The French will not apologize. So what?


In a recent program on AlJazeera, Algerian Djahid Younsi (from El-Islah party) and Libyan Elhadi Chellouf (a martyr’s son) debated over the “Why do Arabs request an apology? And are Arab rulers not worse than the colonisers?” question. As often with AlQasim’s programs, the debate led nowhere. Chellouf said that the colonisation was great and he would be happy to sit in a French or Italian tank were they to invade the Arab countries again. He added that the Arab populations should rather request an apology from their rulers instead of targeting the gentle and kind colonisers. On the other hand, Younsi admitted that the Arab rulers are the worst ever, but he said they should be faced on the political field. And this situation shouldn’t prevent the people from requesting the rightful apology for the confirmed colonisation crimes.

A poll organized by the TV channel showed that 68% of the Arabs think the colonisers were fairer to the population than today’s Arab rulers.

This debate was probably triggered by the recent Algerian assembly’s law proposal about criminalising the colonisation. But before coming back to this point, I would like to mention some key events:

  • In 1998, the French parliament decided to recognise the Armenians’ killing by the Ottomans as a genocide. Needless here to say that this decision was due to the big influence of the Armenian diaspora in France, and it was also part of the internal debate on whether Turkey should or should not be admitted in the EU. The Turks complained and threatened the French government to reduce economic ties, but the threats weren’t really followed by actions. They also tried to show the unbalance in this French decision and brought up the topic of French actions in Algeria.
  • In 1999, the French parliament finally recognised the Algerian War of Independence, which is thus not called “Events of Algeria” anymore.
  • In 2003, the French president Jacques Chirac visited Algeria and was welcomed by hundreds of young people shouting “visa, visa”. But the biggest part of the population didn’t care much. The visit went well as France was in a power position: It represented the front against the American’s plans to invade Iraq, and Algeria was still suffering from the 90s decade effects. The history aspect was only mentioned when Chirac returned Dey Hussein’s seal as a sign of “reunion between the two countries and between the [two] peoples”. The two presidents agreed on working towards the sign-off of a friendship and partnership treaty.
  • In February 2005, the French parliament passed the French law on colonialism which basically imposed on high-school teachers to teach the positive role of the French presence overseas to their students. This unworthy law was opposed by many leftist politicians and by many historians (such as the famous Benjamin Stora). In Algeria, this law caused a storm and all political parties showed their discontent. But as usual, the Algerian government was mild and the foreign affairs minister, Mr. Bedjaoui, declared that the law was surprising but it’s a Franco-French issue. Jacques Chirac postponed a visit to Algiers planned on June 2005, and eventually repealed this law in 2006 and declared that “Writing history is the job of the historians, not of the laws”.
  • In May 2005, and during the 1945 massacres‘ commemorations, Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared that Algeria “never ceased waiting for an admission from France of all the acts committed during the colonial period and the war of liberation.” He also compared the French burning of thousands of Algerian bodies after the massacres with “the ovens of the Nazis”. This declaration did of course not please the French politicians who counter-attacked by asking Bouteflika to study with France the case of “the 150,000 Harkis killed without another reason than revenge, by the FLN”.
  • In 2006, Bouteflika declared in Paris that “colonisation brought the genocide of our identity, of our history, of our language, of our traditions”. The French foreign affairs minister responded that the two countries should share a mutual respect, and called to make a common effort to search history “in order to establish a common future and overcome the sad pages”.
  • In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy became the president of France; and with him disappeared the soft side of France’s right-wing. Among other things, Sarkozy based his campaign on nationalism/patriotism and on the recovered self-respect of the French people. He clearly stated that France would never apologise for what it did in Algeria because, he said, children are not responsible of their parents’ actions. He also said that apology and repentance was not good for the French national feeling. During his visit in Algeria, he repeated the same message and added that the friendship treaty is no longer a priority. Pragmatic as ever, only mattered to him the contracts he could sign with the Algerian government for the French companies (China and the USA are economic threats to France in Algeria).
    Note that during this visit, many Algerian politicians (including a minister) launched attacks on him, his Jewish origins and his ties with the Jewish lobby. And the Zionist Enrico Macias, who was invited by Bouteflika, decided to cancel his visit after the Algerian mobilisation against him.
  • In 2009, the French parliament decided to pay a compensation for the victims of French nuclear tests. This included the tests in Reggane and Tamenrasset. But today this compensation is probably not enough even among the French victims as only a few could have it. And an Algerian group even rejects it and wants France to recognise its crime against humanity instead.
  • In 2010, some FLN members of the Algerian parliament made a proposal for a law which would criminalize the colonialism. This law would also push for the creation of special courts to judge war criminals. The proposal, which was an answer to the French law of 2005, was voted but will probably face the same fate. Nonetheless, it at least caused some unrest among the French politicians. The French parliament members condemned it, and many French ministers said they regretted it. The French foreign affairs minister went even further as he declared that this proposal wasn’t important as we know that, in Algeria, the power is in the hand of the government and not the parliament (which is correct), and so long as the Algerian government doesn’t move, he wouldn’t react. But days later, he declared that “the Franco-Algerian relations will be good only after the Algerian independence generation will leave the power”. This last sentence pushed some Algerian ministers to respond and remind him that Algeria is sovereign, etc.
  • Three days ago, Sarkozy visited Rwanda and declared that France’s role during the Rwandese genocide was a big mistake. But he didn’t admit the French responsibility nor did he apologise. These might never happen as suggested in this article. And we know well that Rwanda is turning towards the USA, and teaching English replaced French; so we can easily imagine that this visit’s goal was mainly to recover France’s position in this region of the world where the USA are having increased influence.

