Emotional fall-out overnuclear test memorial

Flosse tries to move shrine from park

Even though the last nuclear test in the Pacific was conducted nearly 20 years ago, the commemoration of the atomic era still causes debate in French Polynesia. President Gaston Flosse of the Tahoeraa Huiraatira Party has caused a storm by proposing to remove a memorial to nuclear testing from a park in central Papeete. The debate about remembering France’s 193 nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls came as the Flosse Government celebrated 30 years of autonomy in June, following the introduction of a French autonomy statute for French Polynesia in 1984. The memorial to survivors of nuclear testing is located in a waterfront park known as the Place de 2 Juillet 1966.

This area was first created in 2003 and originally called Place Chirac, after the French President who was a close political ally of President Flosse. After the election of French Polynesia’s first anti-nuclear president Oscar Temaru in 2004, the area was renamed to commemorate 2 July 1966, the date of France’s first nuclear test in the South Pacific. On 2 July 2006, a memorial to survivors of nuclear testing was inaugurated at the centre of the park by then President Temaru, witnessed by politicians from France, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. At the opening ceremony, Aotearoa activist Hilda Halkyard-Harawira sang a Maori waiata and the memorial site was blessed by Raymond Graf, a traditional Tahitian priest who consecrated the ground.

In the memorial, French Polynesia’s five archipelagos are symbolised by stones placed on a traditional paepae, with carved wooden totems later added to symbolise the link between the earth and sky. As well as commemorating the French nuclear tests, the memorial has a plaque in English, French and Tahitian remembering survivors from other nuclear sites in the Marshall Islands, Australia, Kiribati and Japan. In June this year, as Tahiti commemorated the 30th anniversary of autonomy, the government sparked concern by issuing a decree proposing the removal of the memorial site and the renaming of the park as ‘Place Chirac.’

The perception that the memorial would be destroyed lead to widespread protests, coordinated by Moruroa e Tatou, the association of former workers who staffed the nuclear test sites between 1966 and 1996. Moruroa e Tatou has used the memorial site as a rallying point for public activities, inviting international delegations to participate in commemoration ceremonies every year on 2 July.

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