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06 Feb 2012 13:48
Fifty years on, France remains divided over how to mark the Algerian war, a bitter conflict which ended 132 years of colonial rule in the North African territory while very nearly tearing French society apart.
For years, rival factions have commemorated their own victims while drawing a veil over past responsibilities for a war marked on all sides by torture and massacres, and the final exile of French-born settlers.
French communists have long commemorated the February 8 1962 killing by police of nine demonstrators at the Paris Charonne metro station.
On Wednesday, left-leaning demonstrators will once again mark the event by rallying at the metro station which witnessed the violent police assault on a peaceful, but outlawed demonstration which had seen about 30 000 people rally to call for peace in Algeria.
“We knew the demonstration had been declared illegal, but we went with the idea we’d just be beaten up as usual rather than killed,” said sociologist Maryse Tripier, who took part in the rally as a schoolgirl.
Fifty years on, trade unions and left-leaning political parties continue to demand that the French state fully account for its role in the killings.
Others however claim that by highlighting the Charonne massacre the Left helped bury another less well known police massacre of some 200 pro-independence Algerian demonstrators in Paris on October 17 1961.
The death toll has never officially been made public, and may never be known, as many of the bodies were simply thrown into the river Seine.
For French historian Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, “France has still not acknowledged its responsibility for this state crime”.
It was only last year that Francois Hollande, the socialist presidential candidate, and Bertrand Delanoe, the socialist mayor of Paris, paid tribute to the 200 dead.
French-born Algerian settlers, over a million of whom resettled in France as a result of Algerian independence, have their own memorial date—July 5 1962.
On that day hundreds of them were massacred in the Algerian coastal city of Oran by pro-independence forces, despite the fact that a ceasefire to end the war had been signed in Geneva three and a half months previously.
Turning the page
Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French army, the Harkis, many of whom also sought refuge in France, for their part remember the systematic killings they were subjected to by pro-independence forces when French forces withdrew from Algeria.
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, whose father fought in Algeria, last month called for France to honour the Harkis and the former settlers, while rejecting the idea of a commemoration to mark March 19 1962 when the Geneva peace accords were signed.
“It’s as if no one is able to acknowledge the suffering of others,” said French historian Benjamin Stora.
“Everyone has his own date; his own dead. At a time when everyone should be able to jointly honour all the victims, be they Communists, Algerians, pieds-noirs [the name given to the French settlers] or Harkis,” he said.
For French historian Gilles Manceron, a former deputy president of the human rights’ league, most French people “just want to turn the page” on the whole drama.—AFP
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