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France Honors Camus, And Fights Over His Grave Site

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France Honors Camus, And Fights Over His Grave Site

France Honors Camus, And Fights Over His Grave Site

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123034815/123055563" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, Host:

We'll take a step away from the battles of Washington now, to the battles of France, where the writer and philosopher Albert Camus died 50 years ago this month. France has been celebrating his life and works throughout January. And like most things in France, the commemoration has been fraught with politics. It all started when President Nikolas Sarkozy suggested moving Camus's remains to Paris. Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: A dusting of snow lies atop Albert Camus' tombstone in the tiny cemetery of the Provencal village of Lourmarin. Camus lived briefly here in the south of France before being killed in an automobile accident in January 1960 at the age of 46.

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BEARDSLEY: Soon after, during the Second World War, Camus joined the French Resistance. He risked his life editing its newspaper, "Combat." His biographer, Olivier Todd, says Camus is as well-remembered for his principles as he is for his writing.

OLIVIER TODD: He had his own stands on Marxism and communism. Long before anyone else, Camus said that the big mistake of left- wing intellectuals in Europe was to stand against Nazism, but to forget to stand against the other totalitarian movement - that is, communism. And it took him a long time to be forgiven for that.

BEARDSLEY: Like the heroes of his novels who confronted society, injustice and death, Camus said he, too, felt like an outsider.

ALBERT CAMUS: Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

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BEARDSLEY: The proposal has raised a storm of protest. Critics accuse Sarkozy of trying to co-opt Camus' image to give himself some intellectual sparkle. Biographer Olivier Todd says Sarkozy's idea is ridiculous.

TODD: Camus himself wanted to be buried in Lourmarin, by the football team, which he was. I think Sarkozy, by suggesting that Camus should be removed from this very pleasant provincial cemetery, made a political calculation. He wants to make his mark in the histories of literature. But people are rather embarrassed by the whole Pantheon business. Sarkozy may have felt that he needed Camus, but Camus certainly doesn't need Sarkozy.

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BEARDSLEY: In the village of Lourmarin, church bells ring out above the tiny streets and dollhouse facades. Mayor Blaise Diagne says people here are attached to Camus.

BLAISE DIAGNE: (Through translator) After all, he chose to come live here among us after leaving his native Algeria, and people are proud of that. Lourmarin sees itself as an open, tolerant place, and Camus is a part of that image.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.

SHAPIRO: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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