Sarkozy's tribute falls foul of new French resistance

26th October 2007 at 01:00
Thousands of teachers in France this week ignored an order from President Nicolas Sarkozy to honour a 17-year-old Communist member of the Resistance who was shot by the Nazis 66 years ago.

On May 16, the day of his inauguration, Mr Sarkozy's first presidential announcement declared his wish that the farewell letter written by schoolboy Guy Moquet to his family before his execution on October 22, 1941 should be read to "all lycee students in France" in honour of patriotism and the Resistance.

In his letter to his parents and youngest brother, Moquet wrote of his imminent death, called on his family to be brave, and expressed hope that his death would "serve for something".

A circular issued by education minister Xavier Darcos in August advised that his ministry "strongly" associated itself with the President's decision to remember Guy Moquet on the anniversary of his death, with ceremonies including readings of his final words.

On Monday most lycees (upper secondaries) duly observed the event, many inviting former members of the Resistance, war veterans and MPs to attend. As well as Mr Darcos, other government members who took part in school events included higher education and research minister Valerie Pecresse and culture minister Christine Albanel.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon invited pupils from three Parisian lycees to his offices where he told them: "Like many others, [Moquet] was shot for love of France and its ideals. Love of one's country is believing in what unites us. It is also the knowledge that honour of the nation is not negotiable."

But many teachers and historians as well as opposition politicians protested against the commemoration, which they denounced as exploiting history for political ends. Teaching unions condemned the "manipulation of history" and "intolerable interference", complaining the President had no right to meddle in the education system. Snes, the biggest union representing secondary teachers, called on its members to boycott the event.

Teachers contributing to an interactive article on the website of Le Monde explained why they would not read the letter to their pupils. Their reasons included: "confusion of memory with history"; use of emotion instead of reason; usurping of history - "Moquet was not arrested because he was a resistant against the German occupation, but because he was a Communist"; that Moquet's anti-capitalist tracts should be read out instead; that it was inopportune at a time when Europe was discussing a new treaty, to revive events of 66 years ago.

Mr Sarkozy had planned to mark the anniversary on Monday at the lycee Carnot in Paris, where Moquet had been a pupil. However, the President called off his visit after a number of the school's teachers and students made known their opposition to the exercise.

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