Historians accuse France of 'censorship' in far-right writer row


Paris (AFP)

Ten members of a French committee that annually produces a book commemorating significant historical events collectively resigned on Wednesday, accusing the government of "censorship" for removing a reference to far-right author Charles Maurras.

Each year the High Committee for National Commemorations publishes a list of around 100 anniversaries, multiples of 50 years, that it considers significant in French history.

The 2018 edition included the 150th anniversary of the birth of Maurras, an anti-Semitic nationalist who was highly influential in the 1930s but was later jailed over his support for the collaborationist, wartime Vichy regime.

Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen first praised the High Committee's book, which runs to over 300 pages, in her foreword to this year's publication.

But she changed her tone after several prominent rights defenders condemned the inclusion of Maurras and ordered that his name be removed.

In an open letter to Nyssen seen by AFP, ten of the Committee's 12 members -- including historian and former communication minister Jean-Noel Jeanneney -- said her decision meant they could "no longer continue to be a part of this body".

"The controversy which followed (Maurras' inclusion), and the reaction you took give us reason to believe such incidents are likely to reoccur," they wrote, saying they could not remain on "with the permanent threat of censorship or self-censorship."

The debacle has cast a cloud over the political debut of one of the ministers President Emmanuel Macron plucked from relative obscurity last year and brought into government on the strength of their achievements in their field.

As the head of Actes Sud, an independent publishing house, Nyssen came to the portfolio with strong credentials.

But the Maurras affair placed in her a bind.

The head of the government's task team on racism and anti-Semitism, Fred Potier, sided with human rights groups who complained that to include the writer in the commemorative effort was to pay him tribute.

Writing in Le Monde newspaper in January Jeanneney and fellow historian Pascal Ory rejected that argument.

Giving as an example World War I, they wrote: "We commemorate the Great War, we don't celebrate it."

In Wednesday's group statement, the historians re-emphasised the distinction.

Maurras was an "enemy of the Republic" who nonetheless "played a considerable intellectual and political role in the history of our country," they argued.