threats.

In a subsequent radio interview of his own, the national education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, agreed with the host’s characterization of the restricted meetings as racist.

“People who claim to be progressive and who, in claiming to be progressive, distinguish people by the color of their skin are leading us to things that resemble fascism,” Mr. Blanquer said.

Mr. Blanquer has led the government’s broader pushback against what he and conservative intellectuals describe as the threat from progressive American ideas on race, gender and postcolonialism.

France’s culture wars have heated up as Mr. Macron shifts to the right to fend off a looming challenge from the far right before elections next year. His government recently announced that it would investigate universities for “Islamo-leftist” tendencies that “corrupt society.”

interview with a French newspaper.

Mr. Blanquer declined interview requests, as did Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education.

Aurore Bergé, a lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party, said that Unef’s actions lead to identity politics that, instead of uniting people in a common cause, excludes all but “those who suffer from discrimination.”

“We’re driving out the others as if they don’t have the right of expression,” said Ms. Bergé, who recently unsuccessfully submitted an amendment that would have barred Muslim minors from wearing the veil in public.

Unef’s current top leaders say that in focusing on discrimination, they are fighting for France’s ideals of liberty, equality and human rights.

They view the recent attacks as rear-guard moves by an establishment that refuses to squarely face deep-rooted discrimination in France, cannot come to terms with the growing diversity of its society, and brandishes universalism to silence new ideas and voices, out of fear.

youth employment contract in 2006. Back then, the union was more concerned with issues like tuition and access to jobs, said Mr. Julliard, the first openly gay president of the union.

Mr. Julliard said that the union’s restricted meetings and its opposition to the Aeschylus play left him uncomfortable, but that young people were now “much more sensitive, in the good sense of the word,” to all forms of discrimination.

“We have to let each generation lead its battles and respect the way it does it, though it doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion,” he said.

William Martinet, a former president, said that the focus on gender eventually led to an examination of racism. While Unef’s top leaders tended to be economically comfortable white men from France’s “grandes écoles,” or prestigious universities, many of its grass-roots activists were of working-class, immigrant and nonwhite backgrounds.

Maryam Pougetoux, now one of the union’s two vice presidents.

“I don’t think that if I’d arrived 10 years earlier, I would have been felt as welcome as in 2017,” Ms. Pougetoux said.

But the reception was far different on the outside.

Last fall, when a hijab-wearing Ms. Pougetoux appeared in the National Assembly to testify on the Covid epidemic’s impact on students, four lawmakers, including one from Mr. Macron’s party, walked out in protest.

The wearing of the Muslim veil has fueled divisions in France for more than a generation. But for Unef, the issue was now settled.

Its leaders had long considered the veil a symbol of female oppression. Now they saw it simply as a choice left to women.

“To really defend the condition of women,” said Adrien Liénard, the other vice president, “is, in fact, giving them the right to do what they want.”

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Fatigue Outpaces Progress as France Enters Yet Another Lockdown

PARIS — At the Montparnasse train station in Paris, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper.

About a year ago, faced with the first national lockdown against a raging coronavirus epidemic, Parisians desperately jammed into trains in an exodus that turned Montparnasse into a place of fear and anxiety, and the capital into a ghost town.

But on Friday morning, a day before the start of the third national lockdown, foot traffic was relatively light inside Montparnasse station and others in Paris. The mood was one of deep fatigue ahead of restrictions that, once again, will severely limit travel across France, confine people’s movements in their communities and shut down schools.

“There is a bit of weariness,” said Muriel Sallandre, who was catching a train to visit her parents in western France but was planning to return to Paris in a few days. “The absence of perspective, being dependent on the government’s messages — all that is ultimately a little depressing.”

Many French rushed to buy train tickets immediately after the announcement of a new lockdown on Wednesday evening. So the capital’s stations will likely get more crowded over the weekend, as travelers planning to spend the latest lockdown outside Paris mix with those traveling to visit relatives for Easter. Some Parisians also left the capital after restrictions were imposed in the capital region a couple of weeks ago.

painfully slow.

announced yet another national lockdown after months of resisting advice from epidemiologists and pressure from political rivals. Mr. Macron had bet unsuccessfully that, despite rising infections and new powerful variants, a national lockdown could be avoided if enough people got vaccinated at a steady pace.

AstraZeneca, which ran into production shortages and said its contracts required it to fulfill orders to Britain first.

