Ladies and gentlemen, In a crucial period for the history of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, Jean-Philippe Lecat played a key role. Today, in a way, you have helped to redress an injustice in memory, and I would like to warmly commend the work of the Department’s History Committee, Jean-Pierre Bady, who brought us together to shed light on the memory of Jean-Philippe Lecat and Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent, who will have launched this research on the Lecat ministry as soon as he arrives, with a series of interviews with the main interested party that only his disappearance came to interrupt.
For if there is indeed a «great unknown» of this period, it is him. The 1981 presidential campaign and the free radio debate will soon have buried the action taken by an exceptional minister, who did so much in the midst of a period of budgetary restraint, yet in the government of Raymond Barre.
Is it relevant, historically, to talk about “milestone years”? Sometimes it’s early days to see milestones everywhere. It’s probably a term to be used sparingly. However, in the case of Lecat, the term is particularly well indicated. His action was at the heart of this great transition that would transform the rue de Valois of the Malraux years into this modern machine that we know today.
Lecat years are especially remembered as a “heritage” ministry. As direct witnesses of its action, you have shown what this characterization contains of truth, its limits too, as the initiatives it has accompanied go beyond this single framework. I am thinking of the extension of the 1% to all public buildings; of its action for our cultural institutions, notably the Musée d'Orsay, or the Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme. I am also thinking of the International Puppetry Institute in Charleville-Mézières, its perspectives on cultural action in rural areas, its attention to archives... The list is long, and I’m not going to go over the topics you’ve already covered, with all the experience and expertise you’ve been willing to bring to this meeting. I will just briefly go back to two of them: heritage and cultural industries.
It was with Jean-Philippe Lecat that the word “heritage” came out of the woodwork, so to speak. Not only because he had a deep attachment to his Burgundian heritage and the lands of the Golden Fleece, but because he had the intuition to deepen the notion, to broaden it, to legitimize it, to the point that it seems difficult to conceive today, in the ministry, to work without her.
With the creation of the Heritage Directorate, Jean-Philippe Lecat has laid the foundations for a new approach including historical monuments, the general inventory, photographic heritage, ethnological heritage, by also associating the excavation service which will be deeply modernized, becoming the service of archaeology. By creating the Council and the mission of the ethnological heritage, it will have developed a deep awareness of cultural professionals and the public for the safeguarding of a heritage until then not visible, at the service of which it sets up a “ethnography of urgency”, for a memory difficult to grasp, made up of oral practices and traditions. French society then saw the end of the rural exodus; it was the time of Michel de Certeau’s L'invention du quotidien et des «arts de faire», also of Les mots, la mort, les sorts. Witchcraft in the Bocage, by Jeanne Favret-Saada. Today, the legitimate, familiar and well-established notion of intangible heritage probably owes it much.
The Minister of the Year of Heritage, in 1980, a one-of-a-kind operation, more than earned, a few years later, the Grand Prix du Patrimoine that was awarded to him. He will have described precisely this design change: The future historians of the period we are living in will undoubtedly show that in recent years we have experienced a manner of mental revolution revealed in the open: the safeguarding and enhancement of cultural heritage, concerns that were not untilthere shared that in a confused and passive way by the vast majority of the French, are now part of this set of attitudes, requirements and wishes that characterize a collective mentality and serve as a binding reference to the action of rulers.”
We were talking about a turning point: with Jean-Philippe Lecat, the need for a reorganization of the department was already in the air. He was the one who completed the development of the RDCA network, and who was instrumental in establishing, in the face of multiple jurisdictional and service dispersions, what he called a “simple and clear dashboard”. The historian was also a first-rate manager.
But it’s also, for me, obviously, the first to have anticipated the development of the links between Culture and Communication – not only because he was the first to be in charge of both portfolios at the same time, but also because it will have fully grasped the new duty of exemplarity that the public service of the audiovisual sector would assume in terms of creation and diversity: I am thinking of the creation of an audiovisual creation fund, and its support for cultural programs on television. Véronique Cayla, who was his film advisor, and whose presence I welcome today, as well as Bertrand Eveno of course, were at the forefront of this major evolution of our audiovisual landscape.
Jean-Philippe Lecat is also the one who legitimized the notion of cultural industry, at a time when it was not yet obvious, by masterfully anticipating the impact of what he called “communication machines”. "Machines to communicate, but to communicate what?" he asked European ministers of culture in Athens. He was one of the first to see in these machines to communicate cultural machines, and totally new tools for the democratization of culture. He saw in it the «possible birth of a civilization», thus approaching a field that was, ten years before, largely unknown to André Malraux. “We know for sure that something is going to happen, but we still don’t know for sure”, because today we are, with the revolution in new technologies, the development of the Internet, connected TV, online music, e-books. We owe it to him to have felt what this revolution, then still to come, could bring us in terms of the diversity of creation, and to demand from us, in terms of vigilance in the face of the effects of uniformity.
Jean-Philippe Lecat has therefore prepared a lot of ground - including flagship projects that will materialize during the following period, as for the Cité de la Musique in La Villette. He would have laid the foundations for a broadening of the department’s powers and scope, which would justify the doubling of its budget in the following years, with Jack Lang.
But it is also the memory of a man we are celebrating today. And especially that of a minister who has been deeply attentive to artists. “Talking with creators is my main means of working”: this sentence is a great source of inspiration for me, for any minister of culture. He is also the one who reminds us of the modesty and foresight that "the role of a minister of culture is certainly to try to understand what is going on around him, but above all not to prevent initiatives."
As President Giscard d'Estaing pointed out, he was a person of great culture and, after his ministry, he also remained heavily involved in culture on a voluntary basis, which is rare enough to point out. I know the very positive image he left as president of the Académie de France in Rome at the end of the 1990s - for having had the honour of leading this institution a few years later.
I want to thank you all very warmly for joining me in this tribute. It makes us take into account the interest of working on this living memory that represents the history of this ministry: a memory that helps to inform its action, highlighting the intuitions and the commitment of the men and women who carried it. The figure of Jean-Philippe Lecat reminds us of the value of these precious goods that are, for any minister of Culture and Communication, the capacity for anticipation and the desire for openness.