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decorThe Digitisation of Literary Works: is Google Above the Law?

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Internet et guerre d’Espagne...

by Ixchel Delaporte

Internet and the Spanish Civil War at the Village du Livre Book Fair...

Translated Thursday 28 September 2006, by Carol Gullidge


The Village du livre - a year-long book fair held in a different European village each year, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary in the picturesque village of Fontenoy-la-Joûte, in the Lorraine region – has organised a selection of very lively debates, focusing on the digitization of library books and on memory, as well as on law and history[1].

Google, the Spanish Civil War, the literary revival, history and the living... This year, visitors to the Village du livre have an embarrassment of choice. Instructive and of current interest, the encounter with Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of La Bibliothèque Nationale de France - France’s national library - has brought about a clarification of what is at stake in the digitization of library books. An aficionado of the Web and author of “When Google Defies Europe” he demonstrated the collective need to advance the European project of book digitization, with free access for all at the end of the day. Google of course already does this... But what is the catch? “Google is a company rooted in American culture, which strongly influences the choice of digitized books. Publicity and the desire to earn money lead one to query the choice of books and the order in which they should be digitized.” It is thus imperative that others should take up this challenge. “With public money involved, criteria for cultural diversity are key issues. We’re creating a corpus of around 3 million books, in collaboration with like-minded European countries.”

From cultural heritage, it’s only a step to the heritage of memory. Where the theme was 1936, it is impossible to pass over in silence the violence committed by Franco and his supporters against Spanish republicans. To tackle this question, two historians intent on delving into this painful past: Patrick Pépin, author of Histoires intimes de la guerre d’Espagne [“Intimate Stories from the Spanish Civil War”] and Jean Ortiz, author of Cri du silence [“Cry of Silence”]. Their objective: to place the memory of these crimes back into the limelight in a reconsideration of Spanish history. Until only recently, fear prevented people from talking. “This question needs to be placed squarely in the public arena.” The exhumations of bodies from communal graves have lifted a veil of silence. Between 1939 and 1945, there existed a programme of liquidating republicans and ordinary people. It’s a theme of great violence and is of crucial political importance”, explains Patrick Pépin. And Jean Ortiz recalls vehemently: “85,000 republicans were assassinated across 25 provinces. It’s a crime against humanity: an intention to exterminate the pillars of a reformist republican society.”

Last but not least of the debates: “Should the law judge historical truth?” Confronting each other are two opposing points of view: that of the historian of psychoanalysis, Élisabeth Roudinesco, and that of historians Claude Mazauric and Nicolas Offenstadt, the latter a vice-president of the Comité de vigilance face aux usages publics de l’histoire, an organisation that monitors the public use of history. For the psychoanalyst, herself a victim of court proceedings by the historical revisionists, the laws not only prevent research and works from being successfully carried out, but above all they cause “harmful side effects” and force a judicialization of historical debate: “Everything should be open to question. The law is progressively preventing interpretative dispute.” On the other hand, Nicolas Offenstadt believes that the law is not hindering research. It can sometimes bring about “positive values” such as the loi Gayssot [2]. It’s the same story from Claude Mazauric, who feels society sometimes needs the State to impose “choices of normative values. Laws such as the loi Taubira[3] and the loi Gayssot promote much-needed public awareness.”

Ideas and exchanges abound. Enough to keep us going until next year!

Ixchel Delaporte


[1] November 11 – 12: there is to be a massive exhibition on the Great War. Access is free.

[2] The Loi Gayssot, of 13 July, 1990, proposed by the communist MP, Jean-Claude Gayssot, forbids any discrimination on the grounds ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion. Furthermore, the law makes it a crime to deny the existence of crimes against humanity as defined by the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg.

[3] The Loi Taubira, of 21 May 2001, recognises the slave trade as a crime against humanity, stating that “slavery and the slave trade must be given their due place in the teaching of and research into history.”

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