|ETHNICITY AND THE NATION-STATE
An important starting point
for a discussion of the Kulturkampf that tacitly allies immigrant
and regionalist cultural movements in contemporary France concerns the
colonial production of particular ethnic categories, categories today mobilized
in both support of and opposition to the French nation-state. Theories
of nationalism within the fields of history and political science have
consistently focused on the modern nation-state as the final product of
a powerful set of discourses and practices which, emerging on the eve of
the 1789 French Revolution, quickly spread in a variety of forms across
the world – becoming the singular, hegemonic form of sovereignty in geopolitics
it is today. Using a ‘constructivist’ approach, such theories have
driven home the notion that the nation is an invented entity, a recently-formulated
‘imagined community’ of compatriots separated by great distances, unaware
of each others’ physical existence, united through the common practice
of modern, daily rituals (cf. Anderson 1983). Moreover, such national
construction is effectuated in contrast to ethnic groups (or ethnies in
Anthony D. Smith’s terminology ) which are imputed with a primordial
authenticity. For theorists like Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm,
ethnies constitute the building blocks for building national formations.
However, as one of the major components of nationalization is a common
linguistic policy, the “homogenization and standardization of its inhabitants,
essentially by means of a written ‘national language’” (Hobsbawm 1990:
93), such prior attachments often needed to be eliminated. “Nations
as a natural, God-given way of classifying man, as an inherent political
destiny, are a myth; nationalism, which sometimes takes pre-existing
cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them, and often
obliterates pre-existing cultures: that is reality” (Gellner 1983:
48–49). Primordial ties (of ethnicity, religion, territory, dialect,
etc.) if anything stand in the way of nationalist movements, and thus ‘tribalism’
becomes the anathema of modernity.
activists often use these same assumptions of primordiality to justify
their own claims of originality and signal the oppression which they have
experienced at the hands of nation-states. Within the Berber movement
in Algeria, various engaged intellectuals have made a concerted effort
to portray Berberity as the true, originary identity of Algeria, the Maghreb,
and the southern Mediterranean as a whole. They have sought historical
evidence in the writings of early Roman geographers (Sallust, Procop) and
proposed linguistic theories to demonstrate that Berber language and culture
antedated the arrival of Arabs in North Africa in the seventh (Islamic
armies) and eleventh (Benu Hillal) centuries. The efforts of the
Algerian revolutionary parties from the 1920s to 1960s to unify the colony’s
indigenous populace under the then powerful anti-colonial motifs of Arab
nationalism and Islam, in the eyes of stalwart Berber activists, amounted
to the denial of the Algerian people of their essential Berber identity
– the true identity of all Algerians, whether or not a given Algerian speaks
a Berber dialect or recognizes him or herself as having Berber roots.
The current disunity of Algeria, embodied most poignantly in the current
civil war which has claimed upwards of 70,000 lives over the last five
years, in this regard can be seen as resulting largely from an ‘identity
crisis’. This crisis of identity has left the Algerian people utterly disoriented
in an increasingly globalizing world and willing to grasp at the first
strong organizing principle to arise – in this case Islamic fundamentalism.
A return to Algeria’s fundamental identity – Berberity – is thus proposed
as the needed solution.
While no civil war as such
has occurred in Brittany or Occitania, cultural activists have nonetheless
mobilized similar claims to primordiality and levied criticisms against
the French nation-state for surpressing their regional heritage (patrimoine).
Viewing the French language as a post-Revolutionary, Parisian formulation
imposed on the French countryside by the state’s centralization policies
and national education practices, they have legitimized their contemporary
demands for multi-cultural education through the stipulated pre-French
Celtic and Latinate character of the Breton and Occitan languages respectively.
The recent economic exploitation and ecological decimations of their regions
they see as consonant with two hundred years of cultural and linguistic
homogenization. As in the case of the Berber cultural movement in
Algeria, the revitalization of primordial ethnic and linguistic identities
in France would serve, according to Occitan or Breton militants, as a means
to counter global challenges to the integrity of national models;
in their view, if the French state only embraced its regional cultures,
it could maintain its cultural individuality in the face of German and
Colonialism and National
However, the assumption of
primordiality shared by theorists and critics of nationalism glosses over
the historicity of ethnic categories and the role of nationalist discourses
in their constitution. In the first place, one must re-focus on the
colonial period as a determining moment in the production of both national
and ethnic social formations. Beyond Benedict Anderson’s emphasis
on creole pioneers on nationalism (Anderson 1983), one must follow Ashis
Nandy in linking the development of European nationalist sentiment to the
colonial process itself. Through various colonial discourses which
associated the Indian populace with children (among which Marx’s “On Imperialism
in India” [Marx 1978] must be numbered), Britain was able to impute to
itself “magical feelings” of being “an advanced culture where human reason
and civilized norms had the greatest influence, and a polity farthest on
the road to revolutionary self-actualization” (Nandy 1983: 35). In
the case of France, this was exactly the mission civilisatrice, a self-aggrandizing
ideological form which simultaneously justified colonial expansion and
a pro-assimilationist national self-understanding. Such sentiments
of superiority fed into a nationalism already underwritten by a “false
sense of homogeneity” instilled in part through the mechanics of colonization.
“Colonialism blurred the lines of social divisions by opening up alternate
channels of social mobility in the colonies and by underwriting nationalist
sentiments through colonial wars of expansion or through wars with other
ambitious European powers seeking a share of colonial glory” (Nandy 1983:
This interplay between metropole
and colony in the entrenchment of state national regime of sovereignty
and the putative elimination of social tensions arising from extant heterogeneous
class and cultural loyalties is greatly illustrated in the events following
the 1870 fall of Louis Napoleon’s Empire at the hands of the invading Prussian
army. Following this defeat, the European powers allowed France’s
colonial expansion to continue apace in order to divert French attention
from the lost territories of Alsace and Lorraine (Cobban 1955: 91).
Indeed, such expansion greatly served the interests of the nascent Third
Republic to defuse the urban social tensions which would poignantly surface
in the 1871 Paris Commune. An October 1870 decree by interim minister
Isaac Crémieux effectively replaced the loss of the two eastern provinces
through the administrative incorporation of the military colony of Algeria
into France in the form of three départements, and the granting of full
citizenship rights to all European settlers as well as to indigenous Jews
(but not Muslims). Reacting largely to these new measures (which
included a special ‘Arab tax’ on Muslim non-citizens), a number of tribes
in Kabylia (amounting to an estimated 200,000 armed fighters) rose up in
January 1871 against the colonial government in a bitter insurrection which
would last for fourteen months. Finally, by February 1872, the French
colonial army crushed the uprising with absolute vehemence, confiscating
574,000 hectares of land in Greater Kabylia alone. In particular,
the military government redistributed over 100,000 acres of this expropriated
land as an emigration incentive to 1,183 Alsatian families who had fled
to Paris before the invading Prussian armies and had joined the burgeoning,
unemployed urban swell which had contributed to the Paris Commune revolts
several months earlier (Julien 1963: 65; Talha 1989: 31). Meanwhile,
the Kabyle leaders and their families joined the Communards in exile to
New Caledonia, one of France’s newly-acquired Pacific colonies, while thousands
of others were forced into a situation of migrant labor, bringing them
to Tunisia, Algiers, and eventually France in search of work.
Having now consolidated
its rule in both Paris and Kabylia, the Third Republic began to utilize
the colony as a proving ground for national integration policies and, in
doing so, further assimilate it into the metropole. Over the years
1881–82, the French prime minister Jules Ferry drafted a series of laws
which put all Algerian public services under the control of the respective
French ministries and organized the internal administration along French
civil rather than wartime military rule (Collot 1987: 10–11). These
measures actually antedated the 1884 legislation on municipalities – allowing
for the free election of local mayors as representatives of the State –
which would have the same practical effects for peripheral regions within
the metropole. Kabylia was particularly targeted in this incorporation.
