France: Sarkozy fera tout pour obtenir le vote des Arméniens
It is amazing how the incumbent French president Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to campaign on everything, but on his domestic agenda and accomplishments. I have already noted on this blog that Sarkozy cannot run on his record and win his reelection bid. So, he is running away from it as I have predicted, and the legislation criminalizing denials of the Turkish genocide against the Armenians population in the early 20th century is a flagrant example of this electoral strategy.
However, beyond the electoral strategy, this legislation clearly exceeds the French Parliament legislative prerogatives, and violates one of the most basic democratic foundations and rights, which is the right to free speech and expression.
It is not up to the French Parliament to either write history or dictate its version of historical events. Parliamentarians are not historians and they will never be. Their role is limited to making laws dealing with the country’s political, economic and social needs. One would understand if the French Parliamentarians wanted to deal with France’s own past and history (the U.S. Congress did that when it recognized the responsibility of the Federal government in the massacres of Native Americans). One would also understand if the French Parliamentarians, for instance, wanted to clarify the role of the French Republic in the Second World War, or in the Holocaust, or in its colonial conquests. After all, those were events that involved directly the responsibility of the French Republic. However, for the French Parliamentarians to deal with events that occurred on another continent, in another country, about a century or so go, where the French Republic was not involved directly or indirectly, is a clear violation of their legislative prerogatives and duties.
Nowhere in the constitution of the Fifth Republican does it say that the Parliament has the constitutional duty to take up such an action, to revise and/or write or rewrite the history of another country and to assign blame. The functions of any Parliament (at the exception of the House of Commons) are enshrined in the country’s constitution. It is that general framework that limits the actions of any parliament, and the French Parliament is no exception. Thus, enacting “memorial laws” is clearly beyond the constitutional prerogatives of the French Parliament, and going as far as criminalizing the denial of a historical events—no matter how horrific that event is—not only is it unconstitutional, but it is also a violation of freedom of speech, expression and thought which are fundamental civil liberties that any democracy must uphold and defend.
Furthermore, the president has the duty to uphold the constitution. That is what the presidential oath is. Here, president Sarkozy by defending this legislation has chosen to violate the constitution that he swore to uphold. So, what is going on here? Why is Sarkozy pushing for the criminalization of the denial of the Armenian genocide? Why is there a need for a new law especially when there is already a law passed in 2001/2002, which officially recognizes the Armenian genocide? Well, here we go to the electoral game and the electoral strategy that the incumbent president Sarkozy has chosen. As I have stated it in a previous post, Sarkozy cannot win on his abysmal domestic record, so he has to carve electoral niches and tap into the fear and anger of each of those electoral niches. For the last 2 or 3 months, Sarkozy has been taping into the National Front electorate. You just need to read the numerous inflammatory and racist declarations of his minister of the interior, Claude Geant, to know that Sarkozy is going after Marine Le Pen’s electorate. Now he is upping the ante and doubling down on his bet. He is taping into the Armenian electorate, which roughly represents about 200, 000 votes according to the electoral data published in 2002. Granted, the French-Armenians usually vote center-right or right. However, with a president that has so little domestic accomplishment and who electoral coalition is breaking down daily, he had to find a way to consolidate one of those electoral blocks. By backing this law and supporting it, Sarkozy is making sure that the French-Armenian electorate will vote Sarkozy in the first and second round. So, as we say “mission accomplie”; however, i don’t think that the Armenian vote alone would be enough to secure his reelection.
In addition, how can anyone outlaw a thought? This is what this legislation does. It says that there is no discussion or debate surrounding a historical event that occurred in early 1900s, thousands of kilometers away from France, and on another continent. The French Parliament has substituted its judgment (more like an opinion to me) to the historians’ scientific work and investigation. By doing so, the French Parliament has criminalized any scholarly driven research into the events that took place in the early 1900s. By doing so, the French Parliament has outlawed any other conclusion or interpretation of those events and forced French historians and academics to endorse its conclusion, and banned them from arriving to any other interpretation or conclusion, but its conclusion. Not only does this violate freedom of speech in the most flagrant and obvious way, but it also violates the basic elements of a well designed research. We do not start with a conclusion and then work our way backward to find support for that conclusion, but we start with a question and hypothesis and go about finding systematic and rational support for either rejecting it or failing to rejecting it. I think, French historians and French graduate students in history should be abhorred by such a Stalinist law.
In sum, i am not surprised by this new law. It is motivated by pure electoral concerns. Sarkozy does not give a damn about the Armenians in France, nor does he give a damn about their early 1900s plight. He is only interested in their votes. And he will do and say anything to secure that vote.
I highly advise the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to pass a law (he certainly has the majority necessary to easily secure its passage) recognizing the responsibility of the French Republic (the Third, Fourth and the Fifth Republic) in the Algerian Genocides (yes genocides in plural because there are several) that took place between 1830 and 1962. Such a move would certainly anger the corrupt Algerian government since Bouteflika and his minions are known for kowtowing to their French masters; it would also please the Algerian people; but most of all, it would force France face to its real history and its real crimes.