Contextualizing the Politics of Memory and the End of Ideology in the Nineties: Reflections on the Commemoration of May 1968, the Papon Trial, and the Debate over Le Livre noir du communisme
- L'Esprit Créateur
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 2001
- pp. 21-33
- Additional Information
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Contextualizing the Politics of Memory and the End of Ideology in the Nineties: Reflections on the Commemoration of May 1968, the Papon Trial, and the Debate over Le Livre noir du communisme Richard J. Golsan FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN THE "POLITICS OF MEMORY"Â— broadly defined in the European context as those efforts to retrieve, come to terms with, and learn from the historical excesses and especially the horrors of the twentieth centuryÂ—the fall, winter, and spring of 1997-98 were remarkable times in France. In October 1997, the long-awaited trial of former Vichy functionary and later Gaullist civil servant Maurice Papon got underway in Bordeaux. Papon, secretary-general of the Gironde prefecture between 1942 and 1944, was charged with crimes against humanity for his role in the arrest and deportation of French and foreign Jews in the context of the Nazi Final Solution. The trial, which lasted six months, garnered enormous international media attention and dominated the French press as well. When, on April 2, 1998, Papon was convicted of the illegal arrest and arbitrary detention of Jewish victims of the HolocaustÂ—but not of complicity in their deathsÂ—the nation as a whole breathed a sigh of relief, due as much to the fact that the spectacle in Bordeaux was finally over as to Papon's conviction.1 In May 1998, a month after the Papon verdict, the politics of memory assumed a very different and decidedly more benign form. The month and year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the "events" of May 1968, and the proximity of the new millennium made a reassessment of their meaning, impact, and lessons for the present seem all the more apropos. Many of those involved directly in the events published voluminous memoirs, while others offered meditations on the meaning of May 1968 and in several instances waxed nostalgic for the revolutionary ethos which had driven it. Figures including Laurent Joffrin and Julia Kristeva went so far as to suggest that the spirit of revolt and sense of idealism which inspired the protestors 30 years before could have a bracing effect on a France mired at present in the doldrums of globalization and trapped in the deadening embrace of what JeanFran Ã§ois Kahn had labeled la pensÃ©e unique, the inability to think outside the Vol. XLI, No. 1 21 L'Esprit CrÃ©ateur box of economic and ideological liberalism. In the 1998 preface to the re-edition of his 1988 Mai 1968. Histoire des Ã©vÃ©nements, Joffrin asserted: ...trente ans aprÃ¨s, alors que la stagnation Ã©conomique et le triomphe des valeurs financiÃ¨res des marchÃ©s internationaux produisent une souffrance sociale et une regression culturelles inÃ©dites, l'esprit de cette Ã©poque peut encore servir. La mise en demeure de pouvoirs, le recours Ã l'action collective spectaculaire, l'affrontement symbolique aux forces de la conservation, l'appel aux plus pauvres pour qu'ils s'organisent contre l'injustice, tout ce qui a fait la part lumineuse des Ã©vÃ©nements ... redevient d'une brÃ»lante actualitÃ©.2 Kristeva, for her part, was more succinct: "Je me rÃ©volte, donc nous sommes ... Ã venir."3 Newspapers as well, and especially the Parisian daily LibÃ©rationÂ—itself a product of 1968Â—got into the act, printing numerous reflections on the legacy and meaning of May. LibÃ©ration also reprinted articles written in May 1968, which served to evoke the intensity and ideological fervor of the student protestors as well as other participants and witnesses. Finally, seeking to recapture the magic of the times, former student leaders like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now long in the tooth and an established European Green politician, celebrated and reminisced with other soixante-huitards in Paris's chic cafÃ©s and night spots. But despite the merriment and especially the effort to retrieve and perhaps to reinvigorate the revolutionary idealism of the students and workers who turned France temporarily on its ear in 1968, the thirtieth anniversary of the events, and the commemorations and activities it produced, seemed ultimately to create much ado about nothing. By all accounts, the sale of books relating to 1968 was poorÂ—a clear sign of the lack of interest they inspiredÂ—and little...