Memory and Forgetting on the National Periphery: Marseilles and the Regicide of 1934

Matthew Graves


Abstract

The assassination of the King of Yugoslavia, Alexander Ist by Croatian terrorists during a state visit to Marseilles on 9 October 1934 is commemorated by a modest plaque on the Canebière and a little known monument outside the Préfecture. Although the histories of the period cite the event in passing, it is treated as a footnote in the political history of France and has been all but erased from the memory of the city. While there are good reasons for forgetting the episode – regicide does no favours for the reputation of a host nation or city and the French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou was accidentally shot by the French police – the double killing had multiple ramifications for France's interior and foreign affairs during the rise of fascism in Europe. It advanced the career of future Vichy Prime Minister Pierre Laval, who replaced Barthou as Foreign Minister, while French efforts to contain the threat of German expansionism by forging alliances with the Central European powers died with Barthou; King Alexander Ist's successor moved Yugoslavia into the camp of the Axis powers. Geopolitically, the system of collective security forged at Versailles collapsed in the wake the assassination. The incident in Marseilles highlights political tensions in France in the troubled inter-war years leading up to the emergence of the Front Populaire. It reveals the memorial agencies of core and periphery engaged in a struggle over the rights to remembrance. Above all, it poses the problem of the preservation of peripheral and traumatic episodes in collective memory and suggests that political violence constitutes a social periphery of its own, contributing to Marseille's "mauvaise réputation" as the French capital's negative, meridional 'other'.

Keywords

Memory Studies; Forgotten Histories; Public Commemoration; Politics of Remembrance; Adverse Memory; Core-Periphery Relations

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