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Madagascar: French Authorities Censor Play on Historic Independence Battle

Plans for a theater performance to commemorate a historical date in Madagascar's battle for independence have been cancelled without explanation by French authorities.

The play, co-produced by CulturesFrance, was to supposed to be performed in Alliance Française cultural centers in Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion and elsewhere, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since withdrawn from the agreement.

March 29, 1947 brings back traumatic memories to many older Malagasy citizens. It is the day the French army violently crushed one of the first struggles for independence in their former colonial empire. The uprising resulted in the death of 30,000 to 100,000 people (the actual number of casualties is still being discussed among historians).

Despite recognition of the massacre as a war crime in 1951 and of unacceptable repression in 2005 by the French government, the 1947 events are still relatively unknown both in Madagascar and internationally. To shed more light on the tragedy, a renowned Malagasy writer, Jean-Luc Raharimanana and a French director, Thierry Bedard,  came together to produce a play entitled “47” (fr) that reenacts the unfolding of the events, and discusses the complex relation between colonial rulers and the indigenous population.

Below is a short clip from the play:

After a few performances in two French metropolitan cities, further performances in the southern Africa and the Indian Ocean have been cancelled (fr) by the French Department of Foreign Affairs and Development.

The creator of the play, Jean-Luc Raharimanana, reacts strongly to the decision on the Rue89 blog (fr):

Silence pèse sur la mémoire. Les langues se délient. Des hommes et des femmes voudront comprendre. Dans ce désir, réel cette fois-ci, de vivre ensemble[..] Pourquoi en 47, deux ans après le carnage, deux ans après le « plus jamais ça», pourquoi à Madagascar s’est perpétré l’un des plus grands massacres coloniaux ? [..] C’est ce silence qu’explore le spectacle “47”. Une histoire commune. Violente. Sensible. Un théâtre qui nous ramène dans ce désir de vivre ensemble, de comprendre ce qui a déchiré, les corps malmenés et torturés, les paroles étouffés et les non-dits qui corrompent les âmes.[..] Mais ainsi en a décidé le “bureau politique” de la DGCID1. Censure sur le spectacle. Interdiction d’emmener cette parole dans les centres culturels africains et alliances françaises. [..] Mais la mémoire se moque bien de la censure même si c’est une censure d’Etat. Le désir est profond de comprendre d’autant plus que nous avons maintenant le recul nécessaire pour tout entendre, pour enfin échanger.

Silence weighs on the memory. People start to talk, eventually. Men and women would like to understand, eventually. There is a desire, a real one this time around, to live together [..] Why is it that in 1947, two years after the big war, two years after the “never again”, why did one of the greatest colonial massacres occur in Madagascar ? [..] it's that silence that 47 explores. A common history. Violent. Sensitive. A drama that brings us back to the desire to live together, to understand what tore us apart, the beaten and tortured bodies, the repression of voices and the words left-unsaid that corrupt the soul. [..] But the DGCID ( department of Foreign Affairs) has decided otherwise. Censorship of the arts. Banishment of the message in the African cultural centers and French alliances […] But memory could careless about censorship even if it's a state-ordered censorship. The desire to understand is deep, especially now that we have had time to step back and reflect, time to hear all voices and exchange.

A few bloggers reported news of the ban on their blogs. Reactions in the comment section of the entry by Raharimanana vary between indifference and outrage.

A few, do not see the need to rehash the past. Mechante Langue asks (fr):

Ne jouez pas les faux martyrs. Sinon serieusement vous croyez vraiment que la chose la plus importante à denoncer a Madagascar aujourd hui , ce sont les massacres de 47 ..sérieusement ?

Don't try to pull this fake-martyr act. Do you seriously believe that the most important thing to denounce in Madagascar today are the massacres of 1947…Seriously ?”

To which Monsieur Lambda replies (fr):

Il vous échappe manifestement que ces massacres sont, dans une large mesure, fondateurs de la conscience nationale des Malgaches et qu’ils occupent, du point de vue de la mythologie nationale, une place comparable à celle de la prise de la Bastille pour les Français.

It is evident that you fail to understand that the massacres were, to a certain extent, the foundation of the Malagasy national identity and that with respect to the national aura, it holds the same place as Bastille Day for French people.

Juan Pablo de Tagéna thinks that Malagasy people may rethink whether the colonial struggle was worth it (fr):

Aujourd’hui les Malgaches ne demanderaient pas leur indépendance: ils seraient à 99% pour le maintien dans la Communauté Française.

Today, Madagascar would not been asking for independence: 99% would favor staying in the French community.

On  facebook, a private conversation thread that discusses the ban, Soaray Rabarimampianina (quoted with permission) thinks that there is still much to be done for that part of history to be discussed openly.

Il y a bien du chemin à parcourir avant que la France accepte cette partie de son histoire qu'est la colonisation.

There are still ways to go before France fully accept this part of her history

In the same thread, Tsilavina Ralaindimby points out that when discussing the colonial period, one should never forget the soldiers form the colony who fought for France in both world wars (fr):

C'est un documentaire sur les Tirailleurs Malagaches qui sont venus pour se battre au nomb de la France en 14/18 et dont beaucoup sont morts là-bas. A Menton [..] il y a là-bas un cimetière avec toute une rangée de tombes de soldats malgaches.

There is a documentary about Malagasy foot soldiers who fought for France in the 14/18 war and who died over there. In Menton, [..] there is a cemeterry with a few rows filled with tombs of Malagasy soldiers.

Jentilisa contributed links and references for this post.

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