France: Historians protest censorship

EducationWorld September 2021 | International News

French historians have raised the alarm that a new terrorism and intelligence law will stop the release of state military and security archival documents, amid accusations that elements in the government are deliberately trying to conceal the country’s role in the Algerian war of independence.

Historians say that for the past two years, they have had increasing difficulty gaining access to archives because of a government order that allowed relevant ministries to sign off (postpone) declassification.

This has overridden a law that opens documents up automatically after a certain time has elapsed — 50 years where documents touch on national security, for example. “It has created a huge problem,” says Raphaelle Branche, president of France’s Association of Contemporary Historians in Higher Education and Research. “Everything was stopped.”

That instruction was overturned earlier in July by France’s Council of State, one of the country’s top courts, which ruled that the government had illegally overridden the law. But historians are worried that a new Bill, now working its way through the legislative process, will replicate some of these restrictions and scrap automatic release of documents, allowing the state to keep them secret indefinitely.

Historians are frustrated by what they see as a contradiction on part of the government. France’s president Emmanuel Macron, admitted earlier this year that the country had tortured and murdered a prominent Algerian independence leader, and he vowed to open up archives to reveal more about the conflict.

Yet restrictions on archival access are having the opposite effect, critics say. “It makes things impossible for me,” says Denis Peschanski, a research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, of the restrictions in place in recent years. He is one of 15 prominent historians who have signed an open letter to the government decrying the proposed law, which they say will close most intelligence service archives without a time limit.

Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education

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