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إدارة الموقع

Do the French Lack Political Will to Solve the Memory Issue?

Mohamed Moslem / English version: Dalila Henache
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Do the French Lack Political Will to Solve the Memory Issue?

Is the Algerian-French mixed commission to discuss the file of France’s colonial past in Algeria heading to a dead end? A question that has become more than urgent in light of the ambiguity surrounding its fate, nearly ten months after its creation’s announcement.

This pessimism stems from the head of the French historians’ commission, Benjamin Stora, who implicitly threatened to withdraw, citing the lack of job opportunities for French historians, as stated in an interview with Radio France International “RFI”, in which he said: “We cannot continue with voluntary work.” It is a wonder when you stand on the fact that the party that was insisting on solving the problem of memory is now putting the stick in the wheel.

The French historian admitted that the mixed historians’ commission had only convened once since its establishment, and that was at the Institute of the Arab World via “video conference”, adding that this meeting lasted for nearly two hours and was limited to an acquaintance between the members of the committee from both sides, and it was also agreed that the beginning should be from the nineteenth century, i.e, the Algerian side, which rejected the first failed initiative (Stora – Abdelmadjid Chikhi), because the French side tried to limit the study period to the liberation revolution only, or what the French historical literature calls the “Algerian War”.

Benjamin Stora was asked about the extent to which the mixed commission could work from the early beginnings of French colonialism in Algeria, and he replied that this is “a necessary goal, because the issue of archives is the basis for writing history”, and he spoke of the archive looted by France “There is the interesting thing about the archive that (France) removed from Algeria after independence in 1962. There are kilometres and kilometres of archives that are stored mainly in Aix-en-Provence. So the first task, in my opinion, is really to make a kind of inventory of the archives between France and Algeria”.

“Once the inventory of this huge amount of the archive is completed, various problems will arise: first, the issue of accessing the archive, and there is also the problem of restoring the archive. At this level, there is no taboo subject from my point of view. It can be discussed openly.” He distinguished between what he called the “archive of sovereignty”, which remains, in his opinion, a French property, and what he described as the archive looted from the Algerians during the occupation period, and this remains Algerian, but he talked about the problem of its retrieval that must be researched.

The French historian talked about a second meeting of the mixed historians’ commission, which is expected in the middle of next June, although its exact date has not been finally set, because it is expected to coincide with the upcoming visit of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to France, as announced earlier, but the crisis of the European Parliament’s regulation against Algeria and the role of the MPs who belong to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s party in this new crisis added more doubts about the possibility of respecting the aforementioned agenda.

However, the problem facing the mixed commission’s team from the French side, as Benjamin Stora believes, is the problem of providing means and capabilities to facilitate the work of the commission. Stora asked: “The question here is that I do not know the means that France has allocated today. I do not know. I worked on this report that everyone knows (perhaps he meant the report that he was assigned to complete and handed over to the French presidency in January 2021), but I was not paid for that mission. After three years, the voluntary work continues. […] Therefore, it is still necessary that there be a development of the means in France because if the necessary means are not allocated, this committee will have a difficulty that may prevent the completion of its mission.”

So where is the problem? Are the French authorities lacking seriousness and sufficient will by not providing sufficient resources for this commission? The historian replies: “I cannot answer this question frankly, because there was nevertheless the Algiers Agreement that was signed by the two presidents who committed themselves to the creation of this mixed commission, the only thing I can say is that I hope the means will be provided.”

The strange thing is that Benjamin Stora brought the issue earlier to the Elysee Palace, but he received nothing but procrastination: “Yes, there is no problem, we will help, we will allocate a budget, we will give salaries, we will find workplaces, etc..”, he said, adding; “We can’t keep volunteering with one person writing reports and meeting people.” For Benjamin Stora, it is a matter of political will.

What was stated by Benjamin Stora confirms the lack of enthusiasm of the Elysee Palace to go far in the issue of memory, especially after expanding the period of study from the years 1954 and 1962 to the entire occupation from 1830 to 1962, which is the condition imposed by the Algerians, in what many French consider opposing their interests, because the inevitable result will be a political and criminal condemnation of French colonialism.

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