France: elections and thought police

France: elections and thought police

French politicians are making a habit of upsetting other nations. After the U.K., it is Turkey’s turn with the latest attempt to pass a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian “genocide.” The proposal threatens to cast a darker shadow on already strained Franco-Turkish relations.

How can the small French-Armenian community wield so much power? How can a state whose motto is “Liberte” discuss a bill punishing thought crime?

State truths

To begin with, the Armenian lobby is helped by a minority of deputies who, like the rest of the French elite, is imbued with a statist culture. Their answer to problems is usually to propose more state intervention, even if it means intervening with people’s minds. Presidential elections in the offing, the race is on for the “vote armenien” of a 500,000-strong community in a country of 60 million. 

Political parties are playing “ping-pong lawmaking” by giving each other turns to serve a threat to legislate on this sensitive issue. The bill to be discussed Dec. 22 in the National Assembly was put forward by the ruling UMP. Last May, the same bill sponsored by the unreconstructed Marxist-minded Socialist Party was defeated in the Senate by the presidential majority. 

This time round “the totalitarians in our midst,” to paraphrase F. Hayek, may prevail. If adopted in the National Assembly, the socialist-dominated Senate will most certainly follow suit.

Some of the most inspiring liberty grandees are Frenchmen: De Tocqueville, La Fayette, Bastiat and Turgot to name but a few. Voltaire coined one of the most universally-quoted phrases on freedom of thought: “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But in 2011 politicians are essentially proposing to turn the Ministry of Justice into a Ministry of Truth. In a way reminiscent of the Soviet Union, France’s judiciary and police could be called upon to enforce a state-edited truth. 

Shredded truths

Blighted as a few politicians certainly are, the real problem is systemic. Is this not a “denial of democracy” when parliamentary commissions’ findings on fundamental issues can simply be ignored? Or, more worryingly, “disappeared”?

Take the 2008 report addressing the issue of “memory laws,” including the 2001 “Armenian Genocide Law.” It warned of the risks of unconstitutionality, threat to fundamental freedoms and disguised censorship through the threat of legal action and of the establishment of a precedent for thought crime. Yet the follow-up “criminalization bill,” if passed, would turn the risks enumerated into reality with a fine of 45,000 euros and a prison sentence. 

More recently, elected representatives made inglorious history by rejecting a report highlighting the scandalous use of public funds by trade unions. As the dejected commission reporter admitted, its content will never be known to the first concerned: citizen-taxpayers. Like George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the 700-page report was simply vaporized. 

And the silent majority?

In recession-bound France, the last thing people are concerned with is Turkish-Armenian history. The majority most certainly think it unwise for the history of other nations to be written in Paris. They ponder silently. The 1915 tragedy which occurred in the distant Ottoman Empire during a bloody civil war should have no place in 21st century French electoral politics. 

But lobbyists and vote-seeking politicians have decided otherwise.
*Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.