Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The positive action of France in its colonies... according to the French Parliament

One can wonder how, in fifty year’s time, the story of the ongoing war in Iraq will be told in American history text books. Will concepts such as the protection of Western Freedom, War for Democracy, Axis of evil etc. be remembered as the historical motivation of the American leaders or as powerful rhetorical tools destined to win over the support of the people?

The 23 of February 2005, the French Parliament adopted the Bill on what the Nation owes to the French citizens repatriated from former colonies. (Loi relative à la «reconnaissance de la nation» et à la «contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés»). This text had two objectives, according to its main promoter, the actual Minister of Foreign Affairs, Philippe Douste-Blazy. Firstly to financially compensate the losses suffered by those who were forced to flea Algeria because of the Algerian insurrection, the war and the recognition of the country’s independence. Secondly, to acknowledge the participation of these populations to France’s positive action in the former colonies.

The Harki, the Algerians that sided with the French army during the war, have long awaited such financial and symbolic acknowledgement of their sacrifices. One can only be relieved that it would come at last. Many of them were killed in Algeria once the French army left and those that immigrated here not exactly welcomed with open arms. On the contrary, the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme points out how the colonial attitude towards them was perpetuated on the national territory through numerous discriminations. Coherently with this republican tradition, the Bill awards them financial remedies inferior to those destined for the pieds-noirs (the French citizens who had settled in Algeria). It should also be mentioned that the bill awards financial compensations also to individual filling certain conditions which, according to the same NGO, turn out to be members of the OAS (the terrorist organization of French citizens settled in Algeria).

Concerning the positive action of the France in its former colonies, every one is entitled to their opinion and it would be unrealistic to argue that absolutely no good came out of the colonisation of North Africa. However this law raised considerable amounts to protesting mainly for two reasons. One is that while acknowledging the suffering of those that were repatriated from Algeria, and the positive action of France there, it says nothing about the suffering of the populations colonized, of the crimes and horrors of the French army and citizens before and after the war. The second reason is that art. 4 of the Bill imposes tha « the school programs recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence in its colonies, amongst which those in North Africa, and award the eminent place that it deserves to the sacrifices of the soldiers of the French army coming from these territories » An other provision mentions that this orientation should also be present in research conducted in university.

According to Olivier Le Cour Grand-maison, professor at the University d’Evry, this Bill fits into a political project coherently defended by the actual Parliamentary majority which tends rehabilitate France’s colonial past and while imposing an official and mythological version of its history.

Following a wide movement of protestation (notably, not from the parliamentary opposition) the French authorities have proposed to establish a mixed commission composed of French and Algerian historian, that will “evaluate” the law.

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