France Rethinks Honor for Charles Maurras, Condemned as Anti-Semite

The controversy, which raised questions about why he had been included in the first place, reflected France’s ambivalent views toward its history of wartime collaboration and anti-Semitism.

The National Commemorations aim to highlight significant anniversaries in France each year. The 2018 edition listed the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 protests that paralyzed France, among other events.


Charles Maurras in Paris in 1936.Credit Associated Press

More than 100 historians and specialists worked on the project, Ms. Nyssen said in her foreword. On Sunday, the minister explained that the initial goal of including Maurras was to feature not only glorious events, but also “the dark hours of France’s history.”

France Rethinks Honor for Charles Maurras, Condemned as Anti-Semite
France Rethinks Honor for Charles Maurras, Condemned as Anti-Semite

Born in 1868, Maurras was an influential writer, a leading figure of the nationalist movement Action Française and a theoretician of French nationalism. He was sentenced to several months in prison in 1936 after calling for the death of France’s first Jewish prime minister, Léon Blum, because of his religion.

Maurras joined the prestigious Académie Française in 1938 and welcomed the government that would collaborate with the Nazis as a “divine surprise.” He was arrested in 1944 and condemned to a life sentence in prison for collaborating with the enemy. He died in prison in 1952 at age 84.

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“Even before his twentieth birthday, Charles Maurras describes himself as a French obsessed with foreign invasion and Jewish presence,” the prominent historian Michel Winock wrote in a book about France and its Republican ideals.

Although Maurras is now widely condemned in France, he has many fans, including Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, according to Politico. The controversy in France surrounding the commemoration of his birth echoed a similar episode of public outrage in 2011, when the same commemorations book planned to celebrate the birth of another anti-Semitic writer, Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

That chapter led the Ministry of Culture to change the name of the project from Register of National Celebrations to Book of National Commemorations.

This year, the publisher Gallimard abandoned a plan to publish an edited version of Céline’s anti-Semitic pamphlets after it caused an uproar.

By Sunday evening, all references to Maurras had been deleted from the commemorations’ website. A short text that had described Maurras as an “emblematic and controversial figure” had also been taken down.

“We have to remove the ambiguity,” Ms. Nyssen said.

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