when France celebrated its empire during the Colonial Exhibition of 1931

By Paul Reynaud Posted May 28, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. – Updated May 28, 2021 at 8:56 a.m. Reserved for our subscribers DocumentTransmitted in “La Dépêche coloniale” of May 7, 1931, the speech of Paul Reynaud, Minister of the Colonies in the government of Pierre Laval celebrates colonial policy, in […]

By Paul Reynaud

Posted May 28, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. – Updated May 28, 2021 at 8:56 a.m.

[« Le tour du monde en un jour » : tel est le slogan de l’Exposition coloniale qui s’ouvre, le 6 mai 1931, à la Porte Dorée, sous les auspices du président de la République, Gaston Doumergue, et du maréchal Lyautey, commissaire général de l’exposition. Malgré des soulèvements dans le Rif marocain (1925-26) ou en Indochine, l’empire colonial français est à son apogée. Et c’est bien cette puissance – notamment économique en pleine crise après le krack de 1929 – qu’entend promouvoir le gouvernement afin de « donner aux Français conscience de leur empire », ainsi que le souligne Paul Reynaud, ministre des colonies, dans son discours d’inauguration.

Si quelques voix s’élèvent à gauche pour fustiger les festivités qui dureront six mois, elles laissent surtout entendre les divisions entre les socialistes, tel Léon Blum, qui dans “Le Populaire” dénonce les violences commises, sans condamner ouvertement le colonialisme ; et le Parti communiste qui propose à Paris une contre-exposition intitulée « La Vérité sur les colonies ». Pour sa part, le groupe des surréalistes rédige un tract invitant à boycotter l’exposition située au bois de Vincennes. Son message ne sera guère suivi puisque 8 millions de visiteurs viendront s’instruire et baguenauder entre les villages indigènes, les échoppes artisanales et les temples asiatiques reconstitués, dont celui d’Angkor Vat.]

Mr President of the Republic, a year ago in Algiers, six months ago in Morocco, three weeks ago in Tunis, you affirmed a faith which has been that of your entire life. And here is that today, it is still to colonial thought and work that you devote the last act of a seven-year term whose end is veiled with a melancholy in which affection and regret are expressed. of grateful public opinion.

You have just toured the world in a quarter of an hour. How many images must have awakened in the mind of the former colonial, of the former minister of the colonies that you are, at the sight of these palaces where languid Asia and brilliant Africa and the dissolving sweetness of islands of Oceania!

The colonial world thanks you for this new mark of sympathy for its effort. He knows that he will keep in you a protector and a friend whose high moral authority will be precious to him. [souligné dans le texte]

We are holding today, Gentlemen, a plenary assembly of migratory peoples.

Portuguese, Genoese, Spaniards, Dutch, French, English, all started from small Europe: a peninsula chiseled as by an artist’s hand at the end of the continent of Asia. The little Europe of four centuries ago, so poor compared to that of today, but where already such a capital of thought, science and wealth had accumulated! It is this thought, this science, this wealth which launched his adventurous children on the roads of the sea, when the victory of the Turks had closed the land road which led to the treasures of India. What a meeting, on the way! A continent, and what a continent! The one where the prodigious American rejection of European civilization flourishes today! Colonization is the greatest fact in history.

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Janelle B. Smith

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