Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memory Politics: Le Cas Klarsfeld

In a previous post, I considered Pres. Sarkozy's memory politics and noted that he had chosen to repudiate his predecessor's apology for French complicity in the deportation of Jews and to reinstate the "resistantialist myth." In that connection it's interesting to note that the UMP candidate for deputy from the 12th arrondissement of Paris is Arno Klarsfeld. Klarsfeld, the son of famed Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, served as lawyer to the parties civiles in the trials of milice killer Paul Touvier and collaborator Maurice Papon. The publicity surrounding these two cases was surely among the most important factors in Chirac's decision to issue an apology in the name of France. Historian Henry Rousso called Klarsfeld the "attorney for the truth."

So it's interesting that Klarsfeld, who was so deeply involved in both cases, chose to support Sarkozy despite his retrogression on the memory of Vichy, and that Sarkozy apparently approved the parachutage of Klarsfeld as candidate in the 12th, where he had not been a resident. To explain this rapprochement would require a lengthy essay on the politics of immigration, French Middle East policy, and the sequelae of the Vichy syndrome. It's also worth noting that Klarsfeld, like Kouchner, was a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq.

8 comments:

Nick said...

First, thanks for the excellent blog.
What do you think of the connection between the seething discontent in the cités and the memory of the colonial past (Algeria in particular)? I am continually struck by the silence about the Algerian war and the colonial experience there in the current debates about immigration in France. Only recently did I find out about the 1961 race riots when some 200 peaceful demonstrators calling for Algerian independence were killed by a mob in the middle of Paris with the complicity of the police. Credit to Delanoe for acknowledging the incident in his own foray into memory politics.
Also, I'd be interested to get your perspective on the bemusing (for an American)left-right reversal on "discrimination positive", where affirmative action appears to be more popular with politicians on the Right than on the Left.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Thanks, Nick
Well, silence is a relative thing. Discussion of Algeria erupts from time to time: when General Aussaresses confessed to torture, for example, or in the Papon trial, mentioned in the post, because Papon was chief of police during the riots of '61 and '62 that you mention. And recently there was the flap over a bill in Parliament to declare that colonialism had on the whole been not such a bad thing. As for the wider culture, consider the very popular film Caché, which turned on the memory of Algeria.

As for "discrimination positive," the question is too complicated for a short response, but suffice it to say for now that the republican tradition has a hard time accommodating the concept of difference: citizenship is supposed to be abstract, and communities are supposed to have no public recognition. At least that is the theory. The practice has been much more complicated, as a series of recent books have shown. Hard-core republicans on the left cling to their ideal of the Republic and denounce the "communitarian" approach of "discrimination positive" as an unfortunate American import.

Francisco said...

To explain this rapprochement would require a lengthy essay on the politics of immigration, French Middle East policy, and the sequelae of the Vichy syndrome.

Sounds fascinating. Lets have it!

Anonymous said...

It is Israel, stupid.

sushi105 said...

i find klarsfeld's attachment (or whatever it is) to sarko plutot terrifying, after sarko gave that horrible speech at bercy vilifying those who remember, i read the entire text of that speech -- for a specific reason, not voluntarily -- and the thought of klarsfeld supporting him gives me the heebie-jeebies. his support for the war in iraq is equally opaque.

do we think he has a chance in the 12th?

Nick said...

I don't know. I hope he loses.

On Algeria, also note the excellent but relatively discrete film that came out last year, La Trahison.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Sego led in this circonscription by 925 votes. Klarsfeld's opponent from the PS is Sandrine Mazetier, deputy to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe. I predict a very close race and will go out on a limb and guess that Klarsfeld will lose.

Chris Smith said...

Curiouser and curiouser: On Nov. 23, 2007, President Sarkozy awarded the country's top honors to Beate Klarsfeld -- made an Officer in the Legion of Honor -- an award already given to her husband Serge, the country's best-known Nazi hunter — in recognition of her tenacious search for war criminals, some of whom operated in France during World War II. Her son Arno Klarsfeld was simultaneously named Knight in France's National Order of Merit.- USA Today. I'll be following this story at my website: http://www.frenchculturenow.com