Speaker discusses France’s four identity shaping events

Dr. David Bell, author, was the keynote speaker during the first academic conference Nov. 2.

Dr. David Bell, author, was the keynote speaker during the first academic conference Nov. 2.

Jessica MacIntosh

As part of the first academic conference, From Paris to the World, the keynote speech discussed four events that helped shape France’s national identity.

The conference was held Nov. 2 in Webster Hall auditorium as part of the France Semester.

“The French economic growth is stronger than it has been in 2000,” said Dr. David Bell, author and holder of the Andrew W. Mellon Professorship in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The French population is actually healthier and more secure than anytime in history.”

Bell said the cause of this has to do with four separate events in French history.

“(It was a) shock to the French political system,” he said.

In 2002, Bell said the two-round elections took place in which the two highest vote getters in the first round move to the second round.

“Because of widespread disaffection with major parties, no single candidate received more than 20 percent in the first round,” he said. “The reaction was huge demonstrations across the country.”

On May 29, 2005, Bell said the second event was a referendum held to accept the new constitution for the European Union.

“They (the French) rejected it,” he said.

Bell said France has pushed for European integration since the late 1940s including the adoption of the Euro, and France led the way. However, he said not accepting the constitution changed France.

“The French rejections did signal a new and dark turn,” he said.

For the third event in October 2005, the riots happened in which at least 9,000 cars were burned and there was 200 million Euros in property damage.

“The riots clearly expressed desperation and alienation of poor young people,” he said.

For the last event, Bell said there were massive demonstrations for the labor laws in France. He said when the demonstrations began, it would impost a very un-French labor relation.

“Ironically the labor law itself was devised to make it easier for use of immigrant communities to find jobs,” he said.

Bell also discussed the issues of immigration and said in the last 30 to 40 years there have been Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. This also includes immigrants coming from France’s former colonies.

“Given today, France continues to do remarkably well in integrating certain immigrant populations,” he said.

Bell said until recently, immigration has been invisible in France.

“Today there are no official statistics kept on what proportion of the population is Muslim or what percentage comes from North African decent,” he said. “It eliminated a great deal about the way the French had traditionally approached these issues.”

Bell said France believes in its citizens’ rights and to be treated equally.

“There are certain ways in which everyone is expected to behave,” he said.

Bells said they can follow whatever customs they choose or doing anything they want in their private lives; however, in public, it is a different story.

“Anything public that concerns the nation as a whole you were expected to shut these things way,” he said.