Silly Little Windmills -

Silly Little Windmills



After the National Battlefields Commission cancelled the re-enactment of the  Plains of Abraham battle, several “members of Quebec’s artistic community” (read: sovereignists) decided to commemorate Quebec through the ages by getting a bunch of their friends and colleagues to read a variety of texts, songs, passages, etc. from the annals of its history. The result: Le Moulin à Paroles–literally, “windmill of words”, but also a term meaning “windbag”. A bunch of other people, sovereignist and federalist alike, were asked to attend. OK so far. Then it was announced that the FLQ manifesto would be read and all hell broke loose. One provincial Liberal minister said he was dropping out. Ditto Quebec’s mayor. The sovereignists and federalists cried censorship and propaganda, respectively.  All in all, a very plain, paint-by-numbers, made-in-Quebec mini-psychodrama that helps pass the time.

The sovereignist talking point throughout the whole debacle has been this: the FLQ manifesto is part of our history, and to exclude it would amount to censoring a crucial time in the province’s history. “It’s like if the Americans refused to speak of slavery, if the Germans refused to speak of the Nazis or if France didn’t speak of the resistance,” said Luck Mervil, the Quebec entertainer who will read the manifesto, to Le Journal de Montréal yesterday.

It’s an interesting analogy, however flawed. It suggests he is reading it to remember, not glorify, the terror the FLQ inflicted on Quebec 39 years ago. Logically, then, you’d also want to hear about the direct victims of this terror–that is to say, Pierre Laporte, James Cross (whom the FLQ kidnapped, but who is still very much alive) and the handful of people who died as a result of the FLQ’s many bombing campaigns.

It’s why Dominic Maurais, a radio host at Quebec’s Radio X, humbly suggested to festival organizer Brigitte Haentjens that he, or someone else of her choosing, be allowed to read a letter written to Robert Bourassa from Pierre Laporte shortly before the FLQ abducted and murdered Laporte, as well as a list of people murdered in during the FLQ’s reign. (My colleague John Geddes makes a similar case here.)

Here’s Haentjiens’ response to Mr. Maurais (translated, natch):

We thank you for your suggestion. But the Moulin à Paroles is not meant to be an objective history book. The texts are chosen for their pertinence, and given this we must do the same for all of Quebec’s major events (for example, the loss at the Plains of Abraham is a victory for others, as you know!)

Ah, yes, Brigitte. It’s important to remember terrorism but not the blood it spills. Remember slavery, but not the actual slaves. Remember Nazism but not its victims. Ain’t history grand?

Filed under:

Silly Little Windmills

  1. Excellent post. Lévesque himself made these mistakes from time to time, but he also had one of the better rejoinders to them: "Il faut quand même noter qu'on n'est pas dans un goulag! On n'est pas dans un contexte – je me rappelle le temps du FLQ, ce délire de l'action – qui appelle ce genre de comportement. Dieu sait si, quant à moi du moins, le fédéralisme canadien est un système de broche à foin qui trop souvent gêne notre développement. Mais par ailleurs, c'est quand même un système où les gens ont la liberté de respirer, de dire ce qu'ils ont à dire y compris celle de prétendre à un autre régime à l'intérieur même du régime actuel, comme on l'a fait, nous. C'est un contexte qui exclut d'autres émancipations…"

  2. The whole "plain, paint-by-numbers, made-in-Quebec mini-psychodrama" thinkg gives me a headache.

    When I last lived in Québec it was during the time of the Sponsorship Scandal and everything little thing that happened on any front became fodder for commentators to push things through the prism of the federalist/sovereignist dichotomy. Listening to the news in the morning gave me a headache and my stomach was always in knots.

    I asked an anglo friend who had been living in Québec for over 10 years by then how he coped with it all and he said he just stopped listening. He didn't watch the news or listen to it on the radio or read the paper and that's how he kept his sanity.

    • " He didn't watch the news or listen to it on the radio or read the paper and that's how he kept his sanity."
      If only I were so lucky.

      • Whazzat? You want to be unemployed? Take these comments down before le patron catches up with them! Quick!

  3. This made-in-Quebec mini psycho-drama is nonetheless providing some much-needed therapeutic contributions. The condemnations are coming even from quarters where I thought people would prefer to just lay low and keep quiet. That's a good thing.

    Monsieur Maurais read my mind before I even had the thought myself (see my comment elsewhere about noting the victims and also playing Lévesque's outraged condemnation at the time), and the response he received is particularly telling.

    "Ordinary" Quebecers appear to have moved way beyond the FLQ crap. In fact, Quebecers recoiled in absolute horror at what these creeps were up to at the time. Those who are callously celebrating the FLQ now will either be suitably ignored or condemned, I think, by most real Quebecers.

    For decades now, the "deal" appears to have been that the "glorious sovereignty project" will be democratically successful or it will not be.

    • A lovely sentiment but wrong. Far too many Quebecois revelled in the tumoil the FLQ caused for les maudit anglais and the federal government. Today as then, those FLQ bastards are heroes to many, young and old.

      I lived thru it all – albeit as a pre-teen – and remember it all. Being one a of a very few English families in our neighbourhood (just off the island of Montreal) we had FLQ repeatedly scrawled on our front door, house walls and driveway in the late sixties and during the October crisis. Car vandalized,

      I remember my mother (single with two sons) crying for seemed like weeks each time it happened. I remember the police coming to the house each time telling her there was nothing they could do. I remember her crying and them driving away. I remember her complete helplessness as local tradesmen refused to clean the brick or repaint the door. I remember trying to scrub those letters off with a kitchen brush.

      I remember my paper route during the October crisis which included the home of then former Quebec education minister Paul Gerin-Lajoie. I remember the soldiers who stood guard on the wrap-around porch of his home. I remember the first morning I threw the Montreal Gazette on that porch and a soldier raised his rifle.

      I remember being afraid to go to a mail box. I remember the murder of Pierre Laporte. Murder.

      I remember.

  4. "Ordinary" Québécois (95% of Québec's population) did not care about Le Moulin à paroles. As a matter of fact, very few people attended, except for journalists, the same ones who created this "plain, paint-by-numbers, made-in-Quebec mini-psychodrama" and the same minority who goes on and on "debating" on the same issue since the 70's. It makes their job easier!