Algeria and France: Memories of War

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French President Francois Hollande (C) welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 27 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Philippe Wojazer)

By: Mourad Traboulsi

Published Friday, June 29, 2012

Hopes for a resolution of the long-standing row between Algeria and France over an apology for French colonial crimes have been raised by the election of François Hollande.

A flurry of recent statements indicates that fresh impetus is being given to efforts to resolve the so-called “war of memory” between Algeria and France. The Algerian side is clearly eager to see progress on this front, encouraged by the rise to power of the Left in France.

Earlier this week, Mohammed Charif Abbas, Algeria’s minister for veterans of the 1954-62 war of liberation from France said that he was encouraged by remarks made by new French President François Hollande during his election campaign. Hollande had indicated in his campaign that he would formally atone for France’s colonial-era crimes in Algeria.

Abbas said the country was “waiting for these promises to be translated into practice.”

This followed encouraging remarks made by France’s new ambassador to Algiers, Andre Parant, after he presented his credentials to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Describing the relationship between the two countries as “unlike any other,” he said the time had come to give it “a new impulse, a new ambition” and imbue it with “the warmth it requires.”

In recent months Algerian officials have repeatedly reiterated long-standing demands for a formal apology for France’s past wrongs – including the nuclear tests it carried out in the Sahara Desert in the 1960s. Such calls have been on the increase since Hollande’s election.

His predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had adamantly refused to make any apology, remarking that children and grandchildren could not be made to atone for the actions of their parents and grandparents.

But while Hollande does not share that view, neither has he shown himself to be clearly willing to comply with the Algerian demand. Sources familiar with the issue say he acknowledges the need to condemn colonial era misdeeds, but is held back from making an official act of contrition by considerations of France’s prestige. He seems to be seeking a compromise both sides can accept.

This was apparent in remarks Hollande made in an interview with Algerian newspaper El-Watan in March. He suggested that “between an apology, which was never made, and forgetting, which is certainly to be condemned, there is scope for taking a frank and responsible view of our colonial past that also has a positive dimension for the future.”

But what this actually entails has yet to be explained, other than in vague statements like those made by the new French ambassador.

While official positions over the “war of memory” have long been entrenched in both countries, there is no public consensus on the issue in either.

Many French intellectuals and public figures, particularly the Left, have no qualms about offering the Algerians an apology for France’s ruinous 132-year occupation of their country which killed, displaced and impoverished millions of people.

On the other side, some Algerians see no point in demanding an apology for a bloody conflict which ended in victory for the Algerian revolutionaries, and negotiations that established the basis of future relations between two independent countries.

Indeed, official demands for an apology have become a subject of ridicule among young Algerians on social networking sites. Many charge that the politicians who make the most noise about the issue do so to cover up their own cosy relations with the former colonial power.

One recent post remarked that the only Algerians interested in an apology from France – which would have no practical impact in any case – are those who get treated in French hospitals, do their shopping in France, send their children to school there, and hoard their money in French banks. They can then cross France off the list of colonial countries, change the history the books, and burn those that cast it in a bad light.

Such views aside, the intransigence maintained by both sides in the row looks to have been breached by the ascendancy of the Socialists in France. A solution could lie in defining the “scope” referred to by Hollande.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Hollande? Is that the guy talking to Queen Angela the First? Definitely, she's all over the place.

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