Rainbow Warrior bombing not my fault

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2014

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OPINION: Conversations about the relationship between France and New Zealand inevitably bring up two topics: rugby and ship explosions.

I usually dismiss rugby with a joke about how I was relieved that France did not beat New Zealand in 2011's World Cup final. It would have compromised my chances of getting a resident visa here. But when it comes to the Rainbow Warrior, I feel uncomfortable.

French authorities bombed Greenpeace's ship in Auckland in 1985 to prevent it interfering with a planned nuclear test in Mururoa. This led to photographer Fernando Pereira's death. Of course it was a despicable act.

When I first came to New Zealand on holiday and later moved here, I was surprised how often it came up in conversations. I've had people jabbing their fingers at me, accusing me and my fellow countrymen of supporting the actions of the French government.

"Perhaps you're right," I say. "I was 2 years old when it happened, but I'm told I was quite political."

More than 28 years later, the incident still stains the way some Kiwis see the French.

People often point out that public opinion and French media backed the government's actions at the time.

This is not entirely true. When the French government denied its responsibility in the sinking, French newspaper Le Monde kept digging until it was able to reveal France's intelligence agency had orchestrated the operation. This sparked national outrage.

The defence minister was forced to resign, the head of the intelligence agency was fired and the Government publicly admitted its responsibility.

The actions of a country's government do not always reflect the desire of its citizens. A lot of French people strongly opposed nuclear testing then and still do today. I remember my mother had a bumper sticker against it on the back of her old Renault and I've seen many public protests against the tests and nuclear energy in general in France's streets.

When I applied for the journalism programme at the University of Canterbury, Nick told me I should prepare to answer a question about the Rainbow Warrior.

I prepared two responses - one, to promise not to interfere with any of the shipping on campus; two, to pour a mini bottle of white wine into a glass, then fling it in my interviewer's face screaming "Am I to blame for all the ills of the world? Is it my fault the Institut du Film can't finance Amelie 2?

Should I return fire to the gods? Where does it END?"

Thankfully, it didn't come up - the interview was over Skype and my computer doesn't like wine as much as I do.

Most Kiwis I know do not feel personally responsible for the illegal police raid on Kim Dotcom or the historical injustices perpetrated against Maori. Just like them, I do not feel responsible for actions committed by a branch of the French Government when I was a child.

I deplore the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and I hope France never does anything like that again. But it's weird that some Kiwis might resent me for it. That'd be like me resenting my German friends for World War 2.

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When it comes to rugby though, I would need to learn the basic rules of the game before I can start feeling patriotic.

Until recently I thought a ruck was what the players wiped their feet on.

- The Press

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