Macron faces his far-right presidential rival visiting Vichy | Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron warned against the “manipulation” of history in a clear message to the far-right presidential candidate, Eric Zemmour, on a symbolic visit to Vichy.

After the German occupation in 1940, the spa town was chosen for the puppet regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain, who collaborated with the Nazis and ensured the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. Zemmour angered historians by claiming, instead, that Pétain saved French Jews.

Macron on Wednesday spoke of the shadow of World War II looming over France’s increasingly tense and divisive election campaign, though he won’t announce his own candidacy for reelection until early in the year. next year.

His presence in the town was calculated to counter Zemmour, 63, a far-right television expert who was convicted of inciting racial hatred. This weekend, Zemmour launched his own candidacy for the April presidential election, promising to “save” French civilization from immigration.

Emmanuel Macron pays tribute to a memorial to the Jews deported from Vichy during the Second World War. Photography: Ludovic Marin / AFP / Getty

To the anger of historians, Zemmour has repeatedly said that Vichy protects French Jews. He said on the radio: “This is my fight against repentance and guilt. The French are constantly made to feel guilty.

Jacques Chirac was the first president, in 1995, to fully recognize the role of France and the French state in bringing Jews together for concentration camps during the “criminal madness” of the Nazi occupation. After the war, Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, commuted to life imprisonment.

French historians have furiously denounced Zemmour. Historian Jacques Sémelin wrote in Le Monde that Zemmour’s statements on Vichy had “no historical basis”.

Macron’s trip to Vichy is the first time since 1978 that a French president has made an official visit to talk about the history of the city. Before a planned visit to a memorial for deported Jews, Macron told local radio station France Bleu that “history is written by historians”, and it was a good thing to “respect and respect it. to learn “and to allow historians to construct a truth built on documents and traces of the past. He said history should not be “manipulated” or “stirred” or “revised” and that France should honor those who fought to make it free.

Eric Zemmour celebrating after his first rally on December 5 in Villepinte, north of Paris.
Eric Zemmour celebrating after his first gathering on December 5 in Villepinte, north of Paris. Photography: Rafael Yaghobzadeh / AP

Macron said he would celebrate the bravery of the 80 parliamentarians who, in 1940, opposed the vote giving Pétain full powers.

Zemmour, a Paris-born son of Jewish Berbers who emigrated from Algeria in the 1950s, has been called a dangerous racist and Holocaust denier by the French Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti. On television this week, Zemmour disagreed that he was a Holocaust denier and said his opponents called him a racist to demean his campaign and supporters.

The fact that Macron has launched himself into the row with an official visit to Vichy shows that the government is stepping up its offensive against Zemmour. Although the polemicist, who has no electoral experience, has retreated from his strong performance in the polls this fall, he is still seen as a serious contender in the first round. Two finalists will pass a second round on April 24. Polls currently show Macron as the favorite to win.

A government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, said on Wednesday: “There are several visions of French history that clash in the public debate. Ours is the work of historians, on the basis of facts, documentation, research, and not on the basis of personal whim and a desire to use it for political ends. Those who erase the crimes of the past somehow justify those of the future. On the contrary, we must learn from the past in all its complexity, including the darkest pages of our history.

On Thursday, Macron’s Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire and Zemmour will hold a prime time debate on the France 2 television channel.

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