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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Algérie. les blessures du colonialisme

by By Rosa Moussaoui

Algeria: Scars of Colonialism

Translated by Carol Gullidge

Translated Thursday 6 April 2006, by Carol Gullidge

As young Algerians look to the future, France’s attempts to gloss over its colonial past open up old wounds for those who remember the war in Algeria.

Even if the generations that did not live through the war have put their colonial past behind them, the aftermath of war still touches a nerve on this side of the Mediterranean. The young and not so young remember.

L’Humanité reports.

Algiers. Special envoy

Along the port, thousands of tonnes of merchandise are piling up awaiting transportation to the interior. With the barrel of oil touching the $60 mark, a market system that benefits nobody but the oil industry in Algeria - they call it the "système rentier" - has taken on a look of prosperity. The Algeria of containers is frenetically importing, selling, buying and consuming.

Along the length of the railings that run alongside the Mustapha Hospital at the end of the industrial zone of Belcourt, the open-air black market stretches over several hundreds of square-meters, right up to the entrance to the Meissonier market. Curious passers-by jostle amongst well-stocked makeshift stalls, bartering for clothes and other similar products that have been imported clandestinely. Small-time retailers loudly proffer scented handkerchiefs and trinkets to bystanders: "10 dinars! 10 dinars!" The "hittistes", as Algerians call these unemployed young men who used to hopelessly "prop up the walls" [from the Arabic word hit, meaning "wall"], have long since turned into petty smugglers, after joining the huge army from the informal sector that enables the country to survive. The elegant blue and white town seems to be waking up from a lengthy torpor. Algerians are still traumatized by what they call "the years of darkness", no longer knowing whether the fury of Islamic terrorism erupted six months or fifty years ago.

For the generations who did not live through the War in Algeria, the colonial past has been pushed into the background by events in the immediate past, hopes for the future, and current uncertainties regarding the Head of State, who is currently reported to be very ill. But the waves stirred up in France by the controversy surrounding its colonial past have nevertheless reached this side of the Mediterranean. "I loved the way they reacted in the Caribbean! They played him [Sarkozy] at his own game: ’Clearing the ghetto of scum!’ He’s been well and truly ’karcherised’"(1), Tassadit, a dynamic and bubbly fifty-year-old tells us gleefully. But she does bemoan, on the other hand, the Algerians’ lack of popular reaction to the attempt by France’s Law of February 23, 2005 to rewrite history. [According to Claude Liauzu of Le Monde diplomatique, the Law "recognizes its debt to the women and men who participated in the work carried out by France in its former departments in Algeria,(...)"(2), but ignores "repression and torture and other crimes of colonialism".]

Like Tassadit, many Algerians have closely followed this debate, which some occasionally, somewhat mischievously, like to dub "Franco-French ", pointing to the friction between France and her overseas territories and former colonies. The printed press has given it extensive coverage, and satellite dishes decorating all the apartment-block windows keep the population permanently tuned in to the political debates raging across France. "Our political leaders are wimps", RCD (Rally for Democracy and Culture) sympathizer Rabah says scathingly. "They’ve waited four whole months before attacking this Law’s nationalistic overtones. Why wait so long?" Born during the Algerian war, he has no qualms about comparing the colonial system to "apartheid", which everybody was glad to see the back of, despite all the country’s collected setbacks since independence. "What our parents lived through was the plundering of wealth, and humiliation. They were treated as sub-humans," he says angrily, recalling the numerous revolts that took place between 1830 and 1954.

In rue Didouche-Mourad, the capital’s main thoroughfare, families are making the most of the weekend, strolling around and doing some shopping. The Al-Ghozali bookshop is always packed. Here, students, men, young women, and mothers looking for schoolbooks for their children, are mingling together. In these convivial surroundings, discussions are in full swing, and history books on the war in Algeria take up most of the window display. A group of voluble men is discussing a French television programme about colonization. "Everything that happens between France and Algeria rouses passion: We can’t stand each other and we can’t live without each other!" one of them jokes, by way of conclusion. One of the booksellers, Sid Ali, confirms that the most sought-after books are the ones on history. Coming back to the controversy raised by the Law of 23 February, he finds it baffling that Algerian leaders could have "given lessons on the fact that it’s not up to politicians to rewrite history". "It’s the last straw," he declaims, "That’s all they do here. Official history reigns supreme." His colleague Hassan wonders: "How can anyone say what Algeria would have become without colonization?" For him, the mention of the so-called "benefits" of colonization serves only one purpose: "to suggest that the colonized nations were congenitally incapable of developing". "This claim is nothing less than a crime!" the bookseller goes on, indignantly.

At the end of rue Patrice-Lumumba, the populace of the lower kasbah [a kind of medina, or Islamic city] seems a long way away from these debates on the colonial past. Their only preoccupation: to survive as best they can - by their wits as often as not. Hawking fruit on the street, Ahmed is trying to shift a stock of oranges. Born after Independence, he confirms that colonization has left "a lot of scars and a lot of grief". Recalling the Setif massacre of 8 May, 1945 [which marked the beginning of the Algerian war of independence, just as Europe was celebrating the end of WW2(3)], he is convinced that "the French didn’t do us any good", adding "But nowadays they’re a friendly nation." Ahmed believes that "there are no longer many French people who think that colonization was a good thing".

A little further on, in the rue Bab-Azzoun, two elderly men are impassively watching the continuous stream of passers by. Propped up against one of the arcades lining the alley, Lounis, 70, remembers the young Algerians who died for France during the First and Second World Wars, but also during the war in Indochina. "I fail to see what good colonization did for Algeria", mutters the old man. "There are still people in France who are unable to admit that Algeria doesn’t belong to them," he surmises. "And, over on this side there are those like me who endured the war. I would so much have liked the independence process to proceed peacefully... It’ll take the passing of our generation before the page can be turned and reconciliation sealed." His friend Abderahmane hopes with all his heart that the friendship treaty between the two countries will be signed soon "for the two nations to live in peace and for freedom of movement between the two shores of the Mediterranean".



1. Sarkozy made headlines declaring he would "karcherise la racaille," translated by English news sources as "clean the ghetto of scum ..."

2. Le Monde diplomatique: "At war with France’s past" , By Claude Liauzu , Translated into English by Donald Hounam http://mondediplo.com/2005/06/19colonisation

3. Le Monde diplomatique : "Massacre in Algeria" by Mohammed Harbi (translated by Barbara Wilson) in Le Monde diplomatique: http://mondediplo.com/2005/05/14algeria


“Etre jeune en Algérie”: http://www.unesco.org/courier/1998_09/fr/dici/txt1.htm

“Colonial abuses haunt France”, by Hugh Schofield, in ‘BBC News’: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4552473.stm


From an article in l’Humanité on 21/02/2006

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