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France refuses to apologise to Algeria for colonialism, offers 'symbolic acts' instead

Macron does not wish to apologise for French colonialism in Algeria [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 January, 2021

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The French President's office said there will be "no apologies" but that Macron intends instead to make "symbolic acts" aimed at emphasising recognition of the harsh colonial reality.

After receiving a report on colonialism during the Algerian war today, the French Presidency’s office stated that President Emmanuel Macron would refuse to apologise for what happened during the 132 years of French rule in Algeria, which began in 1830 and ended with a brutal eight-year war which lasted from 1954 to 1962.

Algeria will celebrate sixty years of independence from France in 2022. The country's freedom from colonialism was won after a great deal of bloodshed, with French colonial forces massacring hundreds of thousands of Algerian civilians and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) also killing French civilians and combatants and pro-French Algerians. The relationship between France and Algeria is still strained to this day.

In order to improve relations between the two countries,  in July 2019 Macron asked Algerian-born historian Benjamin Stora to produce a report assessing "the progress made by France on the memory of the colonization of Algeria and the Algerian war" .

After receiving the completed report, Macron's office said there will be "no apologies" but that Macron intends instead to make "symbolic acts" aimed at emphasising recognition of the harsh colonial reality and helping reconciliation between the two countries. France will "pursue and broaden" the opening of its archives on the war as work is under way to allow the release of classified secret documents, Macron's office added. Details of these symbolic acts will be released in the next few months.

Read also: Algeria expects France to apologise for colonial past - president

Macron is the French president who has gone futhest in his criticism of his country's previous colonialism in Algeria, calling it "a crime against civilization" during a 2017 visit to Algeria, while noting what he characterized as its positive aspects.

"It's truly barbarous and it's part of a past that we need to confront by apologising to those against whom we committed these acts," he said.

However, he also added, "At the same time, we must not sweep this past under the rug… there’s a fitting phrase that is said about Algeria: 'France established human rights in Algeria. It simply forgot to [abide] by them.'"

In 2018, Macron also recognised the responsibility of the French state for the death of a dissident in Algeria in 1957, admitting for the first time the military's systematic use of torture during the war.

Historian Christelle Taraud says that more acknowledgement by France of the reality of its colonial past is needed, and that this is causing a crisis in French identity. 

"In order to be a unified people, it's necessary to 'write a new past'... It's like you have two Frances: one in the mainland, with new symbols, new rights; and in another world, overseas, you have another France with absolutely different principles, rules and rights. That’s especially true regarding  French Algeria."

Among the recommendations made by Stora are the establishment of a commission called "Memories and Truth", the production of material regarding "disappeared" Algerians, and more time in school history classes dedicated to  the French colonization of Algeria."

In 2022, the French President is supposed to take part in three days of commemorations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Algerian War. 

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