In 1874, autonomous legal jurisdiction in Kabylian villages (regulated
by local, oral laws or qanoun) was abolished and regional courts were established.
Further, in 1881, Ferry created eight schools in Kabylia according to secular,
national education standards he proposed two years earlier as Minister
of Education and applied more generally two years later throughout Algeria
and France (Lorcin 1995: 190). In this way, the colonies, rather
than peripheral regions to which national standards were exported, functioned
as an integral element in the consolidation of a republican national regime.
The central importance of this integrity definitively manifested itself
eighty years later, in the national upheavals accompanying the wars of
decolonization. As I will discuss below, such a loss provoked not
only the fall of one constitutional government in France, but also a fundamental
transformation of French national identity from an Imperial to a European
The Production of Ethnic
Particularity: The Kabyle Myth
The constitution of the French
nation-state in the late-nineteenth century did not, however, merely involve
the integration of peripheral populations through the simple erasure of
autonomous regions constituted by postulated ethnic or linguistic differences
(the Kabyles, Occitans, Bretons, etc.). Rather, these measures often
involved the contradictory reification of these categories of difference.
Techniques of enumeration and categorization (mapping, cadastral surveys,
etc.) employed to consolidate rule and centralize authority throughout
the Empire actually produced hierarchical schemas along which various populations
were slotted. Building on the philosophical models posed by mid-century
social evolutionists like Herbert Spencer and racial theorists like Arthur
de Gobineau, which had gained a central place in important Parisian research
institutions (the Ecole Polytechnique, in particular), military geographers,
linguists, and ethnologists catalogued the racial traits, language forms,
socio-political traditions, and religious rites they observed among the
conquered peoples along a continuum of progress from savagery to civilization
(Lorcin 1995). While the colonial mission civilisatrice sought to
transform such ‘natural’, incompatible differences into the mere folkloric
appendages of a modern society, the continual use of such hierarchical
schemas for governing purposes (for alliances, divide-and-conquer tactics,
etc.) resulted in the unforeseen generalization and reification of such
sub-national categories as essential means of group identification.
A clear example of this
contradiction can be seen in the case of the ‘Kabyle Myth’ in Algeria.
Throughout the colonial period in Algeria (1830–1962), ethnological and
military reports from Algeria paid particular attention to the Berber-speaking
populations of Kabylia, contrasting them to their Arab neighbors.3
A network of research centers, archives, and journals in both the Maghreb
and France devoted to the scientific study of Berber language and culture
was created in order to fix the ethnic boundary between the two groups
and to use such a division to justify economic and social policy.4
On the one hand, these studies characterized the Berbers as uncivilized
warriors, fiercely defending their mountain refuges against all invaders
(Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French).5 Whereas the Arab accepted
the tutelage of Islamic caliphs, the ‘fiercely independent’ Berber, according
to the reports, abhorred the very idea of central authority and was prepared
to defend his absolute liberty to the death (Guernier 1950: 171–172).
On the other hand, these barbarians were actually seen as relatively close
to European civilization, naturally endowed with values consonant with
‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’. Religiously speaking, they were viewed
as less fanatically attached to Islam, for, according to General Daumas,
head of Algerian affairs for the French government, “they have accepted
the Koran but they have not embraced it” (1855). As such, according
to the myth, the Kabyles held their women in high respect; unlike in the
Arab cities, Kabyle women were masters of the household and were known
to work in the fields veilless.6 Economically, the Berbers were described
as frugal by nature, endowed with a “commercial instinct” which clearly
demarcated them from the frivolous Arabs (Démontes 1922: 9). For
these “puritan businessmen” (Chevrillon 1927: 84), as Daumas remarked,
“laziness is shameful” (Daumas 1855: 178). Finally, on the political
level, the Berbers natural “anarchy” was seen to represent an underlying
democracy, symbolized by the village council or tajmaât. “In this
republic, the dominating spirit is that of republican equality” (Guernier
As such, the Kabyles were
stereotyped by French colonial observers as the exact opposite of the lazy
tyrannical Arab peoples, and almost European in their nature. It
was further claimed that these original inhabitants had been in constant
conflict and opposition with the Arabs. “Our man is uncontestedly
a Mediterranean of the West; or better yet, he is Western. The Berbers
are part of the rational West in formal opposition to the Arabs, who are
above all of the imaginative Orient” (Guernier 1950: 173). Drawing
on linguistic, archaeological, and physiological comparisons, a series
of hypotheses were developed and argued concerning the ancient origin of
Berber tribes. While some researchers, following the fourteenth-century
observations of Ibn Khaldun, attributed a Semitic origin to Berber tribes
as descendants of the Canaanites chased out of the Holy Land by the early
Israelites (Mercier 1871; Odinot 1924; Tauxier 1862–63), others insisted
that the Berbers of North Africa belonged to one or more European race
(Brémond 1942; Guernier 1950; Rinn 1889). In a work subtitled “Barbary
is a European Country,” General Edouard Brémond concluded definitively:
“There is absolutely no doubt that the [Berber] populations of North Africa
were originally Mediterranean or Nordic European and have not since been
modified” (Brémond 1942: 114). Indeed, the attribution of kinship
with indigenous European peoples, whether Basques and Catalans or Gaels
and Celts, was more generally accompanied by heuristic attempts to understand
the Arab/Berber divide via comparisons with other ethnic and linguistic
divisions extant in Europe. Ernest Carette, in his early ethnological
study of Kabylia, compared nineteenth-century Algeria to France of the
Middle Ages and, in particular, to the regional/linguistic division between
the northern langue d’oil and the southern langue d’oc (Carette 1848: 60–70;
cf. Lorcin 1995: 43–45).7 While Carette associated Kabyle culture
with the spirit of the northern langue d’oil, subsequent ethnological studies
took exception, concluding the contrary (cf. Busset et al. 1929).
Such conflicting comparisons
mark the structural ambivalence of a colonial project with both scientific
and military goals, operating under a joint imperative to map out and classify
ethnological differences and simultaneously assimilate such difference
into the knowable and practicable. In their association with Europe’s
past, the Berbers were singled out as the preferred agents of the colonial
project in Algeria, as the privileged targets of the mission civilisatrice:
“He will easily assimilate to our ideas, to our labor methods” (Démontes
1930: 360). While Algeria never had a specific ‘Berber policy’ as
in Morocco,8 Kabylia, as we have seen in terms of education policy, received
disproportionate attention in terms of the execution of national legislation.
While certainly not creating the anti-Arab évolués that French officials
may have hoped for, this ethnic preference had a dual effect. First,
it opened up wide avenues for emigration to France. Often expropriated
from their family land holdings by colonial land laws and exposed to French
language and culture in school, Kabyle males became prime targets for government
and private recruiters to man the French war machine (as soldiers or factory
workers) during the two world wars.9 Although this migratory flux
was to spread gradually to Arab Algeria as well, on the eve of the Algerian
war, over sixty percent of Algerian immigrants in France still came from
the Kabylian provinces, and nearly one quarter of all Kabyle families had
at least one member working in France (Khellil 1994: 14). Second,
such colonial attention underwrote the later development of a Berber cultural
movement in the days following independence. Often adopting the rhetoric
of the ‘Kabyle Myth’, Berber cultural and political associations, as we
shall see, continued to use anti-assimilationist claims of being simultaneously
primordial (ante-Arab) and European (or at least as a synthesis of East
and West, a bridge across the Mediterranean) in their appeals to European
governments for economic and political support. Likewise, their stipulated
ancestral association with indigenous French minorities (Auvergnats, Basques,
Celts) has provided groundwork for their current association with regional
cultural movements from these regions.
