Former Defense Minister’s Pro-Colonialism Remarks Strain Ties with Algeria

Former French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet.

Former French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet.

Though French colonialism has long fallen by the wayside, remnants of its influence still pervade some members of the French government.

Former Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, who served from 2011 to 2012 under the Sarkozy administration, has criticized current president Francois Hollande’s effort to officially recognize the suffering of Algerians during colonization. During a two-day visit to Algeria in December, Hollande made a speech denouncing the injustices of French colonialism in Algeria.

When questioned in writing by the French Public Senate regarding Hollande’s effort, Longuet claimed that French colonialism was justified, saying that when placed in a historical context, the record of colonialism was “acceptable” and even “positive.” According to Longuet, colonialism is not the cause of the difficult relationship between France and Algeria.

“The Algerians should have the honesty to recognize that,” he said.

Longuet maintained that the colonial system was complex, and could not be accurately judged by today’s standards. He dismissed Hollande’s speech, saying it was “dangerous and useless to pretend to, in a speech of a few minutes, treat or exhaust a subject as complex as the ‘French colonial adventure.’”

These remarks tainted Hollande’s efforts at establishing a warmer relationship between France and Algeria. Hollande’s actions were markedly progressive in improving Franco-Algerian relations, as he denounced the colonial system as “brutal” and “unjust”. The shared past between France and its former north African colony Algeria is the source for a bitter and difficult relationship. Tensions run high between the two countries, and dialogue between them has been highly restricted.

This isn’t the first time that Longuet’s actions have sparked controversial debate regarding Franco-Algerian relations. In November, Longuet gave the “bras d’honneur,” or “gave the arm” (an offensive gesture) at the end of an interview with Algerian news agency APS when requested by Algerian Minister of Moudjahidine Mohamed Cherif Abbas for “an open recognition of the crimes perpetrated by French colonialism.”

The gesture evoked outrage among the Algerian media, as the incident coincided with the anniversary of the Algerian liberation war’s breakout on November 1, 1954, considered a sacred moment in Algerian history.

Longuet is not alone in his sentiments regarding Franco-Algerian relations. Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN), a conservative right-wing party, asserted that the Algerians should be the ones to apologize, and that an apology from France would hurt French pride. Many mainstream French politicians are also wary of issuing a full-fledged apology, as they themselves were not directly responsible for the injustice.

Despite Longuet’s criticisms, however, Hollande’s efforts suggest a new era in relations between the two countries. His gestures have been praised by the Algerian political elite, and Hollande himself was lauded for political courage. What remains to be seen is how this new era will develop, as France recognizes its political history with clarity and the two countries realize the goals of Hollande’s rhetoric.

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