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Thursday, January 7, 2010

National identity in 21st century France

Maite Ubiria reviews today at Gara about the many unsolved problems of Jacobin French identity with motive of the half centenary of the death of Albert Camus (author of The Stranger, among other titles) and the failure of the institutionalized debate that President Sarkozy has tried to propel personally on French identity.

Sarkozy pretended to offer some sort of state funeral to the illustrious writer and philosopher but the Camus family fought against this and hence the Algerian-French author will remain buried at his modest but cosy tomb at Lourmarin, Provence.

The figure of Camus is arguably relevant to this absurd debate on French and European identity that some percieve as threatened by the every day more visible Muslim community, turning to an obsolete Christian faith that anyhow nearly nobody professes anymore. The stubborn atheism of his character Mersault even in the death row impressed me in my youth as did his strange honesty.

While Sarkozy insists to empty halls about the Catholic identity of France, the very French identity of the hexagon is at the stake. A plurality of opressed nations within the French Republic declined to participate in this absurd scenification of a debate: Caribbean creoles, Corsicans and others expressed their disdain.

From the French Caribbean colonies (Guadaloupe, Martinique, etc.) the mayor of Le Prechêur (Martinique), Marcelin Nadeau, complained that we have our language but the territorial collectivities we have cannot define its development in our schools nor have competences to determine what our children learn. The unemployment in these islands is of some 30% and every year a thousand of arable lands are lost largely because of tourism and real state speculation. For Nadeau another important pending issue is the recovery of the memory and historical reparation (for colonialism and slavery). As illustrative example, the case of acclamated Martinican director Guy Deslauriers, whose latest film The Aliker Case, on the execution of a Martinican militant of the 1930s, was rejected any subsidies by the Frech ministry of culture (that is much more generous to metropolitan authors) and could only be produced thanks to popular subscription.

This issue of memory is also central to Corsican grievances. While France claims to be the motherland of Human Rights, the fact is that it was in Corsica where such ethical construct was first written and promulgated in Corsica by national hero Pasquale Paoli, almost totally ignored in French versions of history books. This is also the case of the many Corsican resistents to fascism and the ill-known fact that they managed on their own to liberate the island from Italian occupation already in 1943. But their hero and martyr Jean Nicoli is nowhere to be found in French history books used in schools compulsorily.

Brittany is another of the aggraviated nations within the Republic. The list of offenses is similar but in the Breton case there is not even a minimal autonomy. Emile Granville speaker of the Breton Party and liutenant mayor of Redon states that in view of the French denial, Bretons can only try to bypass the state and attempt to be acknowledged as what they are at European level.

For the smaller nations (Basque, Catalan), whose nationalist forces are gathered in the Federation of Regions and Peoples, the problem is about the same. Its speaker Peire Costa denounces that this pseudo-debate is only a propaganda attempt in favor of cultural uniformity and centralism, which are in fact the problems that hide behind it. For Costa, it is just nothing but a Jacobin assault, orchestrated by the summit of the state, that has as main target the diversity generated by immigration but that is also an assault against the so-called regional languages and cultures.

Apart of the dominant French ethnicity, the French Republic includes the following distinct nations or ethnically distinct territories (more or less):

In Europe:
Non-european colonies with some population:
Corsica and the other overseas colonies have some minimal and variable autonomy. West Flanders and the Northern Basque Country have no recognition at all, not even at department level.

France, Spain and Italy epitomize the urgency for self-determination of the the peoples of Western Europe, much as Kabylia, Kurdistan and Palestina do for the so-called Middle East. While so many nations have achieved self-rule in the last century in Central and Eastern Europe (from Poland to Kosovo), the problem of decolonization in West Europe remains much of an open wound.


Manju Edangam said...

As I have told before, all the countries in Europe must be mergend in a single country and all these restive regions must be made states a la India.

Maju said...

You must mean that "all the states in Europe must be merged in a single state and all these restive nations/countries must be made states a la India".

"Country" has a wide meaning, not too different from region or province. State is the specific term for a political entity.

Otherwise, I'd agree with you. Just that I'm too anarchist to be too interested in states. What I'm really interested in is self-rule, people's power, democracy.

Manju Edangam said...

In our vocabulary:
India: Country
Karnatka, Kerala etc...: States

Heraus said...

I frankly don't think that there's such a thing as "Occitania". It's a XIXth century romantic construction built by Southerners that were taught French national myths about the opposition of South and North.

Areas such as Limousin and Auvergne are inbetween Central France and Southern France : autochtonous Romance languages already announce French. If one studies the toponymical remnants in Poitou, one realizes that this area used to be Limousin-speaking.

In a word, France is a gigantic Romance continuum on a Celtic substrate : Limousin, Auvergne, Guienne, ... kept more archaic variants of Gallo-Romance dialects, that's pretty much all.

The only three Romance nations in France that really are "foreign" to the French nation are Gascony, Languedoc and Provence.

Listen to alleged Occitan spoken in Limousin : (it's half French)

Then alleged Occitan (Gascon) spoken in the Pyrenees : (even I cannot get him, so specific)

This website is interesting :

My opinion is really that Occitania is a byproduct of France : only because of French centralism could people believe that Southern France was somehow a united and coherent area. Far from it IMO.

If you read French, you might be interested in Auvergnat opinion about Occitania : many linguists are now developing the concept of "Medioromania".

Maju said...

Heraus: I am pretty much persuaded myself that Gascon is not Occitan but each time I bring the matter up with someone from the North (i.e. France but not Basque), they all (but you and maybe some other few, mostly Gascons, I imagine) seem to assume Occitan exists as a separate language and Gascon does not.

My knowledge is too limited to claim otherwise but in general I consider Gascon as a distinct non-Occitan language, a true "Basque Romance", and Catalan as a dialect of Occitan.

Whatever the case, the Occitan catch-all term served to me in this case to illustrate without going into depths I really cannot fathom the fact that the southern half of the Hexagon is not France proper but has a distinct ancestral culture and largely history and identity.

My opinion is really that Occitania is a byproduct of France : only because of French centralism could people believe that Southern France was somehow a united and coherent area. Far from it IMO.

Makes sense.