France upholds law requiring textbooks that put positive spin on nation’s colonial history





France’s parliament voted Tuesday to uphold a law that puts an upbeat spin on the country’s painful colonial past, ignoring complaints from historians and the former French territory of Algeria.

The law, passed quietly this year, requires school textbooks to address France’s "positive role" in its former colonies.

France’s lower house, in a 183-94 vote, rejected an effort by the opposition Socialists to kill the law. Passage would have been unusual, since the effort to overturn the law came from the conservative government’s political enemies.

The law has embarrassed conservative President Jacques Chirac and threatens to delay the signing of a friendship treaty between France and the North African nation of Algeria. France’s one-time colonial jewel won independence in 1962 after a brutal eight-year conflict France only recently called a war.

Education Minister Gilles de Robien said last month that textbooks would not be changed, despite the law. However, the Socialists said the measure was offensive to former colonies and French citizens with roots there, and should be erased.

The debate comes on the heels of three weeks of unrest by youths in France’s poor suburbs _ many of them immigrants or of North African origin. The troubles were widely seen as a desperate cry for equality by a population shunted to the margins of mainstream society.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, the lower chamber, said the law was a political and educational aberration.

"Today we can repair this mistake, because it is a mistake," he said on France-Inter radio before the debate.

"Our history, if we want it to be shared by French citizens as a whole, must recognize both glorious achievements, but also the darker moments with lucidity, without there being an official history decided by parliamentarians."

Lawmakers from the governing conservative UMP party passed the law in February when only a handful of deputies were present. It came under full public scrutiny only in recent months with a petition by history teachers. It was denounced at a recent annual meeting of historians.

The language that offends stipulates that "school programs recognize in particular the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa."


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