Regionalism and French
Additionally, the recurrent
colonial reference to ethnic divisions in France belies late-nineteenth
century concerns with integrating peripheral populations into the national
project of the Third Republic. While French history textbooks written
during this period (and often still in use today in one form or another)
attributed French ethnic origins to ‘our ancestors the Gauls’ and treated
the French nation as a fait accompli with the 1789 Revolution, scholarly
debates over these origins and unity continued apace during the interim.10
As Eugen Weber has poignantly argued, the process of nationalization of
France actually continued well into the twentieth century, with the cultural
and political power only gradually being taken away from local clergy and
notables by state-appointed and elected school teachers and prefects (Weber
1976). Of particular importance in this gradual transformation was
the place of local languages in the national education system. In
many cases, especially in Brittany, this question of linguistic homogenization
was tied directly to that of secularization. There, the four administrative
districts (départements) established after the 1789 Revolution were mapped
directly onto the former province’s four historical Catholic dioceses or
bishoprics, which themselves corresponded to four linguistic areas where
different dialects of Breton were spoken. After Napoleon’s 1801 concordat
with the Catholic Church, as reiterated as late as 1850 in the Loi Falloux,
clergy members gained a greater say in school administration and everyday
teaching. Schools became primarily establishments for children to
learn religious catechism, and given the ambiguity of the legislation,
this teaching was administered in the respective Breton dialect (McDonald
1989: 37). In this way, the reproduction of Breton cultural belonging
was largely mediated by the Church through the school system.
It was exactly these mechanisms
of ethno-linguistic identity production which the Ferry laws of the early-1880s
sought to eliminate. The law of 28 March 1882 made all elementary
schooling compulsory and secular, removing all influence of the clergy
from the school system. Further, an 1887 regulation unequivocally
established French as the only acceptable language within the schools,
putting into law an earlier 6 June 1880 decree to that effect signed by
then Minister of Education Jules Ferry (McDonald 1989: 39–40). As
such, these centralization measures sought to further entrench the national
presence in the peripheral French regions. By regaining control of
the national education system, the Third Republic hoped to re-instill a
threatened sense of national unity and allegiance and, in doing so, forestall
social movements in the name of sub-national identity. Besides the
Paris Commune and the Great Kabylian revolt, the years 1870–71 had seen
the growth of separatist movements in the southeastern Occitan-speaking
region. In September 1870, a group of associations representing rural
and factory workers from thirteen départements formed the Ligue du Midi
which publicly presented a series of demands ranging from job security
to autonomous governance, but were crushed in the aftermath of the Paris
Commune. In the waning days of the Third Republic, the French government
actually passed legislation formally outlawing such separatism.11
However, as in the case
of Algeria, such practical measures did not erase cultural differences
within France, but rather accompanied the elaboration of various ethnic
and linguistic categories. Like in Kabylia, nineteenth-century ethnologists
and linguists were attracted to rural, peripheral areas like Finistère
(Brittany) and Auvergne (Occitania) where supposedly pristine cultures,
unsullied by modernity and industrialization, could be observed.
These Third Republic scholars published ethnographies (Chevallier 1934,
Le Goffic 1902), collected traditional songs and dances (Quellien 1889),
and compiled dictionaries (Vallée 1980). These endeavors contributed
largely to the outlining of essential cultural characteristics shared by
the inhabitants of a given region and the attribution of such differences
to natural racial categories or ‘geniuses’ (génie d’oc vs. génie
d’oil for instance). Moreover, such folkloristic accounts were readily
consumed by a late nineteenth century Parisian elite in the midst of a
romantic artistic revolution in which an Occitan/Provençal literary renaissance,
and particularly the poems of Frédéric Mistral, flourished. This
romantic celebration of cultural difference should not be seen as contrary
to French modernization, but rather as assimilation’s determined opposite,
part of the “ambivalence of modernity” (cf. Bauman 1991). Moreover,
as in the Kabyle case, the perpetuation of a discourse of ethnic difference
would later be mobilized within the regionalist movements themselves.
In this way, there exists
a clear correlation between the ambivalent assimilation efforts within
the metropole and those employed within the colonies (particularly Algeria),
a continuity which has not been lost on contemporary ethnic activists who
decry the Third Republic’s policies of “internal colonialism” (cf. Sibé
1988).12 In the rest of this article, I will discuss three particular
moments in the realization of this similar position vis-à-vis the French
nation-state and the formulation of a common political programme.
Focusing on the period of decolonization, the early-1980s multicultural
experiments, and the 1990s ascendancy of the extreme Right on fears over
globalization, I will pinpoint the terms of convergence between immigrant
and regionalist movements and their particular relationship with a unifying
EUROPE AND ITS MINORITIES
In the previous section,
I returned to the late-nineteenth century to demonstrate how national integration
paralleled rather than succeeded the elaboration of sub-national categories
of identity. In this section, I will show how these processes have
remained unfinished and have over the last forty years transformed themselves
in relation to a third, supra-national entity – Europe. A post-World
War II phenomenon based largely on the elimination of colonial empires,
European integration has altered the ways in which both national and regional,
ethnic, or linguistic models of social organization could be practiced.
The impact of this integration on the local level, like the effects of
European and anti-colonial nationalisms, has a particular history which
has only begun to be written (cf. Darian-Smith 1994). In highlighting
the moments in which various types of minority difference within France
have been publicly demonstrated in relation to other political categories
of belonging, this section will demonstrate the multiple ways which a supra-national
Europe has been incorporated into local cultural political debates (Kulturkämpfe).
Decolonization and National
Identity: The Algerian War
The Algerian War constituted
a significant transformation in the internal organization of both the French
and Algerian nation-states. Commencing before the dust had settled
from Den Bien Phu, the 1954–62 war was not just about the national liberation
of Algeria, but it was truly played out and understood as a civil war within
France.13 In a few short years, nearly four-fifths of France’s
territory was torn away, and the entire state apparatus of the Fourth Republic
had been toppled, replaced (by a returned Charles De Gaulle), and then
almost toppled again in an aborted coup d’état by an ultra-conservative
faction of France’s own military, the OAS (Organization of the Secret Army).
On the level of national
identity, this extraction of the colonial South had two profound effects.
Firstly, French government and populace alike actively participated in
an official amnesia of the war and the colonial period in general.14
Until recently, the war was not officially commemorated and its veterans
were refused the status of anciens combattants with all the concomitant
privileges. A recent survey of French youth born after the war indicates
the extent of this ‘non-memory’: three-quarters could not indicate
the duration of the war or the name of a single Algerian resistance leader
(Manceron and Remaoun 1993: 82). Employing a series of amnesties
of war criminals from both the revolutionary FLN and the reactionary OAS,
the Fifth Republic thus made a concerted effort to turn the page on its
imperial history. Secondly, this Renan-type historical forgetting
was accompanied by an active forging of a new national project. Under
the direction of De Gaulle, France turned its political orientation 180
degrees to the North, to the construction of an integrated and unified
Europe (whose groundwork had been recently laid in the 1958 Treaty of Rome)
(Fabre 1992). Pulling out of NATO and supporting Francophone secessionist
movements in Quebec, France embarked on a new, post-colonial national trajectory
as an independent player in the bipolar geopolitical system. In this
regard, it would be fair to say that decolonization did not just create
one new nation, but two.
However, the question remains:
What kind of national entity could be constituted in the wake of this upheaval?
