Lang tries to flush out racism

February 22, 2002

France's education minister Jack Lang has set up a commission to investigate racism and revisionism that for years have plagued the University of Lyon-III, Jean-Moulin.

The Universities of Lyon-II and Lyon-III have been associated with revisionist tendencies since the 1970s. In 1999, Lyon-II set up an inquiry into the problem. Last year a vigilance committee set up by staff and students at Lyon-III and backed by anti-racist associations demanded its own investigation into recruitment and promotion of rightwing extremist staff.

Mr Lang last week established the commission of six historians, chaired by Henry Rousso, director of the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Present, to "throw light on the racism and revisionism that have been able to find expression within the University of Lyon-III". It is due to report in January 2003.

The commission will inquire into four areas:

  • It will assess the extent of revisionism at Lyon-III, its links with other networks and its characteristics, from the late 1970s onwards
  • Investigate how racist and xenophobic ideologies penetrated the university and established political links locally, regionally and nationally during that time
  • Look into the university's management system and evaluation procedures such as specialist committees and postgraduate examining boards
  • And consider how revisionism has become a public, sometimes national, problem, by including analysis of press coverage, student mobilisation, attitudes of public authorities and public opinion.

Recent controversies at Lyon-III include the case of a former student, Jean Plantin, who in 1999 was convicted for questioning the existence of crimes against humanity after publishing banned material in his magazine. Last year Lyon-III withdrew a postgraduate degree awarded to Plantin in 1990 for his research on revisionist Paul Rassinier.

Other notable instances include the award in 1985 of a distinction by Germanist Jean-Paul Allard for a student's thesis that challenged the existence of gas chambers; and jury-rigging to promote extreme rightists, such as the appointment last year, denounced by Africanist academics, of Bernard Lugan, a senior lecturer notorious for singing a nationalistic anthem in front of his students while dressed as a Bengal lancer and carrying a whip.

In 1999, a ministry inquiry criticised activities and publications of the Institute of Indo-European Studies at Lyon-III, leading members of which belonged to the scientific committee of the extreme-right party, the National Front. The institute was disbanded.

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