ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/olonisation-...
by CLAUDE RIBBE
Translated Thursday 9 February 2017, by
By Claude Ribbe, writer and director, author of Une Autre Histoire (2016, le cherche midi editeur).
On Sunday 28 August 2016, in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, at the chateau’s park, François Fillon, the center and rightist candidate in the 2017 presidential election, has chosen to revise the commonly accepted definition of colonization and to clear France of responsibility for the practice of state sponsored slavery, stating emphatically: "No, France is not culpable for having shared its culture with the peoples of Africa, Asia and North America! No, France did not invent slavery!"
This outburst by François Fillon was entirely consistent with the legacy of his mentor, Philippe Seguin, who in June 2002 asked the Paris council to replace the statue of a former slave, General Dumas, located in the Place du Général-Catroux. It also marked a certain divergence with respect to the values bequeathed by Joël Le Theule, Minister for Overseas Territories, to whom Fillon owes his career. Some people have judged that the location, chosen by François Fillon to make this statement , was not coincidental: Sablé-sur-Sarthe, the birthplace of Joël Le Theule, was also the municipality for which Raphael Elizé, a descendant of slaves from Martinique, was the Socialist mayor from 1929 until his dismissal by the Vichy authorities, in 1941, and his subsequent deportation to Buchenwald, where he died in 1944, something of which François Fillon cannot be ignorant, as he succeeded Raphael Elizé and Joël Le Theule as mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe from 1983 to 2001.
The date of 28 August is close to that of 23 August, set by UNESCO to commemorate the slave trade and slavery itself. It was indeed on 23 August 1791 that the slaves of Saint-Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti) rebelled against their French colonial masters, thereby accelerating slavery’s general abolition, which was ratified on February 4, 1794 by the Convention.
Even as François Fillon, when he was prime minister, signed a circular seeking to weaken the solemn character of 10 May - the date chosen by Jacques Chirac in 2006 for the commemoration of slavery, he could not have been unaware that a 2001 law recognized that slavery, such as that officially practiced by France, at the expense of six million Africans between 1635 and 1848 was a crime against humanity.
François Fillon’s declaration of 28 August 2016 undoubtedly won him the sympathy and support of the extreme and radical right, which allowed him to obtain, in a relatively short amount of time, during the weeks following his Sablé-sur-Sarthe speech, an estimated 12% in the polls, with 44% of the votes cast, outstripping Alain Juppé, judged to be more liberal on these issues.
The French former slave colonies failed to mirror this on 20 November 2016, in the first round of the center and right-wing primary. Indeed, the votes were heavily in favor of Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux, and the winner in Guyana (with 47.6%), Guadeloupe (43.4%), Martinique (35.36%) and Seine-Saint -Denis (35.8%).
In addition to the indignation in France and the overseas territories resulting from the colonization of Africa, the 28 August 2016 statement can only raise questions in the 47 countries, that long-lasting or not, partially or completely, were colonized by the French: Algeria, Anguilla, Antigua, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, United States, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Haiti, India, Laos, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Montserrat, Niger, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, St. Kitts, St. Domingo, St. Croix, St. Lucia, St. Eustatius St. Vincent, Senegal, Syria, Tanzania, Chad, Tobago, Togo, Tunisia and Vietnam.
For almost all of these nations, French colonization, which imposed forced labor on the indigenous peoples from 1900 to 1946, was violent and criminal. To take one example, in Madagascar, from 1883 to 1960, 500,000 deaths resulted: 17% of the original population. The Malagasy people, traumatized by this episode have never viewed this as a "sharing of culture" and have sometimes sought to lay the blame on their closest French neighbors: the Reunion Islanders.
Must we be reminded of the horrible episodes that accompanied the French colonization of Africa?
While France, obviously, was not the inventor of slavery, in general, it was nevertheless one of the first nations to develop a slave state, subsidized by premiums, and legalized by the black code. This official and institutional form of slavery (and not slavery in general) is that which is commemorated every May 10th.
Slavery was made possible through the propagation of racism. France can offer no condemnations in this respect, as it unfortunately counts, as its own, those theorists who were the first to question the unity of human nature. Isaac La Peyrère did so in 1655. And soon after, in 1684, François Bernier, a French physician, invented the absurd idea of the human "races". It was the French Republic, held hostage by Napoleon, who restored slavery, in a bloodbath, in 1802, after having abolished it (something that no country in the world had ever dared to do). It is also a Frenchman who invented the word racism, in 1892, not to denounce the prejudice, but to make it into a positive slogan. Additionally, there were the many French intellectuals, like Vacher de Lapouge, who directly inspired or approved of Nazi ideology.
France’s colonial and slave-holding past, although truly unpleasant, is an integral part of its history. Talking of such facts without watering them down has nothing to do with any call for "repentance". It is a prerequisite to overcoming this history and erasing its effects, of which racism, which currently places a heavy burden on the future of France, is the most obvious and the most dangerous.
Nicolas Sarkozy, after having inaugurated his term, with Francois Fillon as his Prime Minister, at the outset by declaring in Dakar, that the African people were "not sufficiently present in history," has tried over the course of the center and right-wing primary campaign to have the French of all backgrounds believe that they are the descendants of the "Gauls". François Fillon has continued in this direction by playing to the prejudices of the extreme right-wing, ultra-reactionary electorate and the identity movement that sees itself in him, as evidenced by the support displayed by the racist and eugenicist Henry de Lesquen.
In a period of unrest and attacks, one must be careful not to pit the French against one another, not to jeopardize the overseas territories, the suburbs or the country, as a whole. And we must also try not to insult the former French colonies, which today are essential economic partners, with disdainful remarks.
"The man of the future is one who has the longest memory," wrote Nietzsche. A short memory is condemned to be confronted, in the long-term, with the past that one does not want to admit.
On November 3, 2016, during the second primary debate broadcast by France 2, Francois Fillon contradicted his own statement of 28 August. He was forced to acknowledge that slavery and colonialism were indeed crimes. However, after being reproached by the trade unionist Elias Domota for the racist character of a phrase which could be construed as an apology for crimes against humanity, he stood by his remarks. An attitude in which certain observers, originally from the overseas territories and Africa, perceived as nothing but arrogance and contempt.
Fillon mentioned, in order to excuse himself, a speech delivered on the death of Aimé Césaire to the National Assembly on 13 May 2008. But this speech was mainly in regards to poetry, as if Césaire was not the author of Discourse on Colonialism; the words "slavery" and "colonization" were carefully avoided. The former mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe alluded to the "painful and chained past of the black peoples" to which Césaire was, according to him, "faithful". But the former Prime Minister did not seem overly concerned, as if the story were not his, as if there had been victims, but never executioners. And as if the victims, the "black peoples", by the sole fact of their color, were destined, from the beginning of time, to shackles and pain.