What type of unifying myth could the nation-state imagine for itself and
project to its citizens and the regional world? In Algeria, the National
Liberation Front established the new state on the ideological basis that
Algeria was historically Arab and naturally Islamic, thus portraying the
revolution as a unified armed struggle of Muslims against Christians.15
Armed with the now-famous rally-call, ‘One hero, the people’, the Algerian
state has employed anodyne images of the war to forge national consensus
around itself as the natural inheritor of revolutionary leadership.
In doing so, the state sought to erase the memory of opposing forces from
within the revolutionary front, from exterminated or exiled leaders like
Abane Ramdane, Krim Belkacem, Mohammed Boudiaf, or Hocine Ait-Ahmed,
to the role of expatriate and emigrant Algerians in the conflict (notably
Messali Hadj, regarded by scholars as the true ‘father’ of Algerian nationalism),
to the ‘internal war’ fought between the FLN and its rival, the Messalist
National Algerian Movement (MNA) (Stora 1995, 1991).
Furthermore, this process
of forgetting has related to the particular accommodation of internal ethnic
and regional differences. During the 1940s, nationalist debates among
the Algerian immigrant community in Paris centered around two opposing
formulations for the future country: Algérie arabe (Arab Algeria)
and Algérie algérienne (Algerian Algeria). The first saw in the nascent
Muslim Arab nationalist movement of Egypt and Lebanon the true competitor
to European colonialism, and sought to ally the revolutionary uprising
to its ideological formulations and economic support. The second
focused more particularly on the specificities of the Algerian populace,
as pluri-religious (with indigenous Christians and Jews, as well as both
Shi’a and Sunni Muslims) and pluri-ethnic (with a variety of Berber-speaking
populations: Kabyles, Chaouis, Mzabs, and Touaregs). As this
last group was composed primarily of immigrant Kabyles autoworkers, it
became referred to as the ‘Berber crisis’, and in 1949 its members were
expelled from Messali’s pre-FLN party, the Movement for the Triumph of
Democratic Freedoms (MTLD). In subsequent years, other Kabyle revolutionary
leaders, like Hocine Aït-Ahmed and Abane Ramdane would be systematically
marginalized or assassinated for too openly demonstrating regional attachments.
These tensions surfaced most directly in the immediate aftermath of independence,
when Ait-Ahmed founded a rival party, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS)
and led a two-year open revolt in Kabylia against the ethnic ‘fascism’
of the FLN of President Ahmed Ben Bella. While the revolt failed
to have the widespread support of the 1871 insurrection, the FFS remained
a strong oppositional (though unarmed) force to the Algerian regime in
both Kabylia and in France even after Ait-Ahmed’s arrest and flight to
Europe in 1965.
The Algerian conflict had
simultaneous and similar repercussions for regionalist movements in France.
Already in 1920, as the Algerian nationalist movement was getting off the
ground in the Renault and Citroèn factories of Paris, the early Breton
separatist movement, Breiz Atao (Britanny Forever), expressed overt support
for liberation movements of indigenous peoples within the French colonies
– with particular emphasis on Algeria – viewing their struggles as one
and the same. However, by the 1930s, its leaders began to embrace
the rising National Socialist party in Germany, and their visions of autonomy
became increasingly racialist, imagining an exclusive Celtic state free
from Arab “contamination” (McDonald 1989: 122–123). During the Nazi
occupation of France, the movement enjoyed overt support from both the
German and Vichy leadership, garnering a degree of autonomy in the form
of a Breton National Council in exchange for several regiments of troops
wearing German uniforms. After the war, the movement was disbanded
and over eight hundred of its members were executed for collaboration (Beer
However, racial essentialism
has been the exception rather than the norm in regionalist movements in
France. More typically, regional movements have adopted overtly Marxist
rhetoric in their discursive critiques of the French nation-state’s internal
colonialism (colonialisme intérieur) (cf. Sibé 1988). The Algerian
War in particular served as a crystallizing moment for many Occitan and
Breton militants in the radicalization of their political beliefs, taking
on for themselves the image of the Algerian fellagha (peasant) (cf. Marti
1975: 70). On the eve of the Algerian victory and the fall of the
Fourth Republic, a large number of regional nationalist organizations were
founded throughout France, from the Mouvement pour l’Organisation de la
Bretagne to the Comité Occitan d’Études et d’Action to the Comité Corse
pour l’Indépendance, all following the example of the FLN and anticipating
a possible power vacuum in Paris. Not to attribute full responsibility
to the war, the Fourth Republic had already made certain concessions to
the official recognition of minorities in France, with the 1951 Loi Deixonne
allowing both the teaching of regional dialects as part of a university
degree curriculum and the use of these languages in French language instruction.
Hence, an institutional forum did already exist for potential student-activists
to gather, debate issues, and mobilize support. Moreover, organic
intellectuals within the ethnic movements, like the Occitan scholar Robert
Lafont, did recognize that significant differences separated the plight
of a colonized Muslim Algerian and a Breton Frenchman, namely that the
latter enjoyed full political and civil rights (Lafont 1967: 141).
Finally, the true radicalization of the ethnic movements in terms
of its use of public strikes, demonstrations, and bombings (particularly
in the Breton and Corsican case) occurred after the May 1968 student-led
‘events’. Nonetheless, due largely to the Algerian War, decolonization
became the general lens through which ethnic movements in France interpreted
In this way, the war provoked
debates over the place of ethno-linguistic heterogeneity within the nation-state
on both sides of the Mediterranean. Like in Algeria, the French Fifth
Republic searched for motifs through which to present its post-imperial
identity. De Gaulle’s overt turn to Europe, his support for the European
Coal and Steel Community and later the Common Market, and his renewed alliance
with Germany constituted one set of re-centerings, though his support of
the Quebec liberation movement countered it. Such ambivalence between
regional integration and national determination can likewise be seen in
his wavering support for the Loi Deixonne and the teaching of regional
dialects in the national education system. In any event, it is consistently
these early years after decolonization that scholars have isolated as witnessing
the ‘rebirth’ of ethnic activism (cf. Beer 1980: 40).
of the Early-1980s
The ambivalence of the French
nation-state between the practice of unity and diversity, of universalism
and particularism, altered with the rise of the socialist government in
the early-1980s and its experiments with multicultural models. In
the first few years of its tenure, the French socialist party devised a
series of decentralization policies which would encourage and support minority
and regionalist cultures in France. Speaking in Lorient just prior
to his 1981 presidential election, François Mitterrand defended the ‘right
to difference’ as a universal human right (Giordan 1982: 7). This
amounted to a redefinition of French national unity through the lens of
multicultural and multilinguistic diversity. In his preface to a
programmatic report entitled La France au pluriel (“A Plural France”),
Mitterrand commented that, “we profoundly believe that if France must be
united, she must also be rich in her differences. Her unity has enabled
our country; respecting her diversity will prevent her undoing. One
and diverse, that is France” (Parti Socialiste 1981: 10).16 While
continuing to invest in a unitary national education system, the government
expanded the Loi Deixonne and offered increased financial support to independent
cultural associations of both immigrant and regional origin.
This transformation can
be seen most directly in reference to the ‘Beur Movement’. In 1981,
Mitterrand lifted a ban on immigrant associations which dated back to the
anti-fascist and anti-separatist laws of the late-1930s. In the wake
of this reform, a number of second-generation North African immigrants
initiated a series of stylized cultural practices and associations ranging
from radio stations, musical groups, newspapers, and auto-biographical
novels, to grass-roots development organizations. While a number
of these projects were designed to combat practical problems involved with
life in suburban ghettos – repairing dilapidated housing projects or providing
after-school tutoring for local youth – others focused more directly on
the re-appropriation of immigrant cultural histories marginalized in official
versions of French unity. These activities not only received overt
government support in terms of flexible funding, but they also were prominently
displayed in photographic and live performance forms at the Georges Pompidou
cultural center in Paris in 1983 (CCI 1984).
