QUEBEC CITY — The controversial spoken-word marathon on Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham that came to a close Sunday afternoon was a resounding success, say event organizers.
A peaceful crowd, a few thousand strong, attended the 24-hour performance that included the reading of the Front de liberation du Quebec manifesto by actor Luck Mervil.
The Moulin a paroles — or ‘chatterbox’ in English — was held to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the battle of The Plains of Abraham.
It went off without a hitch despite the brouhaha caused by the inclusion of the lengthy screed against the ills of capitalism, sprinkled with several denunciations of English dominance over Francophone Quebecers, which was written by the FLQ in 1970 and read over the airwaves of the CBC French-language service as a condition for the release of kidnapped British trade official James Cross.
Promoters said a decision by the governing provincial Liberals to boycott the event only contributed to its success.
“We were saying as a joke that this whole uproar was a million-dollar communications plan,” said event organizer Sebatien Picard.
“I also think people found it extraordinary that we didn’t back down for such an absurd affair.”
Earlier this month, the provincial minister responsible for Quebec’s capital region, Sam Hamad, accused them of being apologists for terrorism by including reading the FLQ manifesto in their performance.
But the manifesto — one of 140 texts included in the spoken-word show — was read twice, on Saturday and Sunday, by Mervil, and greeted only with applause.
“You may be in total disagreement with what the document eventually led to but there are things in there that still ring true,” he said after his performance.
“These people were saying: we’re working but we don’t have enough to feed or clothe ourselves. This is a discourse that resonates even today.”
To ensure context and balance, organizers followed Mervil’s performance with a reading of desperate letter to ex-Premier Robert Bourassa from kidnapped Liberal politician Pierre Laporte, later slain by the FLQ.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe was warmly received for his reading of a speech by Bourassa, originally delivered moments after the Meech Lake Accord collapsed in 1990 at a time of high nationalist fervour in the province.
Duceppe was voted in around the same time, as the first elected Bloc MP.
In a news conference following the event, the sovereigntist leader was highly critical of Hamad’s comments on the Moulin a paroles.
“He wanted to gain political points,” Duceppe said.
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois also took part, reading a poem by sovereigntist writer and feminist Helene Pedneault.
Marois also condemned the Liberal’s decision to boycott the event, calling it “an insult to freedom of speech.”
Nonetheless, she had scarce appreciation for the applause that followed the performance of the contentious text.
“It’s part of our history,” she said. “But personally, I wouldn’t have applauded.”