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From the Moselle to the Pyrenees: commemoration, cultural memory and the 'debatable lands'.

Memory debates in the twentieth century were determined very largely by war and the aftermath of conflict. The analysis of commemorative practice in historically problematic French frontier territories after 1918 offers insight into the way collective memory is constructed in a context of local-national tension which also impinges on, and is influenced by, what is commonly understood to be 'cultural memory'. Post-1945, the impact of immigration and exile created the conditions for the emergence off new communities whose claims to a 'duty of memory' have shaped commemorative agendas in the last three decades.

Keywords: harkis, pieds-noirs, Resistance, sites of memory, war memorials


'Cultural memory' is an amorphous but helpfully capacious concept denoting and connoting phenomena that practitioners from various disciplines acknowledge without necessarily concurring on their precise significance or priority. Most would accept, however, that it implies a significant element of collective as opposed to individual, and public as opposed to private, memory; that whatever its personal affective resonance, it is socially mediated and transmitted; that it can find expression and reinforcement in a variety of popular cultural forms (visual arts, writing, music, song, etc.) as well as in ritual, symbol and commemorative practice; and that insofar as it is subscribed to or professed by groups and communities, it is a key component of local, regional and national identity, whether the latter are construed in historically Renanian or more contemporary Andersonian terms.

In the twentieth century, the experience of war and in particular the Great War of 1914-18 played a major part in determining the 'content' of European collective memory and the rituals of remembrance and, indirectly, influenced the parameters of philosophical enquiry into memory, from Maurice Halbwachs and Michel Foucault to Pierre Nora and Paul Ricoeur. The typology and socio-cultural inscription of war memorials have been studied, among others, by Antoine Prost, Annette Becker, Jay Winter and Daniel Sherman. My own research on memorial iconography in France and her former colonial territories has evolved towards a greater focus on anthropological and ethnographic aspects of commemoration (Kidd, 2004), and towards the study of comparative commemorative practice in historically debated frontier territories such as Alsace-Lorraine (Kidd, 1999), the Basque country and Catalonia where 'cultural memory' interfaces significantly with local, regional and national identity issues.

The present paper attempts neither to theorize nor to define cultural memory. Rather, using empirical criteria generated by the Mosellan experience, it examines the extent to which commemorative practice in physical memorials and in the language of commemoration reflects and inflects relationships between the local ('marginal') and the national ('central'). In France, part of that relationship concerns the potential tensions between the historically Jacobin and linguistically universalizing tendency of successive French regimes, and an intermittently emergent sense of local identity marked by linguistic particularism. Though the dichotomy was less marked in French Catalonia, never one of the classic terrae irredentae, historical circumstances on the eve of the Second World War and notably the Retirada--the influx of 400,000 Spanish Republican refugees between 27 January and 10 February 1939--brought broadly analogous factors into play. Taking a synoptic time frame from the 1920s to the present, and referring to successive immigrations from the Retirada to post-1962 Algerian expatriate pied-noir and harki (native auxiliary troops) populations, I highlight a number of currently topical and convergent themes, including the 'identifying' use of public (commemorative) space, the differential impact of the two world wars on the development of memory communities, and the importance of historical revisionism on paradigms of collective memory.

Community and the commemoration of 1914-18

In the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France's most south-westerly border department, three clusters of 1914-18 memorials offer a compact geographical case study of the interface between iconography, language and ideology. The memorials at Ascain, Sare and Saint-Jeande-Luz by the Maurrassian sculptor Maxime Real del Sarte (1888-1954) develop variants on the sacrifice and resurrection of the dead soldier, sculpturally absent in the two first mentioned but represented by the metonymic infantry helmet, the casque d'Adrian. In the third example cited, the gisant (the dead or dying combatant) is being shrouded by a pleureuse (grieving female figure) who crowns him with victor's laurels. The statuary, a single figure at Sare and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a couple at Ascain, represents memory as well as grief but its demeanour is assured, not bereft, and sheaves of corn symbolize the regeneration, through blood, of the 'Terre de France'. The Saint-Jean-de-Luz memorial bears the latter additional inscription, but it may be read as a generic title for Real del Sarte's work (Becker, 1988: 27), all of whose dedications are in French and none of which, because of his monarchist views, offers any concession to republicanism. The grieving male at Ascain is portrayed in a high-waisted Basque shirt, but realism and local colour are rigorously subordinate to the national: in these memorials, iconography, language and ideology are mutually reinforcing and coterminous. The collective patriotic memory which they construct and the themes of cultural memory to which they refer--sacrifice, death and resurrection, fecundity, the generous earth--are presented as univocal and homogeneous.

