Shadows of the Algerian War Loom on the Election Campaign in France

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Shadows of the Algerian War Loom on the Election Campaign in France

Paris – Serious conspiracy theories about replacing white, Christian French with Muslims in North Africa. Pledge to limit immigration from the region. and the emergence of memories of a supposedly glorious colonial past in Algeria.

While French President Emmanuel Macron has tried over the past year in Algeria to address painful memories of his country’s colonial history, the long shadows of that past – stirred by such messages – will seep into the campaigns of right-wing candidates next month. is spreading rapidly. Presidential election.

In the fall, a far-right candidate, Eric Zemour, said, “France does not need to welcome and keep all criminals from North Africa.” Another, Marine Le Pen, said on friday That the memories could not be reconciled by “whipping himself in front of Algeria”.

Mr Macron’s efforts to heal the wounds of France’s colonization of Algeria include acknowledging the crimes committed by the French military and police, acknowledging France’s lack of respect for former settlers and the Algerians who fought for the country, and Includes easing access to related archives. to the war

Those efforts continued on Saturday with an official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Evian Accords, which ended the war for Algerian independence, and with a speech by Mr. Macron at the Elysee Palace in which he said, “The Algerian War, its untold Things had become – and still are when I hear our news – the matrix of outrage.”

Karim Amell, a French-Algerian member of the government’s so-called Memories and Truth Commission on Algeria, said Mr Macron wanted to “untie a knot that is the source of many problems, many stereotypes, many tensions.”

But those reconciliation efforts have largely been sunk in a presidential campaign dominated by heated debates over immigration and identity, which in Algeria are heavily intertwined with France’s colonial past.

“Today, behind the support for the great replacement idea, is this past of French Algeria that is at play,” said Sylvie Thénault, a historian of the Algerian war at CNRS, a national public research organization. He described such perceptions as “the legacy of this French minority in Algeria, to whom the Algerian population growth was a threat.”

In the late 1950s, Algeria had about 8.5 million Muslim residents, and about one million residents of European descent, known as pieds-noirs.

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The colonization of Algeria, and the subsequent war of independence of 1954–62, tore apart French society, opening up to the identity crisis that continues to shape France and drive its politics, among the country’s seven million inhabitants still Running with nostalgia and resentment. Those with ties to Algeria include war veterans, families of immigrants and descendants of colonists.

Mr Zemor, whose parents left Algeria just before the war, said in 2018 that immigration and the rise of Islam in France were like “the second episode of the Algerian war”. At a press conference in January, he said there was “no French crime” regarding colonialism, claiming that it had brought roads, hospitals and oil wells to Algeria.

Many of the ideological conflicts that colored the war – such as whether or not French identity may expand to include Muslim Algerians – have been imported to French soil. Benjamin Stora, a French historian of colonial Algeria, compared the event to the legacy of the American Civil War, which still affects race issues in the United States.

The political figures who drive public debate today are what Mr Stora calls a “memory transfer” from colonial Algeria to contemporary France. Many of them are closely linked to Algeria, as is Mr. Zemour.

Ms. Le Pen’s father fought as a paratrooper during the Algerian War and was accused of torturing prisoners. The far-right party he founded, known today as the National Rally, was rooted in popular opposition to the end of colonial Algeria, and many of its current leaders are descendants of French settlers.

Even within Mr Macron’s government, some ministers have expressed concern about efforts to examine France’s colonial legacy. Prime Minister Jean Casteux, whose father had fought in the war, criticized Those who say, “We must blame ourselves, regret the colonization.” The Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blancar, whose father was a prominent leader of the Pieds-Noirs community, has long opposed post-colonial studies, saying they undermined French society.

Political campaigns, according to Mr Amelalal of the Memories and Truth Commission, are “areas of expression where Algeria obsessively reverts to within the far right” – but not only there.

Mr Macron said on Saturday that his efforts over the past year have been aimed “to forget nothing, to deny anything about the irreversible nature of the sufferings, sufferings that have been experienced, but to recognize that For they are all French.”

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But Ms Pecres and Ms Le Pen both criticized Saturday’s ceremony and called for a different date to commemorate the end of the war, noting that the March 19, 1962 ceasefire did not stop violence against French civilians. Mr Zemour said at a rally on Friday that he wanted to end “this remorse” on Algeria.

Ms Thennault, the historian, acknowledged Mr Macron’s efforts, but noted that his symbolic gestures sometimes sounded indecent to each community involved in the Algerian war.

Salim Lauer, the grandson of the Algerians who fought for France, praised Mr Macron’s efforts but expressed doubts about the president’s ability to heal the lasting wounds of the war. He said he was convinced that there were institutional barriers, particularly on the part of the armed forces, that hindered further uncovering of a painful history.

“Institutionally, we are still in this ideological war” over who is guilty and who is innocent, he said.

Justine Pérez, a descendant of French settlers and producer of a podcast on the effects of France’s colonial past on today’s youth, said she was tired of the official commemorations and the political discourse surrounding Algeria’s struggle for independence. He said those things were “political exploitation” and “a form of manipulation” of public debate.

On Saturday, he deferred the official commemoration of the end of the war. Instead, she was supposed to speak at a conference on Algeria with writers, filmmakers and podcasters.

Conference name? “Second Anniversary”.

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