December 7 2005 – Copyright The Financial Times
FranceÃs colonial past caught up with Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday as the interior minister cancelled a Caribbean trip to avoid protests over what some claim are political attempts to glorify the countryÃs history as a colonial power.
The last-minute cancellation of Mr SarkozyÃs trip to the French overseas territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe is the latest sign the government has raised racial tensions by introducing a law calling for schools to teach the Ã¬positive roleÃ® of colonisation.
The debate over FranceÃs colonial history Ã± evoking painful memories of the bloody military defeat in Algeria Ã± comes a month after French suburbs were shaken by rioting carried out by the children of immigrants.
People in the Caribbean islands staged demonstrations against Mr Sarkozy, who had been due to arrive there Wednesday night. He abandoned the trip after officials warned he would meet a hostile reception and local leaders said they would refuse to meet him.
FranceÃs overseas territories have a population of about 1.5m citizens, who are eligible to vote in French elections.
The angry reaction to Mr Sarkozy, the early favourite for the 2007 presidential elections, could cost him valuable votes. He has been vilified by FranceÃs immigrant community for promising to Ã¬eradicate the gangreneÃ® from the violence-torn suburbs and Ã¬clear out the scumÃ®.
The soul-searching over French colonial history and the deep social troubles exposed by last monthÃs riots have added to the impression of a country suffering from an identity crisis.
The colonisation debate was sparked by a law stating that Ã¬the school syllabus should recognise, in particular, the benefits of the French presence in overseas territoriesÃ®.
The opposition Socialist party on Wednesday criticised Mr Sarkozy, saying he Ã¬shows the limits of his courage when …?he insults the dignity of people in the overseas territoriesÃ®.