2. EU`s ideals under threat
BSSB.BE theatlantic.com 06.07.2018
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* European Union summit on immigration whose pre-dawn result seemed to be a tightening of borders and the creation of centers to “process” would-be arrivals before they dared inch toward Europe
What would Veil make of this season’s events in Europe, where the gears of European bureaucracy may not move fast enough to stop the forces endeavoring to tear the project apart? Where in the past few weeks Merkel has been under siege from her restive Bavarian conservative coalition partners and is still paying the political price for allowing in 1 million asylum-seekers in 2015, even though since then deals struck with Turkey and Libya that are questionable on a human rights front have significantly stopped the flow of arrivals?
- Where the new Italian populist government has been banging on the table demanding a common European strategy for immigration—and at the summit last week seems to have scored a political victory?
- Where Central European leaders benefit from Europe’s financial largesse but don’t want to play by its rules on human rights, freedom of the press, and immigration?
Veil might be rolling in her now-illustrious grave. She was 16 when she was rounded up on the streets of Nice. She and her family, who were then living under false papers, were deported. Her father and brother were never heard from again. One sister joined the resistance and died in France. Simone, her mother, and another sister were sent through Drancy, a deportation area north of Paris, then on to Poland, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in cattle cars. There, Veil was branded number 78651 by the Nazis. For reasons that remain unclear, her hair was never shaved, just cut short, something she later said helped preserve her dignity.
- Veil and her mother were sent to a work camp near Auschwitz building airplane parts for Siemens, the German industrial conglomerate, and were eventually shipped to Bergen-Belsen, where her mother died of typhoid at 44. Her last words were said to be, “Don’t ever wish others ill; we know too well what it is.”
- As soon as the war was over, Veil studied law in Paris, where she met and married Antoine, a fellow student, had three sons, and began pushing for European—that is, Franco-German—
- While serving as health minister, she helped bring awareness of the Holocaust, and the Vichy regime’s complicity in it, to the French popular imagination in decades when denial was the status quo.
In a 2010 speech inducting Veil into the Académie Française, one of the highest honors of the French state, reserved for cultural figures and intellectuals, the writer Jean d’Ormesson called her “at once tradition and modernity incarnate.” “I see you, madam, and I think of those great women of other times whose dignity and allure commanded respect. And then I consider your path and I regard you as a figure on the prow of a ship, moving history ever forward.”
In France she has been hailed for a certain kind of feminism—one that got concrete results, like legalizing abortion, after she pushed against Catholic traditionalists as health minister in a center-right government of Jacques Chirac. In a famous 1974 speech before France’s National Assembly, Veil said, “I want to share my conviction as a woman.
I apologize for doing it before an Assembly that almost exclusively consists of men,” before delivering strong words that ultimately won the vote. But she also embodies a certain kind of traditionalism. In his 2010 speech, D’Ormesson placed Veil in contrast to Simone de Beauvoir and her adherents who, he said, “deny the difference between the sexes.”
“You are on the side of the weak, but you deny all victimization,” he said.
In the many tributes to her in the French press since her death, Veil is often depicted not only as a fighter for European and women’s rights but also as a devoted wife to Antoine, a mother, a grandmother, a woman who exuded moral authority and convinced men in power to modernize France without upending the country’s traditional notion of the family or the state. Before the ceremony on Sunday, former president Nicolas Sarkozy told a television reporter that what he liked most about Veil’s entering the Panthéon was that her husband was there, too.
“I don’t think either of them would have wanted to be separated,” Sarkozy said, adding how nice it must be “for a man to find his wife in the Panthéon.” Sarkozy’s Socialist successor as president, François Hollande, said, “She’s a woman in which many women recognize themselves, but also many men.”
Veil seemed to embody so many French ideals—rebel and stateswoman; a victim who didn’t define herself by her victimhood; a member of an ethnic and religious minority who defined herself first and foremost as a citizen of France and of Europe; a feminist who didn’t threaten men. Was there any doubt she would be put in the Panthéon, becoming along with Marie Curie one of the five women interred there, one of whom is trailing a spouse?
Friday morning, while the leaders of Europe worked out their plans to prevent more immigrants from arriving, the director of the Memorial of the Shoah, Jacques Fredj, talked about the importance Veil placed on teaching the history of the Holocaust in French schools, including ones in the banlieues where young Muslim students sometimes show resistance. “She believed in the teaching of history, not memory,” Fredj said. “History is something solid, while memory is fluid.”
Nearby, people wrote tributes to Veil in the guest book. “Madame, thank you for your courageous fight for the cause of women. You played an essential part in our liberation. … I honor your just and humane approach. Especially today at a moment when Europe is in decline on the question of refugees,” one wrote. Another, who signed her name only as Michele L., 66, wrote: “Madame, you represent everything the 20th century produced: horror but also dignity, grandeur, the fight against intolerance, the hope for a better world, construction after destruction, the fight for the respect for women. Thank you for everything.
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