How the notion of France's long-cherished 'Republic' has been hijacked


The word 'Republican' has a hugely positive place in the French collective memory. But recently the concept has come to be used – and abused - as a form of political shorthand to tell people to obey the rules. Mediapart's Fabien Escalona talks to French academics about the shifting meaning of the concept and how it is now cited more to protect existing privileges rather than to extend safeguards and rights to new groups.

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The Republic has become a convenient excuse for many things. It was in its name – or at least in accordance with its “values” - that two senior government ministers, Jean-Michel Blanquer and Marlène Schiappa recently launched an investigation into school sick notes. They want to find out whether some parents are routinely using medical certificates claiming their daughters are allergic to chlorine in order for them to avoid having to wear bathing costumes in mixed settings during school swimming lessons. The probe was announced in February 2021 by the education secretary and the minister in charge of citizenship against the backdrop of the French government's campaign against religious 'separatism'. Nor was it the first time that the pair have summoned up the principle of 'Republicanism' in this way.