At Sauveterre-de-Bearn in the same department, a 1914-18 obelisk by the local artist Ernest Gabard (1879-1957) is flanked by a kneeling, almost prostrate pleureuse holding her face in grief. Under the commonplace dedication 'Sauveterre a ses enfants morts pour la PATRIE', a quatrain in Bearnais dialect enjoins the women of the province to 'dry their tears and be strong, should God so require them, and make France more beautiful' ('Hemnes secats boste perpere / e siats hortes si Diu se pren arre nus couste au co balent / Entaha La France mey bere!'--Louis Biarnes, 1914). That the pleureuse symbolizes all women (wives, mothers, fiancees), and by allegorical extension France herself, once more effects the translation from the local to the national. But the proleptic injunction, penned before the hecatombs of the Argonne (1915), Verdun (1916) and the Chemin des Dames (1917) delivered a sacrifice whose enormity could not have been predicted, (1) invests the memorial with a powerful irony wholly absent from Real del Sarte's work. The tension between heroic exhortation and the visual representation of inconsolable loss aligns Sauveterre with those which 'slip towards pacifism' (Prost, 1984: 204). For his on-line biographers, Gabard's 'moving memorials express a pacifist vision, convey the silent reprobation of the patriotic artist faced with war' (Auriol et al., 1998).

Other western Pyrenean memorials used Basque inscriptions to assert their independence from both the Bearnais and the French national tradition. Urrugne (1921) by the Bayonnais sculptor Lucien Danglade, incorporates two figures, a praying Basquaise in local head dress, and a 'grenadier' defending the tomb of a fallen comrade, marked by a low cross and helmet, and bearing the dedication 'Urrunerrer Gerland Hil Herrtarreri'. Aldudarrena has an identical bereted and great-coated grenadier in the same stance, probably by the same artist. As these units did not fight in the beret, but, in common with other regiments after 1915, in the standard issue casque d'Adrian, this vestimentary detail reinforces the local identity asserted in the inscription 'Gerland Hil Aldudrarren Izenak', literally 'the names of those who died in the war'. Though the memorial has a sculpted 'Croix de guerre' and faded tricolour motifs, there is no explicit reference to an overarching national cause: Urrugne records the 104 villagers 'who died in the faraway war', a sentiment which acquires an unexpected significance from the high levels of insoumission (call-up refusal) and desertion recorded in the departmental archives. As Yves Pourcher has shown (1994: 421-38), after the first flush of patriotic enthusiasm in the summer of 1914, many Basque troops tried to return to their valleys and pastures. By December, their number was such that the Prefect recommended the dispatch of future cohorts to Morocco, a suggestion predictably rejected by the Interior Ministry. As the position worsened, a problem previously confined to the mountainous frontier cantons spread to other areas of the department: by December 1916, 532 deserters and over 6,000 insoumis were recorded; in Urepel, only 5 of 250 men had reported for mobilization (Pourcher, 1994: 432).

Some disaffection undoubtedly arose from communication difficulties between Francophone officers and NCOs and Basque-speaking conscripts. However, a major factor was their sense of national and cultural separateness, and the proximity of sympathizers just across the Spanish border, as well as encouragement from the Basque diaspora in South America and the USA: 'French, Spanish or American, it matters little; Basques play with nationality to reject military uniform and avoid war. If they cross mountains, oceans and frontiers, it's that they have only one country, the Basque country' (Pourcher, 1994: 438). In a province whose linguistic-commemorative particularism persisted into the post-Second World War period, vide the 1939-45 plaque added to the memorial at Hasparrens, these memorials not only offer a striking 'otherness'; they are mute markers of an uncelebrated and to that extent 'repressed' part of the local memory.

The importance of linguistic signifiers is paradoxically confirmed by their absence in areas where they might have been expected. Dialect is not a feature of memorial inscriptions in Corsica, where autonomist tendencies were relatively quiescent until after World War II, or in Savoie, only joined to France in 1860, and is uncommon even in Brittany (Kerlaz, Plomodiern, Saint-Thegonnec, Ploare-Douarnenez), notwithstanding its more distinctive regional identity. Moreover, like the more random and more limited incidence of Provencal inscriptions in the Vaucluse (Giroud and Michel, 1991: 179, 213, 220), these are invariably on memorials erected in the cemetery, in the enclos paroissal adjacent to or inside the church, and to that extent belong to a private religious space as opposed to the secular public space created by the republican legislation of 1905 separating church and state.

