Algeria’s Long and Painful Fight for Independence

July 5, 2012. 50 years ago Algeria was winning its independence after a bloody civil war. Today the relations between France and Algeria are still very fragile and difficult as Simon Buisson explained in his article Sunday. Yet, from where do these difficulties stem? Without an explanation about the common past of France and Algeria, we cannot understand the current situation.

In 1834, Algeria is annexed to France, after a military conquest which began in 1830. From 1830, a number of European settlers, mainly French and Spanish, came to Algeria, later to be called “pied noir” called ‘black feet’.  In 1848, the three Algerian provinces: Oran, Alger and Constantine, became French departments in Algeria. As a result, these departments had the same judicial and administrative organization as those in France.

Although the Senatus-Consulte of July 14th 1865 was meant to grant the same rights to natives and settlers, it did not manage to do so in practice. Consequently, the native people had fewer rights than the ‘black feet’ settlers, even if the latter made up just a small minority of the population.

Time passed and the Second World War broke out. De Gaulle’s France called upon all of its soldiers to fight the Axis: therefore soldiers from the French colonies,  from Morocco, sub-Saharan/western Africa and Algeria, were called to defend the French nation.

In 1945, various nationalist parties – the most famous being the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) – asked for the independence of Algeria. This claim coincided, amidst other factors, with the condemnation by the international community of colonialism. The year 1945 can also be considered as the genesis moment of the war in Algeria, although the official dates are 1954-1962.

During these years, war broke out between the nationalist side, claiming for independence, and France and its allies: the harkis (indigenous soldiers) and the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS), which wanted to keep Algeria as a colony and whose motto was: “Algeria is French, and will remain French.”

Massacres, torture, and executions made up this dark period for both France and Algeria and the war had many repercussions for both France and Algeria: division and contention of the public opinion in the two countries, the return of Charles De Gaulle as President of France, the fall of the 4th Republic and the establishment of the 5th, as well as the return of the “black feet” to France.

On the 18th of March 1962, the Evian Accords were ratified by both sides and set up the cease-fire. On April 8th 1962, a referendum in metropolitan France asked French citizens if they were in favor of the Evian Accords and for the self-governance of Algeria. 90% of voters were in favor of it. However the FLN did not respect the cease-fire, and attacked former harkis soldiers and French supposedly linked to the OAS on April 17th 1962.

The 1st of July 1962, a new referendum was held in Algeria and asked voters “Do you want Algeria to become an independent state, cooperating with France according to the conditions defined by the statements of March 19th 1962?” 99.72% answered yes; therefore four days later, Algeria became independent.

Yet, even 50 years later, many dark spots still remain. France recognized the war, but never the violence carried out during it, principally massacres, executions and torture. The abandonment of the harkis soldiers by France has only been recognized this year by Nicolas Sarkozy, and there are still much left unsaid on both sides. The past cannot be blown away, however knowing and understanding it, we can try to improve the present, and build a better future. Former enemies could become friends, and avoid letting history repeat itself.

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