Saturday, December 03, 2005

France, Napoleon, Past & Present.

When it is the British who lament over the lack of celebrations of the victory of Napoleon at Austerlitz, and when there is not the slightest controversy in France over the fact that Napoleon is played by an American in the official re-enactment, you begin to think that France is not really what it used to be.
You may also conclude that this time France may have REALLY kept too low a profile in marking this event. The Independent suggests that fear of flag-waving and jingoism is the cause of this but I think that it is rather the sign that France is growing uneasy in dealing with her past. Many recent events have underlined the tension:

The recent violence by ethnic-immigrant youths, the law aimed at teaching French pupils about the "positive" role of colonialism (which has – rightfully - stirred uproar), the new role of religion in the Republic, or even the role of France in Africa during the two-day meeting between French and African leaders in Bamako - all have stressed the differences between different groups who have their own interpretation of history and thus of the French identity.

My take is that it is mostly a generational divide. Some changes are going too fast for some and not fast enough for others. Ultimately, it forces a nation prone to idealism to embrace reality. However painful, it is a very healthy process.

[And as we have mentioned many times on this blog, there have been many signs of this and it is really no surprise - go & read our many postings relating to this tpic: The Colonial 'Exception', A Nation & Its Past, Lingua Franca, or The Other Cultural War: France & Colonialism]

NOTE: Here's the picture of the professional re-enactor who plays Napoleon in the celebrations that took place yesterday and continues today at Austerlitz.

He is an American from (quite approprately) Williamsburg, Virginia and he was chosen by the Austerlitz 2005 committee "firstly because he can ride, and secondly because he looks like Napoleon".


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