In a tight election year, the French president seeks to burnish his nationalist credentials and reach out to Algerian collaborators who fought against their countrymen and women.

Hundreds of thousands of Algerian collaborators - known as Harkis - served as auxiliaries in the French army during the war for Algerian independence.
Hundreds of thousands of Algerian collaborators - known as Harkis - served as auxiliaries in the French army during the war for Algerian independence. (AFP)

Algerians have long demanded that France apologise for its 132-year occupation and the brutality inflicted by colonial forces.

While the French government resisted an outright apology or compensation, it recently apologised to Algerians who fought for Paris against independence fighters.

Many of those fighters, also known as Harkis, left Algeria after it was liberated and settled in France. However, viewed as traitors and collaborators, none were allowed to return to their former homes.

Once settled in France, however, far from receiving any recognition, many of the Harkis fell into poverty, were marginalised and faced widespread discrimination.

Harkis and their descendants feel France abandoned and mistreated them after the war, one of the darkest chapters in France's modern history. Around 200,000 fought against fellow Algerians in the 1954-1962 war, and tens of thousands of Harkis were killed after the French withdrawal.

One activist said that the "French conquered and maintained much of their empire with Senegalese "Tirailleurs," Vietnamese "Tonkinese Rifles" and Algerian "Harkis," and the British using Indian and Nepalese troopers."

Local collaborators were instrumental in maintaining colonial power.

As France enters into an election year and the far-right in the country running neck and neck with President Emmanuel Macron, the ripple effects of the Algerian war continues to play a significant role in the psychology of the state and society.

By agreeing to offer compensation to Algerian collaborators, Emmanuel Macron is signalling that France will not be ashamed of its past history.

"I ask your forgiveness," Macron told Harkis and their descendants gathered in the French presidential palace.

"We will continue to bandage the wounds as long as they haven't healed through words of truth. That is why the government will present a bill aimed at inscribing recognition and reparations in the marble of our laws," Macron said.

In Algeria, the Harkis are widely seen as traitors, and wounds from the colonial era slice deep. Algerians today want their own apology from France for its actions during the war.

Following Macron's declaration, Algeria's Ministry of Independence War Veterans said the French decision does not concern the country.

"Algeria is the country of one million and a half martyrs ... the liberation revolution separated the martyrs and fighters from the Harkis and traitors," the ministry added.

In 2018, his government promised 40 million euros for the Harkis and their children via pensions and other aid as an "indemnity."

His predecessor, Francois Hollande, acknowledged the state's culpability toward the Harkis in 2016, and then-President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 recognised the state's "failings."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies