Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fête St. Jean versus Fête Nationale -Which is It?

The recent brouhaha concerning the ousting and subsequent reinstatement of Anglo artists at Quebec's annual celebrations brings up an interesting question.

What exactly are we celebrating on June 24?
When I was young, there wasn't any doubt. The holiday was called 'La Fete St. Jean' and was a celebration of French Canadian culture. That was it, period.

As the years went by and the sovereignty movement gained momentum, the celebration morphed into a sovereignist celebration as well. There isn't an Anglo-Quebecker older than 40 who doesn't remember the sickening television images of drunken revellers desecrating and burning Canadian flags, amid shouts of 'Vive la Quebec libre'
The idea of anglophones participating in this celebration was nonsense.

It was a time to get out of town, to go the cottage or on vacation to the beaches in PEI or to those in the northeastern states south of the border. A time to visit out of province family. Those who stayed in town made sure not to venture anywhere east of Bleury street and most just hoped for rain and a quick end to the day without too much violence.

In fact, the Canada Day celebration that took place the week after, was never really embraced in earnest, lest it be seen as a provocation to the 'other' side. Again, for Anglos, it was a good time to be at the cottage or out of Quebec. Those who stayed did little celebrating other than a backyard barbecue.

But then in 1977 Rene Levesque, the province's first sovereignist Premier, officially changed the name of the holiday to 'Fête nationale du Québec' (the National Holiday of Quebec). The new vision was that the holiday would become a celebration of the Quebec nation, inclusive of it's minorities. It wasn't a question of altruism, having a national 'day' was seen as a first step towards sovereignty.
The committee that was formed to organise the 'new' holiday turned over it's responsibilities to la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste which in 1984, created the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois. Both organisations were then and remain today, fiercely radical and pro-independence.

Over the years the sovereignty movement has matured and violence has petered out. Francophones today, are about equally split on the issue of Quebec independence, but live together along with the minorities (who are all pro-federalist) rather peaceably.

In this new era of detente, anglophones and allophones were slowly drawn to the celebrations and although they have continued to be an exclusively French language affair, those who's mother tongue is not, are openly welcomed to attend.

The paradox remains.
Is the 24th a celebration of French Canadian culture or a holiday celebrating the entire Quebec national family?

The question has never been fairly addressed.

From the point of view of the SSJB and many Quebeckers, it is the former and as such should be an exclusive celebration of French culture, which all Quebeckers, of all backgrounds and mother tongue are heartily welcomed to attend.

For others, it's a celebration for all Quebeckers and it's proper for English and other minorities to contribute as artists.

It no wonder everyone is confused and so who is right?

Everybody, and that's the problem.

Those who hold the first vision of the holiday should not be castigated. The government has been two-faced, claiming that the holiday is for everyone and then sub-contracting the organization of the event to radial groups.

If the government wants to signal that it really means that the 24th is a holiday for everyone, they must remove sovereignist groups as the exclusive organizer of the event.
In short, if you want a holiday that is inclusive, don't hire ethnocentrics to run the show, it's as simple as that.

The SSJB is what it is and everyone knows it. As long as the government employs them to run the show, sanctimonious protestations by Ministers decrying the decisions they take, is cynical and unfair.
On every level, it is politics at it's worst.

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