“The excuses, they can keep them, to me that doesn’t mean anything. I too can kill someone and ask for forgiveness. Would you accept it? No, we need financial and moral reparations ”, let go of Mohamed, a native of Constantine, the largest city in eastern Algeria.
This sixty-year-old whose paternal family lived in Tébessa, in the far east of Algeria, remains marked by the story of an uncle he did not know. “My father’s little brother died at the age of 10 when he exploded on a mine in Tébessa. He thought it was a toy, she smashed in his face. It was my other uncle who took him on his shoulders. They took him to the hospital but it was too late, he had lost too much blood ”, Mohamed says.
The story goes back to the 1950s, in the midst of the Algerian war, when France installed lines of defense, called the Morice and Challe lines, along the Algerian-Tunisian border. At the time, the French army laid millions of anti-personnel mines and explosive devices over a distance of 460 kilometers, between Annaba and Tébessa. The goal? Put an end to the infiltration of Algerian combatants, responsible in particular for supplying the internal maquis with arms, from the Tunisian rear bases of the National Liberation Army.
According to the Algerian authorities, these explosive devices claimed 4,830 victims during the Algerian war and nearly 2,500 others between 1962 and 2017, when the demining of the areas concerned was completed. It was not until 2007 that France handed over the mapping of anti-personnel mines to the Algerian authorities.
Compensate the victims
On the southern side of the Mediterranean, the question of memory is still of significant importance. For some Algerians, its settlement requires the presentation of an official apology. “It is an imperative and I would even say that it is only too late, after sixty years of independence”, Achwak * believes. This thirty-something, who works in publishing, is installed on the terrace of a café facing the imposing Grande Poste in Algiers, a Neo-Auresque building near which the supporters of French Algeria met regularly during the political crises that marked the end of the colonial period.
“The apologies will ease the spirits, but there is also the question of the victims of the nuclear tests of Reggane [menés entre 1960 et 1966 dans le Sud algérien], who still endure after-effects. They should be compensated ”, adds Achwak. Without this, Algeria and France will never be able to “Open a new page, she continues. It is passed on from generation to generation. If someone has a father who has been a victim, then he will always live with this damage to one of his parents ”, supports the young woman.
For Mohamed, the issue of compensation for victims is also essential. “The families of Jews deported during World War II obtained financial reparations. We expect the same so that France knows that war has a cost. “
But “If there is compensation, it should be granted directly to the victims”, explains Ameur *, a 27-year-old entrepreneur whose premises are located close to the Algerian presidency. “Compensating the victims of nuclear radiation is the minimum. But they shouldn’t give anything to the state ”, continues Ameur. His family was also marked by the Algerian war of independence. “My father is the son of a shaheed [martyr], it would help him to see that France recognizes the facts, but he has no resentment. Now we are in the third generation, we have to close this chapter and move on. “
Facing him, his friend Smail *, 23, does not consider an apology as a prerequisite for reconciliation between the Algerian and French peoples. “People need to focus on economic, not historical, relationships. As for memory, it’s a populist question that our leaders use to gain more support ”, explains this young graduate in political science.
Ameur and Smail, both involved in an opposition political party, believe that successive powers have always instrumentalised the question of memory. “At the time of Bouteflika [l’ancien président chassé du pouvoir en 2019 par le mouvement de protestation populaire du Hirak], the authorities were already working on the recovery of the skulls [de résistants à la colonisation tués par les Français dans les années 1840 et 1850, longtemps conservés à Paris], so it was not Tebboune who requested and obtained their restitution. But he used it well to gain legitimacy. “
The Algerian head of state, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 in a climate of dispute that only the Covid-19 pandemic was able to mitigate, was present during the official burial of the 24 skulls returned by France. The ceremony, broadcast live on national television, was organized on July 5, the date of Independence Day.
“He uses Algerian history. This is also why he chose the 1er November [jour férié marquant le déclenchement de la guerre d’indépendance] as a symbolic date to pass its Constitution. The recovery has always been there among the putschists, including Boumédiène [figure de la guerre d’indépendance devenue chef du gouvernement puis président de la République]. All these elements of the FLN [Front de libération nationale, ancien parti unique] have recovered Algerian history for the cult of their personality, for their own interests and not that of the Algerian people ”, Mohamed slice.
For her part, Achwak remains confident in the lucidity of the Algerian people. “The day we repatriated the skulls, people spoke out to say that it was not a favor that was done to us. Memory is collective, it does not belong to so-and-so or to the government. “
* The first names have been changed at the request of the people.