Sarkozy plan for history museum fails to stir France





French presidents have rushed to build a great cultural monument by which to be remembered, from Georges Pompidou's art centre and François Mitterrand's Louvre glass pyramid to Jacques Chirac's museum of indigenous art. Now Nicolas Sarkozy wants his own project: a museum of the history of France.

The president, whose emphasis on French pride and "national identity" has already caused controversy, declared this week that an all-encompassing history museum would reinforce "French identity". His museum would not seek to create "an official history", but a pluralistic approach, he told leading arts figures. "There are several ideas, there must be a debate, an argument," he said.

The museum would be built in a "symbolic place" yet to be decided, but Sarkozy's declared passion for bold architecture and praise for Mitterrand suggests that he plans to leave a mark on the landscape.

He is also keen to move away from his image as the first French president unversed in the arts. On official journeys, he has recently sat pointedly reading work by the Nobel-prizewinning French novelist Jean Marie Gustave Le Clézio. He visited the Grand Palais Picasso exhibition and yesterday Le Parisien reported that he had just discovered the Stanley Kubrick films 2001 Space Odyssey and The Shining.

But Sarkozy's use of French history has already rankled with some historians. After his election, he stressed that France - still struggling to come to terms with its second world war collaboration and colonial legacy in Africa - should stop its "repentance". Last year he was forced to drop a controversial proposal that every school child should "adopt" a Jewish child victim of the Holocaust to raise awareness.

Sarkozy first mooted his idea for a French history museum when he took office. A report was commissioned by the curator Hervé Lemoine, who suggested that the museum could be located at Les Invalides, the vast military hospital complex that houses Napoleon's tomb and various museums including the army museum. But the Elysée has not acted on the proposals.

This week, the head of the Musée de l'Armée at Invalides regretted that the breathtaking site was the only suggestion, warning against giving the impression that the armed forces would have a hand in telling the history of France...



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