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Visiting France

FN mayor refuses to mark "self-incriminating" anti-slavery ceremony

media Front National newly elected mayor of Villers-Cotterets, Franck Briffaut AFP PHOTO/François Nascimbeni

As France marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, a newly-elected mayor of the far-right Front National party caused a stir on Saturday by refusing to hold an annual official commemoration recognising the end of slavery, arguing it made French men and women feel guilty.

 

It's the first time since 2007 that the town of Villers-Cotterêts in the northern department of Aisne, did not hold an official commemoration to mark the end of slavery.

Its new mayor, Franck Briffaut, refused to make a fuss over a ceremony he says is "self-incriminating."

"It's part of a systematic self-incrimination of France," he said. "Let's recall the triangular slave trade was possible because of complicity of African countries and certain powers in the overseas territories who were happy to buy, sell and use forced labour."

Franck Briffaut, a former paratrooper and member of the FN since 1977, was elected mayor of Villers-Cotterêts in April.

Despite his reserve, several anti-racist groups braved rain and drizzle to hold an unofficial ceremony in front of the resting place of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was a slave born in the French colony in what's now present day Haiti, and who became one of the highest ranking officers of the French army.

Briffaut did not take part in the tribute and instead took a lynching at Claude Ribbe, founder of the association 'Friends of General Dumas', accusing him of using the ceremony to take a jab at the Front National.

"This ceremony is not really sincere as a commemoration of the end of slavery, but rather a political manipulation," Briffaut added.

"It's not a matter of the commemoration itself, but the values behind it," retorted Serge Romana, president of anti-racist group Comité Marche 98, who participated in the unofficial ceremony. "To talk about slavery is not to incriminate France, but to celebrate its values."

May 10 is the date France chose in 2001 to commemorate the end of slavery, and corresponds to the date the country defined slavery as a crime against humanity, under the impulsion of current Justice minister Christiane Taubira.

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