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Versailles, the French monument where citizens have been deprived of their freedom of speech

Today, no one is allowed to give explanations within the Palace of Versailles, as a corporation of “guides” have finally managed to get a grasp on the French monument, in a rather hardcore way.

Versailles… A name that conveys a flavor of opulence and style. But more than anything, it has a flavor of freedom and revolt. It’s in Versailles that the French Revolution started. It’s in Versailles that the priviledges by birth were abolished. It’s in Versailles that the United States of America were born. Versailles, for French people, and for world citizens, is a stepping stone, a huge legacy and a symbol of the world’s fight against tyranny.

Yet lately, Versailles has developped a rancid stench of totalitarism. Here’s the story: Paris hosts every year over 30 millions foreign visitors, all of them bringing money to the city, and a lot of them visiting Versailles. As often in France, when there is a profitable sector, a typically French Corporatism arises. In the case of tourism, in order to keep all this fresh foreign money for a smaller group of people, the State (and it is not very clear who exactly within the State) came up with a professional card needed to be able to give tours. For a long time, there was just a test to take, and anyone could apply to pass the test. But in a country where one person out of of four is well-educated and unemployed, there was too big a risk of an overflow of guides. That would have been a threat to the little élite who considered guiding their personal hunting grounds.  So now they made it a “licence professionnelle” which means it’s equal to 3 years of college. But even if you have an MBA, you’d still have to go back to school. Even if you have presented complex theories to international highflyers in cutting edge companies, you’d still have to go back to school. Which is something I won’t do.

The problem is, there is no way to check what is a good guide and what is not. There are as many tours as there are guides, and not only nobody really gives a flying rat about the old-fashioned French education system in that very matter, but the very shortage of guide created by the implementation of this professional card has been boosting the hiring of guides without the card. It’s philosophically and economically a failure. And therefore tour operators and visitors in Versailles probably hired a lot of guides, with and without the card.

That’s probably why the Versailles Authorities reacted. And we went back to the fascist 30s… The Versailles authorities are very proud of their “contrôle mobile”, a little private brigade they created. What is it? It’s pretty much weird clerks undercover who discretely follow you in the palace, stick by you and listen to what you say like KGB spies. I cannot tell you how I feel about that, how shocked I am that such a horrible position could have been developped in France in the 21st century. Needless to say, foreign visitors, who precisely come to Versailles to look for the 18th century esprit des lumières and fight for freedom, are also at a shock.

I do tour Versailles, and I am an amazing guide of that national monument. I sometimes take friends there, sometimes I take clients. There is no other guide that do what I do there.  Everybody knows I’m not “allowed to” do so on the paper, since I don’t have the card, but I always let people know, it’s written on my website, and  it was usually fine, until now. Now, of course, I can’t talk. Nobody can. An accountant with a passion about Louis the 14th, a teenage kid who presented a paper in school about the French Revolution and want to share it with its parents, a grandfather that want to talk about the Treaty of Versailles in the hall of Mirrors, every one is now forced to silence. Only dull guides, with the official card of the Police Prefecture, are allowed to take the floor.

This is not acceptable. Versailles does not belong to the Versailles Authorities. The Versailles Authorities only have custody, but Versailles, and all the other national monuments of France, made by our forefathers, belong to the Nation, and we, the people, are the nation. The Versailles Authorities are not allowed to silence anyone in the Versailles Palace premices, as freedom of speech is a garantee of several articles in the French constitution and the Human Rights Declaration. And we can now see what happens if we let this carry on: we get a secret police to spy on us.

As a French man, I claim that anyone could, and should, speak, declare and comment in National Museums. I have a civil right, as a French person, to guide who I want where I want in France, as long as it is open to the general public. And even more so in a French national monument. And I even have a right, as a French man, as a writer, as an Historian, as an artist, to say whatever I please in order to fulfil the expectations of the people that asked me to guide them. And I’m perfectly fine with the creation of a special “guiding” label, with a 3 year college diploma, that people can seek if they feel it brings more quality to their tours (or can avoid if they do not want to be overflowed by dates and name dropping). But no one is allowed to silence a citizen in a French national monument.

Versailles is the first place I know of that went so far in controlling tourism. But it is now that everybody must react, because if we let this happen, there is no limits. The “official” guides make it very clear that in the long run, for them, only “official” guides should have the legal rights to give tours. Anywhere. Today Versailles. Tomorrow the Louvre. Later the Churches and the Pere lachaise. And finally the streets of Paris. This must stop now, or it is a huge part of our personal freedom, as French people, as Parisians, as creative people, as friendly people, that will be taken away from us.

Totalitarism also comes with anonymous reporting. And I have to state, I am ABSOLUTELY ASHAMED by the behavior of “official” guides who, while they repeat with a monotonous voice their boring comments to a flock of foreigners with headphones, do assault you because you’re not wearing your “official” badge, or go directly to the closest keeper to do their little citizen duty and rat on you. Of course it’s not as good as in the 40s when you could easily get a big apartment for free like that, but the bottom line is about believing that they will get more clients by kicking competition out. The only thing missing so far to get the whole totalitarism feel is violence, but maybe the Versailles Authorities will soon create a “special police” to beat us up in a 17th century secret corridor in the Palace.

In a nutshell, Versailles is being confiscated. A small group of individuals are slowly, but surely, succeeding in seizing most of France’s historical treasures for their own profit. It is in no way the sign of a better quality guiding, as education cannot make anyone a good guide. But it sure is depriving French people, and world citizens, to enjoy what belongs to them: the Historical and Artistic monuments of the Nation.

After contemplating to actually get the card (and I have 3000€ almost stolen from me what what now is a racket by the French system of education), I know I do not want this card. Not only because it’s not normal -as I said, I am very attached to my freedom of speech- but also because in Versailles, it’s not handy. If you have to take a few friends to Versailles, you have to book at least 2/3 weeks in advance for a “right to talk”, and you get assigned a 10 minute spot to show up. That’s not how I work. So I will fight back.

I will not let this happen. Because I believe in my rights, because I believe that it’s unfair, it’s useless and counter-productive, and because it stands between me and my own pursuit of happiness. I love touring Versailles, people love it when I do, and I don’t want to get some burocratic system between me and my visitors and the visit of the Palace. But most of it, because I know if we don’t react now, tomorrow they won’t let us tour people in Montmartre and in le Marais. Tomorrow they will silence us in the streets. It is already in their agenda.

If you do visit a French national Monument, and especially Versailles, do not hesitate, as a sign of resistance, to comment. And if anyone says something to you, do not hesitate to mention your natural right to speak whenever you want, wherever you want.

In the meantime, I am still looking for the right thing to do. But I won’t let it happen. We didn’t behead the King to let a public clerk silence us in the Hall of Mirrors.