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Controversy around memorial laws

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  1. Introduction.
  2. An account of the controversy.
    1. Passing of the law by the French on february 23rd 2005.
    2. Petre-Grenouilleau's three arguements.
    3. Passing of the Gayssot Law in the year 1990.
    4. The petition 'Liberty for History'.
  3. Analysis.
    1. Drawing distinctions.
    2. The specificity of the Gayssot law.
    3. The inadequacy of the distinction between declarative and normative law.
  4. A cost/benefit assessment.
    1. The structure of the controversy.
    2. Competition of memories, Republican ideal and multiculturalism.
    3. Crisis of politics.
    4. The danger of the legal tool.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

A controversy recently arose in France in which historians played a significant role. This controversy involves a number of actors: The French government, which passed the so-called ?memorial laws?; the interest groups that lobbied the Parliament to pass them; the historians who became polarized and reacted in various ways and with different justifications to these laws; the academic community as a whole, which supported the historians or else rejected their reasoning; and finally the media, which publicized the controversy. After having described this controversy in a first part, this paper will then provide with an analysis of the latter. Indeed, mi first intention was to try to write the immediate history of the controversy that would treat it as symptomatic and relate the main ideas and sources of disagreements that fed the debates to broader trends in the French society and in the French legal and political system. But, I changed my mind. It would indeed be too artificial for me to refrain from judging the different arguments and developing my own position as I am French, connected with the field of social science and dealing with a contemporary issue.

[...] The memorial laws are more likely to create passionate and moralizing responses as regards the events they deal with (e.g. ?slavery was than encourage a critical work of memory nourished by history that would try to situate slavery in its historical context and to imagine what slaves could have gone through in their everyday lives. The second objection to the legislative form derives from the hindsight of Certeau and more precisely the use of Certeau made by Ricoeur. Ricoeur was indeed very influenced by de Certeau. [...]

[...] My contention is limited to the observation that the passing of the memorial laws is already symptomatic of the shaping of a pluralist form of democracy in which interest groups and the Media play a crucial role. Crisis of politics More globally, it can also be argued that memorial laws? are symptomatic of a crisis of French politics. My main argument here would be the following: the fact that the Parliament starts to legislate about the past is a compelling sign of its incapacity to legislate for the future. [...]

[...] In contrast with the Gayssot law, the other three laws do not directly pursue public order purposes. In the case of the law recognizing the Armenian genocide, one should note that the denial of the Armenian genocide is not part of an anti-Armenian propaganda campaign inside France. The main source of denial is in Turkey and the denial is made by Turkish professors. As a result, it is logical to find in the report of the Parliamentary debates two reasons justifying the passing of the Armenian law. [...]

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