Culture et idées

The lingering issue of colonialism that still shapes France

More than all other the former European imperial powers, France continues to be profoundly shaped by the issue of colonialism, which both determines its relations with the world and fashions how it sees itself. In this article written for the latest issue of the 'Revue du crieur', Mediapart's publishing editor Edwy Plenel looks at France's continuing relationship with its colonial past, a subject often suppressed by its political elites on both the Right and Left. He argues that the country's continuing reluctance to confront its imperial history has made it blind to its multiculturalism and diversity and has encouraged the renaissance of neo-fascism.

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It is not that other European nations are no longer shaped by their colonial past, by how it is remembered, and by their cultural heritage. But in France the issue of colonialism is still an active and concrete political issue, still determining ideological debates and government positions to this day. A close examination of the subject shows that it is a crossover point for social issues (the make-up and renewal of the working classes from the impact of relationships, social interaction and migration from elsewhere), democratic issues (the merger, under the impulse of a presidential monarchy, of a vertical power structure with a 'sameness' of identity) and international issues (France's relations with the diversity, plurality and fragility of an interdependent world where the universal is constructed through interaction and sharing rather than through domination and submission).

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