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 France ultramarine: un article du Sunday times

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Nombre de messages : 429
Age : 46
Localisation : Ile de France
Langue : Français
Emploi/loisirs : Enseignant
Date d'inscription : 23/09/2009

MessageSujet: France ultramarine: un article du Sunday times   Mer 20 Jan 2010, 4:18 pm

A vrai dire, un article passéiste et pour le moins pathétique de son ignorance des réalités françaises en général, et domiennes en particulier. Une incompréhension de la démarche d'universalité de la République Française: a écrit:
The French empire strikes back
Its colonies are wildly expensive and troublesome, but France is too proud to let the sun set on the 'outre-mer'

Rosie Millard

In France, appearance matters, and national appearance matters a great deal. Just as Oxford Street is a pigsty compared with the sparkling Champs-Elysées, so our prime minister looks a shambles compared with the immaculately groomed President Sarkozy. These things count to the French, and particularly to its president, who recently urged his country to reaffirm its sense of national pride — “La fierté d’être français”. Essentially this means singing the Marseillaise a bit more often, waving the Tricoleur and understanding how important France is — its language, culture and history.

So what if modern France now seems woefully out of touch, its beautiful capital recently described by Le Monde as a “museum town”? The French might be locked into an economic community with Europe, but they also have a profound conviction of their unique global value and will pay billions of euros to cement it.

Nowhere can this be seen more fundamentally than in the “outre-mer”, France’s overseas domains. Napoleon described the outre-mer slightingly as “this confetti of Empire”, but France is determined to hang onto its imperial remnants in a quasi-Napoleonic manner which far outstrips the post-colonial politics of other western nations. If you live in the outre-mer, you are French to your core, no matter what your skin colour, your maternal language, religion or background. You carry a French passport and, in theory, the French state will support you.

I’m sitting in a small motorised canoe in French Guyana — or, as the French call it, Guyane — on the tip of South America. Here the rainforest goes on for hundreds of miles. Giant trees stretch away on all sides, tops covered in mist, roots plunging into emerald marshes full of flowering reeds. Egrets stalk through the water. Dragonflies dip beside us. It is very hot. This is la France profonde, but not the countryside of Michelin and Les Routiers. And yet, officially, Guyana is as French as Normandy and Provence.

After about an hour of chugging down a series of intertwining rivers, we arrive at the village of Kaw, population 60. There is a school, a church and a hall furnished with a classic French yellow postbox. Every week a postman turns up by boat to collect the mail. Official papers headed with a Tricoleur and the rallying cry of “Liberté, egalité, fraternité”, are affixed to the hall door. We are 10,000 kilometres from Paris, yet it’s warming to see the French obsession with red tape has not abated. In the school the national curriculum is being taught, just as in the classrooms of France.

This is how life goes on in one of the Départements et Territoires Outre-Mer, or Dom-Toms. The Dom-Toms are distant, isolated, extremely expensive and produce virtually nothing of any use. Their only role is to promote the continuing glory of the French Republic.

Working out how much it costs to keep the departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana and La Réunion), and the territories (including Polynesia and New Caledonia), plus a variety of other islands scattered from Canada to Antarctica, is rather like guessing the number of bonbons in a jar, and then gluing on seven zeros. But to give you an idea, the Caribbean island of Martinique costs the Elysée Palace some €2 billion a year, the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, €1 billion, and even tiny St Pierre et Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland, about €50m. And that’s just the trade deficits. Paris also picks up the bill for nigh on all the public sector employment, and for infrastructural “grands projets” (bridges, hospitals, cultural centres), plus paying benefits, including a giant bill for the unemployed. Unemployment in the Dom-Toms runs to about 30%. There is simply no work — indeed not much need for work, since everything comes in the form of a handout.

Even so, the mostly Creole population of Martinique and Guadeloupe last year launched waves of violent protests against unemployment and the high cost of living, and began agitating for independence. Strikes in February paralysed the Caribbean islands, while in Guyana thousands took to the streets. There was even the threat of insurrection on balmy La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Sarkozy reacted by sending 300 riot police to Guadeloupe, and slamming a further €580m on the table.

Last summer, he took a trip to the Caribbean himself to tell his naughty overseas children how much he cared to keep them within the power of L’Hexagone (as France is known out here).

“I will consult the people of Martinique on the development of the institutions of their region, as the constitution allows me,” he announced after an official visit to a bakery in the capital of Fort de France. A referendum is due to be held this month, but greater autonomy is all that will be discussed. “As long as I am president, the question of Martinique’s independence, that is, separation from France, will not be broached,” said Sarkozy. Letting the Republic fracture is not a presidential thing to do.

