Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mitterrand Overrules the Censors

The Ecole des Beaux Arts took down work by Ko Siu Lan that mocked Sarkozy's campaign slogan "travailler plus pour gagner plus." Culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand ordered the work to be rehung after the artist complained to the media. Officials at the Ecole had invoked the obligation of public institutions to remain netural in political matters as grounds for taking the work down. Mitterrand correctly sensed that this interpretation of the "neutrality" of the state would be a public relations disaster and reversed the decision of the school authorities.

Since "neutrality" is also invoked as a justification for banning religious symbolism, perhaps the "identity" debate, now officially declared a failure, should be revived as a debate over the various possible interpretations of "neutrality." (See my argument in response to Laurent Bouvet in the comments to this previous post.)

1 comment:

Adeisidaemon said...

I think the similarities between the two cases wherein "neutrality" was envoked are superficial.
With the Beaux-Arts case, I believe, it was a matter of the l'Ecole's direction wanting to avoid the wrath of an evidently criticism-challenged presidential court.

With the identity/religious garb debate, its a matter of a majority consensus - the républicain-laïque consensus - rebutting challenges to the status quo on matters politico-religious.

The France whose identity is deeply rooted in the 1905 law separating Church & State is being put on the defensive. I've been drawn to read La Croix in recent months to see how the debate is handled and I haven't been disappointed. Republic-loving Catholics have been grappling with such questions for over a century. Jacques Maritain has rarely been so pertinent as he is now...

Rather than merely a debate, though, I think the situation is akin to that of a crisis. (Not a "sh*t hitting the fan" kind of crisis, mind you)
The identity debate has a negative side and a positive side to it. The negative & unfortunate upshot is that it is being piloted by an opportunist without scruples, ie Besson. The positive, or silver lining is that since the problematic itself is so deep and profound, it will outlast the political career of said politician and not even a hyper-active control freak can master it. Its a veritable Pandora's Box. It was quite a riotious & unsettling time back in the late 1800s & early 1900s. Perhaps even moreso then than it is today.