Reparations for slavery in the French Republic: A national debate?

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Abstract / Description of output

The past twenty years have given rise to an enormous volume of memory work relating to the European-led slave trade and its systems of enslavement. This has sought to redress the failure to recognize the importance of this history in shaping modern and contemporary society. At the heart of this movement lies the work of social movements dedicated to seeking recognition for slavery and its ongoing repercussions in contemporary society. But while the importance of memory has been largely recognized, reparations remain a political taboo. As yet, none of the former states involved in the enslavement of African, Indian, Malagasy and other indigenous peoples have been willing to engage in discussions, and France is no exception, even if it is the only European country to have passed a national law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity. Faced with widespread hostility and suspicion, reparations have not been subject to any official public debate in France. As such, to provide an état présent of the reparations ‘debate’ is to piece together a discussion that does not officially exist and that has been repeatedly silenced. The interest in assessing the state of this ‘debate’ thus lies first in understanding the work of social actors and the multiple strategies used to legitimize their struggle, and second in identifying the repeated attempts of the French state to shut the debate down and deform its content by any and all means possible. To that end, this article will look at four separate occasions when reparations have been subjected to limited public and/or political scrutiny: first, during the debates over the wording of the Taubira law (1998–2001); second, during the bicentenaries of the death of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution (2003–2004); third, after the first legal attempts to hold the French state to account (2005–); and fourth, during Hollande’s presidency (2012–2017) when the question of reparations was raised each year alongside France’s national day for remembering slavery, the slave trade and their abolitions (10 May). The purpose of this article is therefore to explore the ways in which this ‘debate’ is circumscribed by a political refusal that has sought to delegitimize the internationally-recognized concept of reparations for crimes against humanity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2017


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