Sarkozy faces controversy over communist hero

Other News Materials 21 October 2007 18:47 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - A plan by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to commemorate a young communist resistance hero shot by France's wartime Nazi occupiers has stirred controversy and sparked accusations of manipulation by the government.

Sarkozy ordered just after his election in May that the farewell letter of Guy Moquet should be read out in French schools on October 22, the anniversary of his death.

Moquet, a 17 year-old member of the Young Communists, was one of 27 French hostages executed in 1941 in retaliation for the assassination of a German officer by resistance fighters.

His letter, beginning: "My darling mum .. I am going to die!" was seized on by Sarkozy during the election campaign as a symbol of patriotic sacrifice.

After initial objections that the commemoration was too nationalistic, other young resistance heroes, including Germany's Sophie Scholl will be included.

But some teachers have been angered by what they see as presidential interference in the classroom, saying that Moquet should not be treated as an isolated icon but discussed in the full context of the war.

"Although I respect the memory of the young man shot in 1941, I believe above all, that the president of the Republic cannot dictate to me what I teach," Pierre Albertini, a Paris history teacher, wrote in a letter to Sunday's Le Monde.

The left, already annoyed by Sarkozy's habit of citing leftwing heroes like early Socialist leader Jean Jaures in his speeches, has also accused the president and his centre right UMP party of trying to appropriate another symbol of the left.

Supporters of Sarkozy, who created a ministry of "national identity" when he came to power in May, have fired back at "politically correct" objections to the event.

Henri Guaino, one of his closest advisers, told Liberation that national identity had become a vital issue with spreading globalization and increased immigration and it was "completely incomprehensible" that teachers should refuse to take part.

"If we're to understand that they refuse to talk about great figures of national history just because they are national, I don't want to entrust my children to them," he told the paper.

The French communist party accused Sarkozy of trying to "anaesthetize" figures like Moquet but welcomed commemoration of one of its heroes and plans a rally at Guy Moquet metro station in the working class Paris district where he lived.