The Dom-Toms are utterly different from our own post-empire Commonwealth of 54 sovereign states. When you see pictures of the Queen in a far-flung office, her position there is purely ceremonial. Not so with the many formal portraits of Sarkozy across the Dom-Toms. The French president is boss, bankrolls the lot, and keeps them in check. When the Commonwealth gets restive, a conference is called. When the Dom-Toms get restive, the Elysée Palace sends in the gendarmes.

“The original idea was to turn non-Europeans into Frenchmen and to make the colonies as much like France as possible,” says Professor Robert Aldrich of the University of Sydney, co-author of France’s Overseas Frontier. “The policy was manifestly unworkable and naively utopian, sexist and racist.” But the ghost of assimilation has not been dispelled, and Paris continues to insist that the outre-mer is within France. In the Guyanese city of Kourou, where the European Space Agency is based, there is very little noise about Europe and a lot of noise about France. The EU coughs up for Guyana to host the space project, which is used mostly to launch commercial satellites, but nearly half the bill is met by France. This might explain the discrepancy between the modestly sized flags from the EU nations and the football-pitch-sized Tricoleur at the entrance to the project.

“I would love to see a Tricoleur on the moon,” sighs Bernard Chermoul, director of the Ariane Space Station in Kourou. “Perhaps not in my working life, but you never know.” Indeed, the French bureaucrats who have come out from Paris (tempted by salaries boosted by 30%) are delighted that the atlas is now much more bleu-blanc-rouge than it is red, white and blue.

“You used to say the sun never sets on the British Empire,” chuckles Patrick Moisan, head of tourism for New Caledonia. “I think you will find you could now say this about the French overseas territories.”

On La Réunion it’s the same story. “The sun never sets on the Tricoleur,” smirks Jean-Marc Boyer, dapper head of cultural affairs. “People shouldn’t all eat McDonald’s and speak American English around the world.”

The French love having their Francophone world, even if some of the inhabitants are less keen. I was told at least a dozen times that the Dom-Toms give France the honour of being the “world’s second maritime power”, whatever that means. No matter that the millions of square miles of water around St Pierre et Miquelon, a speck in the Atlantic, or Clipperton, a speck in the Pacific, have no apparent strategic use. The French position in the watery global pecking order is the point. “The Dom-Toms have great strategic and military value,” insists Pierre Vergès, minister of tourism in La Réunion. “It’s all about the importance of maritime law and maritime space, and the wealth of the oceans. They give France a power over the oceans; that’s key.” Yes, but for what? Nobody seemed to know. People talked vaguely to me about the possibility of oil and minerals in the outre-mer, but New Caledonia produces a lot of nickel and chrome, and that’s about it.

The hard truth is that France ended up with all these bizarre places out of a keen desire not to be left out of the colonial race to carve up the globe. It grabbed Guyana because it was rumoured there was gold there. There wasn’t, but illegal prospecting threatens the rainforest. It grabbed Polynesia because it was rumoured the Panama Canal would make it a useful staging post. It didn’t. So France then had to invent uses for these places. Prisons, space stations, honeymoons, wine smuggling, nuclear testing; these and more have all been foisted upon the Dom-Toms with varying degrees of success.

The reason France never dispensed with its wildly expensive colonial accessories, as we did, is slightly more complicated. Call it the embers of Napoleonic ambition, but Boney’s spirit lives on in the Dom-Toms. They call it the “mission to civilise”, and hang the expense. In Cayenne, the Guyanese capital, there is a huge statue of some French national hero dressed like Voltaire and pointing out the bright future to a semi-naked African slave. That’s about the sum of it. The French keep the Dom-Toms going rather as one might nurture an idea, no matter how groundless it is in reality. It’s not about need or want, says Professor Aldrich. “In some ways, it’s like having the old family jewels, and not being able to get rid of them.”

“France is the only European country to have a leg on every continent,” Max Shekleton, the British consul in New Caledonia, tells me over a breakfast of croissants and coffee. “Look at the French officials, the customs men in their tight shorts and the gendarmes on their flashy motorbikes. France is trying to replicate a little bit of France here. You could almost think you were in Aix en Provence.”

Philippe Gomez, the president of New Caledonia, sits in an office decorated with French film posters alongside the obligatory photo of Sarko. And he can’t see what’s wrong with promoting the lasting greatness of la vie française. “Well, there is our legacy of human rights, firstly,” he says, glossing over the horrors of the convicts first sent to colonise the island. “Our culture, our art? French luxury. And French women! Very important! But in reality,” he continues, more seriously, “France is in a lot of difficulties, and really every Dom-Tom should take responsibility for itself, and take care of its future.” So should New Caledonia go it alone? There is a pause. Maybe he’s thinking of that E1m trade deficit. “Non,” he says finally.