Linguistic and cultural tensions were, however, at the heart of the commemorative problematic after 1918 in Alsace-Lorraine, especially in the Moselle which, unlike the predominantly Germanophone Alsace, had a linguistically mixed population. Attached to France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries respectively, Alsace and Lorraine retained many local particularisms, notwithstanding the unifying effects of Revolution and Empire. Following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, the departments of the Haut-Rhin, the Bas-Rhin and the newly configured Moselle were annexed to Germany by treat); and further Germanized over the ensuing four decades. By the eve of the First World War, education, intermarriage and progressive acculturation had altered the social, demographic and linguistic equation in Germany's favour.

When the region was liberated in November 1918, that equation confronted the incoming French authorities: each department was placed under the oversight of a 'Republican Commissioner' and the overall authority of a 'High Commissioner' responsible to Paris (the former socialist politician, Alexander Millerand). Though Millerand was personally enlightened, his successor in 1920 was the career civil and colonial administrator Alapetite, a former resident-general in Tunis (Grohmann, 1999: 116), and the attitude displayed toward the territories is best described as neo-colonialist in its assumptions and incomprehension. On the one hand, liberation meant reintegration to the French mother country ('Patrie') to which, in French official and much non-official sentimental mythology, they had never really ceased to belong (that Paris had resisted the Wilsonian idea of a regional plebiscite, partly because it might not be able to guarantee a popular majority, was occluded in the enthusiasm of victory). On the other hand, liberation meant the linguistic and cultural re-Frenchification of a population and a region which many, from Leon Mirman, the first 'Commissaire' in the Moselle, to the regiments sent to garrison Metz, Bitche and Sarreguemines, referred to as 'Boches' and 'Bochie'. To establish nationality and citizenship entitlement, a complex system of ethnic categorization was instituted which soon became a form of ethnic cleansing whose modalities--the permitted single suitcase with 30 kg of possessions, the forced embarkation of whole families from railway stations--were to become chillingly familiar two decades later. Some anti-German, i.e. anti-Mosellan, prejudice found an echo elsewhere in France, among the so-called 'Francais de l'Interieur' susceptible to widely received stereotypes and 'cliches deformants' (Roth, 1976: 9). A Mosellan pilgrim to Lourdes recorded her feelings of rejection when her reception in the ironically named Hotel de Metz et de Strasbourg proved less than wholehearted (Grohmann, 1999: 141,241-4).

A deeply problematic aspect of the post-war settlement arose from the identity of the fallen: of the 380,000 troops mobilized in the territories between 1914 and 1918, some 95 per cent had fought in the armies of the Kaiser (Roth, 1976: 626-7), and could not therefore be deemed 'morts pour la France'. (2) Indeed the patent granted to the iron master responsible for the most statistically common memorial poilu (French infantryman) sold after 1919 guaranteed exclusive rights 'in France, Algeria, Alsace-Lorraine, the Colonies and Belgium' (Rive et al., 1991: 141). That Alsace-Lorraine ranked above mere colonies but below Algeria, famously deemed to be part of France itself, may have rankled, but it was an accurate reflection of a huge commemorative dilemma whose resolution was necessarily partial and whose legacy persisted into a second annexation twenty years later.

Unusually, given their high-handedness in other respects, the authorities seemed conscious of the potential difficulties. A prefectoral circular of 3 October 1919 emanating originally from the Ministry of the Interior recommended to all local mayors and administrators that memorials be erected in the cemetery and bear the dedication 'A la memoire des enfants de la commune de ... morts pendant la guerre (1914-1918)'. Though 'enfants de la commune' corresponds to French national, indeed republican, usage, the intention was to establish the memorial as a private site of mourning and remembrance, one of funereal significance, not of public patriotic or national commemoration, a point strikingly underlined in the neutral and purely temporal formula 'morts pendant [during] la guerre'. An ancillary intention was to pre-empt the difficulties that might arise from the erection of overtly religious memorials in territory where, because of the annexation, the Third Republic's legislation of 1905 separating church and state was never implemented. (3)

