The French experience of war and occupation, as remembered and commemorated during the Mitterrand years, 1981-1995

Martin, Michael Patrick (1999) The French experience of war and occupation, as remembered and commemorated during the Mitterrand years, 1981-1995. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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My thesis assesses the state of the French collective memory of the Second World War, during the period from May 1981 until July 1995 (when the new president, Jacques Chirac, made his first public speech on the topic). It deals with the major themes thrown up by the intersection of subject matter and time scale, and also discusses the nature of collective memory and commemoration more generally. Particular attention is paid to the series of commemorations marking the fiftieth anniversaries of the crucial episodes of the war years. These fell between 1989 and 1995, roughly coinciding with Francois Mitterrand's second septennat. The form and content of the commemorations themselves, the public reaction to them, and the peripheral discussions they stimulated, are all analysed, in many cases with input from those involved in organising or coordinating them. First of all the commemorations that took place during my period are seen from the perspective of a "national narrative" that organises and interprets the common past in such a way that it can foster a sense of national unity and belonging. This is the traditional mode of commemoration within the nation-state. However, undermining that approach were the harsh facts of war and occupation, which set Frenchman against Frenchman in a re-enactment of an intermittent "guerre franco-francaise". The "national narrative" was also threatened by a sense of guilt over the consequences of Vichy's policy of collaboration with the Nazis. Where once that guilt was suppressed or argued into abeyance, during our period it could no longer be avoided. That process went hand-in-hand with the resurgence of those memories that had always been seen as potentially detrimental to national unity. Foremost among these was a specifically Jewish memory which was no longer willing to be coy about apportioning blame and responsibility. The state's representatives, and France's collective conscience, had to take account of a new balance of power in which communities within the nation had increased their power and influence. More pressure was being applied to the national commemorative framework from alternative ways of thinking about war and its remembrance. It was becoming more common to view the war in terms of human rights and the rights of minorities, rather than in terms of national sovereignty. Also, war remembrance was often seen as a tool in the service of European integration and international cooperation rather than national identity. Finally, the state had to accept that it did not have the means to determine the composition of French collective memory. Often it could only give or withhold an official seal of approval to initiatives and trends instigated by pressure groups and fomented by the press and the media.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: European history.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1999
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1999-72870
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2021 14:59

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