This is the point. Even the most ardent of the independence activists don’t want to abandon the mother ship and become a citizen of those countries with two people marching bravely behind their flag at Olympics ceremonies. If a Dom or a Tom walks to the brink and looks over, everyone says “remember Haiti”, referring to the former French colony that chose freedom and is now one of the poorest places on the planet.

Take Martinique, its Caribbean neighbour. One of France’s most persistent irritants is Garcin Malsa, the mayor of the commune of Sainte-Anne, who is at the forefront of demands for reparations to black Martinicans for the slavery suffered by their ancestors. When we meet, he is standing by a red-white-and-black flag, emblem of an independent Martinique.

“France should stop colonising us,” he says. “Look at the former British colonies like Barbados or Trinidad — they work well with Britain. But France is looking to transform us into French people!” He laughs harshly. “But we are descended from African slaves!” He reserves particular contempt for the Béké — the white descendants of the old French slave-owning elite, who account for 1% of the population but control most of the land and capital. “The Béké have organised the economy to create a system of apartheid. They live in their ghetto, which they have built with the complicity of France.”

But does he want total independence?

Not “une rupture totale”, he admits. Interdependence is his answer.

Should this world of hand-outs, haute cuisine and pétanque be seen just as a vast waste of money? At least France has not abandoned its vieilles colonies, which gave it so much luxury over the centuries (sugar, fur, rum, pearls), and from which legions of young men were sent to perish on the Western Front. And why sneer at benefits culture? The likes of Garcin Malsa might praise the British post-colonial system in the Caribbean, yet there are no impoverished people flogging sarongs to wealthy Europeans on the beaches of Martinique, as in Barbados.

Life in the Dom-Toms is conspicuously comfortable. Wherever we went, we met French (and English) teachers, happy with the 30% weighting their salaries are given for the privations of living there. The Air France flights that run daily to and from Paris are packed with businessmen and women working out here on similar arrangements. Equally, if you grow up in one of the Dom-Toms and want to go to university in France, a place will be found for you, plus a free flight home every summer.

Indeed, the standard of living in Guyana is so high that a large Brazilian favela has grown up in Cayenne, populated by illegal immigrants desperate for a bit of la vie. Guyana is looked at so hungrily by its neighbours that, according to local journalist José Blesse, if it ever left the skirts of Marianne, it would be quickly overwhelmed. “We would be absorbed by Brazil?There would be war between Suriname in the north and Brazil to the south, coming in to plunder Guyana?We can’t be independent from France, anyway. We don’t produce anything.”

What sort of future does he see in Guyana for his children? He looks at me as if I don’t quite get the point. “My children aren’t here. They work in Picardie, and in Paris.”

Perhaps France also binds its old colonies into a close political embrace from a sense of moral obligation. The shameful legacy of the infamous Bagne — the penal colony where Henri Charrière, the legendary Papillon, was wrongly incarcerated for murder — still haunts Guyana with a pervasive tristesse. One can still visit the prison in St-Laurent. It was only closed in 1946 after an international scandal. The conditions there were horrendous. Criminals, political revolutionaries and petty thieves jailed for as little as stealing an apple on the streets of Paris, were shackled, manacled, guillotined — or, like Alfred Dreyfus (unjustly charged with selling military secrets) sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.

My guide, Roxane, shows me the room where 80 men were chained up along a single bar, and the bakery where “les condamnés” had their last piece of Viennoiserie.

In the centre is a yard, flanked by about 50 cells. Inside one is scratched a picture of a boat, and “Adieu Maman”. “Escape was a dream. If you did try to escape, you were guillotined,” says Roxane. We walk out towards a stone circle in the middle of the square. “This was where the guillotine stood. Afterwards, a guard would walk past each cell, showing the head.” If the guillotine didn’t seal your fate, malaria, yellow fever or hard labour would. The average survival was three to five years. Guyana was not known as Green Hell for nothing.

“France sent their convicts here just as we sent ours to Australia,” says local English teacher James Pritchard. “Nowadays, of course, France is a generous parent. And I think it’s great, all these Guyanese women having eight children and claiming huge amounts of benefits. Their ancestors might have had a terrible time here under the French, but at least this generation is doing okay. There is a sort of moral contract between France and all its overseas departments.”

