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Permanent commemoration in France

Photo: Christophe Ena Associated Press Once reserved for tributes to soldiers who died for France, the courtyard of Les Invalides is now open to everyone, from Charles Aznavour to the humblest prison guard. Pictured is President Emmanuel Macron at the national tribute to Aznavour in 2018.

It all began with the Chant des partisans and La Marseillaise. On the morning of May 8, 2003 in Paris, Emmanuel Macron marched on the almost empty Champs-Élysées to commemorate the Liberation. In the afternoon, he was in Lyon to visit the Memorial of the former Montluc prison, where the leader of the Resistance, Jean Moulin, was detained. Two months later, he was in the courtyard of the Charleville-Mézières prefecture where one of his speeches given to the National Council of the Resistance was read. On February 21, 80 years to the day after their death, he presided over the entry of Armenian communist resistance fighters Missak Manouchian and his wife, Mélinée, into the Pantheon. On April 7, he paid tribute to the memory of the fighters of the Glières plateau, in Haute-Savoie. Then he went to Ain to honor that of the 44 Jewish children from the Izieu house rounded up by the Gestapo. On April 16, he celebrated the resistance in the Vercors. It is already announced that, on August 25, he will celebrate the liberation of Paris and, on November 23, that of Strasbourg. And the list could go on for pages.

Never has a President of the Republic commemorated and inaugurated chrysanthemums so much. Of course, we don't celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings every year. But no one remembers such an avalanche of flags and fanfares on the 70th or 60th anniversary. Since its election in 2017, France has seen no less than 28 national tributes. Without obviously counting all the others, which the president seems to enjoy. Formerly reserved for tributes paid to soldiers who died for France, the courtyard of the Invalides is now open to everyone, from Charles Aznavour to the humblest prison guard. A bulimia that the historian Laurent Avesou had rightly called “commemorativity”.

“A deficit of incarnation”

Emmanuel Macron had also announced it when he was only a candidate for the presidency. “The past always burns our era, and the present is full of what has been,” he proclaimed on May 8, 2016, during a commemoration of Joan of Arc in Orléans. Some do not hesitate, as the historian Jean Garrigues wrote in Le Monde, to diagnose in this president nothing less than “enjoyment of these events memorials” intended to “fill a deficit of incarnation”.

Others even evoke a monarchical temptation. In a long interview given in July 2015 to the weekly Le 1, Emmanuel Macron underlined the “vacuum” created by the death of the king in our democracies. “In French politics, this absentee is the figure of the king, whose death I fundamentally think the French people did not want. The Terror created an emotional, imaginary, collective void: the king is no longer there! We then tried to reinvest this void, to place other figures there: these are the Napoleonic and Gaullist moments, in particular. The rest of the time, French democracy does not fill the space. »

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Nothing better represents this taste for pomp and honors — some would call it grandiloquence — than his long solitary stroll on the evening of his election in 2017 in the chiaroscuro of the courtyard of the Louvre, the former residence of the kings of France. All this for a speech whose content, itself, has not gone down in history. Faced with an increasingly “archipelago-like” France, to use the words of political scientist Jérôme Fourquet, the president believes he is thus bringing the French together and “rediscovering something in common.” Not to say an identity.

Political instrumentalization

From Jean-Paul Belmondo to Joséphine Baker, via Johnny Hallyday and Jean d'Ormesson, Emmanuel Macron loves nothing more than these polished speeches that he gives in front of the catafalques. Each time, the message is also political. It is difficult to resist the temptation to denounce the National Rally by celebrating the role played in France by foreigners like Joséphine Baker or Missak Manouchian. It's difficult not to judge the scale of the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Landing – to which he will devote three days, while he only spent 17 hours in New Caledonia – without considering that they take place 48 hours before the election European.

Emmanuel Macron would not be the first. At his lowest in the polls, in 2014, François Hollande also increased the commemorations. Barely elected, Nicolas Sarkozy ordered teachers to read the farewell letter of the communist Guy Môquet in classes before his execution by the Germans. Strange proposition since Môquet was not even a resistance fighter. No matter since the subject seems consensual. At the risk that the president of the Fifth Republic transforms into a German or Austrian president, with largely honorary functions.

The risk of trivialization

But sometimes the commemoration is controversial. This is what happened in 2017 when Emmanuel Macron described France’s action in Algeria as a “crime against humanity”. Or, when on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a leak revealed an extract from a speech recognizing France's responsibility. Excerpt that was not found in the text read that day. Note that a large number of these commemorations celebrate neither heroism nor service to the country, but simple victims who were in the wrong place that day. In 2020, Macron's entourage had even considered the idea of ​​a “memorial” for the victims of COVID-19.

But multiplying the commemorations means It is also running the risk of trivialization and saturation. Speaking of national funerals, Quebec philosopher Jacques Dufresne recently reminded us of this quote from Talleyrand: “Everything that is excessive is insignificant. » Then, he added that “by selling out such honors, nations dishonor themselves. They celebrate their own funerals in advance.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116