AFTER A FEW EMAILS WITHOUT ANY ANSWERS, the call appeared to be the only way to reach somebody from the French embassy in Wellington.
And there it went. “Sorry but the French embassy decided not to make any comment on the Rainbow Warrior affair. Not at all”, said the lady from the press release office.
Her manner was sharp, edgy. I asked her why France has decided not to comment officially on the bombing. She changed her tone and added: “There is no particular reason, we just decided not to say anything about this.” It was the end of the conversation.
30 years later, the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior is a very sensitive topic in France.
Further requests to the French Government were denied.
Initially, I thought that after 30 years, France may comment.Especially considering, that for the first time since François Mitterrand left the Presidency in 1995, France has a Socialist as its president, François Hollande.
Back in France the French press have become disinterested in the issue. On offering them a story about the Rainbow Warrior, 30 years on they replied: ‘It’s either too late or the subject doesn’t arouse so much interest [among the public].’
Some editors even answered : “Sorry, but we don’t have room anymore for this kind of story, although, it is a really interesting one…”
EVENING REPORT EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember, it was Mitterrand who was ultimately responsible for the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior at Marsden Wharf in Auckland harbour in 1985. And senior leaders within the current French Government were also connected with the issue. France’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, was in 1985 the Prime Minister of France.
In 1985, it was Fabius’ task to deal with fallout from the bombing, confront the international controversy, the investigations, argue points of justification.
Fabius was involved in decisions made to force an arrangement for the officers of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, to initially be imprisoned on French territory in the Pacific (Hao atoll), and finally to be repatriated back to France. Mafart and Prieur had been convicted of manslaughter in New Zealand for their part in the bombing and in the death of photographer Fernando Pereira, who was onboard the Rainbow Warrior at the time the bombs detonated.
And then there is Ségolène Royal, who is currently France’s Ecology Minister. Back in 2006, when she announced that she would run for the French presidential election, her younger brother, Antoine Royal, outed their sibling, Gerard Royal, for his involvement in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.
When speaking to Le Parisien, a daily French newspaper, Antoine Royal said: “By that time, Gerard, was a secret agent in Asia. He had been called in 1985 to go to New Zealand, in Auckland’s bay, for the sabotage of the Rainbow Warrior. Later on, he told me that he was the one who put the bomb on the Greenpeace’s ship.”
But, despite this, after 30 years, according to the French Embassy in Wellington, the Republic of France will remain silent. It clearly will not be apologising for the only act of terrorism to be committed by a supposed friendly nation on New Zealand soil.
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Rainbow Warrior’s bombing : 30 years later, French can’t forget
Feature by Amelie David.
The 30th anniversary of the Rainbow Warrior is getting close. For French people living in Auckland, this sad episode became part of their personal history.
Elisabeth (Editor’s note: Elisabeth has requested that her surname not be published) remembers perfectly the day she learnt about the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. It was on the morning following the 10th of July 1985. The young mom from that time was in the Eastern part of France with her two daughters, both born in Auckland.
She had left New Zealand, her home for ten years, a couple of weeks prior to the bombing.
“I took few months off to come back to France with my two daughters so they could see their grand parents and I could help out my aunt to start her own business”, recalls Elisabeth, seated in her living room in Ponsonby.
On that morning, Elisabeth was having breakfast with her daughters.
Le Monde, a national French newspaper, lay on the table between the coffee pot and the bag of croissants from the little village’s bakery.
Elisabeth opened it and read the front page briefly before jumping to the second one: “Here it was! A small square at the bottom of the page. Few lines saying that the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace vessel, has been bombed in the Auckland harbour…”, explains Elisabeth, who is now aged 65 years.
30 years later, Elisabeth can recall that moment perfectly. “I turned to my brother and said: “This is the French!”
After having lived in New Zealand for ten years, Elisabeth knew the atmosphere in the Pacific at that time: “I couldn’t think of somebody else willing to do that…”
The news was like a kick in Elisabeth’s head: “I was scandalized. New Zealand had been involved in every World War, helping us out, we couldn’t do that to this country. I couldn’t believe that our President, François Mitterrand, ordered this. It was terrorism!”
