In this article, Mr. Mohammed Larbi Dmagh Elatrousse (former culture minister) declares that he won’t write his memoirs because he doesn’t want to talk about sensitive subjects which would tarnish the history of our revolution. He also says that only a tiny part of what has been written so far (he means all the books written by former freedom fighters) is true, and the rest is nothing but lies (he of course doesn’t tell us which are the lies).
The corollary to this would be that Mr. Dmagh Elatrousse believes the Algerian revolution (and before it the national movement) was perfect, and that our martyrs and freedom fighters were perfect too. Or maybe he thinks it’s better for the Algerian people to believe so.
And it was indeed what the Algerian regime had always wanted us to believe. The Algerian school taught us about an idealised revolution with idealised and united men and women whose only goal was to retrieve Algeria’s sovereignty.
Some “details” such as the Emir Khaled, Messali Hadj, Ferhat Abbas, Messalists vs. Centralists, Mellouza, Bellounis and the MNA, Abane’s assassination, Ait-Ahmed and Oulhadj’s revolt, and many others were kept secret. The school books also didn’t mention the French army’s sub-officers or the secret clauses in the Evian accords.
Even the very existence of Mohammed Boudiaf was a discovery for a number of independence-generation Algerians despite him being a member of the group of the six.
Then things changed. We started hearing of some of those who didn’t agree with the “heroes”, but their patriotism was vehemently questioned when they were not accused of treason. An example would be Messali who is alternatively defined as the father of Algerian nationalism, as the biggest traitor, or even as a stupid communist and enemy of Islam. Today he’s officially considered as a good guy, but I wonder if this will change after Bouteflika leaves El Mouradia.
The change was confirmed during the past two decades. Many books have been published. Former regime people attacking their ex-acolytes, former freedom fighters attacking their old companions (esp. when they are dead), and also former freedom fighters defending their dead friends. All these (contradictory) books coexist today in Algerian bookshops, and they are having a relative success. It indeed looks to me like Algerians are happy to read about their history, I actually think history books come third in the best-selling contest after cuisine and women-affairs Islamic jurisprudence books.
But what were the goals behind hiding the truth? I don’t know for sure but I could suggest two or three:
- Give a legitimacy to the Algerian regime,
- Encourage the Algerians to accept the privileges the moudjahidines and martyrs’ children enjoy, and
- Preserve the myth and grow a strong feeling of love and pride inside the Algerian people’s hearts.
Today I can tell that none of these is fully reached, if at all. The population believes the Algerian regime is corrupt and useless, and it even thinks that the state is controlled by Hizb Fransa which is still under the French orders. The privileges the moudjahidines and the martyrs’ children receive from the state are not really accepted by the population, especially after all the rumours about the fake moudjahidines.
The third point is somehow different (or is it just my myth?). The Algerians are proud of and can be quite sensitive about their revolution and martyrs (as suggested by their reaction to the recent Egyptian insults); but they believe in the Algerian saying “those who fought for the independence are dead” so nobody else deserves any special consideration. They also are many to try to leave Algeria at all costs while saying that they love the country. It is interesting here to mention the relative failure of the Algerian Radio when it tried to organise the “one flag per house” operation, and the success of the Algerian flag when the football National Team started winning their games.
To finish with this topic, I must say that I loved reading Ahmed Taleb‘s biography. The information he brought was very interesting, and I wish all those who have something to say would write books before they die. The more books we’ll have the better it will be, and then historians would have more material to work on.
And at some point, who knows, we would have less rumours and shadowy periods. We would accept that the Algerian revolution had a great ideal, but those who led it were only humans, probably made great things, probably made mistakes, and probably had disagreements.
The revolution wouldn’t be less important and life wouldn’t be harder, would they?