- The Language(s) of Martinican Identity:Resistance to Vichy in the Novels of Raphaël Confiant
The year 2006 marks the 60th anniversary of France's four "vieilles colonies" gaining accession to full status as départements, with the same rights and benefits as any other French region. But importantly, this anniversary stands out in that it marks the only occasion in European colonial history when former colonies were integrated into the political structure of the colonial power that had dominated—and, literally, possessed—them for over three hundred years. This article will take a multi-faceted approach to the discursive implications stemming from the paradoxes framing the possession and de jure occupation of Martinique between 1940 and 1943 by a Nazi-controlled proxy French government.
In the midst of France's recent ethnic upheavals that have drawn attention to the problematic presence of colonially-derived patterns of difference on the French mainland, reflecting on the condition of the colonies during the period of French defeat in World War II can illuminate the ways in which this extra-hexagonal presence continues to transform the ethno-cultural face of mainland France. After sixty years of departmentalization and more than forty years of organized migration, the rapidly changing demographics of contemporary France show that there are almost 700,000 persons of French Caribbean birth or descent living on the French mainland today, or over 1% of the total French population. But despite this strong mainland presence of 'extra-hexagonals', and an estimated total of three million immigrants—largely from former French colonies—out of a total French population of about sixty million, recognition of the scale and substance of France's colonial role—and confronting the implications of that involvement—remains a problem for the French nation. While a 1990 law makes it a crime to deny the Holocaust, and a 2001 law dictates that the slave trade be described as a crime against humanity, the nation as a whole was unprepared for the furor that attended the recent promulgation of the law of February 23, 2005. While purportedly intended to recognize the contribution of the "harkis," the 200,000 or so Algerians who fought alongside France's colonial troops in their country's 1954-62 war of independence, members of parliament with ties to former Algerian settlers added Article 4 to the law, encouraging educational programs [End Page 68] to "recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in North Africa." But this last was but the tip of the colonial iceberg; after all, the first French empire began in the 1600s in modern-day Nova Scotia and Quebec. Louisiana followed by the end of the century, and Caribbean territories including French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, were added early in the seventeenth century. A second wave of imperial acquisition began in 1830 with the invasion of Algeria. Southern Vietnam and Cambodia followed, and following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the Berlin conference of 1885, large swaths of western and central Africa (French Equatorial Africa, or Afrique Occidentale Française, as it came to be known), and Tunisia and Morocco became French Protectorates in the early twentieth century. But the fact remains that Guadeloupe and Martinique were the only Caribbean colonies—British, French or Dutch—to undergo occupation or governmental change of any kind during the Second World War.
* * *
The paradoxes and contradictions of the far-flung boundaries of the French empire—and their corollaries of cultural difference—would collide in the events that followed the defeat of France by Germany's Nazi regime in June 1940 and the subsequent installation of the so-called Vichy government run by remote control from Germany. There were varied consequences of this series of events in the French colonies: Algeria, for one, was firm in its support of Vichy. In the event, having fled French shores but still perceived as a threat, the French fleet was sunk at Mers-el-Kébir and Oran in July 1940 by Allied forces, with 1,297 French officers and men perishing as part of this maritime catastrophe. In the Caribbean, the colonies of Guadeloupe...