In New Zealand since 1975, Elisabeth was well aware of the ambience in the country regarding the French nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Even before 1985, herself and a couple of other French people, had been out protesting against the nuclear tests: “We had signed up a few petitions because we wanted to stand out from our home country government’s politic and also because it was part of our values, although none of us was a Greenpeace member.”
At that time, a large number of French people living in New Zealand shared Elisabeth’s point of view. But not all them were willing to sign up the petition.
“Some were afraid of reprisal from the French government. For instance, they thought they could loose their nationality.
“But some of us were not. So we signed it up and brought it to the senator when he visited. I think the first time we did this was in 1976. We met him because we were supposed to tell him our problems. So we brought up our concerns about those nuclear tests.
“When he handed the petition, he looked at us and said there was no way we could talk about this. He ripped up the paper. That was it,” Elisabeth said.
Through the following years, Elisabeth carried on protesting but she believes her name may have been put on a black list of the French government for this.
“For example, it took longer to redo my passport than usual. I think they wanted us to understand that we had to behave…” Elisabeth said with a shy smile.
That was the reason why it was no surprise to her that the Rainbow Warrior had been bombed. It was a shock, but not a surprise, and she couldn’t doubt of her own country’s involvement.
Not French anymore, but not totally a Kiwi
In October 1985, Elisabeth and her daughters flew back to New Zealand. All the French journalists covering the trial of the secret agents were with them on the plane.
When the Aucklander-by-adoption landed at Auckland International Airport, in the country she had left few months before, it took her time to recognize it.
She could feel that she was not really welcome anymore.
France had became the new “F word”.
French bakeries were empty.
French products couldn’t be found in stores anymore.
French flags were banned from windows and streets.
“Everything was anti-French. We had to say which side we were on. We had to make things clear and say we disagreed with what happened.”
She felt she was not really French anymore but neither was she totally a Kiwi.
For first few weeks Elisabeth found it difficult to settle back into Auckland life. She was not alone.
A lot of other people experienced this anti-French feeling.
François Profit, 58 years old, has been living in Auckland for three years now but he first visited New Zealand in the 1990’s.
At that time, he was settled in Tahiti and he owned a sailing company.
In July 1985, the Parisian was in France, getting ready to sail to French Polynesia, an eight month trip over the high seas.
Obviously, he heard about what happened to the Rainbow Warrior and followed up the story in the news.
But until the day he arrived in New Zealand and stood on the land of the long white cloud, he couldn’t imagine what it meant for locals.
“The first time I came here, it was in 1993. It was a family vacation. And even by that time, almost ten years after, we could still feel the resentment towards French people.
“New Zealanders were not really unkind to us, literally, but there was some hesitation on talking to us, because we were French”, explains François sitting on his garden chair, facing the beach on Mission Bay.
“It would be really nice to start talking about this back in France…”
30 years later, Elisabeth and François agree that things have changed. French people are welcome again in New Zealand.
Kiwi customers are back in French bakeries and the French flag can flutter everywhere. For all that, the Rainbow Warrior is always something people would talk about.
Geraldine Clermont, 29 years old, realised it when she arrived in Auckland, four years ago.
The French video journalist was born in October 1985. Before coming to New Zealand, she barely heard about the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.
“Some Kiwis, or even French, talked to me about this. They referred to it in some kind of jokes to make fun of French people. It’s not rude, but I can feel that it’s something important to them”, explains the young woman.
Interested in the topic, Geraldine researched about the 10th of July 1985.
What she found astonished her. “It’s incredible! It’s actually a terrorism act from the government, from the French government, in order to attack another country which is our friend!”
And what surprised her even more, is the fact that she never even learnt about it back in France: “It’s pretty crazy. I think it should be on school’s programme! It would be really nice that we start talking about this in France…”
Every year, Geraldine hears about what happened in Auckland’s harbour on that night of July 10th 1985.
30 years later, for French people living in Auckland, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior is part of their history.
Every year, she can still feel how sad the whole country is about it, as are Elisabeth, François and other French people who live in New Zealand.
Nobody can’t forget.