La Réunion is our last stop. It has to be the most beautiful of all the Dom-Toms. Dominated by two huge volcanoes, it is an island with perfect beaches, vast rollers, towering mountains, lush ravines and silver rivers. The Creole village of Hell-Bourg is particularly exquisite. After 13 weeks’ travel within this parallel French universe, with all its crazy illogicality, I’m not altogether surprised to see a sign telling me that Hell-Bourg, in the Indian Ocean, somewhere near the Tropic of Capricorn, was voted the most beautiful village in France.

Rosie Millard’s documentary series on the Dom-Toms begins on the Travel Channel on January 21

Je me sens contraint à répondre:
Rosie Millard a écrit:
La Réunion is our last stop. It has to be the most beautiful of all the Dom-Toms. Dominated by two huge volcanoes, it is an island with perfect beaches, vast rollers, towering mountains, lush ravines and silver rivers. The Creole village of Hell-Bourg is particularly exquisite. After 13 weeks’ travel within this parallel French universe, with all its crazy illogicality, I’m not altogether surprised to see a sign telling me that Hell-Bourg, in the Indian Ocean, somewhere near the Tropic of Capricorn, was voted the most beautiful village in France.

Et oui! Les réunionnais sont français, et la France est un peu réunionnaise... Cela n'est en rien illogique dans le cadre intégrateur Républicain, qui permet d'unir la France dans toute sa diversité.

Traduction: a écrit:

Très chers confettis d’empire

Rosie Millard | The Sunday Times

Les apparences comptent pour beaucoup en France, surtout lorsqu’il y va du prestige national. Les Français ont beau être partie prenante de la communauté économique européenne, ils n’en restent pas moins convaincus de leur importance planétaire. Et ils sont prêts à dépenser des millions d’euros pour la consolider. C’est particulièrement frappant dans le cas des possessions d’outre-mer*, que Napoléon qualifiait avec mépris de “confettis d’empire”. La France reste déterminée à conserver ces vestiges impériaux de façon quasi napoléonienne, se démarquant de la politique postcoloniale des autres pays occidentaux. Si vous vivez outre-mer*, vous êtes français jusqu’à la moelle, quelle que soit votre couleur de peau, votre langue maternelle, votre religion ou votre passé. Vous détenez un passeport français et, théoriquement, l’Etat français vous protège.

Me voici dans un petit canoë à moteur, en Guyane française. Ici, la forêt pluviale s’étend sur des centaines de kilomètres. Au bout d’une heure environ, nous parvenons au village de Kaw, 60 habitants. Il y a là une école, une église et une mairie flanquée de la classique boîte aux lettres française de couleur jaune. Affichés sur la porte de la mairie, des avis officiels à en-tête tricolore arborent la devise “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Nous sommes à 10 000 kilomètres de Paris, et pourtant l’obsession bien française de la paperasserie ne faiblit pas. Voilà qui est rassurant… Ainsi va la vie dans l’un des départements et territoires d’outre-mer* : les DOM-TOM sont loin de la métropole, ils sont extrêmement coûteux et ne produisent pratiquement rien d’utile. Leur seul rôle est de faire briller encore la gloire de la République française.

Combien coûte cette fantaisie ? Pour vous donner une idée, l’île antillaise de la Martinique coûte à l’Elysée quelque 2 milliards d’euros par an et la Nouvelle-Calédonie, dans le Pacifique Sud, 1 milliard d’euros. Et il ne s’agit là que du déficit commercial. La France paie également la note pour tous les emplois du secteur public, pour les “grands projets”* et pour les allocations-chômage. Le chômage dans les DOM-TOM atteint environ 30 %. Il n’y a tout simplement pas de travail. Mais pourquoi travailler quand on est entièrement assisté ? Les DOM-TOM sont très différents du Commonwealth postimpérial, composé de 54 Etats souverains. A l’inverse de la reine, au rôle purement protocolaire, Sarkozy est bel et bien le patron des DOM-TOM, qu’il finance et contrôle. Quand le Commonwealth se rebiffe, on organise une conférence ; quand les DOM-TOM se rebiffent, l’Elysée envoie les gendarmes.

“L’idée de départ était de transformer des non-Européens en Français et de faire en sorte que les colonies ressemblent le plus possible à la France”, explique le Pr Robert Aldrich, de l’université de Sydney, coauteur de France’s Overseas Frontier [Les avant-postes français d’outre-mer, Cambridge University Press, inédit en français]. “Une politique manifestement impraticable, naïvement utopique, sexiste et raciste.” Mais le spectre de l’assimilation ne s’est toujours pas dissipé et Paris persiste à affirmer que l’outre-mer fait partie de la France.

