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French politicians dispute Socialist Jaurès’s legacy 100 years after assassination

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Portrait of Jean Jaurès by Nadar, 1898 Wikimedia

France pays tribute to Socialist martyr Jean Jaurès on Thursday on the 100th anniversary of his murder by a right-wing nationalist on the eve of World War I. Politicians from various parties, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, have invoked Jaurès’s memory during their careers.


A committed French anti-militarist and socialist, Jaurès was killed by Raoul Vilain in a Paris café just hours before war broke out.

Vilain spent the war in jail awaiting trial but, with the French middle class fearful of revolution and tending to chauvinism in the aftermath of the conflict, the jury acquitted him at his trial in 1919.

Nowadays politicians of all kinds – not just left-wingers like Jean-Luc Mélenchon but even Sarkozy, a pro-business right-winger, and the far-right Front National - are happy to quote Jaurès as a champion of French “republican values”.

A towering figure in the socialist movement, who was elected to parliament in the 19th century after taking up the cause of striking mines in south-west France, Jaurès founded the paper L’Humanité, which started as the organ of the socialist party, the SFIO, and became the Communist Party’s paper when the movement split in the 1920s.

Communist Party leader Pierre Laurent on Thursday made an exasperated call to

Dossier: May 68

politicians.

“Shut up and let Jaurès speak!” he told the “usurpers” in a declaration published to mark the anniversary.

He was also a leader in the fight against war, clericalism, colonialism and anti-Semitism, taking up the case of court-martialled officer Alfred Dreyfus in parliament.

German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, was to attend the commemoration of the murder on Thursday, joining President François Hollande at the café where wreaths were to be laid.

The German minister is also set to meet French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to talk about the economy and the environment.