Anyway, the idea behind recalling these points was to show that all this talk is done at the level of the politicians, and that nobody really cares of the peoples’ opinions. History is said to be written by the winner, but here it is also used as a weapon by the politicians for domestic and foreign purposes.

I believe that those who would benefit most of an apology are the French people, as this would lighten their consciences and hearts about their past and help them face it. So this apology should be requested by the French themselves for their own sake, just like the Germans did with the Jews. But I feel the French are not ready for it yet. Many of them do genuinely believe that their conquests brought knowledge and civilisation to the occupied countries. They still believe that the Algerians were a bunch of ignorant people when France invaded the country, just like they believe Napoleon’s campaign enlightened Egypt. They are so unaware of the atrocities their armies committed, let alone the ravages they did on the indigenous’ cultures and societies.
They still have issues with their own history related to WWII, and their compatriots’ collaboration with the Nazis. And while I mention this point, it is interesting how they refuse to compare their “collabos” to the Algerian Harkis. They indeed defend the latter, but at the same time despise them as it was seen here and here.

As an Algerian citizen, I don’t care at all about the French apology as it wouldn’t change anything in my life, in my relation with Algeria, nor in my relation with France. I of course understand the game our politicians play with France and I think it’s alright (the timing of these apology requests matched with some affairs such as Mecili‘s or the Tibhirine monks‘). But using this game with the Algerians is not healthy. I mean I would like to see our politicians care more of things which would improve the situation of Algeria and Algerians instead of spending so much time and energy on this topic. I would like them to be committed and truly working for the benefit of the country and its people, so that nobody dares compare them to the colonialist regime, or wishes the colonialists back. And if I take the Libyan/Italian example, what did the Italian apology bring to Libya? Nothing, or maybe some self-admiration for the Colonel and more contracts for Italy.

I want Algeria to no longer be influenced by France, neither positively nor negatively. I want the Algerian decisions to be real ones and not reactions to or copies of the French ones. I want us to stop removing and adding back the France related part in our National anthem depending on the temperature of our relations with the French state.
Today we Algerians know so little about our close history, let alone the remote one. We probably still ignore many secret points in the Evian accords, but I always thought that these accords guaranteed that no actor (from both sides) would be sued and no compensations would be demanded (not even for the treasures the French stole from Dey Hussein’s reserves); which would make any compensation requests ludicrous.

The only way these apology requests could be interesting in my opinion, is if they would lead to real financial compensation (if possible that is), or also to have access to the French archive on the Algerian occupation period.
If the apology is there only for me to feel good as in “the French acknowledged that they wronged me” then well I don’t need it.

As we commemorate these days the death of Mouloud Mammeri, here is a video where he describes, with simple words, some of what France did in Algeria.

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17 thoughts on “The French will not apologize. So what?

