Why I belonged to the Croatian Fraternal Union

Why the state of emergency in France allows the government to dissolve associations.

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I am a joiner. Give me a chance to be part of a community, and I’ll jump on it. At various points in my life, I have belonged to (or still belong to) the Colorado Association of Black Professional Engineers and Scientists, the Jewish War Veterans, the Croatian Fraternal Union, Veterans for Kerry, the United States Judo Federation, Veterans for Obama, United States Judo Inc., Veterans for Hillary, the Colorado Judo League—you get the picture.

You may have noticed the odd fact that the state of emergency in France gives the police broad latitude to “dissolve associations.” What’s that all about? In France, you have (at least in theory) one identity: you are French. When there is a census in France, it is forbidden to ask what your ethnicity is, or what your religion is. (If you’re reading this, and you’re French: our government absolutely asks those questions, and more, in America. You’re not required to answer, but the government does ask.) Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow explain the situation nicely in their book Sixty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. Since the Revolution, everyone has been part of the Republic—no one is excluded. Since your primary identity is as a citizen of the Republic, why would you need or want any other identity? Belonging to anything else is thus viewed with a non-zero, if small, amount of suspicion. “Associations” have to be approved by the government. According to the French Wikipedia page on the 1901 law regarding associations, …parmi les premières mesures de l’Assemblée nationale figurent la dissolution de toutes les communautés religieuses, d’habitants, de métiers, collèges, hôpitaux, confréries, congrégations, qui étaient innombrables, ainsi que l’interdiction par la loi Le Chapelier de reformer des associations d’ouvriers ou d’habitants pour défendre leurs intérêts. “Among the first measures of the National Assembly figured the dissolution of all “communities” [“community” was the term for a non-profit association of any sort under the legal system of the Ancien Régime] that were religious, of inhabitants of any areas, of professions, schools, hospitals, guilds, parishes—which were countless—as well as the interdiction by the Le Chapelier law against reconvening associations of workers or of inhabitants of an area in order to defend their interests.” The law of 1901 clarified a number of aspects of the regulation of associations, along with renaming them associations in place of the earlier term communauté, and gave the regulations their current form. Today there are about 1.3 million associations in France, with about 11 million members. (I don’t think that this includes union members, although it’s not clear from the Wikipedia article. My favorite is an association for the promotion of the past subjunctive and the passé simple tense—now, unfortunately, defunct.)  You can search a list of French associations for ones that interest you here.

So, that’s what’s up with the odd fact of the state of emergency giving the police the power to dissolve associations. Here is some vocabulary from the Wikipedia article on the law of 1901. Definitions from WordReference.com.

  • la confrérie: brotherhood, fellowship; friary; association, society; trade guild; fraternity.
  • la société: most commonly, this refers to a business or a firm.

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