De vieux bijoux de famille dont on ne se débarrasse pas

Les Français adorent avoir leur monde francophone, même si certains des habitants des DOM-TOM sont moins enthousiastes. On m’a dit au moins une dizaine de fois que les DOM-TOM donnaient à la France l’honneur d’être la “deuxième puissance maritime du monde”. Oui, mais pour quoi ? La vérité, c’est que si la France a fini par mettre la main sur tous ces endroits bizarres, c’est par un vif désir de rester dans la course au dépeçage colonial de la planète. Et, par la suite, elle a dû inventer des usages pour ces provinces. Prisons, stations spatiales, lunes de miel, contrebande de vins, essais nucléaires : les DOM-TOM ont accueilli tout cela, avec plus ou moins de succès. Quant à savoir pourquoi la France n’a jamais lâché ses coûteux partenaires coloniaux, comme les Britanniques l’ont fait, c’est un peu plus compliqué. Ce ne sont que des braises, mais l’esprit de Bonaparte subsiste dans les DOM-TOM. Les Français appellent cela leur “mission civilisatrice” et sont prêts à y mettre le prix. A Cayenne, on voit se dresser l’immense statue d’un héros national français vêtu comme Voltaire [Victor Schœlcher, à l’origine du décret abolissant définitivement l’esclavage, en 1848], montrant du doigt un avenir radieux à un esclave africain à demi nu. Tout se résume à peu près à cela. Les Français maintiennent à flot les DOM-TOM comme on s’accroche à une idée, si peu fondée soit-elle. Ce n’est pas une question de besoin, à en croire le Pr Aldrich. “D’une certaine façon, c’est comme avoir de vieux bijoux de famille dont on n’arrive pas à se débarrasser”, explique-t-il.

Même les plus ardents partisans de l’indépendance ne veulent pas quitter le vaisseau amiral et devenir les citoyens de ces pays qui envoient deux personnes défiler derrière leur drapeau lors des cérémonies aux Jeux olympiques. Si un DOM ou un TOM se révèle un peu trop tenté, tout le monde lui dit : “Souviens-toi de Haïti”, évoquant cette ancienne colonie française qui, libre, est devenue l’un des pays les plus pauvres de la planète. Prenez l’exemple de la Martinique, sa voisine antillaise. L’une des épines irritatives de la France s’appelle Garcin Malsa. Maire de la commune de Sainte-Anne, il est en première ligne pour réclamer l’indemnisation des Noirs martiniquais, en raison de l’esclavage subi par leurs ancêtres. Il n’a que mépris pour les békés, ces descendants de l’élite esclavagiste française, qui représentent 1 % de la population, mais détiennent l’essentiel des terres et de l’appareil de production. Aspire-t-il pour autant à une indépendance totale ? Non, “pas une rupture totale”, reconnaît-il. Pour lui, la solution s’appelle interdépendance. Force est de reconnaître que la France, elle, n’a pas abandonné ses vieilles colonies*, qui lui ont tant fourni de produits de luxe au fil des siècles (sucre, fourrures, rhum, perles) et d’où tant de jeunes hommes sont partis mourir au front. Des hommes comme Garcin Malsa peuvent bien vanter les mérites du système postcolonial britannique dans les Antilles, il n’y a pas de pauvres qui vendent des sarongs aux riches européens sur les plages de Martinique, comme c’est le cas à la Barbade.

La vie dans les DOM-TOM est manifestement confortable. Dans tous les endroits que j’ai visités, j’ai rencontré des professeurs satisfaits de leurs 30 % d’indemnité de résidence. Chaque jour, les vols d’Air France au départ et à destination de Paris sont remplis d’hommes et de femmes d’affaires bénéficiant d’avantages salariaux analogues. De même, les habitants des DOM-TOM qui veulent étudier en France obtiennent sans peine une place à l’université, ainsi que des billets d’avion gratuits pour rentrer chez eux tous les étés. La forte cohésion politique qui lie la France à ses anciennes colonies tient peut-être aussi de l’obligation morale. Le honteux héritage du bagne de Cayenne hante encore la Guyane française d’une omniprésente tristesse. “La France envoyait ici ses condamnés comme nous envoyions les nôtres en Australie, explique James Pritchard, professeur d’anglais local. Aujourd’hui, bien sûr, la France est un parent généreux. Il y a une sorte de contrat moral entre la France et tous ses départements d’outre-mer.”

La Réunion est la dernière étape de notre voyage. C’est certainement le plus beau de tous les DOM-TOM. Après treize semaines dans cet univers parallèle français, on s’habitue à une forme d’illogisme forcené. Si bien que je ne suis guère étonnée de voir un panneau disant que Hell-Bourg, dans l’océan Indien, a été classé Plus beau village de France.
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