Wednesday, February 15, 2006

French Court Strikes Down Pro-Colonialism Law

On a (somewhat) lighter note, France’s Conseil Constitutionnel has struck down a provision in a 2005 law that required history teachers to stress the “positive aspects” of French colonialism. The Council, which was established in 1958 and is responsible for reviewing the consistency of Acts of Parliament with the Constitution, held that the enacting the provision was outside competence of the legislature.

The 2005 law, ironically enough, was intended to recognize the contribution of the “harkis,” the 200,000 or so Algerians who fought alongside French colonial troops in Algeria’s war of independence before being abandoned when the French withdrew from Algeria. About 130,000 of the harkis were later executed as traitors.

The provision was immediately assailed by historians, writers, and intellectuals, more than 1,000 of whom signed a petition demanding its repeal. One eminent French historian likened it to the Japanese government’s approach to the Sino-Japanese war:

In Japan, a law defines the contents of history lessons, and textbooks minimise Japan's responsibility in the Sino-Japanese war. If France wants to be like that, it's going the right way about it.

The provision is not, however, the first or only example of a law dictating how certain periods of French history should be taught. A 1990 law outlaws denial of the Holocaust, and a 2001 law requires the slave trade to be described as a crime against humanity.

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