Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Evian Accords to end the eight-year war of Independence that the Algerians started in November 1954 to oust the French after over 100 years of French colonial occupation of Algeria. The Evian accords paved the way for a referendum on Algeria’s independence, which was held in July 1962 and in which the Algerian people were asked to vote on whether Algeria should become an independent state cooperating with France.
A bilateral ceasefire was declared to stop the bloodshed; however, a terrorist organization named OAS , which was created with the aim to prevent Algeria’s independence, waged blind terrorist attacks between March and July of 1962 against civilian Algerians and even against French citizens on French territory and in Algeria. Although the independence became inevitable some time before the Evian treaty, this organization felt a lot of bitterness and decided to adopt the scorched earth approach to destroy the existing infrastructure. Also, OAS was hoping that the FLN would retaliate and break the ceasefire.
This occasion has been marked by media coverage and exhibitions in France; the French public national TV channel France 2 decided to air a two-hour documentary, which was a first in the history of this channel, and the history of France. For a long time France decided to put the Algerian war of independence or “la guerre d’Algérie” in the drawers of amnesia and classify it as taboo. For a long time, the French authorities and history books decided to call this war les événements d'Algérie (incidents of Algeria) a mere keeping of public order in Algeria. Sending 400,000 soldiers and losing 30,000 of them in battlefield, and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Algerian civilians, in the opinion of the French, does not qualify for war. This reflects France’s uneasy relationship with its colonial past, which showed a dark, and violent side of this ’civilized’ nation, the land of the French revolution which was a battle to achieve equality and remove oppression. Only this equality was reserved for those who were of European descent and Christian faith.
This documentary presented the French view of the conflict, which is quite different from the way it has been portrayed in Algerian media. I must admit that the documentary showed an even-handed picture of the conflict. It was well prepared and well researched. It has opened my eyes for the first time to the impact this war has had on French politics (the collapse of the Fourth Republic) and on Metropolitan France, which was the scene of many armed attacks. One of these is an attempt to kill President DeGaulle and the overthrow of the French government on a couple of occasions, by the OAS.
However, as if in an attempt to counter the balanced view of the documentary the channel decided to hold a debate and invited: an Algerian who was a member of the FLN, the revolutionary body that led the war, he was also an ex-MP and minister in 1970s and 1980s; a priest, who was a soldier posted to Algeria during the war, three pieds- noirs, one of whom is Benjamin Stora a leading authority on Algerian history from 1830 to 1962 (the period during which Algeria was under French rule and was part of French territory); and a woman who was the daughter of a harki. Harkis are Algerian traitors who decided to side with the French during the war and who were later abandoned by the French to meet their fate at the hands of angry Algerians in act of revenge. Of course, inviting one Algerian who was denied the freedom of speech on multiple occasions and was attacked by the others who felt that the story should concentrate on the violence of the Algerian side and ignore the violence the French committed for 130 years of rule says a lot. One of the pieds- noirs decided to justify the violence of this war, by the fact that Algeria had been violent by nature during thousands of years, and that it had been a terra nullius without rule of the law...
Anyway, after watching the debate, the admiration I had for the French for coming clean about their past vanished. I thought to myself how naïve of me to expect this nation and its citizens to discuss their colonial past openly on TV without trying to repeatedly interrupt a citizen of the old colony and prevent him from airing his opinion. I also felt sorry for the man, he was alone trying to justify why Algerians wanted to be independent from a nation which left the country impoverished on all levels, and left a country with 98% rate of illiteracy, and a population living in shanty towns. The French want Algerians to apologize for having started a war to say to the French no we cannot continue to live like animals, whilst the minority Europeans are exploiting the resources to enrich themselves and France.
Having said that, Despite all the flaws of this nation and its evasiveness about its past history vis a vis Algeria, It had the guts to talk about it openly in the documentary. Nevertheless, I am still skeptical given that this is an election year and Sarko wants to lure immigrants of Algerian descent and the French leftists by showing his non-racist side; he is after all opening dossiers that remained top secret for a long time.
On the other side of the Mediterranean, however, our rulers have decided that this event is not worthy of any attention and took a very low-key approach to the event. They probably were instructed by their superiors in France to leave it to them to show history as they see fit. Or, be it an election year, they are afraid that a celebration may remind young Algerians of their revolutionary past, induce the expression of a dormant revolutionary gene in the population, or ignite a spark , which would lead to an uprising of the population i.e. an Algerian spring. Our rulers maintain power through revolutionary legitimacy. This means that they are the sole authority fit to run the country because they fought for its independence over 50 years ago. So we will have to wait until they die to hold democratic elections and open the door for the new generation to have a say in the way their country is run.
It is ironic how our rulers keep reminding the new generation of thier heroic past and their 'zealous' patriotism, and at the same time receive their orders from France regarding many issues. The French are considered top tier in our rulers’ eyes. They are the ones who benefit from investment contracts. It does not matter that there are other countries willing to enter this market and do better than the French, who still regard us as a dominion country. It is also sad to hear claims of patriotism in French, this language that our rulers decided to make the only foreign language worthy of study and use. Algeria remains one of the few countries in the world where movies, which are a mean of learning the English language for some, are dubbed in French. Also it is the sole country where rulers use foreign and French media to address their citizens and prefer to do so in the French language, the language of the 'elite' -or so they believe.