Saturday 27 December 2008
It was one of the most infamous episodes of the bloody French Revolution. Now Vendée, a coastal department in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.
Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.
In 1986 Reynald Secher wrote a controversial book entitled: A French Genocide: The Vendée, in which he argued that the actions of the French republican government during the revolt in the Vendée (1793-1796), a popular mostly Catholic uprising against the anti-clerical Republican government during the French Revolution, was the first modern genocide.
In the rebellion, the Vendée rebels initially gained the upper hand, so on August 1, 1793 the Committee of Public Safety ordered General Jean-Baptiste Carrier to carry out a pacification of the region. The Republican army was reinforced and the Vendéan army was eventually defeated. Under orders from Committee of Public Safety in February 1794 the Republican forces launched their final “pacification” (the Vendée-Vengé or “Vendée Avenged”) — twelve columns, the colonnes infernales (“infernal columns”) under Louis-Marie Turreau, were marched through the Vendée, and killed both rebels and civilians indiscriminately. When the campaign dragged to an end in March 1796 the estimated dead, numbered more than 800,000.
Two centuries on, growing calls from local politicians to have it declared a “genocide” have sparked intellectual debate.
«There was in the Revolution a clearly stated programme to wipe out the Vendéean race», said Philippe de Villiers, European deputy and former presidential candidate for the right-wing traditionalist Movement for France (MPF) party.
«Why did it take place? Because a people was chosen to be liquidated on account of their religious faith. Today we demand a law officially declaring it as a genocide; we demand a statement from the president; and recognition by the United Nations.»
Mr de Villiers — who opposes Turkish entry into the EU — was in Armenia last month, where he compared the Vendée of 1794 to the 1915 massacres of Armenians. In neither case, he said: «have the perpetrators admitted their fault or asked forgiveness of the victims.»