Algeria and France — 1962/2012

About Algeria’s independence, 50 years later, and the commemorations in the country and in France.

Algeria — 50 years — France

March 19th commemorates the 50 years anniversary of the ‘ Accords d’Evian’, the Evian agreements, which put an end to what is rarely called in France but is the Algerian War.

The Algerian War, or Algerian Revolution as it is usually referred to on the Algerian side, opposed France and Algerian independence movements from 1954 to 1962, and led to Algeria’s independence from France, officially from July 1962.

Despite the anniversary, it is not very much discussed in France and even less taught in French schools but it was objectively one of the important decolonisation wars. The war was even one of the most bloody colonial struggles ever, according to specialists.

And as the historian Guy Perville stated it in his essay ‘(chap. “ Pour une histoire de la guerre d´Algérie’, ‘For a history of the Algerian War’, it was also a civil war between loyalist Algerians who believed in a French Algeria and insurrectionist Muslim Algerians Une double guerre civile”, Picard, 2002, pp.132–139). And during its final months, the conflict also evolved into a French civil war between pro-French hardliners in Algeria and supporters of General Charles de Gaulle who saw from 1960 that the independence was unavoidable.

As the BBC World Service stated in 1999, France has only started re-writing one of the most painful periods of its history in the past 15 years, first “by recognising that its colonial conflict in Algeria was, in fact, a war” in a bill setting the record straight on Algeria.

Discreet commemorations, intense reflections

But nowadays, the current French government is not really vocal about the Algeria’s 50 years of independence’s anniversary. Luckily for both parties, historians and media are a little more. And this month of March will be a high moment of reflection as many documentary films and books are to get out.

As the French-German television channel ARTE has scheduled a broadcast of the famous “Battle of Algiers” on March 12, and of a historical film realised by historian Benjamin Stora and filmmaker Jean-Michel Meurice, it is Benjamin Stora again who directed with filmmaker Gabriel Le Bomin the two-parts documentary “ La Déchirure’’ that is currently broadcast on the public channel France 2 on Sunday evenings, March the 11 thand 19 th.

The two-hour film wants to give an “objective and panoptic vision of the conflict”, as it has almost never been before, explains historian Benjamin Stora. It is only based on television archives, with no interview but a very well written voiced commentary. The historian and his filmmaker partner have wanted to cover the whole duration of the conflict and in an accessible way for all form of publics. Stora even considers that the Algerian war is a pattern that can allow us to re-read our own time, culture and international relations, between Europe and Africa. Indeed, it “represents a matrix of our era with the end of the colonial enterprise and the redeployment of France towards Europe instead of Africa”, he insists, presenting the documentary in France 2' producers. And, indeed, the war all happened while and in spite of the change from the fourth to the fifth Republic in France, and no one can deny the war had a huge impact in this political collapse of French institutions during the year 1958.

The film successfully manages to take the audience on a journey from the rise of the Aures in the autumn 1954 to the Algerian independence in July 1962, through the key events, battles and turning point of the conflict, thanks to a choice of lively and striking video archives and the beautiful writing of the commentary, read by the famous French-Algerian actor Kad Merad, whose father is Algerian and mother French.The dynamic tale of the main political and military events quickly brings us to the high and turning point where French General Charles de Gaulle came to power while the collapsing Fourth Republic was troubled by the Putsch des Generaux, the French Algerian army’s military coup attempt.

Benjamin Stora is also very much aware of the fact that the war did not end on the historical or political consensus and that this leaves the wounds very much open, until today, on both French and Algerian side.

From the historians’ notebooks to the political scene

Other events are also commemorating the anniversary of the Algerian independence in France in order to work on a better understanding of this painful part of the two countries’ history, including the exhibition “ La Guerre d’Algérie, images et representations” (Algerian War, images and representations) at the Forum des images in Paris in February or the novel “ L’Art français de la guerre “ (The French Art of War) by writer Alexis Jenni.

And the commemoration — despite the discretion on both official sides — has started to enter the political agenda, at least in France, where a few events are — despite the general political silence — scheduled for the whole first semester of the year.

Books have also made their way into the French bookstores for once like the beautiful “L’Algérie en couleurs”, by Slimane Zeghidour and Tramor Quemeneur (Editions Les Arènes), containing 350 unreleased photographs taken by Algerian war French soldiers between 1954 and 1962, or ‘Algéries 50’ at Magellan Editions, directed by Yahia Belaskri et Elisabeth Lesne and gathering contributions from 25 writers from Algeria and France about Algeria in the past 50 years. The national radio station France Culture is also devoting 24 hours of programmes to the Algerian independence, partly broadcasting from Algiers for the occasion from Friday March 16.

According to some Algerian columnists and intellectuals, the appalling discretion on the anniversary from both countries has a few heavy reasons: the electoral presidential campaign in France is one of the biggest, along with t he upcoming North African country’s legislative elections in May, the impossibility for French leaders to recognise past mistakes, the general political and economic crisis in Europe and the frozen social scene in Algeria — which does not wish to generate more fuss than 2011 already brought in North Africa… And then, of course, for now no common event has been scheduled.

Despite the quietness, on March 9 th, French President Sarkozy, campaigning in Nice in South-eastern France, met some former ‘ Pieds noirs’ — nicknames that still designate the Europeans form colonial French Algeria. And he did not hesitate to state again that according to him France did not have to apologise for the Algerian war, condemning “atrocities and violence”, still. He had however promised in 2007, during his presidential campaign, to recognise — at least — the French responsibility in the abandoning of Algerian ‘ harkis ‘, those Muslims who fought in favour of the French rule.

It therefore definitely seems that neither Algeria nor France’s politics are ready to talk openly about their common past, even 50 years after the end of the war. But luckily for us, other voices are loud enough.

Originally published at http://melissa-on-the-road.blogspot.com. Written for Think Africa Press

Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics