The night is cold, this evening of October 29, 2012. The water temperature is 9 degrees when the new members of the school of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan (Morbihan) undertake to swim across, on about fifty meters, a pond called “Vieux Bazar Beach”. Supervised by second year students, these newcomers from the “Castelnau” promotion take part in a night-time “bahutage” workshop, that is to say the transmission of the traditions of the Special Military School, which trains officers of the ‘Land Force.
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The theme is “Saint-Cyr in the Second World War”, more precisely the “Landing of Provence” in 1944. Music from films and excerpts from The Valkyrie de Wagner accompany the exercise. After reading stories about the “funny war” and Saint-Cyr’s role in the resistance, a group of students get into the water, with helmets, fatigues and rangers. Then, despite the difficulties experienced by the first, a second group begins to cross the pond, whose depth goes up to 2.70 meters.
24-year-old Second Lieutenant Jallal Hami is missing from the count at the end of the session. The body of this brilliant student, ranked fifth in the entrance examination and holder of a master’s degree from Sciences-Po, a great athlete but not a good swimmer, is found near the bank.
Eight years after his death, two commanding officers and five officer cadets from Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan at the time of the facts are being prosecuted for manslaughter, from Monday 23 November, before the Rennes criminal court, competent in military matters.
“A play on the side”
According to the investigators, the students interviewed testified to the absence of constraint and the optional nature of the exercise. The organizers removed from the ranks the foreign officer cadets, the “Crocodiles », As well as the girls and the unfit, the “Porcelains”. But a form of chaos and panic seems to have characterized the ordeal. In excess, probably tired and deprived of sleep by nocturnal sessions spanning five weeks, until the handing over of the sabers and cassowaries, the students clung to each other.
“That evening, we witnessed a gradual drift in the organization of this activity, from a ford crossing to a so-called utilitarian swimming session, at commando level”, underlines Me Jean-Guillaume Le Mintier, lawyer for the Jallal Hami family. “It looks like a hazing, where we test the physical and psychological limits of the recruits”, he adds, hazing being an offense punishable by law since 1998.
“We are not at all in the presence of a hazing. There is no humiliating aspect, no gratuity, considers on the contrary Me Thierry Fillion, lawyer for the only defendant who does not dispute his criminal responsibility. We are in a form of commemoration, with a play aspect, linked to physical activity. ” Hazing or not, the trial will have to decide this question.
An in-depth reform
Former officer who headed the history and geography department of the military schools of Saint-Cyr, Michaël Bourlet recalls the ancient character of these initiation rites. “All the young Saint-Cyrians were integrated by a bahutage, which could have been extremely violent until the aftermath of the Second World War. This ceremony aims to teach young people to become officers. It is a rite of transmission of values, based on history. And despite its hardness, the bond uniting the young to his elder can last a lifetime. “
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Since the evening of Jallal Hami’s death, when no member of the school command was present, the transmission of traditions has been fundamentally reformed. “A general directive is published each year, in July, strictly defining the general framework of activities for the transmission of traditions”, underline the schools of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, which have set up “A check before and during the activity”.
The student office now proposes activity projects to the management, who chooses them and plans them throughout the year. And school staff systematically supervise the sessions. “It’s about giving students the human depth that will allow them, underline the schools of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, to command men. “
Practices with bizarre names
Le “bahutage”. In the language of the Saint-Cyrians, it is the rite of transmission of traditions between the old and the new cadets. In addition to the military training and instruction provided by officers and teachers, the second year students impart to those who arrive a sense of solidarity, esprit de corps and the cult of remembrance.
The “bazaars”. This is the name given to these new recruits.
The square “. This is the student office, in which the “Father system” is the equivalent of the president of the promotion. A “Fine Council” of fifteen representatives
students support him.