100 years on, France remembers murdered political hero Jaures

French President Francois Hollande drinks a cup of coffee by a portrait of Jean Jaures on July 31, 2014, inside the Cafe du Croissant after taking part to a commemoration ceremony at the place where French socialist leader and pacifist Jean Jaures wa
French President Francois Hollande drinks a cup of coffee by a portrait of Jean Jaures on July 31, 2014, inside the Cafe du Croissant after taking part to a commemoration ceremony at the place where French socialist leader and pacifist Jean Jaures was shot to death in 1914. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - France on Thursday paid tribute to socialist Jean Jaures, one of its greatest political heroes, a century after he was assassinated on the eve of World War I which he had tirelessly fought to prevent.

Jaures is a major historical figure in France and both the French left and right now seek to lay claim to his legacy - much to the irritation of the country's far left.

The socialist leader and founder of France's L'Humanite newspaper was shot dead in a Paris cafe on July 31, 1914, by a young French nationalist.

Raoul Villain, 29, had opposed Jaures' pacifism, favouring instead a new war with Germany to recover both French pride and territories lost in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1.

French President Francois Hollande and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday led the 100th anniversary commemoration by laying wreaths outside the Cafe du Croissant in central Paris.

Asked what message could be taken from Jaures' life, Mr Hollande said: "Peace, unity and the coming together of the republic." The communist newspaper Jaures founded reprinted its original front page on Thursday reporting his death.

Under the headline "Jaures assassinated", the newspaper reported that at the time of his murder Jaures had been having talks about "the grave events driving Europe to the brink of an unprecedented catastrophe".

Today, French parties of all political stripes are keen to associate themselves with Jaures.

"Jaures, the man of socialism, is today all of France's, we are fighting over him...," Mr Hollande said earlier this year, in an acknowledgement of his enduring importance.

In 2007, conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy repeatedly cited Jaures during his successful presidential campaign.

The far right too have sought to associate themselves with him.

Jaures, who was born in 1859, became a socialist in the late 1880s and later took up the cause of a group of striking miners in Carmaux in southern France.

The year before the outbreak of World War I he addressed 100,000 people at a rally in Paris in an attempt to mobilise workers against a conflict that was looking increasingly likely.

He later used his contacts with German socialists to try to organise an international general strike in protest.

Mr Gilles Candar, president of France's Society for Jaures Studies, said Jaures had become a figure who represented something different to everyone.

"Not everyone is referring to the same Jaures," he said.

For some, he was a revolutionary while to others he was a republican or a patriot, he said.

Communist party leader Pierre Laurent, meanwhile, described Jaures as an "indefatigable defender of peace and progress who was a revolutionary in his time".

Writing in an article in L'Humanite, he expressed his irritation with politicians who today sought to appropriate him for their own political reasons.

"Shut up and let Jaures speak!" he wrote, addressing all those who sought to "enlist" or even "usurp" his legacy.

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