France's positive spin on colonial past creates uproar
France, grappling for decades with its colonial past, has passed a law to put an upbeat spin on a painful era, making it mandatory to enshrine in textbooks the country's "positive role" in its far-flung colonies.
But the law is stirring anger among historians and passions in places like Algeria, which gained independence in a brutal conflict. Critics accuse France of trying to gild an inglorious colonial past with an "official history."
At issue is language in the law stipulating that "school programs recognize in particular the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa."
Deputies of the conservative governing party passed the law in February, but it has only recently come under public scrutiny after being denounced at an annual meeting of historians and in a history professors' petition.
An embarrassed President Jacques Chirac has called the law a "big screw-up," newspapers quoted aides as saying. Education Minister Gilles de Robien said this week that textbooks would not be changed. But the law's detractors want it stricken from the books — something the minister says only parliament can do.
The measure is one article in a law recognizing the "national contribution" of French citizens who lived in the colonies before independence. It is aimed, above all, at recognizing the French who lived in Algeria and were forced to flee, and Algerians who fought on the side of France.
Unlike other colonies, Algeria, the most prized conquest, was considered an integral part of France — just like Normandy. It was only after a brutal eight-year independence war that the French department in North Africa became a nation in 1962, after 132 years of occupation.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has equated the law with "mental blindness" and said it smacks of revisionism. The Algerian Parliament has called it a "grave precedent."
comments powered by Disqus
- T. rex fossils arrive at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
- Quote of the Day -- Time Magazine's Top 100 People
- Investigation: The Resegregation of America's Schools
- 5 Explosive Revelations Leaked from Senate Report Exposing CIA Torture
- In Parts of the South, Glorifying Slavery No Longer Pays the Bills
- UC Berkeley professor emeritus Robert Harlan dies at 84
- She Came All the Way from Melbourne to Attend the OAH
- The 7 Most Popular HNN Videos from the 2014 OAH
- Jesse Lemisch’s up-from-below history is still strikingly original
- U.Va. Historian Alan Taylor Wins 2014 Pulitzer for Book on Slaves and War -- His second Pulitzer!