Many communes followed the official advice, but a significant number disregarded it, some because they wanted a more public commemorative venue than the cemetery, and others--a minority--in order to re-assert their (French) identity by adopting patriotic memorial designs, in fact, of the 200 inventoried memorials in the Moselle, only 20, or 10 per cent of the total, articulate a frankly French nationalist message. Apart from the special case of Metz, where a memorial was erected very belatedly in 1935, these include five poilus in French-speaking frontier communes, and a variety of semirepublican or patriotic allegories. The majority belong to statistically typical and unproblematic categories (obelisks, columns, statues, sculptured groups or simple wall plaques) and adopted the inclusive ambiguity of dedications such as 'to our dead' and 'to our victims of the Great War'.

Equally significantly, in this strongly Catholic department in which the distinction between secular and religious space is very attenuated, calvaries, pietas, sacred hearts and angels occur on public memorials in a way unthinkable elsewhere in metropolitan France. At Petite-Rosselle and Hargarten-aux-Mines, the fallen soldier is represented, Christ-like, naked or partially robed but necessarily not in uniform. Secular variants found expression in the large urban memorials at Metz, whose flanking poilus were removed by the Germans in 1940, and Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin) where two naked, suffering bodies under a single maternal gaze encapsulate the cruelty of linguistic and cultural division.

Many smaller towns and villages circumnavigated the national representational difficulties with statues of Joan of Arc, conveniently canonized in 1920, who, by virtue of the fact that historically she was a Lorraine first and French only second, could commemorate equally the 'soldats lorrains' of German origin and their Francophone counterparts. This was a paradoxical but plausible rationalization which the prefectoral authorities found themselves obliged to endorse when arguments erupted in Bitche between those who wanted the names of all the fallen to be included on the memorial, including Jews of German nationality, and their opponents, among whom was the abbe brother of a 'French' casualty (Kidd, 1999: 67-8).

Seven communes, from the industrial (and communist) west of the department to the agricultural east, adopted memorials by the local sculptor, Scherer. Composed of virtually identical elements--an obelisk bearing the local coat of arms, a female mourner in semi-regional, semi-contemporary garb, and a lion couchant--their polysemy commended them to both sides of the linguistic divide. Alsting, near the Saar, offered a subtler commemorative compromise. The work of Joseph Zeiser of Sarreguemines, whose eldest son served in the German army and was killed at Soissons in 1918, it portrays, under the outspread wings of an interceding angel, a dying Roman legionary, thereby honouring the combatant while eliding the problematic question of uniform. However the memorial's plurality as historical narrative--Latin versus Frank, Roman versus Gaul, present in the bilingual dedication 'Priez pour nos soldats morts 1914-1918. Betet fur die Gefall. Krieger' ('Pray for the fallen warriors')--is undercut by the use of German Gothic script for the names and necrological details on the plinth; its inauguration in 1924 was recorded in German-language reports only.

German was also used at Behren-les-Forbach, where the dead are listed as 'gefallen' (fallen), 'gestorben' (died of wounds), or 'vermisst' (missing), and Petit-Eberswiller where under the commonplace 'Aux enfants de Petit-Eberswiller' one reads 'Zum Andenken an die Gefallenen des Weltkrieges 1914-1918' ('In memory of the fallen of the World War, 1914-1918'). Beside each name, the detail 'w' or 'o' indicates whether they died on the western or eastern front. The Rosbruck memorial, inaugurated in 1926 but destroyed during the Second World War, bore a crucifix on the front plinth and was inscribed 'Gestiftet von der Gemeinder Rosbrucken zur Erinnerungen an seine Opfer des Weltkrieges 1914-18' ('Erected by the community of Rosbruck in memory of its victims of the World War, 1914-18'). It created a controversy whose underlying cause was national and linguistic, but which was represented to the diocesan authorities as a clash between German Catholic orthodoxy and French laxity: seated on the plinth was a lightly clad female allegory who quickly acquired the dismissive anti-French sobriquet 'Marianne' (Kidd, 1999: 87).

