from the Russian Empire and its successor the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 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.
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 considered a racist group by many, 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.
- In Italy, the Italian Communist Party and Italian Social Movement were excluded from coalition governments during the Cold War. The end of the Cold War along with the Tangentopoli scandal and Mani pulite investigation resulted in a dramatic political realignment.
- 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 and 2013), 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, and even the Republicans have exercised a cordon against the neo-Nazi National Democrats. Since 2013, the established major parties have refused to form state-level coalitions with the new right-wing populist party AfD.
- In the Netherlands, a parliamentary cordon sanitaire was put around the Centre Party (Centrumpartij, CP) and later on the Centre Democrats (Centrumdemocraten, CD), ostracising their leader Hans Janmaat. During the 2010 Cabinet formation, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) charged other parties of plotting a cordon sanitaire; however, there never was any agreement between the other parties on ignoring the PVV. Indeed, the PVV was floated several times as a potential coalition member by several informateurs throughout the government formation process, and the final minority coalition under Mark Rutte between Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democratic Appeal was officially "condoned" by the PVV (although it did not hold seats in the cabinet, the PVV agreed not to bring down the government, but did so anyway in 2012).
- Some (though not all) of the Non-Inscrits members of the European Parliament are unaffiliated because they are considered to lie too far on the right of the political spectrum to be acceptable to any of the European Parliament party groups.
- 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 candidate 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 the Czech Republic, the Communist Party is effectively excluded from any possible coalition because of a strong anti-Communist presence in most political parties, including the Social Democrats. Also a cordon sanitaire was put around the Republicans of Miroslav Sládek, when they were active in the Parliament (1992–1998). When any of its members was set to speak, other deputies would leave the Chamber of Deputies.
- In Estonia and Latvia, "Russian-speaking" parties (LKS and Harmony in Latvia, and the Constitution Party and Centre Party in Estonia) have been excluded from participation in ruling coalitions at a national level. Differing interpretations of the Soviet period from 1940-1990 and attitudes towards the current Russian government and United Russia are often cited as reasons to conclude coalition talks with other parties, even if said parties are perceived to be on the radical right. The cordon is not absolute; the Centre Party has briefly participated in two coalition governments in 1995 and 2002-2003.
- In Spain, groups such as the People's Party, have been sometimes excluded from any government coalition in Catalonia.
- In Sweden, the political parties in the Riksdag have adopted a policy of non-cooperation with the Sweden Democrats. 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.
- 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.
- In the United Kingdom, the far-right British National Party is completely ostracised by the political mainstream. Prominent politicians, including former Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, have been known to urge electors to vote for candidates from any party except the BNP. The eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party has categorically refused even limited cooperation with the BNP. Although the party has never held more than 60 of the some 22,000 elected positions in local government, it is generally agreed by all parties that the BNP should be excluded from any coalition agreement on those councils where no single party has a majority. When two BNP candidates were elected to the European Parliament at the 2009 election, the UK Government announced that it would provide them both with only the bare minimum level of support, denying them the ready access to officials and information that the other 70 British MEPs received.
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