Serge’s Column – Je suis Charlie

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Deputy Mayor Serge Thomann

Being French born, I feel I have to give my personal view of what has happened in France in the past few weeks.

I have to admit that this has been disturbing but hopefully, out of evil, good will come. For me personally, the compassion shown to me by my Australian friends and St Kilda neighbours has been extraordinary. Many people felt for me as a French person, and for the French people, and I would like to publicly thank you all for your kind thoughts and sympathy in these dark hours of French history.

In France, people can wish “Happy New Year” until the end of January. This is what the last cartoon of Charb, the editor of Charlie Hebdo said: “Still no terrorist attacks in France? – Wait! We have got until the end of January to wish a Happy New Year.”

I have been amazed by the response in Melbourne. About 3000 people met at Federation Square less than 24 hours after the carnage at the magazine. I would say few of them had had ever heard of Charlie Hebdo. Even in France, I think many people were unaware of its existence, having a print run of less than 60,000 per week.

The description of the magazine in Wikipedia is: “Charlie Hebdo (French for Charlie Weekly) is a French satirical weekly magazine featuring cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes. Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone, the publication describes itself as above all secular and atheist, far-left-wing and anti-racist, publishing articles on the extreme right (especially the French nationalist National Front party), religion (Catholism, Islam, Judaism), politicsculture, etc.”

According to its former editor Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb“), the magazine’s editorial viewpoint reflects “all components of left wing pluralism, and even abstainers”. The magazine is very French, in fact so French that I think only the French people can get its real influence and meaning. It is in line with many other moments in French history about la liberté d’expression. Back in 1789, the Declaration of Human Rights said France should be a country where it was not forbidden to talk about one’s religious beliefs and choices. The influential French philosopher Voltaire, who is still highly regarded more than 200 years after his death, wrote: “No one can feel threatened for his opinions, including religious beliefs”.

France is a country where caricatures, humour and insolence are highly regarded. Religion and State are clearly separated. It was interesting that the week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the French weekly magazine of the Jesuits ran many caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo as a satire to the Catholic religion and the Pope. Not every reader liked it.

Many in the world identified with the Je suis Charlie tag-line and the demonstrations of support around the world for freedom of expression and freedom of press has been amazing and demonstrated that the values we cherish are now stronger in our minds than before.

I have selected a couple of cartoons which I found particularly evocative. I love the one with the “gift” from France and the arm of the Statue of Liberty.

2015 is looking like a big year and I am looking forward to keeping working on behalf of my community.

I would also like to take this opportunity to once again thank Tex Perkins for agreeing to stand for the State Election to put the Palais at the forefront of our parties. Thank you also to the nearly 12 per cent of people residing in St Kilda who put “one” in Tex’s box. The Andrews Government has committed $13.4 million towards the refurbishment of our great theatre and I cannot wait to see the building without the scaffolding around it.

Enjoy the St Kilda Festival – I am looking forward to seeing amongst many, Gotye with his band The Basics, Russell Morris and of course The Church! “Under the milky way” is one of my favourite songs!

I am writing this in January, so “Happy New Year“ to all.


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