Mr President, bravo!
Bravo for your Vel d’Hiv speech on July 17, 1995! Bravo for YOUR recognition of this (amongst others) French aberration. You dared break the wall of silence when you declared:
France, land of the Enlightenment and of Human Rights, land of hospitality and asylum, France, on that day, committed an irreparable act. It failed to keep its word and delivered those under its protection to their executioners.
I wil not hold a “small” historical simplification against you. On that day, Mr President, “France” did not only execute the Vel d’Hiv roundups. On that day, “France” also arrested Jews in the entire occupied zone, and in the following weeks, hunted down those trying to flee. We should also mention that in the remainder of the occupied zone, “France” also separated children from their parents and sent them later alone to their death. We should also say that “Frence” did not stop “on that day”. In the weeks that followed, “France” was arresting the foreign Jews in the “free” zone. They too were delivered to the Germans with their children. We will have to add that “France” did not stop at that in its measures against the Jews... But, a president is not a history book, and his aides are not always up to the task.
I also noted your personal commitment and your intent to call upon your fellow citizens :
Did you say “endless combat”? Endless combat against antisemitism? Endless combat against islamophobia? Endless combat against hatred toward the Gypsies ? Endless combat for the end of all discriminations?
M. Chirac, you must be kidding! You compatriots are now freewheeling.
Did you seriously think that challenging what happened 53 years earlier would suffice to trigger an avalanche of good citizenship?
Mr. President, I regret to inform you that your 1995 speech did not have the expected effect. I would even say that the scourge of racism expanded since your famous intervention. Instead of triggering the solution of these fundamental problems, your speech has become the center of a futile debate around the following question: “Did Vichy really represent France or was it an inconsequent aberration?”
In the mean time, racists are stepping up their hatreds, which are far from being futile. To day, the street incites against Jews, Muslims, Gypsies, and all who are not “like us”.
Mr. Chirac, judging the past is valuable only if it engages us to repair the present, everywhere and relentlessly.
To root out multi-centuries of hatred, we will need much more than a beautiful speech and a two-decade long futile debate about the soundness or the iniquity of this speech. The base work still remains to be done. It will be necessary to institute educational programs, economic motivations, and control mechanisms. Bad habits and excuses will have to be abandoned.
We will also need leaders who will not stop at speeches and will be able to defuse futile debates whose sole purpose is to keep the status quo ante.