60 years after the massacre of hundreds of Algerians in Paris, Macron and the whole of French society have still not responded to calls for truth and justice, writes Malia Bouattia.
A woman whose loved one was killed in the massacre of Algerian protesters in Paris in 1961 watches from the bridge where scores of protesters were killed on October 17, 2021. [Getty]
The poem of the Algerian revolutionary and writer Kateb Yacine, “The mouth of the wolf”, which was written the day after the massacres of hundreds of Algerians in the heart of Paris on October 17, 1961, unfortunately still resonates to this day. His plea for truth – and therefore justice as well – has still not received a response 60 years later.
This year, like every year, Algerians and anti-colonialists around the world marked the date that French police murdered hundreds of people in Paris, who were protesting against the continued colonization of Algeria. In October 1961, the French state imposed a curfew on all Algerians in the city, in response to the growing successes of the liberation struggle and France’s inability to maintain control over its colonial subjects. Yet around 30,000 people took to the streets, marching peacefully and singing for their freedom.
They faced some of the most violent police brutality in French history, under the leadership of then-police chief and former collaborator in the Nazi deportation of French Jews, Maurice Papon. There were 14,000 arrests and between 200 and 300 demonstrators were killed.
“The river, often presented as a romantic tourist attraction, would have turned red because of all the blood of Algerians who were thrown into its waters”
From shotguns to crushed skulls, the state forces were ruthless on that fateful day. Some of the demonstrators were injured and thrown into the seine where they drowned. In the days that followed, more than 100 corpses were dumped on the banks of the Seine. The river, often presented as a romantic tourist attraction, is said to have turned red with all the blood of Algerians who were thrown into its waters. The youngest person (known) to be killed that day was 15-year-old Fatima Beda, whose body was discovered two weeks later.
As Yacine wrote:
“The reddened Seine did not stop in the days that followed, to vomit in the face of the people of the Commune, these martyred bodies, which reminded Parisians of their own revolutions, their own resistance. “
The response that followed these tragic events made this chapter in Algerian-French history all the more difficult to leave. The French government rushed to bury the whole massacre as if nothing had happened. The French press has also been complicit in its silence, with Liberation, a left-wing newspaper, claiming that only two had been killed, 7,500 arrested and others simply injured. Strikingly, when eight French Communists were killed a few months later during a demonstration against the fascist Secret Army Organization (OAS), thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris. Not a word has been said about the hundreds of Algerians who have suffered the same fate.
Certainly, in 1961, dehumanization at the hands of the French state was already a long and common experience for Algerians. However, it was the length of the state’s historic omission of the Paris Massacre that left such a strong scar.
It was until 1997, during Papon’s trial over his responsibility for the deportation of hundreds of Jews to concentration camps during World War II, that information about the Paris massacres was shared publicly. Despite his conviction for crimes against humanity in 1998, details of his role in the repression and murder of Algerians at home and abroad – including the systematic use of torture in his role as prefect of Constantine – remained extremely limited.
It took another 14 years for French President François Hollande to simply recognize the 1961 “bloody repression” against the Algerians. The lack of any real clarity on what happened on October 17, let alone any genuine apologies or reparations given to the families of those killed, persisted, however.
To date, despite Macron’s stated commitment to heal the old colonial wounds between France and Algeria, there has been no change in this sad situation. The French president has made a demonstration of the establishment of a process of “truth and reconciliation”, by entrusting the historian Benjamin Stora to lead the work of resolution of the historical tensions which continue to define the political relations between the two countries. . However, a notable refusal to apologize for the actions of the French state has tarnished much of the recommendations resulting from this work.
In addition, it should be remembered that while Macron may have pledged in the past, for example, to making public the archives relating to the French colonization of Algeria, he simultaneously introduced policies that would prevent this from happening. produce. French historians have expressed concerns over his government’s so-called terrorism and intelligence law, which would prevent the sharing of documents relating to security and military information. This decision has been criticized as an attempt to prevent the truth from coming out about the actions of the French state during the Algerian liberation struggle.
Macron said: “Was there an Algerian nation before French colonization? That is the question. https://t.co/5v5FG9nE9x
– The New Arabic (@The_NewArab) 21 October 2021
The lack of apologies was also noted during the commemorations of the Paris massacres last weekend. Macron went to visit the Pont de Bezons over the Seine to mark the day, in which he declared that the events which unfolded under Papon’s leadership were an “unforgivable crime”.
“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody,” he also said in a statement.
Like his predecessor, the president made no move to be accountable, let alone commit the French state to pay reparations for the crimes committed that day. Even the recognition that the colonization of Algeria – which was the context of the bloody crackdown of 1961 – was wrong, would have been a welcome recognition.
The emptiness of Macron’s gesture was also underscored by the fact that the protesters who marked the anniversary were blocked by the police to throw their roses into the Seine from the Pont Saint-Michel – an otherwise annual tradition. Scenes of French police forces preventing the masses who had joined a march organized by Algerian and anti-racist groups reinforced the fact that the French colonial state is not just a thing of the past.
“The repression of Algerians and their descendants continues through so-called counter-terrorism and anti-separatism policies”
The repression of Algerians and their descendants continues through so-called counterterrorism and anti-separatism policies. The very tactics used to terrorize Algerians in the 1950s and 1960s -om home raids to the closure of anti-racist organizations, including the Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF) and the Coordination contre le racisme et l’islamophobie – have been strongly standardized under Macron. today.
The public outcry against these attacks on civil liberties in the republic is worrying.
The question Kateb Yacine asked at the end of her poem remains strangely adequate, decades later:
“People of France, you have seen it all, yes, you have seen it all with your own eyes, and now are you going to speak? And now are you going to shut up?
Malia Bouattia is an activist, former president of the National Union of Students and co-founder of the Students not Suspects / Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
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