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"Tribune libre"

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La confusion des mémoires du discours sarkozyen

by Jérôme Lamy

Disorder in the historical references in Sarkozy’s speeches

Translated Tuesday 13 May 2008, by Jonathan Pierrel

In a critical dictionary [1]
, a collective of historians decipher the blurring and manipulations that the head of the State inflicts upon the national heritage.

Le Comité de vigilance face aux usages de l’histoire (CVUH) (the committee of vigilance concerning the utilisation of history) offers, as a critical dictionary, a detailed analysis of historic references used by Nicolas Sarkozy during the last presidential campaign.

This collective of historians study the characters, the places, the events, and the concepts scattered in speeches delivered by the right-wing politician.

A mastery of historic references has always been a necessary criterion for a candidate to the presidency. But Sarkozy made the political utilisation of historical points of reference the rule, while modernizing a connection to the past marked henceforth by consumerism, confusion of memory, and a compulsive need to emphasize national heritage. In the forty-nine entries of this dictionary, the authors spot discursive strategies of the future president (and of his spin doctors), all of which aim to muddle political references. The manipulation of symbols and the decontextualisation of the events – Henri Guaino talks about “de-affiliation” – create a national mythology in which history is present only to provide names. History then becomes “indivisible and homogeneous,” smooth and syncretic. The authors highlight how hard Sarkozy tries to iron out conflicts and increase the value of a pseudo-continuity that would stretch from the monarchy to the republic. This blind belief in consensus aims at neutralising disagreements and, in the end, bringing discredit on political conflicts.

Besides evident mistakes, as for example, Mirabeau being transformed into a fraternal republican, and the untruths – the paternalistic condescending and ethnocentric vision of the history of Africa – it is shown how Sarkozy exploits only one aspect of historical characters he uses. Thus, Guy Môquet’s communist commitment is passed over in silence. Similarly, Sarkozy enlists the figure of Jaurès in such a way as to suggest that he had never been a Marxist theorist, nor an advocate of shorter working hours. Resorting to characters usually associated to the Left – such as Blum, Jaurès, Jean Moulin – enabled the right-wing candidate to grant himself a social and humanistic layer that he is evidently lacking. This poaching was all the easier since, at the same time, the socialist candidate tried to erase everything that could mark her speeches as from the Left.

The “thus-tinkered” pantheon increases the value of the individual dimension of historical events. By presenting the Edict of Nantes as written by a single person, Henry IV, Sarkozy passes over in silence complex collective processes that led to its writing. The Sarkozian obsession is to create a united national pseudo-narrative by confusing characters, places and events. The patriotic exaltation, which insistently manifests itself in the ambiguous exploitation of the colonial era, constitutes a major characteristic of Sarkozy’s speeches.

The dubious historical editing and the nauseating makeshift historical reflection that Sarkozy used during the last campaign must not blind us to the values of a Right far more reactionary and conservative than his speeches imply. It is thus an essential book that is offered to us. First, because it is a collective and critical work. And at last, because it brings up to date, according to the political rhetoric of Sarkozy, the hegemonic dream of a nationalistic right-wing obedient to free-market economics.

[1Comment Sarkozy écrit l’histoire de France (“How Sarkozy writes the history of France”) Editors: Laurence de Cock, Fanny Madeline, Nicolas Offenstadt, Sophie Wahnich. Agone editions, 2008, 204 pages, 15 euros.


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