France admits ‘brutal’ occupation in Algeria
French President Hollande (C) drinks a beverage as his Algerian counterpart Bouteflika (R) is given dattes as they arrive at Zeralda’s state residence. Hollande’s visit came as Algeria celebrates 50 years of independence from France.
French President François Hollande acknowledged the “unjust” and “brutal” nature of France’s occupation of Algeria for 132 years, but stopped short yesterday of apologizing for the past as many Algerians have demanded.
“History, even when it is tragic, even when it is painful for our two countries, must be told. Over 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system,” Hollande told the Algerian Parliament on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the North African country, to applause from MPs. “This system has a name: it is colonialism and I recognize the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people.”
‘France forgets its universal values’
Hollande notably listed the sites of three massacres, including one at Setif where seven years ago Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika compared French methods to those used by Nazi Germany and asked France to make a “gesture ... to erase this black stain.”
“On May 8, 1945, when the world triumphed over brutality, France forgot its universal values,” Hollande said. The truth “must also be spoken about the circumstances in which Algeria was delivered from the colonial system, in this war whose name was not mentioned in France for a long time, the Algerian war” of independence, he added.
“We have a duty to speak the truth about the violence, injustices, massacres and torture... Establishing the truth is an obligation that ties Algerians and French. That’s why it is necessary that historians have access to the archives.”
He specifically recognized the “massacres” by the French during the seven-year war that led to Algerian independence in 1962. The admission was a profound departure from Hollande’s predecessors who, if not defending France’s tormented past with Algeria, remained silent.
Large numbers of Algerians, and some political parties, have been seeking an apology from France for inequalities suffered by the population under colonial rule and for brutality during the war.
However, Hollande said after arriving in Algeria on Dec. 19 that he had not come to say sorry for the crimes committed during the colonial period. But he stressed the importance of recognizing what happened as a way of beginning a new era in relations between the two countries, bound together by human, economic and cultural ties.
On arrival, Hollande was received with full honors by Bouteflika and said he wanted relations between their countries to be a “strategic partnership between equals.”
Hollande and Bouteflika agreed to relaunch economic, strategic and cultural relations between the two countries on a new basis among equals. A new start must “be supported by a base,” Hollande said, and “this base is truth.” “Nothing is built in secretiveness, forgetting, denial,” he said. Hollande also promised yesterday to “better accommodate” Algerians seeking to move to France and to streamline the visa process.