In a region whose internal linguistic frontier is marked by rivers little more than the width of streams, and where national and international borders pass under railway bridges and disregard coal seams, local 'cultural' memory and collective national memory agendas were bound to prove sites of division and conflict. Self-destructive Franco-German rivalry was finally exorcized in the post-1945 European context, after a much more brutal but short-lived second annexation whose victims--forced-labour deportees, unwilling conscripts to the Wehrmacht (the 'malgre nous'), Jewish and Resistance martyrs--are commemorated in memorials whose language, unlike those of the previous conflict, is exclusively French. Traces of the earlier cultural duality survive harmlessly in today's urban landscape, from the Wilhelmine splendour of Metz railway station to local signs and inscriptions: Katholisches Vereinshaus on the 'parish association hall' at Hombourg-Haut; and Kaiserliches Postamt (Imperial Post Office) sculpted on a facade at Hayange, more immediately identified by the familiar yellow French postal (PTT) insignia.

Unlike the linguistically and culturally divided Moselle, and the partly Basque-speaking and historically right-wing Pyrenees-Atlantiques (later Basses-Pyrenees), the Pyrenees-Orientales offer more uniformly French forms of 'cultural memory' and a predominantly Republican memorial iconography. In a department whose union with France was longstanding (1659), which had a left-wing political tradition and which, apart from the winegrowers' strikes in 1907, had not evinced any serious local-national antagonisms, that republicanism should not surprise. Indeed, given the regional tendency to elect Radical-socialist deputies and the Radical Party's centrality in French national life for half a century, the department was a bastion of establishment orthodoxy: the Minister of the Interior in 1919 who circulated Prefects about the commemorative implications of the 1905 legislation was Jules Pams, Radical-socialist senator for the Pyrenees-Orientales. Local-national congruence was represented by the iconic presence of former French Commander-in-Chief, Marshal ('Papa') Joffre, the cooper's son from Rivesaltes, and by the sculptor Maillol (1861-1944), another enfant du pays whose memorial allegories in an identifiably Mediterranean idiom (Port-Vendres, Elne, Banyuls, Ceret) connected seamlessly to the Republican aesthetic repertoire. Secular public space is a key cultural and ideological identifier in a department rich in examples of 'Marianne' and whose prefecture (in Perpignan) boasts statues of Francois Arago and a massive bust of Socialist leader Jean Jaures, as well as schools and colleges named after Jules Ferry, creator of the secular primary school system and, since the 1960s, Resistance martyr Jean Moulin.

Another local artist, Gustave Violet, created memorials imbued with a more picturesque, almost bucolic, local colour. Indeed his Perpignan triptych has an almost 'Catalanist' dimension, but here too dialect is conspicuously absent. The memorial altar at Saint-Feliu-d'Avall with its inscription 'Que Deu posi dins sa Gloria y tinguem sempre en memori les fills de Sant-Faliu Morts per la Franca' ('Let God receive in his glory, and let us keep always in memory the sons of Saint-Feliu who died for France') constitutes the 'seul et unique temoignage en langue catalane pour honorer les Morts pour la France' (Chioselli et al., 2002: 82), but this is, unsurprisingly, located in the church; for public commemorative ceremonies, the cemetery offers a conventional obelisk with a French dedication. More unusually, the memorial at Ille-sur-Tet bears an inscription from the Barcelonan poet Apelles Mestre, 'No passereu!' (Chioselli et al., 2002: 96), whose historic inspiration was Petain's watchword at Verdun in 1916, 'They shall not pass!', and which was to enjoy considerable posterity during the Spanish Civil War.

Communities of memory since the Second World War

If the commemoration of 1914-18 in the Pyrenees-Orientales was generally unproblematic and national-norm referenced, more complex issues arose just before, during and after the Second World War as a result of the defeat of the Spanish Republic in January 1939 and the mass arrival, in a two-week period, of over 400,000 Spanish refugees (the Retirada). First housed in hastily created camps at adjacent coastal sites (Argeles, Saint-Cyprien, Rivesaltes, Le Barcares), they were subsequently transported to camps established for 'enemy aliens' and other 'undesirables', including Gurs in the Basque country. The camps acquired particular notoriety during the Vichy regime, when 47,000 Jews were imprisoned, most of whom were deported to Auschwitz. (4)

Many refugees subsequently returned to Spain but others stayed in France and joined the wartime Resistance, contributing to the liberation of their adopted country and to the emergence of one of its distinctive memory communities.

