The Influence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States in Western Europe (France)
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Let me begin this essay by noting the contradictory attitudes of two French politicians with regard to the presidents of the republic whom they had served closely. I quote from two highly successful books that they have published in recent years. The arst quote is from Alain Peyreatte, a future minister but at the time a young aide to General de Gaulle. The story takes place at the Elysee in April 1965. The General hurls at me It’s scandalous! He shows me a small book on his desk which has just been published. A minister takes part in a negotiation on behalf of the Government , in the name of France, and two or three years later, he makes public state secrets about a mission he had been entrusted with! What a lack of judgement. That’s shameful. . . . —A.P. At Foreign Oface, we must keep the secrets to which we are privy for thirty years. —G. de G. Thirty years, I don’t ask for so much. History accelerates but ten years, that is the least. The point of view of Peyreatte is different from that of General de Gaulle. This quote rebects a time twenty years later. Ten years: I forced myself to treble this period. De Gaulle didn’t think like François Mitterrand, who felt that “Nowadays , there are no more state secrets” but like Louis the Fourteenth who in 1661 had coined a medal on the secret of King’s council representing Harpocrate, God of silence, who puts his anger on the mouth. Comes consiliorum, Latin legend says: silence is Councils’ companion.1 Jacques Attali was a member of François Mitterrand’s team. When he published his book Verbatim of his talks with the president, seemingly with his agreement, Mitterrand indicated a very different view of secrecy. What has happened here has gone on the shelves of History more quickly than expected. . . . At that time, at that place, I was a witness and an actor of virtually all foreign policy and an important part of France’s domestic policy. In these times of great hopes, in this country which gave me much, my passion of justice did not go well with prevailing inaction but action was equally difacult to reconcile with the ephemeral and secret.2 Attali’s book achieved great success in bookshops, though certainly many were scandalized by his candor and revelations. The archivists, in particular, entrusted by law with keeping state secrets, felt exposed and diminished . These stories show two councillors of heads of state under the Fifth Republic; though of two different generations , they came from what we call the highest part of French administration. Their radically different attitudes seem very indicative of the evolutions and contradictions in France toward power, recent history, and memory of the events transmitted by those who lived them. In France, the memory of state is privileged with regard to any other form of memory, for it perhaps more than elsewhere coincides with the collective memory of the French. In fact, unlike a lot of other countries where national feeling preceded the building of a state, France, especially since the fourteenth century under the reign of 353 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ The Inbuence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States in Western Europe (France) Paule René-Bazin ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ Philippe le Bel, was built around the state. This construction , undertaken under the ancien régime, was completed by the republic after the 1789 revolution. Historically , a strong, close, passionate, exacting relation with the state was thus built up. In spite of the efforts undertaken to break that centralization , which was judged excessive, this relation still underpins French political life, as the minister of civil service , Michel Sapin, described in a paper published in the daily Le Monde, entitled “Un État plus transparent et plus efacace” (A More Transparent and More Efacient State). Archives, as instruments and products of government and power, are intimately linked to that relation. Maybe more than anywhere else, the actors of politics therefore inbuence the constitution of archival fonds and concern themselves with the use that is or will be made of them. In this essay, I shall try to account for these evolutions or revolutions, mentalities, and practices, which have a profound impact on the constitution of the archival fonds and their use. Owing to the positions I have been holding for many years, I shall turn my attention to the contemporary world, referring to the works of Perrine Canavaggio and Chantal Bonazzi...