Algerian President Attacks French « Genocide »

Algerian President Attacks French « Genocide »

By EURSOC Three, 20 April, 2006,

Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has said that French colonisation of his country was a form of ‘genocide’.

The president said in a speech this week: « We no longer know whether we are Berbers(indigenous North Africans), Arabs, Europeans or French ». France committed a « genocide of Algerian identity » during the colonial era, he said.

Relations between Algiers and Paris have been confusing and fraught for generations.

Algeria first became a colony of France in 1830. After a disasterous war which ended in Algeria’s independence in 1962, eight million Algerian residents were deprived of French nationality and hundreds of thousands of ‘pieds noir’ (French who settled in Algeria and were re-patriated at the end of the war) were forced home to a place which was not home.

In memoirs, some French officers have described torture of Algerians during the war.

President Bouteflika’s latest outburst has further strained Algerian-French relations which have been tense since France passed a law last year requiring textbooks to show the ‘positive role’ that the Republique played in its former colonies.

The law was an embarassment for French president Jacques Chirac who said in January that it should be revamped.

The response from Paris to this latest bilateral crisis has been tardy. Yes, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has been to Algiers for talks with the Algerian government.

He concluded in an interview with RMC radio of Monaco that despite the two countries having « an exceptional partnership » there was a « need to examine the pages of history… which are sad ».

All very poetic and diplomatic.

Monsieur Douste-Blazy is aware that he must also play to the home audience. France has a population of over five million Muslims, the largest in western Europe, many of Algerian descent. Memories of the colonial era still smart the older generation, while other French citizens of Algerian descent blame France for backing Algeria’s government when it cancelled elections in 1991 which would have delivered victory to an Islamist group. The civil war which followed is thought to have claimed 100,000 lives. Supporters of Islamist groups were blamed for a series of terror attacks in France in the mid 1990s.

Some younger north Africans – usually the children or grandchildren of first generation immigrants – have taken to wearing jewellery or football shirts depicting their family’s original country. Gold pendants in the shape of Algeria or Tunisia are a common sight on some teenagers, while the scene of thousands of French-born Muslims jeering the French national anthem at a 2002 France-Algeria football match was enough to provoke president Jacques Chirac to storm out of the stadium.

French citizens, whatever their background, are expected to be French first. Their religion or the home country of their families is secondary, if it is taken into account at all (it isn’t on census figures). What north African youngsters perceive as the French state’s refusal to extend full citizenship to its minorities doubtless contributed to tensions that exploded in riots last autumn.

Additionally, not every Frenchman takes kindly to being described as genocidal. Far right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (himself with a dubious history of service in the Algerian war) reacted furiously. Responding to news that Bouteflika had checked into Paris’ Val de Grace hospital for a follow-up on an operation he had in December, Le Pen said that it was « scandalous » that Bouteflika should accuse France of genocide, and then be looked after in Paris straight afterwards.