Forgive France, but do not forget the Rainbow Warrior


On Monday the Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls visited New Zealand. He was here to talk about the war against Islamic State. Being just the second visit by a French leader in 25 years, some have suggested there is work to be done on New Zealand-French relations. And perhaps, given the history between France and New Zealand, there is.

For 30 years the relationship between New Zealand and France has been dominated by two things: rugby and the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

New Zealanders were truly horrified that such an event had happened. They were furious that it was committed by a Government New Zealanders thought was friendly. And they were determined not to be cowed. That and the quick, solid detective work done by the Police that ensured that two agents would get arrested told France that it had made a huge mistake. But it would worsen further before things began to improve as France demanded the release of the agents arrested and imprisoned, angering the New Zealand Government and New Zealanders further.

For six years, only ending in 1991, when the then Prime Minister of France, Michel Rocard apologized, there was an icy freeze in New Zealand/French relations.

By 1995 with nearly a decade gone and an apology having been made by Mr Rocard, things might have been starting to improve until Jacques Chirac won the election and promised a resumption in nuclear testing that year. When France commenced nuclear testing in September of that year riots broke out at Papeete. The New Zealand Government – notable because it was a National Government – of the day recalled our ambassador to France and ships went to Mururoa to stage a protest at sea.

Over time the anger subsided and New Zealanders continued their fascination with French cuisine. More and more people were content to leave any thrashing of France to the All Blacks. I cannot draw any links between Franco-Kiwi relations and the record of tests between New Zealand and France on the rugby pitch over that time, except to say both sides definitely had their moments at the Rugby World Cup:

  • 1987 Rugby World Cup Final – New Zealand 29; France 9
  • 1999 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final – France 43; New Zealand 31
  • 2007 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final – France 20; New Zealand 18
  • 2011 Rugby World Cup Final – New Zealand 8; France 7

Today there is a common acceptance of what happened. For the most part, France did in the end apologize and a sorry chapter has closed. As long as France does not resume nuclear testing in the Pacific, the subject for most is well and truly closed. Those who have not should now forgive France.

But not forget.

One thought on “Forgive France, but do not forget the Rainbow Warrior

  1. We visited France in 1996, and all we had to do to get profuse apologies and to be well looked after, was to mention ‘Rainbow Warrier’ or Novelle Zealande. Methinks that the ordinary French citizen was highly embarrased at their Government’s actions also.

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