Its vaccine, which France and other European countries bet heavily on to lead them out of the pandemic, has also been plagued by worries about rare but sometimes fatal side effects that led them briefly to suspend its use. Some nations are still not giving it out or are restricting who gets it.

Among the French, the mood has grown darker as other nations, especially Britain and the United States, have bounced back from a disastrous handling of the epidemic with successful inoculation campaigns. Just 13 percent of France’s population has had at least one vaccine shot, compared to 47 percent of Britons and 30 percent of Americans.

poll released Thursday showed that a majority of French people were skeptical of the new lockdown’s ultimate effects. In findings that reflected the population’s fatigue, 70 percent of French respondents said they approved of the new national lockdown, but 46 percent said that they planned to flout the measures.

opened psychological wounds and left them in deep economic uncertainty, two-thirds of those surveyed said they would break the new rules.

In a country that is acutely sensitive to its rank in the global pecking order, France’s frequent mishandling of the epidemic and subsequent vaccination campaign has led to widespread hand-wringing. Last year, France found itself dependent on China and other nations for the masks, test kits and other basic tools to fight the outbreak.

This time, the country finds itself entirely dependent on outside help for its vaccines — a crushing blow to the nation that produced Louis Pasteur and enjoys a long history of medical breakthroughs.

China and Russia have deployed their own vaccines in their quest for global influence, France has been relegated to the position of bystander.

In late January, the Pasteur Institute announced that it would abandon research on its vaccine candidate after disappointing trial results, just a month after Sanofi, France’s biggest pharmaceutical company, said that its own vaccine was unlikely to be ready before the end of 2021, at best.

“It’s a sign of decline of the country and this decline is unacceptable,” François Bayrou, recently named commissioner for long-term government planning by Mr. Macron, said in a radio interview in January.

The problems with the vaccines have left many French of all age groups deeply skeptical and pessimistic.

“I’m still waiting to see, but I think that believing in a return to normal is an illusion,’’ said Victor Cormier, 22, a student.

Andrée Girard, 61, a retiree, said she had been unable to book an appointment to get vaccinated. She didn’t believe the new restrictions would curb the epidemic for good and feared that France was stuck in a “stop and go” pattern for the foreseeable future.

Referring to Mr. Macron’s pledge in his Wednesday announcement that France would start reopening in mid-May, Ms. Girard said, “I’m skeptical about a light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve been making promises for the past year that haven’t been kept.’’

“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it anymore,’’ she said. “I don’t know if we’ll get back our old life.’’

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.

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Macron Returns France to Lockdown as Vaccinations Lag

PARIS — After more than a year of lockdowns and months of a sputtering vaccination campaign, Europe’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic suffered another setback on Wednesday as President Emmanuel Macron of France announced the start of a third national lockdown in a desperate move to halt a new deadly wave.

With infections surging, hospitals swelling with patients and the virus now reaching into classrooms, Mr. Macron effectively abandoned a gamble to keep France open in the hope that a steady pace of vaccinations would make a lockdown unnecessary. He said that restrictions currently covering areas with about one-third of the country’s population would be extended nationwide, and that schools would be closed for three weeks.

As the tally of coronavirus deaths relentlessly pushed close to the 100,000 mark, Mr. Macron gave in to scientists and opposition politicians who had been pressing for a lockdown in recent weeks, and joined the list of European nations already hunkering down before the virus.

disarray of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both political opponents and some scientists said he had “lost his gamble.’’

For Mr. Macron, the timing of Wednesday’s announcement was particularly significant: the introduction of yet more restrictions a year after France’s first lockdown and a year before presidential elections in which voters are expected to judge his presidency on his handling of the pandemic.

Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po in Paris, said that the handling of the coronavirus crisis had become a political challenge for Mr. Macron, who has long promised to make government effective and who had “taken personal responsibility’’ in opposing a third national lockdown.

data from The New York Times.

Despite the worsening situation, Mr. Macron has argued that his gamble in January had not been wrong because his decision had not led to the explosion of cases that had been predicted.

told a French newspaper last Sunday.

Antoine Flahault, the director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, said that the French government had generally followed the advice of scientists until late January. But, on Jan. 29, Mr. Macron rejected the advice of his own scientific council — a government body that the president had set up last year to advise him on coronavirus issues and that had pressed for a strict four-week lockdown to prevent a third wave of contaminations.

Mr. Flahault said that despite the government’s decision to keep things open, no new measures were put in place to prevent the resurgence that followed.

“For the entire month of February, there’s going to be an absence of goals, an absence of real strategy,’’ he said.

