The Pantheonization of Missak Manouchian
Emmanuel Macron has decided to honor the Resistance leader Missak Manouchian by placing his remains in the Panthéon. An Armenian immigrant, Manouchian led the FTP-MOI (Franc-Tireurs et Partisans de la main-d’oeuvre immigrée), a group affiliated with the Communist Party. His pantheonization will come in February 2024, 80 years after his execution and 60 years after the first Resistance-linked pantheonization, that of Jean Moulin, notable not least for André Malraux’s operatic eulogy.
One commentator I listened to this morning remarked that this latest pantheonization marked a rare moment of consensus in France’s increasingly polarized and embittered political theater. Not quite: Eric Zemmour called the decision a “manipulation” designed to persuade the public that only foreigners had fought to defend France against the Nazis. He had evidently forgotten the prior pantheonization of Moulin along with the subsequent honor granted by François Hollande to Pierre Brossolette, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion, and Jean Zay. Were these also “manipulations” designed to obscure the Communist contribution to the Resistance, or to suggest that only Français de souche had taken arms against the Occupation? It’s probably worth noting that the Nazis used the same divide-and-conquer tactic: with the famous “Affiche Rouge,” they singled out the FTP-MOI as a band of “foreign terrorists” the better to isolate them from the bulk of the population and cast the Resistance as criminal and illegitimate.
Of course, the memory of the Resistance has always been a bitterly contested subject in France. How could it have been otherwise, when the Resistance itself fought not only to defend France but also to decide what France would emerge from the Occupation? It is no accident that Manouchian is being admitted to the sanctum sanctorum only now that the PCF is a spent force. Manouchian’s love of Baudelaire and Rimbaud is stressed in today’s press accounts, as is the fact that he was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. He is thus the perfect symbol of the “acceptable” immigrant: a victim, saved by and indebted to universalist France, fully culturally assimilated, fully “European,” and cleansed by the passage of time of any unsavory political taint.
As usual, the Resistance has been mobilized as an ever-malleable myth. History is too useful to those in power to be left to the historians.