Apology and the Past in Contemporary France

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Author:
Julie Fette

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In societies coming to terms with historical injustices, public apology has recently emerged as a potent trend. This is particularly true of France, where the state served as a catalyst for a wave of public apologies for acts of intolerance committed during the Second World War. Following Jacques Chirac's 1995 official apology for Vichy's anti-Semitic policies, various groups in civil society publicly atoned for their particular Vichy roles in discrimination against Jews: the medical profession, the law bar, the Catholic Church, and the police. How does public apology, as distinct from court trials, historical commissions, and reparations, affect contemporary France's reconciliation with its past? This article also analyzes how apologizing for Vichy has created demand for an official French apology for the Algerian War. By 2006, the politics of memory in French society decidedly shifted attention from Vichy to post-colonialism: in both cases, the apology turn imposes new dynamics of remembering and forgetting.

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