French summer festival season under threat

France's prolific summer festival season threatens to grind to halt this year as disgruntled performers and technicians strike over a controversial welfare agreement.

French summer festival season under threat
Workers in the entertainment industry protest against a planned reform of the rules regulating the unemployment benefits of temporary show business workers (intermittents). Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AF

France's prolific summer festival season threatens to grind to halt this year as disgruntled performers and technicians strike over a controversial welfare agreement.

Under French law, some 250,000 workers in the film, theatre, television and festival industry benefit from a system under which they are eligible for compensation and social protection for periods when they do not work, in a bid to address the job insecurity they face.

But they are unhappy with a deal reached between some unions, employers and the government in March to try and save money on this loss-making welfare regime – which would increase their payroll taxes among other changes – and argue that conditions to access this unique system are often extremely difficult to meet.

On Wednesday, the first day of the Latin American Rio Loco festival in the southwestern city of Toulouse was cancelled and a flamenco event in Paris was partially called off over strikes.

A month-long theatre festival in the southern city of Montpellier, meanwhile, has been severely disrupted. English singer and actress Jane Birkin cancelled her June 22 show at the event in support of the striking workers.

Performers and technicians are threatening to further their strikes if the agreement is officially signed off at the end of June as planned.

This would threaten many events during the summer season, including the famed arts festival in Avignon, which attracts tens of thousands of people annually and takes place on July 4-27 this year.

"If the state approves the March 22 agreement, we reserve the possibility to apply our right to strike from July 4 and the government will take responsibility for the consequences," artists and technicians at the Avignon festival said in a statement.

The last reform of this special welfare system in 2003 caused huge disruptions to the summer's festival season, forcing the cancellation of the Avignon event for the first time.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of 2003, the government has appointed a mediator who is due to meet with the CGT-Spectacle union leading the protest on Thursday.

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‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.