Sarkozy Resistance tribute kicks up a storm
22 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy ran into a wall of protest Monday from students and left-wingers angry at his order to read out a letter from a World War II Resistance hero in all French high schools.
22 October 2007
PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy ran into a wall of protest Monday from students and left-wingers angry at his order to read out a letter from a World War II Resistance hero in all French high schools.
During his election campaign, Sarkozy referred repeatedly to a letter sent by the young Guy Moquet, a 17-year-old communist, to his mother hours before he was executed by occupying Nazi forces on October 22, 1941.
At his swearing-in ceremony in May, Sarkozy said his first decision as head of state was for the letter to be read out to students each year, as an example of a young man's resistance to oppression.
Around the country Monday, World War II and Resistance veterans, historians and politicians from left and right including 10 government ministers took part in hundreds of tributes, debates and ceremonies in memory of Guy Moquet.
But in places teachers refused to read the letter in protest at Sarkozy's "presidential decree", while left-wing activists staged demonstrations accusing the right-wing government of "stealing" a Communist icon.
Sarkozy cancelled a plan to visit a high school Monday morning, officially for diary reasons, though student activists staged a rowdy "resistance" protest outside Guy Moquet's former school in Paris which he was tipped to visit.
Visiting a school in the Paris suburb of Villejuif, Justice Minister Rachida Dati was booed by activists yelling "Free Guy Moquet!" and "Resistance against racist laws," in protest at a toughening of French immigration laws.
Some schools invited campaigners to talk about their "resistance" to the deportation of illegal immigrant families with children in French schools.
The Communist party accused Sarkozy of trying to "rewrite history", while both the Socialist and centrist opposition warned Sarkozy not to interfere with history.
"What bothers me is that the reading should be imposed," Guy Moquet's childhood sweetheart, 83-year-old Odette Niles, told Le Parisien newspaper.
But several eminent resistance veterans have come out in support of the initiative, including Raymond Aubrac, 92, whose wife Lucie famously rescued him in a daring attack on a German convoy.
"It matters that Sarkozy, who was born after the war, takes an interest in keeping the memory of the resistance alive," said Aubrac.
Many students agreed. "OK, so it's a PR thing, Nicolas Sarkozy is not a saint, but the Resistance is important for him," said Roy Kamani, 14, who was charged with reading out the letter at his school in Paris.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon dismissed the row as a "fairly pathetic controversy".
"The president of the republic wanted to create a collective moment based around a letter by a young communist. It is a shame some people don't understand that," he said.
The letter was read out by a member of the French rugby team ahead of a World Cup match last month.
Son of a Communist deputy, Guy Moquet was arrested in October 1940 for illegally handing out communist leaflets in Paris.
Detained along with other Communist activists, he was executed the following October along with 49 others in retribution for the death of a German officer in a Communist ambush. He was the youngest among them.
Several historians question Guy Moquet's value as a symbol -- pointing out that the French Communist party supported the Nazi-Soviet pact right up until the spring of 1941, after which it joined the ranks of the Resistance.
"Guy Moquet was shot as a hostage and for his communist ideas, but not as a Resistant who took up arms against the occupier: he never had the time," said French history professor Dominique Chathuant.
Subject: French news