Among all the cities of Europe that fell under the Nazi boot in the Second World War, the loss of Paris touched a raw nerve among those who fought the German war machine.
Paris was no Stalingrad, fought over from house to house, nor was it the victim, like London, of merciless aerial attack. It stood as a symbol of culture and freedom — of what had been lost to the Nazis and what must be regained for the world.
When Paris fell to the Germans on June 10, 1940, it truly seemed as if, in the words of an earlier British foreign minister, the lights had gone out all over Europe.
By August, 1944, the Allied armies including a sizable Fighting French force under General Jacques Leclerc, was fighting its way across France. As town after town was liberated, Free French leader Charles de Gaulle met with General Eisenhower.
Allied forces were at the River Seine, yet no effort was being made to go into Paris. “I don’t see why you cross the Seine everywhere, yet at Paris and Paris alone you do not cross,’ de Gaulle told the Allied commander.
The truth was that the Allies preferred to by pass Paris, only taking the city later, after the Nazi armies had been finally smashed. It would take the divergence of four thousand tons of supplies a day to feed the hungry five million of the French capital.
In Paris, a Communist-led Paris Liberation committee saw things differently. Its leaders wanted to present de Gaulle with a fait accompli: a new Paris Commune, a capital that would be forced to accept Communist rule.
When the Resistance began its uprising in Paris, no one knew how the Germans would react. German commander, General Deitrich von Choltitz, had orders from Hitler to leave the city “a field of rubble.”
It took a secret mission by a Gaullist sympathizer who carried word to U.S. General George Patton that Paris was descending into civil war to force the issue. Eisenhower finally gave the go-ahead, and Leclerc’s Free French began the march on Paris.
At dawn on Friday, August 25, 1944, Simone de Boivoir was up at dawn to see Leclerc’s soldiers march down the avenue d’Orléans. “Along the sidewalks, an immense crowd applauded … From time to time a shot was fired; a sniper on the roofs, someone fell, was carried off, but no one seemed upset, enthusiasm stamped out fear.”
That night, General de Gaulle addressed France from the l’Hotel de Ville, the city hall of Paris:
“Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the eternal France!”
There would be no Paris Commune. De Gaulle and the Allies had arrived in time
A single strand has run through the Quebec separatist movement almost from the day in 1967 that Rene Levesque left the Liberal party to establish the Parti Quebecois as the vehicle by which sovereigntists hope to ride to independence. It is their contempt for Canada.
That contempt was well summed up by former leader and Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, who said “Canada is not a real nation.”
Canada was and is, however, a “real” enough nation to have guaranteed the continuance of the French language, religion, and civil law after the British victory at the Plains of Abraham. It is further “real” enough to have become a bilingual country under that son of Quebec, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and to engage in a massive tax transfer that since the 1950s has benefited Quebec to the tune of some $146 billion. Without the $4.5 billion the province will receive from equalization this year alone, its deficit would be twice the shortfall announced by Premier Pauline Marois.
But numbers aren’t the real issue.It’s contempt that hurts.
This sentiment sank to a new low over the weekend (of March 9) when Premier Marois announced that Pierre Karl Peladeau, the controlling shareholder of Canada’s biggest newspaper chain — Quebecor Media — would be a candidate for the PQ in the April 7 provincial election. Quebecor’s properties include the Toronto Sun and Sun Media chain, plus the Sun News TV channel.
Peladeau, whose wealth is drawn from a variety of newspaper and TV holdings in a business established by his father, declared “I am a sovereigntist” and said he was running so that his children could live “in their own country.”
While the law would require Peladeau, if elected, to put his shares in trust, he is reported to have said that he would not sell them, even if ordered to do so.
As one wag observed, Peladeau is the first billionaire to join the PQ. Aside from illustrating his contempt for all the Canadians who have done business with his papers and helped to enrich him, this sets up some interesting dichotomies which Quebec separatists are going to have to deal with.
Premier Marois touted Peladeau’s candidacy as evidence that the PQ will have a strong grip on the economy — previously a weak spot in the party’s armour. He’s seen as a “star candidate,” his candidacy hailed as a “game-changer.” It remains to be seen how Peladeau’s well-known pro-business — and anti-union — stance will go down with party supporters. The PQ is a social democratic party, and most of its followers. besides being Quebec nationalists, stand well left of centre.
The Peladeau adventure also has to set off alarm bells in the executive corridors of the National Hockey League. He’s been a prime mover in the scheme to build a $400 million, publicly-financed, hockey arena in Quebec City. The idea was that the NHL would bring a team to the city once the stadium had been built. The steel frame is already up. But the Peladeau connection is sure to be seen as a negative by many NHL owners.
Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard is asking some interesting questions about Peladeau’s influence over Quebec media during the electi0n campaign.
It is too early to make predictions on the outcome of the Quebec vote, although the PQ apparently has an edge in the key francophone vote. Overall, according to a poll by CROP, the Liberals and PQ are tied at 36 per cent.
Premier Marois refuses to commit herself to holding a referendum if the PQ wins a majority. But neither does she rule it out. That could scare off nationalist voters who don’t want to see Quebec plunged into a third, and more divisive then ever, referendum.
But it’s Pierre Karl Peladeau’s contempt for Canadians that will count for most people outside Quebec — and many inside, too. He’s used our freedom of the press to gain control of a vast media empire that has given him power and profits.
Will Canadians be much longer interested in subscribing to or supporting Quebecor Media papers, knowing that profits will conti9nue to accrue to Peladeau through his controlling interest?
We have laws in Canada against foreign ownership of news media. Peladeau should think about this when he campaigns for an independent Quebec.