The 'monument of complexity' that was Réunion communist leader Paul Vergès

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Paul Vergès, the strongman founder and leader of the Réunion island’s Communist Party, the doyen of the French senate and an anti-colonial firebrand who was a significant figure of the international communist movement, has died at the age of 91. Less known on mainland France than his late brother, the controversial lawyer and provocateur Jacques, Paul Vergès became regarded as an untouchable political figurehead on the French Indian Ocean island where he had successively occupied almost every political mandate during a 70-year career. Julien Sartre sketches the sometimes dark story of what historian Frédérick Genevée called “a monument of complexity” who was driven by anti-colonialism rather than social struggle.

 

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“What is exemplary about the Vietnamese people is its modesty and its pragmatism, a people that counts only on its own strength,” said Paul Vergès in 1977, interviewed for Chris Marker’s documentary Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l'air est rouge was the French title) on the rise and fall of leftist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The Vietnam War had not long ended and Vergès, a Réunion island politician who was born in 1925 in Siam, as Thailand was then called, was inscribed in the history of the anti-colonial struggle.