French move to protect heritage from corruption Private effort will protect the essence of France

February 25, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- The French government, on a crusade to safeguard the country's culture from marauding forces of commercialism, has risen yet again to defend the national patrimony, setting up a foundation to involve citizens directly in trying to protect some of the things that make France French.

Legislation to create the foundation first was introduced several years ago, as reports spread that Italian and Russian organized crime barons were buying up villas and other handsome properties in southern France.

The plans were approved last week by the Cabinet and are expected to be passed by the Parliament this spring, speeded by the news that a Japanese real estate magnate had bought nine castles in northern France, stripped some of their furnishings and, claiming bankruptcy, allowed all of them to decay.

The Culture Ministry says the aim of the new Heritage Foundation, which would begin its work next year, is to protect or manage those parts of the national patrimony that do not already have government protection -- not the great cathedrals, palaces and mansions, but France's many chapels, mills, markets, country inns and landscapes.

The ministry calculates that there may be 400,000 such spots.

The novelty is that the new body is to be private, a major turnabout in a country where responsibility for the national heritage has long been left to the state or to private owners such as the church, the landed gentry and the remains of the old aristocracy.

Already, the official guardians of French culture have tried to stop the onslaught of English language by barring the use of foreign expressions in advertising and official documents and by requiring French texts on product labels and instructions.

On Jan. 1, quotas went into effect that oblige radio stations to broadcast at least 40 percent French music.

Last week, government regulators fined the leading private television station nearly $9 million for not fulfilling its quota for local films. Under the quota, 60 percent of the films it broadcasts must be European-made, and 40 percent of those must be French.

France has some 6,000 local associations dedicated to protecting historic sites. Many are small and complain that they lack the legal power or money to succeed.

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