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Memoria e Ricerca

French Colonial Past. Commemorations, Memorials, Monuments and Conflicts of Memory

di Pascal Blanchard
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 34 (2010), p. 63

In France, the issue of colonisation has been perceived according to two different lines of thought: the acknowledgment of the dark side of colonial history; and twenty-five years of “commemorations” (1980-2005), in which the concept of “victim” has emerged and come to dominate the semantics of memory. Colonial memory has led to a fracture in French society, always and systematically referring to the question of national identity and, consequently, to the presence of colonial and postcolonial migrants. This essay analyses the context of this French debate, which, in the last two decades, has revolved around the concept of “colonial memory”; a debate dominated by ideology, in which the role of the “victim” tends to be reversed: France is betrayed when this past is “badly” presented, leading to a kind of “false” and “penitent” history. The main purpose is clearly a reorganisation of history. On the other side of the Mediterranean, the new importance of memorialisation has been following the same path, thus making the possibility of reconciliation between these opposing memories even more difficult. Fifty years after the independence of Black Africa, and despite the extraordinary development of memorial and patrimonial projects since the 1980s, controversies have arisen, preventing not only the construction of places of common knowledge but also the institutionalisation of commemorations as political signs marking the assimilation of the colonial past into the great “national narrative”.