International

Law on Teaching About Colonialism Sparks Protests in France

June 21, 2005 1 min read
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Outraged French historians and intellectuals are trying to rally support for legislation that would block a law that requires schools to teach about the nation’s colonial exploits, especially those in North Africa, in a “positive” manner.

The law, adopted by Parliament earlier this year, was initially proposed to recognize and compensate repatriates who lived in Algeria as that country fought for its independence from 1954 to 1962, for their contributions, suffering, and sacrifices.

But an amendment, which mandates that the sacrifices of the French army be given a place of prominence in history lessons in the nation’s schools, sparked vocal protests this spring, including a petition signed by 1,001 historians, writers, educators, and others in intellectual circles. An anti-racism group based in Paris denounced the measure as “contrary to intellectual neutrality and freedom of thought.”

Thierry Le Bars, a law professor at the University of Caen Basse-Normandie, in Caen, who signed the petition, said in a telephone interview last week that historians are contacting lawmakers to try to change the law, but that no legislative action is currently under way.

It’s unclear how the nation’s teachers will translate the policy to the classroom.

While “positive” contributions were made under colonialism, such as the construction of hospitals and roads, Mr. Le Bars said, the massacres and torture that occurred must also be taught. He said he hopes that teachers will refuse to abide by the law.

Bruno Lenisch, a spokesman for the French Senate, said in a phone interview last week that the law is open to broad interpretation because it does not specify what teachers should say in the classroom. He described the law as largely symbolic.

Still, Mr. Le Bars added: “Even as a symbol, it is very grave. It presents a detestable image of France.”

Assistant Librarian Claire Guimbert acted as an interpreter and translator for this story.

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