France to amend contested law on colonial past
PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - France is to amend a fiercely-contested law that casts a positive light on the country's colonial past, President Jacques Chirac said in a New Year's address to the media on Wednesday.
Chirac acknowledged that a disputed clause of the law, which asks schools to emphasise the positive aspects of France’s presence overseas, was “dividing the French people” and “needed to be rewritten”.
“It is not up to the law to write history,” said the president.
The speaker of the National Assembly, Jean-Louis Debre, will shortly present an amended bill intended to “reassure and calm tempers”, after carrying out a wide-ranging inquiry into the issues at stake, Chirac said.
A bitter row erupted over a minor clause of a law voted last February, which states that “school programmes recognise in particular the positive role of France’s presence overseas, notably in north Africa…”
The law’s general provisions were aimed at improving the living conditions of French people repatriated at the end of the Algerian war of independence.
Though it passed almost unnoticed through parliament, the law has since been loudly denounced by rights groups, historians and citizens of France’s overseas territories who say it is a blatant attempt to whitewash the colonial past.
The dispute flared up again in late November after the ruling UMP voted down an attempt by the opposition Socialist party to have the measure revoked, and 44,000 people have since signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped.
The risk of angry protests over the article forced Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to cancel a planned trip to France’s Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The government has since sought to distance itself from the provision, stressing that the article was introduced by a single legislator.
Last month, Debre was placed at the head of a committee of enquiry asked to “evaluate the actions of parliament in the fields of memory and history” and report back to the government on whether to abrogate the law.
Subject: French news