Macron told ‘let Josephine Baker be buried in Paris Panthéon’

Cabaret singer, Resistance heroine and civil rights activist Josephine Baker should be awarded France's highest honour and be buried in the Panthéon - that's the demand of a petition to president Emmanuel Macron on the subject of the American star.

Macron told 'let Josephine Baker be buried in Paris Panthéon'
Cabaret star Josephine Baker. Photo: AFP

The online petition has now gathered 50,000 signatures and local authorities in Paris have also backed the move to have the black star re-interred in the Panthéon along with the most famous names in French history.

The petition was started by essayist Laurent Kupferman and has received backing from French celebrities including former culture minister Jack Lang, TV presenter Stephane Bern and actress Line Renaud.

Kupferman said: “Josephine Baker was a free and committed woman, a feminist, a resistance fighter, and a committed activist against racism and anti-Semitism. In a world turned in on itself where division and racism are exacerbated, her struggle finds a natural resonance today.”  

Born in the USA, Baker moved to Paris in the 1930s where she quickly became famous for her risqué cabaret acts, which famously included dancing in nothing but a skirt made of bananas.

Her signature banana skirt continues to inspire cabaret acts. Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

Fleeing racism and segregation in America, Baker became a devotee of France, later marrying a Frenchman and taking French citizenship.

When war broke out in 1939 she remained in France and became a member of the Resistance, using her fame to extract valuable information from military leaders.

After the war she became involved in civil rights battles in the USA and Europe and adopted 12 children.

She died in Paris in 1975, but was buried in Monaco, where she was living in her final years.

The idea of having her body moved to the Panthéon was first put forward in 2013 under François Hollande’s government but was not approved.

Now supporters hope she can be given this final honour, which would make her only the sixth woman buried in the Panthéon.

Entry to the Panthéon is France’s highest posthumous honour, extended to those who have performed a great service to the country.

The final decision lies with the president, although in recent years there have been public votes on deserving candidates.

Earlier this year, Macron rejected a call to move poet Arthur Rimbaud to the Panthéon, saying he did not want to go against the wishes of Rimbaud’s family. Supporters had called for the poet to be moved to the Pathéon and buried next to his lover Paul Verlaine.

However in 2020 he presided over a ceremony to inter writer and World War II hero Maurice Genevoix in the Paris monument. 

You can sign the Josephine Baker petition here.

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Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

If you're expecting to see French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the summer you're likely to be disappointed - he and his wife Brigitte are at Brégançon, the official Riviera 'holiday home' of the presidents of France.

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

The Fort of Brégançon, which stands on a rock 30 metres above the sea, has been offering privacy and sunshine to French presidents for decades, although its history goes back much further than that.

The fort is perched on a tiny island – just 4.5km long – connected to the French mainland by a causeway and has been a strategic site since the 6th century, acting as a seigneurial residence, a Crown estate property and a military site equipped with artillery including 23 cannons under Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was Charles de Gaulle who gave it the status of official presidential residence in 1968 and it’s usually used for presidential holidays – similar to Camp David in the USA and Chequers in the UK.

It has since been transformed into a pleasant residence while maintaining what remained of the ancient fortress, giving presidents the opportunity to take advantage of the sunshine of the Riviera.

French presidents have their main residence and offices in the Elysée Palace, the beautiful 18th century residence in the heart of Paris. In addition to Brégançon, presidents also have the use of La Lanterne, a former hunting lodge in the grounds of Versailles, and although they can’t stay in the sumptuous Palace of Versailles they do sometimes hold events and meeting with foreign dignitaries there.

It’s Brégançon’s offshore location that was the key for De Gaulle, who considered it the only place in the south of France secure enough to receive foreign heads of state, particularly from Mediterranean countries in the geopolitical context of decolonisation. 

While it remains secure, it is these days within long-lens range for photographers, as several presidents have discovered. 

But through the years of the Fifth Republic, French presidents have had quite varying attitudes to this undoubted perk of the job.

De Gaulle’s successor Georges Pompidou seemed to love it and spent his weekends in the Fort both in summers and winters. He opened its doors to the media, letting himself be photographed with his spouse in more relaxed clothing and playing pétanque with his bodyguards.

Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude in August 1969 pose in the gardens during their summer holiday. Photo by AFP

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who regularly stayed there with his family, brought the national spotlight on the Fort by letting paparazzi venture around the residence, snapping pictures of him in swimsuit and tennis shoes, but also installing CCTV inside the residence.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing poses for photos with his wife Anne-Aymone in 1979. Photo by AFP

When socialist François Mitterrand won the election, he declared: “the Republic doesn’t need a secondary residence.”

He limited his visits to work meeting – the SNCF strikers in 1987 and two heads of state the Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – although he took no steps to sell off Brégancon. 

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was hosted by François Mitterand in August 1985. Photo by PIERRE CIOT / AFP

His successor Jacques Chirac particularly appreciated the fort because of its location in the Var département where he lived as a child.

With his spouse Bernadette, they regularly attend mass at the local church and greeted residents and tourists. In 2004, the President received Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appease tensions. The Brégançon presidential desk was photographed for the first time.

Jacques Chirac and Brigitte leaving the local church in May 1999 Photo by VANINA LUCCHESI / AFP

During his presidency Nicolas Sarkozy received foreign politicians including Condoleezza Rice, but also took some time to exercise. The pictures of him jogging around the Fort were described as creating a new style of presidential communication. Later, he was photographed on the beach with first lady Carla Bruni during her pregnancy.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogging, followed by his bodyguards on bikes. Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP

François Hollande, who branded himself as a “normal president” felt no particular attachment to the Fort and opened the site to the public for visits, although he did host some work meetings there.

A rather formal looking Francois Hollande meets with his Prime Minister Manuel Valls at Brégançon. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / POOL / AFP

Since being elected in 2017 Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron seem to have enjoyed the Fort, retreating there during the summers and being photographed on the beach or having fun on jet-skis – they also installed a swimming pool which cost €34,000.

Brigitte Macron owns a property in the northern French seaside resort of Le Touquet, which the couple use for family time. But Emmanuel Macron has also used the Fort for work, hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2019, on the eve of the G7 in Biarritz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel in summer 2020. 

Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Bregancon in August 2020. Photo by Christophe SIMON / POOL / AFP

This year he declared that he would be having a “pause studieuse” at Brégançon and use the summer to think about how to tackle some of France’s most pressings issues.

With a cost of living crisis, war in Europe and political turmoil at home, let’s hope that his beach reading bears fruit.

By Julie Edde