The government responded to the worsening situation in mid-March by measures that were described in the news media as a third “lockdown’’ but that Mr. Macron’s government tried to portray in other terms. Among restrictions that affected a third of the French population, businesses considered nonessential were forced to close, people had their outdoor activities limited to within six miles of their homes, and travel to and from affected regions was banned.

Le Monde. “It’s not an inaccessible subject for an intellect like his and given the significant time he’s devoted to it for several months.’’

Le Monde related how people close to Mr. Macron “were impressed by the mastery of the head of state, who has kept up with numerous research studies on the subject of the coronavirus.’’ According to the article, Mr. Macron was now capable of “challenging” his own health minister and experts.

“Emmanuel Macron wanted to instill a rather heroic narrative about himself,’’ said Mr. Cautrès, the political scientist. “He is the one who faces all the storms, all the difficulties.’’

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A 3rd National Lockdown Seems Likely in France as Hospitals Are Overwhelmed

PARIS — More than a year after the government in France ordered its first national lockdown to fight back the Covid-19 pandemic, the authorities now seem to have little choice but to do the same again, as infections rise sharply across the country and hospitals in Paris are overflowing.

President Emmanuel Macron will address the country at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and is expected to announce new restrictions, possibly bringing in a third national lockdown, which he has long tried to avoid.

France on Tuesday reported more than 5,000 people in intensive care units for the first time since last April, with bed shortages in hospitals in the most affected areas becoming acute. And the slow vaccine rollout has not prevented an outburst of infections, as an average of about 37,000 daily new cases have been reported over the past week.

“The outlook is worse than frightening,” Jean-Michel Constantin, the head of the intensive care unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, told RMC radio on Monday.

New restrictions were introduced on the regional level in mid-March in an attempt to stave off a third wave of infections, affecting about a third of the population, including the Paris region. The rules forced businesses that are considered nonessential to close, ordered residents to limit their outdoor activities to places within six miles of their homes and banned travel to or from regions where infections were rising.

But as infections nonetheless stubbornly rose, pressure has been building on Mr. Macron to implement tougher measures.

Writing in Le Journal du Dimanche, 41 doctors from the Paris region warned that hospitals may soon become so stretched that they will have to choose which patients to try to save.

“All indicators show that the current measures are and will be insufficient to quickly reverse the alarming curve of contaminations,” they wrote.

in the same newspaper, said that he would “look at the effectiveness of the containment measures in the coming days, and we’ll take others if they are necessary.”

In late January, Mr. Macron made a calculated gamble of resisting a new national lockdown, hoping that his government could tighten restrictions just enough to fight back a rise in infections.

That strategy seemed to be working until mid-March, when infections rose sharply and the vaccination campaign failed to gather speed, amid the disarray of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The health authorities on Tuesday said that about 8.3 million people had received at least a first shot of the coronavirus vaccine, or about 12 percent of the total population. The government plans to vaccinate 10 million people by mid-April and 30 million by the summer.

But France still lags behind some other Western countries in its vaccine rollout. Britain has vaccinated 46 percent of its population and the United States 29 percent, according to data from The New York Times.

Many doctors and epidemiologists are calling for a lockdown comparable to that of early 2020, when the authorities enforced some of the strictest Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, ordering people to stay inside except for a few exceptions. Schools, which France has kept open since last June, unlike many of its neighbors, could also be forced to close as the virus is increasingly spreading in classrooms.

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France Has ‘Overwhelming’ Responsibility for Rwanda Genocide, Report Says

PARIS — Blinded by its fears of losing influence in Africa and by a colonial view of the continent’s people, France remained close to the “racist, corrupt and violent regime’’ responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and bears “serious and overwhelming” responsibilities, according to a report released Friday.

But the report — commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and put together by 15 historians with unprecedented access to French government archives — cleared France of complicity in the genocide that led to the deaths of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and contributed to decades of conflicts and instability in Central Africa.

“Is France an accomplice to the genocide of the Tutsi? If by this we mean a willingness to join a genocidal operation, nothing in the archives that were examined demonstrates this,’’ said the report, which was presented to Mr. Macron on Friday afternoon.

But the commission said that France had long been involved with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government even as that government prepared the genocide of the Tutsis, regarding the country’s leadership as a crucial ally in a French sphere of influence in the region.

Paul Kagame, the Tutsi leader who has controlled Rwanda for nearly a quarter century.

Mr. Macron, who has spoken of his desire to reset France’s relations with a continent where it was a colonial power, is believed to have commissioned the report to try to improve relations with Rwanda.

