Four French citizens, two women and two men, entered into the Panthéon on May 27th. These four patriots, Pierre Brossolette, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion and Jean Zay, shared their lives and actions as resistant against the Nazis during World War two. The Panthéon symbolizes French collective memory, the French Nation through its great men and women. Throughout his speech, President François Hollande continuously moved between the past and the present. He used their actions as resistant in order to compare the perpetual fight against extremist violence – Nazism and radical Islamism -.
The selection of the pantheonized is a highly political decision and is directly approved by the President. Initially the Panthéon was built by Louis XV as a church in the honor of St Genevieve. But its role and symbolism changed with the French Revolution. In 1791, two years after the beginning of the French Revolution, that National Constituent Assembly decided to transform the purpose of the Panthéon from a church into a civic temple to host the ashes of the great men of the Nation. For instance, above the entrance, one can read “To great men, the grateful homeland” (Aux Grands Hommes la Patrie Reconnaissante).
The Panthéon plays a central part into the French civic life and can be divided into four distinct civic periods/purposes: the Panthéon of the Revolution; the Panthéon of the Republic; the Panthéon of the State; the Panthéon of the Nation. Each Panthéon solidified the message of the leadership. For instance, the Panthéon of the Republic was used in order to honor the men considered as martyrs for freedom (for example Marat). In the case of the Panthéon of the Nation, it serves as a secular and civic monument centered around the concept of ‘collective memory.’ The entrance of Victor Hugo in 1885 marked the beginning of the era of the Panthéon of the Nation, wherein Great Men are recognized either for their work, life or death.
The four newly pantheonized individuals direclty embody the values of the French Republic in 2015, the values envisioned and promoted by the government of François Hollande. As per the President, each one of them personifies a core value of the French Republic. First, they were all resistants of the first hour and all fought Pétain and the Occupation. The Resistance was an important movement during World War two either as active (force) or passive (intellectual). The current government is trying to maintain the spirit of January 11th ensuing the terrorist attacks. Second, each one symbolizes a core component of the French Nation: Jean Zay is the Republic, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Fraternity, Germaine Tillion, Equality, and Pierre Brossolette, Liberty.
Watch below the complete speech by President François Hollande.