However, the Beur Movement
did not limit itself to artistic and developmental forms easily assimilated
into liberal theories of multiculturalism, but also involved a detailed
critique of the French ‘motor of integration’. During the 1983–86
period, a number of ‘Beurs’17 organized and participated in a series of
anti-racist political marches and demonstrations for racial equality and
civic rights, rights which they felt de facto denied under French meritocratic
principles. Moreover, in a series of autobiographical novels, many
Beur authors expressed a profound awareness and resentment of the structural
contradiction in which their experiences in a school system where they
were taught to be unambiguously ‘French’ ran headlong against everyday
racist attitudes in which they were informed they were necessarily foreign
(étranger) or ‘Arab’. The authors consistently (though differently) expressed
that in fact they were somehow both and neither, somewhere “between two
cultures, two histories, two skin colors, neither black nor white, inventing
[their] own roots…” (Charef 1983: 17).18 Expressing this hybridity,
Nacer Kettane, organizer of the 1985 demonstration for civic rights and
president of Radio Beur, declared: “Mutants torn from the ‘McDonalds
couscous-steak-fries society’, we are here whether you want us or not!”
(Kettane 1986: 19).
While these demonstrations
and declarations amounted primarily to an avowal of hybridity, of a self-distancing
from both North African and French cultures, as the prime element of Beur
identity, the Beur movement remained nonetheless closely associated with
the Berber cultural movement as it was unfolding in both Algeria and France
during this same period. In the Spring of 1980, a lecture on early
Berber poetry to be given at the University of Tizi-Ouzou (Kabylia) was
canceled by the Algerian authorities, leading to a month-long set of student
riots and general strikes which spread throughout Algeria to Paris.
The demonstrators, like in the Beur case, demanded the official recognition
of Berber linguistic and cultural differences within the new government’s
modernization programs. This social movement had great influence
among the majority Kabyle population within the larger Algerian immigrant
community in France, and a number of cultural associations were founded
in its wake. Through the establishment of Berber dance repertoires,
theater troupes, and language classes, these associations reached out to
the immigrant second-generation physically separated from Kabylia and its
particular cultural-political situation. This transnational movement
built on a longer history of political activism among expatriate Kabyle
intellectuals who since the late 1960s had used Paris as a pole of cultural
and literary production from which to exert pressure on the Algerian government.
However, in its conjoining with the wider Beur Movement of the early-1980s,
this activism reached a larger, younger population to which it connected
through a commonality of cause. Like the Beurs, Berber activists
promoted a hybrid, medial cultural identity, as being consummately Mediterranean,
somewhere between Arab and French along the racial schema of the Kabyle
Myth. Indeed, many informants have commented in this regards that
even the appellation, ‘Beur’, probably derives in part from a conjunction
of the term ‘Berbères d’Europe’ (Silverstein 1996). In such a way,
the opening of avenues for the public expression of ethnic and linguistic
difference in France by the Socialist legislation did not necessarily result
in the better integration of immigrant populations into the French nation-state,
but rather in many cases to their closer attachment to communities existing
outside of the state’s territorial and imaginative borders.
Likewise, while Breton and
Occitan activists also benefited from the tentative government support
for multiculturalism, they remained sharply critical of the French nation-state
and instead sought direct ties with other ethnic and linguistic minority
populations via burgeoning European supranational bodies. The approach
of regionalist groups to these European institutions has been historically
ambiguous. On the one hand, these bodies represented for the groups
in question the quintessence of capitalist development, in that they generally
served to protect state economic interests against internal and external
competitors. The insertion of the French economy into the Common
Market has often, in the eyes of many militants, destroyed small businesses
and farms, as technocratic decisions made in Brussels were unadapted to
local economies, such as the wine industry in Occitania (Touraine et al.
1981: 103). However, at the same time, by countering French nationalism
and neo-colonialism, entrance into Europe remained a positive hope for
regional development (Alcouffe et al. 1979: 7). In 1974, the European
Parliament established the European Fund for Regional Development (FEDER)
in order to finance industrial projects within underdeveloped regions.
While originally the funds were distributed through a quota system to member
states who then could allocate the monies as they saw fit, a series of
reforms in 1984–85 allowed for a greater ability of local collectivities
to have their dossiers directly examined by the funding bodies. In
Brittany alone, over 1.7 billion francs were received for 500 different
projects between 1974 and 1984 (Quéméré 1986: 63).
The early-1980s French socialist
legislation was actually antedated by a number of European resolutions
in support of linguistic and cultural rights of numerical minorities within
member states. As early as 1961, the Council of Europe recommended
the adoption of a supplementary article to the European Convention on Human
Rights stipulating that “Persons belonging to a minority… cannot
be prohibited their right… to have their own cultural life, to use
their own language, to open their own schools, and to be educated in the
language of their choice” (cited in Giordan 1982: 14). These intentions
were reiterated in subsequent years in the Helsinki Accords (1975) and
in the initial conference of European cultural ministers in Oslo (1976).
Finally, in October 1981, as the socialist reforms were getting off the
ground in France, the European Parliament similarly passed a resolution
to establish a EC charter on regional languages and cultures and minority
ethnic rights (Giordan 1982: 24). As such, Mitterrand’s declarations
appear very much as a response to reform movements already initiated at
a larger, supranational level, rather than an innovation appealing particularly
to the specificity of the French case.
Regional groups in France
responded to these declarations by organizing large conferences throughout
France throughout the 1980–81 period, bringing together a plurality of
association within each of the six major indigenous cultural regions of
France: Brittany, Occitania, Catalonia, Alsace, Flanders, and Basque
country. In addition, these meetings were supplemented by a series
of inter-regional congresses held throughout France and Europe, uniting
various ethnic activists from different ‘minorities’ in an attempt to present
their demands in a united fashion. These congresses drew inspiration
from a series of earlier such joint meetings particularly held between
Basque and Breton cultural associations during the early-1970s (Sibé 1988:
148). Often, such demonstrations of inter-regional support have followed
lines of imagined kinship, as in the case of the pan-Celtic conferences
held regularly between groups from Brittany, Cornwall, Northern Ireland,
Scotland, and Wales, or in terms of ethnic movements which cross state
borders, such as the case of the Catalans and the Basques. However,
the more general tendency to unify demands internationally and present
individual demands to European bodies (as in the case of Occitan groups
directly petitioning the European Parliament in 1982 for official linguistic
recognition in France) has been enabled largely by the elaboration of European
institutions and their declarations in favor of cultural rights.
This development, abetted by the active role of French statesman in architecting
inter-state economic and political unions, thus effectively downgraded
the role of the French nation-state in regulating its own internal diversity
and allowed for sub-national groups to form lasting trans-national connections.
As Robert Lafont concluded in 1978, “It has now become clear that [Occitania’s
future] is no longer only a regional affair, or even a French one, but
rather one of Europe” (Alcouffe et al. 1979: 199).19
Globalization and Terrorism
As I discussed in the last
section, the socialist government’s attempts to reconstruct the French
national imaginary along multicultural lines contributed to the opening
up of new avenues of trans-regional and trans-national unity which defied
the limits of state national territory. These connections only increased
apace over the next fifteen years, due to cultural political events occurring
both internally and externally to France. While in the 1980s, immigrant
and regional groups in France were beginning to forge connections with
spatially-distant others defined generally in terms of (real or fictive)
kinship (Beurs and Berbers, Bretons and Welsh), by the mid-1990s, the connections
transcended such considerations, with highly disparate immigrant and regional
groups conjoining their efforts against extreme nationalist incursions.