Though the 992-page report presents fresh information from the French government archives, it is unlikely to resolve the debate over France’s role during the genocide, said Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian expert on the genocide.

“This will not be good enough for one side, and it won’t be good enough for the other side,’’ Mr. Reyntjens said. “So my guess is that this will not settle the issue.’’

According to the report, François Mitterrand, the French president at the time, maintained a “strong, personal and direct relationship’’ with Juvenal Habyarimana, the longtime Hutu president of Rwanda, despite his “racist, corrupt and violent regime.’’

Mr. Mitterrand and members of his inner circle believed that Mr. Habyarimana and the Hutus were key allies in a French-speaking bloc that also included Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known then as Zaire.

The French saw Mr. Kagame and other Tutsi leaders — who had spent years in exile in neighboring Anglophone Uganda — as allies in an American push into the region.

“The principal interest of this country for France is that it be francophone,’’ a high-ranking military official wrote in 1990, according to the report, which concluded: “France’s interpretation of the Rwandan situation can be viewed through the prism of defending la Francophonie.’’

French leaders at the time viewed the Hutus and Tutsis through a colonial lens, ascribing to each group stereotypical physical traits and behavior, compounding their misinterpretation of the events that led to the genocide, according to the report.

In one of the report’s most damning conclusions, its authors wrote, “The failure of France in Rwanda, the causes of which are not all its own, can be likened in this respect to a final imperial defeat, all the more significant because it was neither expressed nor acknowledged.’’

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France Is Ready to Save the Planet. But Not at the Expense of Meat.

LYON — Grégory Doucet, the mild-mannered Green party mayor of Lyon, hardly seems a revolutionary. But he has upended France by announcing last month that elementary school lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonnais children would no longer include meat.

An outrage! An ecological diktat that could signal the end of French gastronomy, even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pigs’ ears, of saucisson and kidneys, could do such a thing, the apocalypse was surely imminent.

“The reaction has been quite astonishing,” Mr. Doucet, 47, said.

He is a slight man whose mischievous mien and goatee gives him the air of one of Dumas’s three musketeers. A political neophyte elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ludicrous that he, an apostle of less, should end up with more, sitting beneath a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous mayor’s office adorned with brocade and busts of his forbears. That tweaking a local school menu has split the nation leaves him incredulous.

“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he insisted, eyes twinkling — a means to speed up lunches in socially distanced times by offering a single menu rather than the traditional choice of two dishes.

Not so, thundered Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrays “an elitist and moralist” attitude. Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, called the mayor’s embrace of the meatless lunch “shameful from a social point of view” and “aberrational from a nutritional point of view.”

All of which prompted Barbara Pompili, the minister of ecological transition, to speak of the “prehistoric” views, full of “hackneyed clichés,” of these men, in effect calling two of her cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.

This heated exchange over little illustrated several things. Mr. Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remain an uneasy marriage of right and left. The rising popularity of the Greens, who run not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has sharpened a cultural clash between urban environmental crusaders and the defenders of French tradition in the countryside.

Not least, nothing gets the French quite as dyspeptic as disagreement over food.

The mayor, it must be said, made his move in a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. At the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a centennial establishment, Lyon’s culture of meat is on ample display. The veal liver and kidneys glistened; cuts of roast beef wrapped in pork fat abounded; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; the saucissons, some with pistachio, took every cylindrical form; the pastry-wrapped pâté showed off a core of foie gras; and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed this city’s carnivorous inclinations.

“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has worked at François for 19 years. “This is not good for Lyon’s image.”

Certainly, the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive moment. The right in France has expressed indignation that the country is being force-marched, through politically correct environmental dogmatism, toward a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative planet-saving growth and general joylessness — something at a very far cry from stuffing goose livers for personal delectation.

Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the Green party mayor of Bordeaux, touched a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree because it’s “a dead tree.” Mr. Doucet’s culinary move was part of “an ideological agenda,” the right-wing weekly Valeurs Actuelles proclaimed in a cover story. “The canteens of Lyon were just a pretext.”

Mr. Doucet, who describes himself as a “flexitarian,” or someone who favors vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Education Ministry forced his hand. By doubling social distancing at schools to two meters, or more than six feet, it obliged the mayor to accelerate lunch by offering just one dish.

“There’s a mathematical equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have to put fewer children at them, and you can’t start the lunch break at 10 a.m.”