  1. Algeria deserves this apology not just because of the facts of history, there is still a lot to do, I think the event of ‘the French apology to Algeria’ represents only 1% of the whole event and 99% is our effort to make it happen. It will come out automatically on its own; when we deserve it, I mean when we perform the necessary steps, which purely starts from us…, actually there are a lot to do internally; we need to see first the power of law spreading out locally… and I think the recent revive of the sector of justice when targeting high ranked official involved in robberies, corruption and money laundering…; is a good initiative towards the right direction. But; we don’t be too arrogant at the moment; as we are still at the very beginning.

    Initially the right steps to be undertaken don’t have to be public.

    God bless Algeria

    • Thanks Mohamed for your comment. I agree that Algeria deserves an apology, I just say that she doesn’t need it and she shouldn’t focus on it other than as a diplomatic tool.

      And it goes without question that we have a lot of higher priority tasks to do.

      I found this link just now. It’s an interview of Benjamin Stora who analyses the Algerian project of law for the criminalisation of the colonialism.

  2. One other key thing is that saying SORRY is part of well established culture which is unfortunately not spreading out in French tradition as much as in the English one, essentially when the matter is related to the old French colony nations, this famous key word could have magically resolved loads conflicts and contentious affairs even before things get worst.
    I think it does pay, to defeat French arrogance to make a change in its cynical attitude.

  3. MnarviDZ, well done for the chronological line of related events, it is a nice work of synthesis and it helps put things in their political context.

    Regarding this issue of French apology, like you I do not care at all whether they do or not. It’s their business. I’d go even further and say, Algerian demands that the French apologize embarrass me. It is a political game, but I think Algerian people have been dragged into it and they got quite carried away in the whole apology thing. To the extent that it started to appear to me to be more about wanting, needing even, to receive some form of ‘recognition of the Algerian people’ as poor victims. Perhaps it is a symptom of some more propound psychological turmoils, a search for aknowledgment for some achievement, a thirst for any national achievement.

    I also want to say that:

    – I agree with Chirac that children shouldn’t have to apologize for their parents’ crimes

    – Prosecuting the French for war crimes will also lead to some unsavoury truths about war crimes committed by Algerians themselves on Algerians (this does not bother me but it certainly bothers some political elites)

    – The French will never make the archives public, at least not in the coming hundred years, because events are still quite recent and people are still alive who might have witnessed or indeed actively participated in them

    • Just a comment on Sarkozy’s “children not apologizing for their parents’ crimes”, I think we shouldn’t see it this way. It is not the French people, individually, who are asked to apologize for their parents’ individual crimes, but the French state which is asked to apologize. I mean many of these crimes happened during the Fifth Republic which is still implemented today in France . Plus, it is a matter of recognition more than it is an apology.

      • do the son’s bear the sins of the father , no sarkozy responded , but algeria as a whole asking an apology from France as an entity not individuals , not collect if guilty plea , we rest our case .

  4. Pingback: Links – Algerian Bloggers, Brain Drain, and More « Algerian Review

  5. I think Algeria should apologize (or at least recognize) the Islamization and persecution of the people of Kabylia..before it can demand an apology from France.. It is ridiculeous to play the moral high ground when the worst have also been committed by the people who demand an apology…. What sort of debate this is? An apology? It is first a confrontational debate, is not based on mutual undertanding of history…

    Instead of Algeria building its society and its moral fabric which is corrupted to the core by rampant tribalism, dog eats dog mentality and senseless nepostism, all it finds to bicker about is France’s history.. It shows that Algeria cannot bring itself to be ideologically independent, it needs Papa France to the rescue at all times specially mentally , why not call on France to recolonize the country may be they will do a better job at providing for the marginalized superstiteous masses.

    Napoleon Bonaparte left Eastern Europe in ruins and in much worse conditions with his senseless word military domination I do not hear any Ukranian, Latvian or Russsian demanding an apology..

  6. Welcome Bachir.
    I take it you mean the Algerian state, and not Algeria as a country. But what Islamization are you talking about?
    Regarding the persecution of the Kabyles, don’t you think that all Algerians are mistreated evenly? Of course, those who complain more receive a bigger attention, so obviously Kabyles are kind of singled-out because they have their specificities but more because they are protestation champions.