As I will indicate in this section, this unity has been directly related
to a discursive shift from the language of universal rights to an explicit
critique of the French nation-state as the hegemonical sovereign form.
In the first place, this
transformation is witnessed by the breakdown in the socialist poster-boy
Beur Movement. Over the last ten years, this multiform social movement
has taken on a greater ethnic and religious character, corresponding more
and more closely to partisan lines drawn on the other side of the Mediterranean.
Two significant events underlie this change. The first concerns the
appropriation of the anti-racist, ‘right to difference’ discourse by extreme-right,
xenophobic groups. In what has been termed ‘differentialist racism’
or ‘neo-racism’ (Balibar 1991; Gilroy 1990), groups like the Front National
adopted a version of apartheid which relativized cultural differences while
submitting that any violation of the boundaries separating them would give
rise to inimical ethnic conflict. Employing the pseudo-scientific
concept of seuil de tolérance (‘tolerance threshold’),20 Jean-Marie Le
Pen publicly commented on a 1992 anti-racist poster declaring, “Integration
is like a motorcycle, a mélange [of fuels] is required,” by adding, “Yes,
but above four-percent it blows the motor” (Le Monde, January 22, 1992:
6). The final step in the differentialist logic amounted to the proposed
repatriation of each immigrant group to their ‘natural milieu’, for this,
according to the argument, would be far more fair and equitable than having
them remain in a foreign environment, subject to ‘natural’, unavoidable
racist violence. Or, if such a repatriation is not possible, as in
the case of the Beurs, the discourse prescribes their radical separation
from the French nation.
This appropriation of the
‘right to difference’ thus called into question one of the main discursive
tenets behind the Beur Movement. Beur leaders reacted to this problem
in several different ways. On the one hand, those especially close
to the Socialist party, like Harlem Désir, leader of SOS-Racisme, began
to call for a ‘right to resemblance’ (droit à la ressemblance) and adopt
largely assimilationist models of identification (Désir 1987). Associations
like SOS-Racisme, France-Plus, Movement Against Racism and for Friendship
between Peoples (MRAP), Culture et Liberté Ile-de-France, Association of
the New Immigrant Generation (ANGI) and others which emerged unscathed
from the Beur Movement continue to operate today on a practical ‘here-and-now’
ideology. While multi-ethnic in membership and highly critical of
the xenophobic extreme right, these groups remain non-political in character,
preferring to work directly with state and municipal agencies (like the
Inter-Ministerial Urban Delegation) to promote an equality of opportunity
in the housing and employment sectors for youth of immigrant origin.
In discussions with leaders of these groups, I was informed that they eschewed
any cultural politics which could imply a detachment of immigrant populations
from the French nation-state, and that their support of ‘culture’ tended
to be on the level of folklore and art.
On the other hand, a large
number of other former ‘Beurs’ took the opposite tact, embracing essentialist
forms of identity and engaging in projects more linked to political situations
abroad. Many with whom I spoke expressed a feeling of betrayal by
Beur leaders who had used their anti-racist activities to underwrite their
political or commercial affairs. For them, the multiculturalism of
the Beur Movement proved to be a ruse which, in the face of extant institutionalized
racism, left Franco-Algerians only more culturally schizophrenic and socio-economically
excluded. Largely in response to this sense of failure, a large number
of Islamic and Berber associations have been founded in urban France over
the last five years, and these groups have had success recruiting among
younger second- and third-generation Franco-Algerians (Pujadas and Salam
1995; Silverstein 1996). One figure, that of Toumi Djaidja, the Lyonnais
community organizer and symbolic leader of the 1983 Marche des Beurs, became
a national symbol and often referenced example of this trajectory when
he formally adopted ultra-conservative Islamic practices after a brief
prison term in 1993.
Moreover, this turn away
from the multicultural declarations of the Beur Movement towards essentialized
ethno-religious categories largely corresponds to the radicalization of
the Algerian situation and the increasing politicization of Islamic and
Berber identities in Algeria. Since the declaration of martial law
in 1992, Algeria has suffered a devastating civil war in which at least
70,000 people have been killed in fighting between Islamist armed groups
and government military forces. In addition, Berber groups have positioned
themselves as a third interest, profiting from the relative political vacuum
to establish a virtual autonomy in Kabylia (replete with village auto-defense
forces) and to increase their demands for the officialization of the standardized
Berber language (Tamazight) as a national language on par with Arabic.
Appealing to Western powers, they have employed favorable stereotypes from
the Kabyle Myth to posit themselves not only as primordial and ante-Islamic,
but also as democratic and hence anti-Islamist (as political Islam has
been generally associated in Europe with fascism and terrorism).
In France, Berber associations have argued their legitimacy to governmental
funding agencies on exactly the premise that, by emphasizing cultural over
religious identities, they can draw disenfranchized youth from a trajectory
which, as in the case of Toumi Djaidja, has led many to fundamentalism.
One of the founding members of a Berber cultural group in Mantes-la-Jolie
explained to me that the decision to found their organization derived from
their sudden awareness that a large number of their younger North African
friends and acquaintances were beginning to frequent Islamist associations
which had taken up residence in basement prayer rooms of public housing
In particular, two events
demonstrate the ways in which the Algerian struggle has definitively crossed
the Mediterranean. In the first place, demonstrations, electioneering,
and political rallies for Algerian causes have come to mobilize more public
support within the immigrant community than regional or national debates
marked as distinctly ‘French’. This can be seen most particularly
in the voting participation differential between the April 1995 French
presidential elections and the November 1995 Algerian ones. The high
immigrant voter turnout in the latter case was largely enabled by the existence
of active branches of all the major Algerian political parties in France
and their increasingly intimate relation with immigrant cultural associations.
In the Berber case, the two major Kabyle associations in Paris, the Association
de Culture Berbère (ACB) and Tamazgha, are directly affiliated with the
two rival political parties drawing their electoral base from Kabylia,
the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Socialist Forces Front
(FFS), with whom they share similar political visions for France and Algeria
(Silverstein 1996). In my interviews with community organizers and
party members on the eve of the election, I was informed just how crucial
the immigrant vote was for the future of Algeria and Algerians in France.
For ACB/RCD leaders, it was a chance for Algerians of all sorts (Kabyle
or Arab) to take a tough ‘eradicator’ stance against an Islamic fundamentalism
that, if left unchecked, would eventually eliminate political and cultural
freedom globally. For Tamazgha/FFS supporters, the elections were
a fraud that would only result in the legitimation of a military dictator
who was avowedly against minority rights.21
On the other hand, the transnationalization
of Algerian cultural politics to France has also taken on more violent
forms, particularly in the bombings of train stations and schools in Paris
and Lyon over the summer and autumn of 1995. While these acts of
violence were largely disavowed by the vast majority of French Algerians
and Muslims, they did receive logistic support from small militant groups
in France adhering to the radical Islamist tenets of the Algerian Armed
Islamic Group (GIA), including one ‘Beur’ from the Lyonnais suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin,
Khaled Kelkal. For the French media and government, this example
proved the existence of an extensive international network of Islamic extremism
supposedly stretching from Algiers to Cologne to Sarajevo to Kabul through
France’s immigrant suburbs. To counter this perceived threat to state
security, the French government took emergency steps (the ‘Vigipirate’
plan) to reinforce its internal and external borders, thus delaying the
institution of the Schengen accords and the creation of a transnational
European political (or police) space. Moreover, the plan reinforced
an already expanded police force with military personnel who over the next
three months perpetrated over three million identity checks, a number of
police round-ups of suspected Islamist sympathizers, and a series of forced
repatriations of illegal immigrants. The result of these practices
was the popular and institutional amalgamation of the categories of immigration,
Islam, and terrorism.
