50 years after Independence, Difficult Relations Between France and Algeria

President François Hollande. Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

President François Hollande.
Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

After nearly a century and a half of colonialism and a brutal war, Algeria became officially independent on July 5, 1962. Fifty years later, Algiers commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of independence. Diplomats from major world powers: United States, China, Russia, India and others were present to celebrate the birth of the Algerian State. One major player, France, as she was not invited to the festivities.

Attempt to correct this absence, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will visit Algeria on July 15th and 16th. Francis Holland is considering a visit before the end of the year as implied by his message to the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, “We will soon have the opportunity to address these subject in real voices. “

In 2009, France’s ambassador to Algeria tried to organize events for 50th anniversary, between March 19th, the date of the symbolic Evian Accords, which put an end to the war in Algeria, and July 5, Independence Day. He quickly abandoned the initiative because it was clear that the scars between the metropolis and its former colony are not yet healed.

A past that has proven to be difficult to forget stresses political and economic relations and constrains the commercial development of the Mediterranean. In 2003, Presidents Jacques Chirac and Bouteflika signed a declaration for “a special partnership” between the two countries. However the initial hopes were quickly just that, false hope.

The arrival of Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace may be a new beginning in relations between France and Algeria which still suffers from the weight of history. The new French President is familiar with Algeria. He completed an internship at the Embassy of France in Algeria in 1978 and went there twice as First Secretary of the Parti Socialist (PS) in 2006 and as a candidate in the PS Primary in 2010.

In an article published in the Algerian daily newspaper, El Watan, during the presidential campaign, Francois Hollande commented, “Today, between repentance never made and an oversight necessarily guilty, there is a place for a lucid, responsible glance for our colonial past and a confidence boost to the future. ” It was an appeasement well received, which must now be translated into action.

For many Algerians, better relations with Paris should take the form of a French apology. Apologies for the years of colonization and the war of 1954-1962, which left, according to the Algerian state record, 1.5 million dead. When former President Nicolas Sarkozy recognized that “the colonial system is inherently unfair” in 2007, the recognition of war crimes perpetrated by the French army or the repentance of Paris did not seem relevant.

Worse, the memory of the project in 2005 to recognized “the positive role of colonization” had resurfaced and the rhetoric offended Algiers. One example was the project to bring the ashes of General Bigeard, a military General suspected of having committed torture during the war, to Invalide. Additionally, the statement by former defense minister, Gerard Longuet, who on Jan. 29, described  “a great adventure” of French presence in Algeria did not help the situation in Algiers.

Recently on the website Mediapart, historian Benjamin Stora stressed that before the apology, France should officially recognize the crimes committed against the Algerian people. “People do not realize how it is only at the step of knowledge of the facts,” he stated. In this opinion, the new French President should be “ready to do something.”

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  1. [...] civil war. Today the relations between France and Algeria are still very fragile and difficult as Simon Buisson explained in his article Sunday. Yet, from where do these difficulties stem? Without an explanation about the common past of France [...]

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