Algeria: the Assembly sanctuarises in memory the “crimes of colonialism”

In the boiling atmosphere that continues to accompany the backdrop raised by the conditions of the death of George Floyd, this African-American killed in Minneapolis at the end of May by a white police officer, the memory of acts linked to racism and colonialism awoke a little everywhere in the world and especially in the ex-colonies or possessions with various statutes of the European empires of the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth century. Thus, Algeria decided to establish a day of memory, May 8, in memory of the massacres of 1945 committed by the French forces in Constantine. This was done through a law adopted unanimously last Tuesday during a plenary session of the People’s National Assembly (APN), the lower house of Parliament. A moment that the deputies described as “historic”. During the presentation of the bill, the Minister of Mujahideen (Veterans Affairs), Tayeb Zitouni, had castigated “the French colonizer who did not hesitate to suppress the demonstrators through a ferocious campaign that claimed tens of thousands of victims “

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What is commemorated

On May 8, 1945, while France was celebrating the victory of democracies over Nazism, independence demonstrations took place in Sétif, Guelma and Kherrata, three cities in eastern Algeria where nationalists paraded, Algerian flags in hand. They were brutally repressed by the French colonial forces, causing thousands of deaths. Algerians speak of 45,000 victims. The French from 1,500 to 20,000 dead, including 103 Europeans. “May 8 is a symbolic date. The symbol of the rupture, of the final break between colonial France and colonized Algeria “, underlined Fouad Soufi, archivist and historian, researcher at the Center for Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology of Oran (north-west), cited by AFP. In addition, a deputy of the National Liberation Front (FLN), majority in Parliament and party of the ousted ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, estimated that “France must recognize its crimes in Algeria during the colonial period and ask for forgiveness”.

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Criminalization of colonialist acts

Going further, the AFN’s legal committee proposes to include an article on “the criminalization of the acts perpetrated by French colonialism iniquitous on May 8, 1945 against the Algerian people”. This recommendation will be submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had decided to establish this “national day of memory” on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the massacres in Setif. He called the massacres of 1945 “crimes committed against humanity and against civilizational values, because they were based on ethnic cleansing”. The Algerian president also denounced “the maneuvers of the racist currents and lobbies on the other side of the Mediterranean”.

In February 2017, while he was a presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to Algiers, described the colonization of Algeria as “a crime against humanity”, as “real barbarism”, which had earned him strong criticism of right-wing politicians in France. Assuring that Algeria “has nothing against the French people, among whom it has friends who participated in its war of liberation”, the Mujahideen minister estimated that “commercial, industrial and cultural relations between the two countries do not could weigh before the national memory ”.

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A sensitive file

As the recent diplomatic quarrel between Algiers and Paris has further demonstrated, regarding the broadcasting of a French documentary on anti-regime youth, bilateral relations remain volatile. Even if Paris strives not to add fuel to the fire while the anti-French discourse remains a powerful factor of legitimization in the eyes of the Algerian authorities. France has thus refrained from all criticism after a series of arrests of militants of the “hirak”, the popular movement which demands the departure of the whole ruling class, accused of having betrayed the ideals of the Algerian revolution. These recurring tensions are fueled by the perception in Algiers that France is not doing enough to settle its colonial past.

Algerian authorities want to put back on the table the file of “disappeared” during the war of independence (1954-1962) more than 2,200 according to Algiers and that of the French nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara which “have done and continue to do victims “. The fact remains that “the writing of the history of the Algerian revolution is up to the present day the exclusive domain of the Algerian state”, recalls Pierre Vermeren, professor of contemporary history at the Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne university , specialist of North Africa, in his bookThe Clash of Decolonizations (2015).

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