But why nix meat? The mayor, who has a 7-year-old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We have not gone to a vegetarian menu! Every day, the children can eat fish or eggs.” Because a significant number of students already did not eat meat, he said, “we just took the lowest common denominator.”

It was not, Mr. Doucet said, an ideological decision, even if he aims over his six-year term to adjust school menus toward “a greater share of vegetable proteins.”

The mayor continued: “Most of the time these days there’s not much choice. You don’t have the choice to go to a museum, or to the theater, or to the cinema. It’s indecent for the right-wing opposition to say that I am trampling on our liberties in the context of a state of emergency.”

Mr. Macron has adopted a balancing act between his embrace of a Green future and, as he put it last year, his rejection of “the Amish model” for France. The president tries to differentiate rational from punitive or extreme environmentalism.

The president, casting his net wide as usual ahead of regional elections in June, wants to appeal to conservative farmers while attracting some of the Green vote. During a recent visit to a farm, he attacked attempts to forge a new agriculture based on “invective, bans and demagoguery.” In an apparent allusion to the Lyon fiasco, he has said “good sense” should prevail in balanced children’s diets and noted that, “We lose a lot of time in idiotic divisions.”

His government has proposed a Constitutional amendment, the first since 2008, that, if approved in a referendum, would add a sentence to the effect that France “guarantees the preservation of the environment and biological diversity and fights against climate change.”

The right has expressed opposition to the change. It still has to be reviewed by the right-leaning Senate. Another bill sets out possible reforms for a greener future that include banning advertisements for fossil fuels and eliminating some short-haul domestic flights.

Mr. Doucet is unimpressed. “Macron is not an ecologist. He is a modern conservative. He knows there’s a problem, so he is ready to make some changes, but he does not measure the size of the problem. Can you tell me one strong step he has taken?”

For now, the meatless Lyon school lunches are still being served. Children seem just fine. On Friday, a Lyon administrative court rejected an attempt by some parents, agricultural unions and local conservative politicians to overturn the mayor’s decision, ruling that the “temporary simplification” of school menus did not pose a health risk to children.

Mr. Doucet says that when the health crisis eases, but not before, he will be able to offer a choice of school menus again, including meat. Meanwhile, Mr. Denormandie, the agriculture minister, has asked the prefect in the Lyon area to look into the legality of dropping meat.

“Mr. Denormandie’s accusation that we are antisocial is a lie,” Mr. Doucet told me. “He said we were denying meat to the poorest people with the most precarious existences, which is false. He should have been fired at once.”

Boris Charetiers, a member of a parents’ association, said the mayor was being closely watched. “We are vigilant,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a definitive decision. Our children cannot be hostages to ecological political conviction.”

As for Mr. Teixeira, the butcher, he cast his eye appreciatively over the vast selection of meat. “We have canine teeth for a reason,” he said.

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting from Paris.

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Europe’s Vaccine Suspension May Be Driven as Much by Politics as Science

Those political considerations rippled across the continent in recent days after someone in Austria who had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine died after developing blood clots. An unremarkable event, it nevertheless prompted that country in early March to stop using a batch of that vaccine. Other countries soon followed suit, raising an alarm about any new reports of blood clotting, rare as they may have been.

In recent days, Spain’s health minister, Carolina Dorias, spoke to her counterparts around the continent, according to an official from the ministry, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. There was a case of thrombosis detected in Spain last weekend, and some regions had stopped distributing a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines, amid safety concerns.

But the chief motivation was political.

France, too, appeared to bow to pressure to act in unison with its powerful neighbors. It had been relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine to catch up on vaccinations after its glacial start, and Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, had said only days ago said there was “no reason to suspend.”

But after Germany made its intentions clear — and public — Mr. Macron had a choice between following suit or being an outlier. And so on Tuesday, Mr. Véran changed his tune. France, he told Parliament, had to “listen to Europe, listen to all the European countries.”

That was the sort of thing Mr. Speranza, Italy’s health minister, expected might happen after he spoke with his counterpart in Germany, in a discussion recounted by an Italian official with knowledge of it.

When Mr. Speranza brought the issue to Prime Minister Draghi, he noted the unbearable public pressure Italy would face if it alone used a vaccine considered too dangerous for Europe.

Mr. Draghi, a champion of European unity, checked in with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and with Mr. Speranza decided to suspend AstraZeneca until Europe’s medicines agency gave it the all clear.

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Can France’s Far Right Win Over the ‘Beavers’? One Mayor Shows How

Mas Llaro had always voted for the mainstream right.

