Algerian-French Memory Commission Regains Vitality, But With Ambiguous French Goals
The mixed Algerian-French commission to discuss the memory file is moving towards strengthening its activity after a period of doubt that has clouded its work, reinforced by the statement of the head of the commission from the French side, Benjamin Stora, who complained earlier about the limited means and capabilities to work in a situation that gave the impression of a lack of goodwill in the other camp to deal with this file.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, responded to that call for help, by providing what the work of historians required from the French side, according to what was stated by the historian, Benjamin Stora, who expressed his satisfaction with providing what he requested for the good conduct of this endeavour, which the French party was its initiator, and even insisted on its success.
In a statement to France Inter Radio, Stora said: “It can be said that the concern I raised earlier in this regard has been responded to satisfactorily,” noting that Stora had spoken through the columns of the French newspaper Le Monde, last summer, about the inability to work without providing what this work requires.
Benjamin Stora spoke about the distribution of roles within the commission that he heads, saying: “Currently there is a person directly assigned to this aspect of the commission from the French side, which is the historian Tramor Quemeneur, or another person will be assigned if necessary because I cannot do everything in the committee.”
The French historian believes that research into the memory file should not be limited to what the mixed commission is doing, but rather “other spaces must be provided in this regard, such as allocating more research grants to young historians or young graduates working on this file in France, because the French colonialism of Algeria attracts many researchers, not only at the level of the two countries but also at the global level, which makes it necessary for France not to register a delay in this regard.”
Based on what was said by the French historian, the fourth meeting of the commission’s teams from both sides will be held next month in Paris, and it comes less than two months away from the meeting that was hosted in the city of Constantine (eastern Algeria), the birthplace of Benjamin Stora, in what appeared to be a symbolic gesture for the latter, who had left the city as a child, weeks after Algeria’s independence in 1962.
Benjamin Stora presented a vision of the nature of the work that the mixed commission is undertaking, and said: “It is not about writing a common (historical) story between Algeria and France, but rather exchanging and sharing information, and working together for this common history, for nearly a century and a half of common history of the two countries, with one goal, which is to try to find out the origins and circumstances of colonialism in the nineteenth century.”
Stora goes on to explain further; “the matter is not about rewriting the common history, but rather stopping at some of the dates, documents, and events that occurred during the colonial era. It is not writing historical memories and stories, because they are not the same for the two countries,” indicating that the commission is also looking into restoring some of what was related to the memory of Emir Abdelkader and the restitution of some tangible and intangible cultural works.
The French historian also did not rule out holding a meeting between historians from both sides; “It does not have to be in Paris,” but it could be in one of the cities of “La Provence” in southern France, as our Algerian friends suggested, added Stora, in Marseille or Aix-en-Provence. The archive remains one of the points that is strongly raised every time, whether in Algeria or France.