    As to your example on Bonaparte, I mentioned in my post that it’s all about politics, and morals had little to do there. So you could also ask why more and more Western countries (just recently the USA and Sweden) recognise the Turkish “Armenian genocide”.

  7. I think as every can do. But may be with different thoughts. in brief France should apologize to the Algerian people who have been suffering for hundreds years and still. at the same time the Algerian regime should apologize to the Algerian people too.
    He Killed more than 200.000 people, about 17000.kidnapped by the security forces 2000.000.have been displaced, tens of thousands have been tortured some physically and others morally.
    So let’s start with those who are still governing Algeria to confess their crimes, bring theme to justice and the president after that cant forgive them as mentioned in the constitution.

  8. it make no difference to me , my family , France is guilty of a mass killing , looting and burning down everything , they came to our backyard with the most powerful killing machine , they punished , humiliated , even deported some of the most precious people to a no man’s land ( new Caledonia ) it doesn’t matter because we haven’t been there , we read about it , we didn’t witness it or live it , France about not apologizing , they think they always going to have the upper hand , until they think of us as a full partner at that time , we the after war generation , France we let you slide , and time will tell.

  9. Pingback: Apologies and Recriminations | Foreign Policy Watch

  10. Mnarvi, ton post avec une année de retard est drole à lire. Le libyen que tu cites a du certainement rejoindre les rangs des “rebelles”. Qassim -dont le programme était à mes yeux plus digne du “combat de coqs”, du show, que du débat- a quité Aljazeera pour? à l’heure où chacun est en cours de définitivement choisir son camp….
    Mais revenons au sujet. Il s’agit plus en fait de “reconnaissance de crimes” que d’excuses, de repentance, ou de dédommagements matériels. Et même s’il est vrai que cela ne changera absolument rien personnellement à ma vision de la France, ni à mon regard sur l’histoire de l’Algérie, il serait souhaitable pour un Etat, une Nation, qui se déclare à tout va, respectueuse des droits humains, des libertés, etc…. (tu sais le discours ronflant de Sarkozy justement et consort) de reconnaitre que son passé (présent) est entaché de crimes commis au nom… de ce qu’ils veulent. Mais, c’est plus fort qu’eux, il ne peuvent pas dépasser ce sentiment de supériorité qui leur fait croire qu’ils ont contribué, tout en assassinant, volant, violant… à nous communiquer un peu de leur savoir, science, intelligence, etc….

    • Tu as raison Oumelkheir, ca doit etre ca l’effet ravageur du temps🙂 Je n’ai jamais ete fan de Qassim et de son emission, et je ne me forcais a la regarder que lorque l’un des invites etait algerien. Quant au libyen, il doit attendre tranquillement le tank qui le porterait a Tripoli.

      Pour la France, et la le temps n’a pas change mon opinion, que ce soit une reconnaissance ou des excuses ou peu importe, ca reste une affaire franco-francaise. C’est justement du devoir des francais, et pour leur propre interet et consequence (clin d’oeil pour toi) vis-a-vis de leurs pretendues valeurs, de reconnaitre les crimes commis par leur etat et en leur nom. “Il serait souhaitable…” comme tu le dis, mais ce n’est pas a nous algeriens de le souhaiter mais plutot au peuple francais de le faire, une fois debarrasse de son hypocrisie et son arrogance maladives.

      Car en ce qui “nous” concerne, on voit bien Raffarin qui a presque elu domicile a Alger tellement il la visite souvent, et Copé qui est annonce dans la capitale. Tous cherchant (et obtenant) des contracts pour aider Fafa et peut-etre meme Sakrozy (qui lui n’est pas sur de gagner avant le vote) a etre reelu…

  11. Copé? celui du débat sur l’islam en France? On en reçoit du beau monde :-)))
    Il parait que sa mère était de Miliana, waquila c’est le temps des cerises….

    • Beddat wessifat. Soyez gentils avec lui please🙂
      Il vient de declarer a TSA “La repentance, c’est sortir du champ de l’histoire pour entrer dans celui de la polémique” et son programme inclut une conference-debat sur « La France et les valeurs de la République dans la mondialisation » à l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Sciences Politiques d’Alger (soit aujourd’hui soit demain).

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