What meaning does the commemoration of the armistice of November 11, 1918 have, more than a hundred years after its signature?
I am sometimes told that there are too many days of commemorations. But what right do I have to allow myself to eliminate dates? We must never forget the sacrifice of these men, symbolized by the unknown soldier who rests under the triumphal arch of the Star – and who, moreover, could be my great-grandfather since the latter disappeared with him. hundreds of thousands more during the Great War. Beyond that, November 11 is the official date chosen to pay tribute to all the soldiers of all wars. This year, we will mark the hundredth anniversary of the flame of remembrance, lit in 1923 by André Maginot, then Minister of War. After the traditional presidential tribute at 11 a.m., the time of the signing of the Armistice, I will have the honor of rekindling the flame in a ceremony at the end of the afternoon, in the presence not only of the flag bearers but also of many high school students.
Veterans are disappearing. Does your State Secretariat still have its reason for existence?
We still have many veterans from Indochina and Algeria among us. And you forget the “fourth generation of fire”: our soldiers engaged since 1963 in Opex – external operations. More than 700 of them lost their lives. And predictions predict 500,000 veterans in 2050. Since the last military programming law, my State Secretariat has supported not only the wounded and soldiers on long-term illnesses but also those wounded on active duty. We help with their professional retraining in the army as well as in civilian life. Not to mention the wards of the nation and widows: I notably succeeded this year in removing a clause which prevented widows from benefiting from the additional half-tax share of their veteran husband, if he had died before 65 years. This was a strong request from associations.
You claim an important role in the transmission of memory…
Yes, I would rather say History. We encourage recording veterans’ stories while we can. And this personal and partial memory contributes to constructing History. However, this must be based on incontestable documents and be worked with the scientific methodology of historians. Hence the importance of the President of the Republic’s decisions to more widely declassify the archives of the Algerian War. From the moment we clearly face the facts, even painful ones, we can calm down and build something else.
Do you want to involve young people more?
Yes, it seems essential to me to make more room for students of all ages. This is an excellent way to unite them, regardless of their origin: I can clearly see their interested reaction when they attend ceremonies, visit battlefields, meet veterans… Because they then come into contact with a reality that may seem quite strange to them. abstract in history class. I am currently working with veterans’ associations so that they accept that during the ceremonies, in addition to the official wreath, young people and their families can lay their own tribute and thus feel more involved in this history. both global and intimate.
Is your “cornflower” operation part of this evolution in ways of transmitting?
Quite. Always wearing a cornflower in your buttonhole would be a great way to honor our veterans. The British are not ashamed to wear “Poppies”, these badges in the shape of poppies, during their ceremonies. We have the cornflower, another wild flower that grows on the ruins of battlefields. A beautiful symbol! However, in France, blueberries only collect 2 million euros each year, while Poppy brings in… 156 million euros! I think it’s time we follow the lead of our allies and encourage all generations to sell and wear these cornflowers. We now have an ambassador: ex-footballer Frank Leboeuf, and we will organize galas and auctions for the benefit of families of veterans and victims of terrorism.
In the spring, the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of the 1944 landings will begin. What is planned?
A public interest group, “Mission Libération”, is currently developing a program with local stakeholders that will concern all territories. This anniversary must also result in a major popular celebration, perhaps with balls, as at the time. We are living in difficult times, with high intensity conflicts in Ukraine, in the Middle East, and a rise in terrorism. We must reaffirm to the French that we are capable of uniting, in the name of this meaningful past.