Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blue Poppies?

For the second year in a row, a handful of Québécois militants have launched "Opération Coquelicot bleu", which translates to Operation Blue Poppie.  One of their chief aims is to pay hommage to those soldiers "who defended the territory of New France from English invation and who died in combat between 1755 and 1760" (my translation here and below).  You will find their manifestos on Vigile.Net here and here

A note on background may be useful for some readers: November 11th is recognized in Canada and several other Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day, a memorial day for those who served in the armed forces and died in the line of duty.  This observance dates back to the wake of the First World War, and the commemorative emphasis is normally on 20th and early 21st century conflicts.  Now, the people behind Opération Coquelicots bleus denounce this as a federalist scheme: "the fédés poison our lives with a ceremony that is tendencious and recuperated for monarchist and militarist ends, and to promote Canadian unity."

Last year's operation.  Photo: Vigile.Net.
Opération Coquelicot bleu accordingly aims to honor "à la québécoise" the Québécois who served during the conflicts of the twentieth century, but also to stress that Quebec's rich military heritage has deep roots that originated well before Confederation and the Conquest of 1760.  "We do not have the right to begin our History [in 1760] just to satisfy our invaders."  They have invited people to gather this November 11th near the National Assembly in Quebec City.  Participants are welcome to bring their Quebec flags, as well as natural flowers; blue "poppies" will be distributed.  But in case you want to make your own, there's a video on Youtube showing how to make a blue "poppy".  I'll blow the punch: spraypaint!

Incidentally, the same militant nationalists have defended Pauline Marois, the premier of Quebec, when she was criticized by many, including the Royal Canadian Legion, for pinning a fleur de lys inside her poppy (see here).  Marois' poppy is red, by the way -- which gives you a sense of where these militants lie on the sovereigntist spectrum.

All of this is delightfully excentric.  Or frustratingly so?  I can't cast aspersions on the desire to draw attention to the fact that the military experience has deep roots in Quebec, or Canada for that matter.  One of my early blog posts, as some of you might remember, was a plea along those lines.  But surely there are ways and times for doing this without offending the sensibilities of countless people who hold this day and its symbols dear?

Thankfully, others have a more conciliatory perspective.  In recent weeks, Mayor Régis Labeaume of Quebec City, for example, has voiced his desire to see the Nouvelles casernes -- barracks built in 1749-1752 and restored in recent years -- welcome an interpretation center which would recount "the adventure of New France and of its conquerors" (my translation and emphasis).  Interesting word choice.  In any case, Mayor Labeaume hopes to thereby attract the "millions of American Francophiles" to his city (as reported here).  Nothing conciliates quite like tourist bucks, I suppose.


1 comment:

  1. Whilst I have no desire to get into a nationalistic sovereignty debate, be it militant, historical, or political, and I have the utmost respect for the peoples on both of the sides the Plains of Abraham, I found the video of the man spray painting the poppy grimly amusing.

    Taking an object used for world-wide representation of mourning (and perhaps in my naivete, I do think it is for mourning, and not projecting nationalism, or other malicious symbols), and opening up a spraycan of cheap aerosol paint to quickly coat it with a wash of blue strikes me as something almost allegorical.

    Of course, I have no room to personally get on a soapbox about defacing a poppy. I'm starting to think they purposefully design them so they fall off my lapel. I've lost more and more of them into the muck of the city streets than I care to comment on. Perhaps that is an even more piece of poignant allegory - cheap pieces of plastic used to represent loss, drifting forgotten off of coats, to rest in the filth in the road.