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French Ministers Divided on Site for Statue Honoring Alfred Dreyfus

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Alfred Dreyfus, who once split France in two, is now driving a wedge between two French ministers. Both Defense Minister Charles Hernu and Culture Minister Jack Lang are in favor of honoring Dreyfus with a statue but Lang wants it at the French military academy, Ecole Ministere, while Hernu favors the site of the former Ecole Polytechnique which Dreyfus attended.

Lang, himself Jewish, ordered the sculpture last year. French Jewish painter, Tim, a part-time sculptor, planned a 10-feet high bronze sculpture which, he says, will be ready in about six months. Lang announced that he plans to have the monument erected in the main courtyard of the military academy in the heart of Paris.

Hernu, a fellow Socialist, announced that he is in favor of such a statue but that he wants it erected somewhere else. One of the sites he reportedly suggested is the former site of the Ecole Polytechnique, a top level military engineering school which Dreyfus attended. Hernu publicly argued that no one will see the Dreyfus statue as the academy grounds are closed to the general public. One of his spokesmen said Hernu wants the statue to be on view in a public place where “as many people as possible” can see it.

The French press, without citing any formal sources, claim that Hernu opposes the Ecole Militaire site “because he does not want any trouble in the army.” These sources, reports said, fear that a Dreyfus statue at the academy might revive old passions which were generally believed dead and done forever.

Dreyfus was accused of “high treason” in 1894 and sentenced to life imprisonment and deportation to the French penal colony of Devil’s Island. He was rehabilitated in 1906 after the Socialist Party, and numerous intellectuals, including writer Emile Zola, waged an energetic campaign on his behalf. His original trial and his ensuing rehabilitation split France at the time into two: the pro and the anti-Dreyfusards. Hernu reportedly fears that nearly a century later passions have still not subsided.

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