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Macron's half-hearted commemoration of the 1961 Paris Massacre

  • Nabila Ramdani
  • 22 Oct 2021

The 'commemoration' of the 1961 Paris Massacre showed that the French president still harbours a colonial mindset.

( AP )

The first thing all of us noticed about last Sunday’s 60th anniversary commemoration in honour of hundreds of Algerians slaughtered by Paris police was how much security was present.

Vans belonging to the Republican Security Companies (CRS) had their blue lights flashing and stretched down every side road – past the city law courts and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Those brandishing white-and-green Algeria flags, or carrying political slogans written on signs, were meanwhile held back by armed officers wearing body armour. The police did not want too many ordinary people on the Saint-Michel Bridge, the world-famous tourist spot where many of the worst murders took place on October 17 1961. Instead officials including city police chief, Didier Lallement, and the Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, were able to pose for photo opportunities.

As for President Emmanuel Macron, he was nowhere to be seen. In typically disingenuous fashion he organised his own personal commemoration a day early, miles up the Seine river in the suburbs.

The Macron bubble included a handful of selected guests of Algerian origin, but was otherwise militaristic in tone – secure and well-guarded. Uniformed soldiers flanked the head of state, and the floral tribute was naturally in the blue-white-and-red of the French republic.

Macron did not even make a speech. Instead, a statement released by the Elysee Palace referenced “unforgivable crimes,” and illegal action by the police that was “brutal, violent and bloody.”

Yes, it was the strongest ever recognition of the outrage, but was by no means an apology, and there was no mention of reparations. More sinister still, there was nothing about retrospective trials, or any kind of public enquiry.

Needless to say, not a single person has ever been brought to justice over the October 1961 bloodbath. Even the proven Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon – the Paris police chief in charge at the time – escaped all blame. He was never criminalised for what he did to the Algerians in Paris, although he was convicted for the crimes against humanity that he committed during World War II.

Many who turned up on the Sunday had hoped for France to replicate its Holocaust moment. It was in 1995 – more than 50 years after some 75,000 Jews were rounded up by the French authorities and entrained to the Nazi gas chambers – that President Jacques Chirac finally confessed, and pinned responsibility firmly on “the folly of the French state.”

“France, the homeland of the Enlightenment, and of the Rights of Man, a land of welcome and asylum…committed the irreparable,” said Chirac. “Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners”.

Remember, in 1961 the French were not handing their Algerian Muslim victims over to anyone. On the contrary, they did the killings themselves. Up to 300 mainly young men were shot with live ammunition, beaten to a bloody pulp, and thrown into the Seine to drown. Others were hung from trees in nearby woods. 

All had been peacefully protesting against the Algerian War, and calling for immediate independence from France. At least 12,000 more marchers, including women and children, were rounded up by police and herded into stadiums and police stations where they were severely wounded, and tortured. Hence historians Jim House and Neil MacMaster described the massacre as the “bloodiest act of state repression of street protest in western Europe in modern history.”

The Algerian nationalists won their war in 1962, but at a terrifying cost. Up to 1.5 million of them were killed during the eight-year-long conflict by the French, who had viewed Algeria as being part of mainland France. Over 132 years of colonial oppression, the French not only used napalm and pioneered the gas chambers, but resorted to everything from scorched-earth policies to the aerial carpet-bombing of civilians, to exterminate the indigenous Arab and Berber populations. 

The brutality was genocidal but – as the events of October 17, 1961 – frequently shrouded in mystery. Even now, historical files are notoriously hard to get hold of, as officials collaborate with politicians in a disgraceful cover-up.

Macron has already proved that he still harbours a colonial mindset. Earlier this month, he was recorded by Le Monde making some outrageous comments stating that Algeria was not a proper nation before Imperial rule started in 1830, when the French first invaded. Macron added that, even when independence was achieved, Algeria set up its own “political military system”; one based on “a hatred of France.”

This follows months of Mr Macron and his cronies launching a ferocious crackdown on Muslims in France, including many who can trace their backgrounds back to Algeria. Up to 90 mosques have been shut as the government propagates the myth that radicalisation takes places within overwhelmingly peaceful communities, and not online or abroad. All the evidence, in fact, points to extremist criminals arriving in France from overseas, while having nothing to do with Imams, or anybody else connected with Islam.

So there we have it – the most important and powerful politician in France by far grants a basic concession to French Algerians after referencing their “hatred for France.” That kind of language leaves very little room for compromise. The overblown security surrounding the commemoration of state-sponsored barbarism, even less so.  

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