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France’s last ‘Rue Maréchal-Pétain’ to be renamed

AFP

While most French towns and cities have a street named after wartime hero Charles de Gaulle, there remains only one named after his nemesis, France’s Nazi-allied wartime leader Marshal Philippe Pétain.

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There is still a street in France named after Marshal Philippe Pétain, the country’s collaborationist leader of the World War II-era Vichy regime - but not for much longer.

In the northeastern village of Belrain near the town of Verdun, the site of a First World War battle in which Pétain was the senior French commander, the local council has voted to rename its “Rue du Maréchal-Pétain”.

Belrain Mayor Patrick Gondouin told reporters there would be a consultation with villagers this month to choose a new name for the street that would bring back less painful memories.

"Pétain Street had existed since the 1930s, without really causing a stir," he said. "But when I was elected mayor in 2008, it bothered me - I suspected that one day or another it would be a problem."

Pétain, who was a national hero after the First World War, led the collaborationist Vichy Regime following France’s 1940 defeat by Germany.

During the Nazi occupation, the Vichy government participated in the rounding up of thousands of Jews who were sent to death camps, while its armed forces fought against the Allies in various theatres of conflict during the Second World War.

Following the liberation of France in 1944, Pétain was sentenced to death for treason.

His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by his former protégé Charles de Gaulle, after whom most French towns have named streets and boulevards.

“Pétanisme” has been a derogatory word in France ever since, used to describe reactionary politics that hark back to a particularly painful and dark period in the country’s history.

 

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