But disillusioned and weary of the status quo, the Talaus, like many others, voted for the first time for the far right last year, drawn by Mr. Aliot’s emphasis on cleanliness and crime, saying their home had been broken into twice.

Though satisfied with the mayor’s performance, Mr. Talau said he would still join the dam against the far right in next year’s presidential contest and hold his nose to vote for Mr. Macron. But Ms. Talau was now considering casting a ballot for Ms. Le Pen.

“She’s put water in her wine,” Ms. Talau said, adding that Mr. Macron was not “tough enough.”

Mr. Aliot’s opponent in 2014 and 2020, a center-right politician named Jean-Marc Pujol, had pressed further to the right in an unsuccessful move to fend off the far right. He increased the number of police officers, giving Perpignan the highest number per capita of any large city in France, according to government data.

Even so, many of his core supporters appeared to trust the far right more on crime and still defected, while many left-leaning beavers complained that they had been ignored and refused to take part in dam-building again, said Agnès Langevine, who represented the Greens and the Socialists in the 2020 mayoral election.

“And they told us, ‘In 2022, if it’s between Macron and Le Pen, I won’t do it again,’ ” she added.

Mr. Lebourg, the political scientist, said that Mr. Aliot had also won over conservative, upper-income voters by adopting a mainstream economic message — the same strategy adopted by Ms. Le Pen.

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France Eases Declassification Rules, Opening Up Secret Algerian War Archives

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday announced that the declassification of secret archives more than 50 years old would be accelerated, a move that will facilitate access to documents related to the Algerian War — a controversial chapter of France’s history that authorities have long been reluctant to face.

A statement from the Élysée Palace said that starting Wednesday a new rule would “significantly shorten the time required for the declassification procedure” in order to “encourage respect for historical truth.”

Mr. Macron has recently taken a series of steps to lift the veil on France’s colonial history in Algeria, a lasting trauma that continues to shape modern France. The change announced Tuesday was intended to respond to growing complaints from historians and archivists about strict government instructions for declassifying archives.

2011 government requirement that every document classified “secret” or “top secret” be formally declassified before being made public. That contradicts a 2008 law that calls for the immediate release of secret documents 50 years after they were produced.

The 2011 instruction had been loosely enforced, or even ignored, by archivists in recent years. But the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security, a powerful unit inside the prime minister’s office, started enforcing the rules last year.

Tens of thousands of once-public documents were subsequently resealed, impeding historical research and reimposing secrecy on information that had been previously revealed.

Robert O. Paxton, an American historian who revealed French authorities’ collaboration with Nazi Germany, had challenged the 2011 requirement before France’s supreme court.

Ms. Branche, who is leading the legal fight, said the group would keep up its challenge despite Mr. Macron’s announcement on Tuesday.

It is unclear what motivated the effort to enforce the declassification policy last year. But Mr. Macron’s desire to pull back the curtain on the Algerian War has ruffled some feathers in the military, which oversees most archives relating to defense matters.

Fabrice Riceputi, a historian of the Algerian War, said that the declassification policy had led to some absurd situations.

2008 law.

In fact, the report was anything but secret, as it had been first revealed in a 1962 book and then cited in several historical studies in the 1990s.

report on the Algerian War that advised putting an end to the page-by-page declassification process but also returning “as soon as possible” to declassifying any secret document more than 50 years old, as required by the 2008 law.

In its statement, the Élysée Palace said that the government would try to reconcile the 2011 instruction and the 2008 law through legislation by this summer.

“It is a question of coordination between different legal regimes,” Mr. Ricard said in a recent interview, as he carefully flipped the pages of a (declassified) archive file on Maurice Audin, a mathematician who was tortured to death by the French Army in Algeria in 1957.

Documents on Mr. Audin are part of about 100 files released in 2019 and 2020 after Mr. Macron called for the opening of all archives dealing with people who disappeared during the war.

official acknowledgment last week that France had “tortured and murdered” a leading Algerian independence fighter in 1957 was much criticized by the French right.

But nearly 60 years after the end of the war, the issue of France’s colonial past has perhaps never been so pressing, underlying a racial awakening by immigrants in the country and fueling heated debates on the country’s model of integration.

website listing hundreds of names of people who went missing during the war, based on archival research he was able to do before the new instructions were enforced.

Within weeks, he said, he had received a torrent of testimonies from Algerian families, enabling him to document more than 300 cases.

“It wouldn’t stop,” he said.

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