Unlike the construction of communal 'monuments aux morts' after 1918, the commemoration of Resistance dead, and in particular of foreign nationals killed on French soil, was a lengthy and belated process. Successive governments of the Fourth and Fifth Republics were reluctant to deal with a problem of which the only recent previous experience was ill Alsace-Lorraine, where, by a historical accident, the national identity of the dead was problematized by the return of the territory to one of the belligerents. It was only as first-generation memory shaded into the need not to forget, and as a second generation born and brought up in France reached maturity, that new self-help associations emerged to champion the commemorative cause.

As a result of campaigning by the French-based Amicale des anciens guerilleros espagnols, created in 1976, a national memorial to the 'guerilleros morts pour la France' was inaugurated in June 1982 at Prayols in the Ariege. It consists of a statue of an armed partisan symbolizing the 'indomitable will to overcome and the immortal No Pasaran' (Barcellini and Wieviorka, 1995: 279). In a cross-frontier initiative unthinkable in Franco's lifetime, the association collaborated with Spanish organizations to establish a memorial on Spanish soil, at Santa Cruz de la Moya, to the memory of the partisans 'who died for peace, freedom and democracy in Spain and beyond Spain from 1936 to 1950': the latter date embraces those who died after the end of formal European hostilities. More prophetic, however, was the relocation in 1970 of the 1914-18 memorial at Saint-Cyprien (Pyrenees-Orientales) to a site also commemorating the Retirada and post-independence Algerian and pied-noir rapatries (Chioselli et al., 2002: 92). Joined not in the common fraternity of death but as survivors with a claim to remembrance while alive, this signalled the emergence of new communities of memory based in, but not necessarily identified with, particular localities through the accident of exile and displacement. The memorial erected in 1989 at Maureillas-las-Illas (Pyrenees-Orientales) to 'the Spanish people and the Spanish Republican combatants forced into exile' (Barcellini and Wieviorka, 1995: 279) articulates the same message.

Two communities whose memory agendas are shaped by a more recent conflict, the Algerian war (1954-62), are the pied-noir exiles whose differences with the French state and the neo-Gaullist establishment crystallize around their refusal to acknowledge the peace settlement of July 1962, and the harkis, native auxiliaries left to their fate when French forces withdrew. Though the passage of time and socio-economic success have softened some pied-noir anger into a frustrated nostalgia, (5) prolonged official indifference has made them increasingly vocal in areas of high-density resettlement such as the Mediterranean coastal crescent, where they have established themselves, some in elected office, others in local associations, and where they exercise considerable influence over commemorative agendas. Most communes have accepted official nomenclature by fixing wall plaques or creating street names to mark 19 March 1962, some adding by way of explanation 'cease-fire in Algeria'. But to many pied-noir and now, increasingly, harki associations, that date is doubly unacceptable, because the FLN (Front de Liberation nationale) violence against both groups continued, and because it was later designated Algerian 'Victory Day'. Does France celebrate the defeat at Sedan in 1870, or the German-imposed armistice of 22 June 1940, the exiles pointedly ask?

Instead, these groups commemorate the fateful day a week later when Algerie francaise supporters were massacred in the rue d'Isly by, ironically, Algerian and Senegalese troops loyal to the government (Horne, 1977: 525-6). Some others celebrate 5 July, marking the day in 1962 when violence erupted against the remaining settlers in Oran. These manifestations of an alternative or counter-memory co-existing alongside a more conventional national practice are visible in the Pyrenees-Orientales where the same issue of the local newspaper reported on the gathering of members of the Federation nationale des anciens combattants d'Afrique-du-Nord (FNACA) at Prades on 19 March to commemorate the cease-fire, and the commemoration of 26 March by exile groups including Recours-France and the Cercle Algerianiste at the memorial to the rapatries in the cemetery at Le Haut-Vernet (L'Independant, 26 mars 2001, pp. 3 and 18).

Such assertions of commemorative distinctiveness have not only continued but increased because of, or in spite of, the admittedly slow steps taken by central government to formally acknowledge the Algerian war itself and to try, if not to atone for the original murderous injustice towards the harkis, at least to alleviate the hardships which they and their families have endured (Enjelvin, 2002: 16-19). There have also been symbolic gestures such as the issue in 1989, under the pretext of the revolutionary bicentenary, of a new postage stamp entitled 'Hommage aux harkis. Soldats de la France', and the declaration of the 'Journee nationale des harkis' on 25 September 2001, marked by the unveiling of a plaque at Les Invalides. Another measure of national recognition was the appointment by President Chirac of a harki, Hamlaoui Mekachera, to the ex-servicemen's (Anciens Combattants) ministry. Though welcome, these steps do not appear to have led to any diminution in the intensity with which harki families and in particular a younger generation campaign for fuller recognition.

