Two days ago, France commemorated the anniversary of “the appeal of June 18“. On this day in 1940, Charles de Gaulle used the BBC waves to call the French people to resist the Nazi occupation. A few years later, the West (mainly the USA and the UK) and the former French colonies freed France. This year, Sarkozy decided to celebrate this event in the UK, and asked his PM and members of his party to pay the annual visit to de Gaulle’s grave.
Having lived under the occupation, many thought that France would understand the situation of its own colonized lands and people, and do something for them (at least to thank them for helping free her). But they were naïve for France wanted to recover its reputation as an international power, and what a better way to do it than reminding all those lowly colonized people that they are nothing but the servants of their French masters. The massacres of May 8, 1945 were the message France decided to deliver to its Algerian colony.
Luckily (and unfortunately for colonialist France), these bloody massacres led to the opposite result as they triggered the actions towards our War of Independence. And France had to face a military resistance which it had not expected and which caused the loss of its most celebrated colony.
During this war, France used many of its “great” men, heroes of the French resistance, who wanted to revive the French empire power especially after the humiliating occupation by the Nazis and the sore defeat in Dien Bien Phu. These men were officers of the army and among them we can find names such as Bigeard, Massu, Aussaresses, Godard and Graziani (killed by the Algerain moudjahidines in Tizi-Ouzou in January 1959).
I am not interested in the French celebrations but I decided to write this post because two days ago, on that commemoration day, Bigeard has passed away; and I found the coincidence somehow ironic. And I take this opportunity to give examples on some words which have opposite meanings depending on time but also on which side of the Mediterranean one may be.
This is a classic, just ask about organisations such as Hamas or Hizbullah. They say a resistant is always somebody else’s terrorist, and the best way to crash a resistance movement is to accuse it of being a group of terrorists. In 1954, France denied the existence of an Algerian resistance (the war itself was acknowledged only recently) and called the Algerian moudjahidines bandits. Then they called them terrorists during the Battle of Algiers. When some French journalists criticized Larbi Ben Mhidi for bombing cafés during the battle, he told them that he would be most happy to exchange his bombs for the French planes and tanks.
The French word for this is “collabo” and it refers to those many French people who collaborated with the Nazis and didn’t resist their invasion. These are despised and most hated by the French Nationalists. The Algerian traitors are called “Harkis” and are despised and hated by us Algerians. The problem is, while the French continue to hate its collabos, they consider the Harkis as their friends and are spending time and effort to force the Algerians to live with them as if nothing had happened. They were even too angry when Bouteflika compared the Harkis to the French collabos.
On the other hand, there were some brave French men who knew the French occupation of Algeria was illegal and unfair, and stood up against it. Many of them even helped the FLN and are considered as heroes in Algeria. France obviously considers them as traitors and executed many of them during the war (Yveton for example).
This is linked to the previous point. Our heroes of the independence (an example here on how we look at them) are mostly considered as criminals and terrorists by the French. And France’s heroes of the liberation have acted as war criminals in Algeria and are therefore hated on our side of the Mediterranean. Suffice to say that Bigeard, who was a respected man in France, is associated with the “crevette Bigeard” by his own soldiers.
The closest example I can think of is when Bush stated that American interrogation techniques were not torture. But if we consider the Algerian case, France has always denied the use of torture as a way to gather information and force the Algerians to talk. France, the leader of Human Rights, prefers to talk of persuasion skills; and when it admits that there could have been some cases of torture, it adds that this wasn’t an accepted and institutionalised method within its army. This is the official discourse (as held by Bigeard). But a few years ago, another French hero, Aussaresses, wrote a book confessing not only that he practiced torture in Algeria, but also that it was known of and accepted by his hierarchy. Of course, most of his former colleagues (who became generals) denied it.
Fortunately, many of their Algerian victims are still alive and can talk of what they had endured. La princesse de Clèves copied here excerpts of Louisette Ighilahriz’s testimony. And below are two related videos.