France-Algeria: “Individuals, groups, institutions are

Sixty years ago, representatives of the Algerian separatists and the French government signed an agreement in Evian aimed at ending more than seven years of war in Algeria. The conflict was violent, it did not end immediately with the agreements … Above all, sixty years later, it continues to weigh in on relations between Algeria and France. Political science researcher Nedjib Sidi Moussa, author of Algeria, another history of independence, is our guest.

RFI: 60 years later, why Paris and Algiers have not fully recovered from the Algerian war?

Nedjib Sidi Moussa: The war is over, but in discourse it can come back, it can reappear, there are groups, there are individuals, institutions that can be more focused on nostalgia, resentment, and just when there is a particular interest, a specific situation, and really have the desire, the temptation to put this matter on the table again and resurrect the wounds of the past.

Is this an issue that continues to haunt the public debate in one way or another in both countries?

Clear. There is a crime, there is a cut, it is the end of the French Empire that will retreat. France will need to think about its metropolitan area and now consider the issues at European level, and this Algerian issue then became an immigration issue, then a Muslim issue, something that nationalist, imperialist and racist currents in France have never really melted.

Is this a purely memory issue, or are there issues of politics or geopolitics, which are very topical, behind this agreement on a common history??

This French-Algerian issue or the relationship between the two societies is not just a matter of memory, the paradox is that we have two states, we have independence, and at the same time we have this entanglement of increasingly important between the two societies, partly due to migration issue, and it may be something that is not understood or accepted on both sides. To me, this seems to me absurd, for example that there may still be visas between the two countries means that the presence of each other is seen as problematic. And on the other hand, what is being waved around like a spectrum, but which is greatly exaggerated, is the place that we find disproportionate to France, rather on the cultural level. The place of the French language, for example. This is what will be combated, especially recently through symbolic measures, the fact that signs or documents or explanations are made less and less in French for example, it is seen by the rather conservative Algerian cultural currents as being the completion of independence, but on the cultural level.

French President Emmanuel Macron has made a series of memorial gestures to unite France and Algeria, for example, acknowledging the role of the French army in the death of mathematician Morice Audin, the role of France in the death of nationalist lawyer Ali Boumendjel during the Battle of Algiers. How are these gestures perceived in Algeria??

They are seen as gestures that generally go in the right direction, but as gestures that are too symbolic. There is an expectation, it is not mine, but there is an expectation of excuses or a real recognition of what colonization was, the crimes committed during the Algerian war. It also says a lot about how Algerians see themselves today, or how they measure the promises of independence, that is, we are very far from the euphoria in which we looked to the future. What mattered was to develop the country, it was to develop infrastructures at the industrial level, at the cultural level, to develop agriculture, but what happened: with the failure, if you will, of the model for the development of independence, yes there was a kind return to the past, and a kind of resentment once the euphoria fell, years later and the willingness to ask for accounts.

Is it a generational problem? To put it another way, will these tensions disappear with the generation that experienced them, that bore them??

I do not think so. The problem – as we find for other historical sequences – is that the generations who have not experienced the conflict directly will feed a story without nuances. A story that will try to defend the memory of martyrs, of heroes, without necessarily understanding the complexity of the issues, their nuances, the subtlety that the actors could have experienced precisely, due to their own commitment. I conducted interviews with veterans, former independence activists, they were not at all in a discourse we can find today, they fought for justice, for equality, they did not really fight against France as such, as an idea, and even less as a people . It’s not so much a question of generation, in my opinion, as of transmission. There is a striking deficit in terms of writing, in terms of the constitution of knowledge, in terms of dissemination, and the French university is clearly not up to it.

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