The paradox of these measures
is that they contradict and impede Republican ideologies and policies aimed
at culturally reproducing the French nation-state, in that, as we have
seen, they exacerbate the further retrenchment of second-generation groups
into categories of belonging drawn directly from Algeria. Instead
of fostering communal integration cum assimilation or advancing a ‘new
citizenship’ (nouvelle citoyennité) along multicultural lines (cf. Wihtol
de Wenden 1988), recent anti-terrorism measures have led to new exclusions,
mapping out internal boundaries of national belonging which have effectively
opposed those of Muslim faith to a Catholic majority defending their own
religious values under the umbrella of state secularism. As we have
seen in the history of Breton activism, the Republican state has only in
recent memory disengaged itself definitively from the Catholic Church,
after over a century of conflicts and compromises.22 In general,
the principles of state secularism relegate religious expression to the
private sphere, though in practice they have tolerated signs of individual
faith in public establishments, like schools. In attributing the
1995 bombings to a group defined by its religion, the French state has
in effect condemned French Islam as a whole for violating this new, implicit
Concordat and forcing its beliefs onto the public sphere. As such,
constructing a mosque or wearing a headscarf in school becomes suspect
in ways that church-raising and crucifixes never have been.23 In
making this distinction, the conservative government has effectively re-defined
the French nation-state along neo-racist lines, treating non-Catholic,
non-Gallic internal (religious or regional) difference as inherently threatening,
as having the potential for subversion or terrorism.
This retrenchment into univocal
ethno-culturalist narratives of French national identity is further related
to larger debates provoked by France’s economic and political integration
into the European Community. For, the rise of nationalist sentiment
in France has as much to do with base economic, political, and cultural
fears of the immigrant Other, as it does with a more general uncertainty
over France’s role in a borderless Europe. This is certainly true
of small farmers and shopkeepers inhabiting regions not particularly affected
by immigration patterns, but who would likely be forced to alter their
practices with the withdrawal of French protectionism. For these
social actors, the threat derives primarily from East of the Rhine, and
not South of the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, their tacit if not electoral
support for Euroskeptic parties like the Front National lends credence
to the growth of anti-immigrant policies and serves indirectly to radicalize
the identity politics which today constitute the major challenge to the
sovereign integrity of the French nation-state.
However, the interaction
between a unifying Europe and post-colonial immigration need not be solely
inimical or oppositional in its implications. For, while it is true
that the weakening of inter-European borders has implied the strengthening
of extra-European ones, the parallel growth of supranational European bodies,
like the European Court or the European Parliament, has actually served
in many cases to protect the rights of immigrant and refugee populations.
On the one hand, this has occurred through common agreements to smooth
out national differences in citizenship and naturalization legislation,
changes which have encouraged strict jus sanguinis nations like Germany
to adopt more lenient jus solis policies (cf. Brubaker 1992). On
the other hand, these European institutions have provided forums for immigrant
communities themselves to initiate change. Already in 1994, under
the guise of the ‘13th Nation’, non-European immigrant groups throughout
Europe jointly appealed to the European parliament for independent representation
More recently, Berber groups
based in Europe, representing populations throughout North Africa and the
diaspora, have likewise addressed letters, petitions, and speeches to the
United Nations, UNESCO, and the European Parliament demanding the official
recognition and teaching of Berber culture in individual countries like
Algeria and France. In one case, the Granada-based umbrella group,
‘Mediterranean’, succeeded in organizing a special session of the European
Parliament on Berber (Amazigh) culture held on June 11, 1997. In
preparation for this session, the organizers solicited specific proposals
using the various internet talk groups, Amazigh-Net and Soc.Cult.Berber
which have for the last five years served as forums for political and cultural
debate among Berber populations resident throughout the world. Using
similar means of publication, another Paris-based group succeeded in procuring
European funds to help finance the first World Amazigh Conference held
in August 1997 in the Canary Islands. The conference expects to receive
representatives from Berber associations located across the globe, from
North Africa to France to Sweden to North America, many of whom have already
been active in its planning and promoting.
If European immigrant groups
appear to have followed the inspiration of the French regionalist movement
in utilizing Europe as a court of appeals against individual nation-states,
such a tactical overlap has been by no means incidental. Over the
last several years, immigrant issues in France have been directly united
with larger European ones of minority populations. Since their inception
in the early-1980s, the yearly musical ‘Fête du Peuple Breton’ (‘Festival
of Breton People’) organized by the Breton Democratic Union (UDB) has invited
artists and artisans from other French regions, from across the Channel,
as well as from former North African colonies. Nevertheless, in spite
of this opening, the organizers continued to place the emphasis on Breton
culture (McDonald 1989: 151). However, this emphasis has been altered
in recent manifestations of the related Douarnez film festival, held annually
in Brittany. Focusing since 1978 on one or more regional European
linguistic or ethnic groups (Bretons, Basques, Celts, etc.), the 1994 and
1996 versions were devoted to ‘Berbers’ and ‘Immigrant Communities’ respectively.
This last year’s event featured films produced by Algerians in France,
Turks in Germany, and Pakistanis in Britain, as well as offering lectures
and debates animated by prominent leaders within the respective immigrant
communities and providing space for immigrant organizations to promote
their causes and interact amongst themselves. While Breton films
were still shown in these festivals, they took a peripheral place to the
focus group’s endeavors.
Likewise, as mentioned in
the introduction to this paper, immigrant groups in France have similarly
begun to open their conferences and festivals to regional minority groups
in Europe. During its 1996 commemoration of the Berber Spring, a
Parisian suburbs based Berber group, the Berber Cultural Movement-France
(MCB-France), composed primarily of second-generation Franco-Kabyles in
their twenties, invited two Occitan scholars/activists to participate in
a round-table discussion concerning the ‘Amazigh Question in 1996’.
While the room was decked with Kabyle flags and maps, and while the majority
of interventions addressed aspects of Berber identity and the place of
Tamazight (Berber language) in France and Algeria, the Occitanians attempted
to relate these questions to the larger issue of minoritized languages
in the French metropole. In particular, Jean-François Blanc, director
of the one the oldest Occitan cultural organizations, the Institute of
Occitan Studies (founded 1944), centered his discussion on a critique of
the nation-state as an instrument of homogenization. Warning the
Berber activists about the initial support of the interim Algerian government
for the teaching of Tamazight, Blanc concluded that “the [Occitan] experience
with regards to the central State shows that we cannot count on it.”
Just as Occitan activists took heed of Algerian revolutionaries during
the wars of decolonization, so now are they returning the favor of experience
in the post-colonial period.
In this way, the joint action
of non-commensurable ‘minority’ groups in France has largely predicated
itself on a critique of the nation-state as an agent of homogenization
and cultural destruction. In a tract distributed five months after
the conference, on the eve of the referendum of an Algerian constitution
which, as Blanc had predicted, betrayed the Berber populations by once
again reiterating the ‘Algeria, Arabic, Islam’ national triad, the MCB-France
levied its definitive disavowal of traditional state structures:
“The rupture with the concept of the nation-state, ‘one language, one culture,
one school,’ elsewhere paradoxically defended until now by a large number
of militants, is today a necessity.”24 What remains is to work through
larger, more decentralized bodies, like the imagined Tamazgha (Barbary),25
or the more concrete Europe. But which Europe? A ‘Europe of
Regions’, answers the Occitan militan Robert Lafont, for a ‘Europe of States’
has only aided and abetted member states in the persecution of regionalist
groups accused of state subversion – such as the support given by the EC
to Spain in resolving the “Basque problem” (Alcouffe 1979: 102).
The former, popular definition of Europe remains a promise: “The
reality of today’s Europe has transformed our geopolitical situation.
