The dialogue between Abdelmadjid Chikhi, who was assigned by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to tackle the memory file, and his French counterpart Benjamin Stora, began with a lot of clamor, and this was evident through messages exchanged between the two men through the media.
Benjamin Stora said in a press statement: “Today, after 60 years, we can already find points of agreement. About the description of the colonial system, which is unjust, arbitrary and violent, “and he explained that” it is possible to move forward on the basis of this approach in historical writing and in communicating with new generations”.
However, the representative of the Algerian party was not late for long, and presented a series of questions about how the work should be in the memory file, as he asked his counterpart Stora, indirectly, to provide clarifications of what should be done in the task entrusted to them.
Mr Chikhi said that “we are talking about a common writing of history which is, however, neither desirable nor possible”.
The work on memory issues under the leadership of the director of the National Archives, Abdelmadjid Chikhi, for the Algerian side, and the historian Benjamin Stora for the French side, is beginning to become clearer, if not in its practicalities, at least in its vision and philosophy. This is what emerges, in any case, from reading the latest statements of the two protagonists.
In an interview with a foreign news media outlet, M. Chikhi expressed his conception of this work by saying: “Let’s be serious and be objective. It’s not a question of writing history by proposing to designate a personality on both sides to launch, perhaps, a dialogue on the problems of memory.
Memory is something much broader. It is a question of seeing how to get both countries to manage their memories. If my colleague, my partner or my colleague opposite, Benjamin Stora, has a vision, which is the French vision of memory problems, we also have our own. Therefore, it is a matter of confrontation and discussion”.
To a question on the impact of these memory debates on Algerian-French relations and the risk of seeing them “poisoning” these relations “rather than appeasing them”, Mr Chikhi replied: “Algeria has an obligation, which is linked to its geopolitical situation, to have serene relations with the whole environment in which it moves, and first and foremost the Mediterranean environment.
Moreover, if we can think about how to coordinate on the problems of memory, so that they do not hinder the foundation of normal relations between two independent states, I think we will have done a great service to our two countries.
This is the vision we have in Algeria. We want to have serene relations with our neighbours, even if there is a sea separating us from the other side. Especially since the two countries have lived together for quite a long time, sometimes bickering, sometimes waging war against each other”.
The advisor to the president of the Republic for the National Archives and Memory also pointed out: “We have suffered 132 years of atrocious, very destructive colonization. Algerian society has been disarticulated. We are now trying to put it back on its feet, and there are problems of memory. How do we deal with them? As far as we are concerned, we are doing the work.
The same work needs to be done on the other side, and we will be able to confront our ideas and perhaps arrive at a vision that is not too contradictory, nor a one-way vision, because the development of the two countries has taken different courses. Therefore, we want serene relations based on mutual respect and also on the exploitation of the problems of memory according to the circumstances of each country”.
Last Thursday, on the sidelines of a ceremony to pay tribute to the lawyer and anti-colonial activist Gisèle Halimi, Abdelmadjid Chikhi stated: “The Algerian side is waiting to know what France’s intentions are after the appointment of Benjamin Stora to work on the issue of memory with Algeria, and what aspect will be raised for the launch of this joint work.” Mr. Chikhi considered that “we are talking about a common writing of history which is, however, neither desirable nor possible”.
For his part, Benjamin Stora also provided a number of useful clarifications on the same issue. In an interview with France Culture broadcast on Friday, the historian said: “It’s going to go very quickly, that’s what the President of the Republic wants.
It’s not a very big report, you know, this kind of very, very long report, which, in the end, you don’t read. No, what he wants is a rather short report with a certain number of recommendations to try to think about setting up, perhaps, a steering committee, on very concrete tasks”.
On the subject of these tasks, Mr Stora said that they would mainly concern “the question of archives, the disappeared, what happened with the Europeans in Algeria, the cemeteries which are today in Algeria and which must be maintained. It is a very, very important memory for the Europeans of Algeria. So there are all these questions which are very concrete, very practical questions, which we will have to try to implement”.
It’s a necessary endeavor”. The author of the book “Une Mémoire Algérienne” or (“Algerian Memory”) also noted: “Now, there is, of course, the possibility of rapprochement from state to state to try to find bridges, common points of history, where we could naturally find symbolic dates, characters to honor”.
“This is what the President of the French Republic asked me to do in this mission letter. It is not, and never has been, a question of writing a common history, but simply of trying to find points of passage that would enable us to move forward together in resolving a certain number of historical issues”, Mr Stora underlined.
He added: “Historical knowledge based on archives, on testimonies, on the press, on the cross-checking and confrontation of information is the best bulwark against obscurantism and stereotypes, which may exist around this bloody history, this terrible history, that is colonial history.”