A major force in the evolution and intensification of the commemorative agenda in France in the last two decades, though not the focus of the present study, was the belated acknowledgement by President Francois Mitterrand in July 1992 of French state complicity in the Holocaust. (6) A presidential decree a year later established 16 July, anniversary of the infamous 'Rafle du vel d'Hiv', the round-up of some 16,000 Jewish men, women and children in Paris on 16 July 1942 and their confinement in the indoor cycling arena, as a national day of remembrance for the victims of Vichy's racial persecution. In July 1994, a new memorial was inaugurated on the quai de Grenelle, close to the site of the former velodrome. The same year saw the erection of Holocaust and deportation memorials at the former Pyrenean camps at Le Vernet and Guts. The latter, by the Israeli artist Dani Karavani, includes a mock railhead, not in fact a feature of the original site (internees arrived and departed by road), but thanks to the universal familiarity of Auschwitz-Birkenau a now almost obligatory part of the imagined memory of the Shoah. (7) Whether, in a representational sense, this constitutes an example of what Anne Rigney elsewhere in this issue has called memorial 'scarcity' or, conversely, further evidence of 'la memoire banalisee et instrumentalisee' (Robin, 2003: 17-18), is a moot point. What is not at issue is the extent to which memory continues to dominate socio-cultural agendas. The most recent inauguration was in 1999: a memorial to the internees at the camp at Argeles on the sixtieth anniversary of the Retirada.

Each of the above-mentioned episodes can be interpreted as an attempt to acknowledge what is commonly called 'le devoir de memoire' and to use commemorative initiatives to close painful chapters in France's recent history. The interaction between centre and margins, between national and local, or national and sectional, memorial imperatives, has often been fruitful but has also been a site of tension. Moreover, memory issues have created tensions between local agencies themselves. In May 2000 the Conseil general du Finistere asked the Breton cultural association Diwan to change the name of a local college from that of a wartime Breton separatist who had expressed anti-Semitic views in the collaborationist press and radio. (8) That the Nazi occupiers had sought to exploit Breton separatism and a linguistic nationalism based on the notion of mystical 'Celtic' roots should not surprise; that it should resurface half a century later in the context of changing local cultural agendas is another matter.

A similar but more protracted controversy erupted in 2002 in the Basque country, at Saint-Palais near Pau (Pyrenees-Atlantiques), and also concerned a college named after a local political figure, Leon Berard (1876-1960). Born at Sauveterre-de-Bearn, Berard trained in law and entered politics. In a standard Third Republic career trajectory, he enjoyed successive electoral mandates (local councillor, President of the local council, Deputy and Senator), and held four ministerial portfolios in the 1920s and 1930s, as Under-Secretary of State for the Arts, Minister for Education (Instruction publique) and, twice, Justice. In March 1938 he was elected to the Academie francaise, in February 1939 he was sent to Burgos on behalf of the French government to recognize the Franco regime (Peschanksi, 2002: 38), and from 1940 until 1944 was Vichy's ambassador to the Vatican, in which capacity he explained and endorsed the regime's anti-Semitic legislation. These facts had been acknowledged in 1945, and Berard had temporarily forfeited civic rights and privileges, but as the war years receded from memory, the academician and local 'notable' enjoyed a final consecration as a cultural and artistic spokesman, commenting, inter alia, in 1954 on the sculptor Gabard who had eschewed Parisian cosmopolitanism for the aesthetic values of le terroir (Auriol et al., 1998). After his death in 1960, Berard had an avenue named after him in Pau and his bust was placed in the place du Parlement de Navarre, also known as place des Deportes ... With regional decentralization in the 1980s he entered the local 'patrimoine', and was the subject of a conference at Saint-Palais town hall in 1990.

The re-emergence in 2002 of Berard's wartime role triggered a controversy which, coinciding with presidential elections in which the extreme-right (National Front) candidate Jean-Marie le Pen came a close second to the incumbent, Jacques Chirac, had more than simply local interest and made the national press. (9) The college authorities requested a change of name 'au nom des valeurs de l'ecole de la Republique', and drew attention to the 'unbearable contradiction' between the compromising name and their vocation as educators with a responsibility to the past. Under the decentralization laws of 1986, the choice of name was no longer the preserve of the municipality but a responsibility shared with the school council and the departmental Conseil general. When the request was refused by both agencies, the school regretted that the 'duty of memory' expected of its pupil was not supported at departmental level.