We were on the periphery. We can become, if we want, axes, pivotal
regions” (Sibé 1988).26
In this paper, I have sought
to demonstrate the ambivalence of the French nation-state’s management
of ethno-racial and linguistic difference and how in both colonial and
post-colonial times it has simultaneously avowed and disavowed – produced
and erased – sub-national categories of identity. By focusing on
the joint participation of state actors and subaltern leaders in the elaboration
of ethnic stereotypes and myths, the paper has attempted to undermine assumptions
of primordiality rampant within structural functionalist approaches to
the nation-state and its discontents (cf. Beer 1980: 42). Further,
the paper has attempted to demonstrate a close relation between such cultural
production and changing modes of political contestation. Most significantly
for the contemporary period, there has occurred a series of shifts in the
imagination of internal and external boundaries, as the contours of the
French political imaginary alternately expand and contract to encompass
a colonial Empire or a unified Europe. For both the Algerian immigrant
community and regional groups alike, these changes have outlined new possibilities
for the enactment of civil society. From electioneering to jointly
petitioning the Council of Europe, French citizens of ‘minority’ linguistic
or ethnic origin have been able to articulate an identity politics which
reaches beyond the confines of ‘assimilation’ to French Republican norms.
While this transnationalization has on occasion abetted the growth of religious
or ethnic extremisms, it has more often encouraged the expansion of minority
rights and tolerance.
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1 This paper was enabled
by research funded by the Jennings-Randolph Program of the United States
Institute of Peace and the National Science Foundation. I would like
to thank Brian Axel, Lisa Hajjar, Seteney Shami, and Miklós Vörös who have
provided comments and suggestions on various versions and drafts of the
2 Similar figures can be
seen in Brittany. These demographic changes are significant when
population statistics are globally considered. While the population
in France increased by forty-four percent between 1851 and 1975, five départements
in the southwest had barely maintained the same number of residents.
As a whole, the percentage of France’s population residing in the Occitan
speaking region diminished by five-percent over this period. On the
basis of these statistics, a number of Occitan activists have denounced
the situation as one of ‘internal colonialism’ (Alcouffe et al. 1979: 47–48;
cf. Sibé 1988: 11; Touraine et al. 1988: 81).
3 The most famous example
of this division occurs in Hannoteau and Letourneux’s 1871 study, La Kabylie
et les coutumes kabyles.
4 Often amounting to apologies
or rationalizations for the colonial venture, these studies had as one
of their primary goals to create a standard grammar and transliteration
system for the various Berber dialects (cf. Carette 1848; Rinn 1889).
5 The word, ‘Berber,’ itself
comes from the same Greek root as ‘barbarian’, though its Arabic usage
is generally attributed to a derogatory miscomprehension of Berber dialects
as sounding like ‘brbr’.
6 Ethnographic evidence
was mobilized to claim that Berber culture was originally matriarchical,
and that the Islamic invasions only deposed a thin layer of patriarchalism
on its surface.
7 ’Oil’ and ‘oc’ represent
alternate words for ‘yes’ in the pre-French Latinate languages. ‘Oil’
has become the ‘oui’ of Modern French, while the langue d’oc remains the
close ancestor of contemporary Occitan dialects in the south of France.
8 In Morocco, the
colonial government issued the infamous Berber ‘dahir’ of 1930, in which
the Berber populations were administratively divided from Arab ones, and
were allowed to be governed by their own customary tribunals and courts
of appeal instead of the Islamic shari’a courts. Kabylian Berbers
were thus singled out in exactly the opposite manner, as potential French
9 See Bourdieu and
Sayad 1964 for a discussion of colonial land expropriations; cf. Khellil
1979: 72–77 for the influence of the colonial school system and colonial
recruiters on Kabylian emigration.
10 Early racial interpretations
of the French Revolution by the Abbé de Sièyes, for instance, linked
the Third Estate with the Biblical Gauls overthrowing the Aryan Frankish
aristocracy. Whether France was intrinsically Gaulish or Frankish
became a subject of wide academic controversy for nearly a century.
Later, the romantic historian, Jules Michelet, situated the originality
of France in the very melange of these races with others (cf. Citron 1994).
11 The law of 23 May 1938
forbade “whosoever undertakes, in whatever fashion, to undermine the integrity
of the national territory or to subtract from the authority of France a
part of territory where this authority is exercised.”
12 Alain Sibé, an Occitanian
organizer and Marxist militant has emphasized that “it is necessary to
underline the coincidence between [Ferry’s] vigorous tactics of de-nationalization
and colonial policy” (Sibé 1988: 34).
13 François Mitterand, then
Minister of the Interior, stated in a speech given on 5 November 1954 during
an official visit to the Aurès (Algeria): ‘Algeria is France.
And France will not recognize any other authority there but its own’ (cited
in Manceron and Remaoun 1993: 24).
14 Benjamin Stora (1991)
has explored this process of forgetting in great detail, along with its
consequences for the younger generations in France.
15 The 1964 National Charter
declared Islam to be the national religion and Arabic to be the national
language. This formulation has been reiterated in subsequent constitutions,
in spite of some concessions made to teaching of minority languages (Tamazight).
The original formulation of this identity derives from the oft-quoted slogan
of the 1930s proto-nationalist movement, the Jama’at al-’Ulama’:
“Islam is my religion, Algeria is my nation, and Arabic is my language.”
16 ”Nous croyons profondément
que si la France doit être unie, elle est aussi riche de ses différences.
Son unité a fait notre pays, le respect de sa diversité empêchera qu’il
se défasse. Une et diverse, voici la France.”
17 A self-designation employed
by second-generation North Africans during this period. It likely
derives from an idiomatic inversion of ‘Arab’.
18 ”Entre deux cultures,
deux histoires, deux couleurs de peau, ni blanc ni noir, à s’inventer ses
propres racines…” For similar formulations, see Begag 1986; Boukhedenna
19 ”Il devient maintenant
clair qu’elle n’est plus une affaire de régions seulement, ni même de France,
20 This was originally formulated
as an abstract generalization by University of Chicago sociologists in
the 1960s. Observing the interactions of various racially and socio-economically
diverse groups within inner-city work and living environments, they set
a ‘tipping point’ of ten-percent above which they claimed the relative
minority population seemed to provoke a negative psychological reaction
from the majority, ending often in open conflict.
21 The FFS had previously
signed a treaty at Saint-Egidio (Italy) with the FLN and the Islamic Salvation
Front (FIS) to boycott the elections. In the end, the Army general
Liamine Zeroual was elected with 65% of the popular vote (over 70% voter
turnout). While he originally made overtures to the support of Berber
rights and the teaching of Tamazight, he later reneged on these promises
and reiterated Arabic’s position as the sole official and national language
22 The law of 9 December
1905 officially ended Napoleon’s famous Concordat with the clergy, withdrawing
all public funding from religious institutions.
23 The legitimacy of mosques
and headscarves in France have each been the subject of heady political
debate over the last ten years. For further details on the ‘Headscarf
Affair,’ see Auslander 1997; Beriss 1990.
24 ”La rupture avec le concept
de l’Etat-Nation: ‘une langue, une culture, une école…’ par ailleurs
paradoxalement défendu jusqu’… préesent par un grand nombre de militants,
est aujourd’hui une nécessité.”
25 This refers to a maximal
conception of the historical Berber-speaking world, ranging from Libya
to the Canary Islands, and including all significant pockets of contemporary
Berber-speaking populations (Paris, Quebec, etc.).
26 ”à la réalité de
l’Europe d’aujourd’hui a transformé notre situation géopolitique.
Nous étions la périphérie, nous pouvons être, si nou le voulons, des axes,
des régions charnières.”