Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The intricacies of La fête nationale

Today is St-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec. It's a public holiday and is known as la fête nationale, tracing its origins back as a patriotic celebration back to the early 19th century. Records from that time show how it was initially meant to promote solidarity and unity among people in what was then Lower Canada, and was celebrated by the Irish and Anglophone populations as well as the French Canadians.

In modern times, la fête nationale has been arguably hijacked by the Quebec separatist movement, despite its historically being a day for all French Canadians, both in and outside of the province. Sadly, the same inferiority complex that saw a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham cancelled at last year's 400th anniversary celebrations in Quebec City (and some uncharitable views on Paul McCartney's concert presence at the same event) remains in evidence today.

This year, a fringe festival called L'Autre St Jean was held in Montreal to provide a showcase for Quebec's indie musicians - including those whose songs happened to be sung en anglais. A week before the concert, all Anglo bands were axed from the schedule. The official reason: fear of violence in the crowd after warnings by nationalist/separatist organisations.

I'm happy to say there was a public uproar, and the bands were soon reinstated. The festival took place yesterday and was mostly peaceful. True to form, however, a ragtag group of (mostly drunk) separatists showed up and tried to disrupt proceedings. A quick glance through the pictures in this article from the Montreal Gazette gives some idea of the sub-atomic level of intellect we're dealing with here.

Shenanigans like these are nothing new in Quebec, but it's depressing to see that, more than 30 years since the Charter of the French Language was passed, there are still people out there who genuinely believe that singing a few English songs in a public park is a serious affront to French culture and national identity in Quebec. Haven't we got the self-confidence to move beyond this?

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Something that's struck me is the difference in what's reported by the mainstream media and local bloggers. Not that this will come as a surprise to people who live in the north of Ireland, by any means, but for me it's still shocking that newspapers are so ready to say that there are only a handful of racists skulking about and that most people are open-minded and liberal. Reading through some of the comments on Slugger O'Toole and elsewhere, it's clear that a lot of people who do condemn the violence are not exactly thrilled about having the Roma in their backyard and are openly questioning their contribution to society. Another important discrepancy I've noticed between official and local reports is best summed up thus:

 
At February 14, 2011 2:57 pm, Blogger mewmewmew said...

Something that's struck me is the difference in what's reported by the mainstream media and local bloggers. Not that this will come as a surprise to people who live in the north of Ireland, by any means, but for me it's still shocking that newspapers are so ready to say that there are only a handful of racists skulking about and that most people are open-minded and liberal. Reading through some of the comments on Slugger O'Toole and elsewhere, it's clear that a lot of people who do condemn the violence are not exactly thrilled about having the Roma in their backyard and are openly questioning their contribution to society. Another important discrepancy I've noticed between official and local reports is best summed up thus:

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