The opposition was led by the mayors of Pau and Saint-Palais and the president of the Conseil general after seeking, they claimed, the advice of two respected historians, one of them based in Pau, the other reputedly the pre-eminent national historian of the French right, Rene Remond. Calling for 'serenity' and counselling caution to those who sought to 'reveiller les fantomes du passe', old ghosts best left undisturbed, they argued, lamely, that re-naming the college might lead to calls to re-name streets and public thoroughfares, with unforeseen consequences for inhabitants and businesses. The local centre-right Deputy, himself a historian and responsible for the education brief in the department, claimed that Berard's politics had been basically those of a Christian Democrat, adding that if the partisans of change wished to rake over the ashes of Vichy, what might not be made of the pro-Stalinist encomia of left-wing writers such as Aragon and Eluard? The 'duty of memory', they claimed, would be better served by the rediscovery of traditional Republican values, including a greater observance of the major commemorative dates--8 May, 18 June, 11 November--celebrated around the local monuments aux morts.

That this argument should be advanced in the context of a historically anti-republican department, some of whose war memorials, as we have shown, are sites of considerable ideological complexity, is only one of the ironies generated by this episode in which the regional Francophone press supported the status quo and pro-separatist Basque journals aligned themselves with the college. The troubling nearby presence of the former camp at Guts to which Berard had countenanced the dispatch of Spanish Basque refugees in 1940 (Laharie, 1993: 140), before tacitly sanctioning its use for French and foreign Jews, went umnentioned by both sides.


This paper has attempted to show how the commemoration of the war dead of 1914-18 in selected frontier areas of France provides insight into constructions of local collective memory through combinations of visual iconography and textual inscription, and how these constructions are often required to effect a compromise between problematically divergent local identities or antithetical socio-cultural preoccupations and aspirations. It has also attempted to identify factors which have led to the emergence of alternative memory communities in the post-Second World War era, and to chart the evolution of commemorative practice in the last two decades of the twentieth century. As my final and most recent example shows, local memory debates sometimes assume the appearance of what the French call a querelle de famille; but the intractable nature of the issues they raise, and the wider contexts to which they refer (Resistance, Algeria, the Holocaust), mean that they are rarely mere querelles de clocher. They are symptomatic of the power historical memory and the ownership of memory have to shape contemporary agendas.


Part of the research on which this paper is based was funded by the British Academy, whose support I gratefully acknowledge.


(1.) Laurence Binyon's now consecrated 'We shall remember them', used in British Armistice Day ceremonies for over eighty years, was written in 1914 (see Giddings, 1988: 16-17).

(2.) The designation is enshrined in laws passed on 2 July 1915 and 28 February 1922. The legislation governing French memorial practice may be consulted in Rive et al. (1991: 306-8).

(3.) In 1924 the Radical-socialist Cartel des gauches failed in a controversial attempt to impose the Republique une et indivisible in Alsace and Lorraine.

(4.) After the war, Rivesaltes housed successive populations, including former collaborators and fascist militiamen, and, from 1962 until its closure in 1964, Algerian harkis. The camps are now well documented: the authoritative work is Peschanski (2002).

(5.) See the fortieth-anniversary series 'Un ete 1962: les rapatries d'Alger', Liberation, 22-27 July 2002.

(6.) The President's words were carefully chosen to designate the historically delimited Vichy regime (l'Etat francais), not the on-going Republic.

(7.) See also the arched railway entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau featured on the cover of the special issue of Le Nouvel Observateur, 'La memoire de la Shoah' (December 2003-January 2004).

(8.) The controversy surfaced in the regional newspaper Le Telegramme on 10 May 2000, and featured on the web-based journal Amnistia: see Daeninckx (2000).

(9.) Articles appeared in L'Humanite in May, Le Monde in June and L'Express in July 2002. For extracts of these and other press coverage, including Le Journal de Saint-Palais, Le Journal du Pays Basque and Basque-language Ekaitza and Amikutz, see Socarros (2003) and 'Extraits de presse'.


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William Kidd is Reader in French at the University of Stirling, UK. Address: School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK [email:]
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Author:Kidd, William
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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