8 May 1945 in Algeria
8 May 2015, France. A public holiday in the entire country on the occasion of the “Victory Day in Europe”, so to say in the “civilized world.” The expression itself makes it easy to understand that the so so-called allied countries are meant by it, since the “civilised world” does not extend to large parts of the entire world.
A holiday for some countries, a sad day for others. Why is that? Because such is life, and it is for us who have the capacity to be thorough in trying to understand it.
In Algeria, for example, it is a day of mourning. Being a French colony since the invasion in 1830, Algeria has provided a significant number of men (who were mostly forced by the colonial authorities) to fight in Europe during the First and Second World War. All of this for the liberation of the “motherland” France. Why is it a day of mourning then? At first, the victory was joint.
Before the Second World War
Before entering into the subject, it is important to remember the political situation. The French départements of Algeria (that’s what they were called) had already seen a political struggle for indigenous rights. As a matter of fact, Algerian intellectuals began to form clubs and political parties already in the 1920s. This was the case for the PPA (Parti du Peuple Algérien, Algerian People’s Party) founded by Messali Hadj in 1937, which fought for equal rights between the Arab and the European population. They never succeeded: The local population only had the status of “sujets”, subjects of the empire without civil rights and not the same ID cards as the European residents. Therefore, in elections an Arab voice had less weight than a European voice. In 1939, the PPA is prohibited and its members are muzzled.
During the Second World War, the Arab population saw a flicker of hope on the horizon: Regardless of the outcome of the conflict there would be a change, eventually. Shortly after the landing of US forces in Algiers in 1942, Admiral Darlan declared: “France will not neglect its duties towards the Muslims.” Big words.
Soon after that, thousands of Algerians are enlisted in the French army. Together with Moroccan riflemen they participate in the liberation of Corsica, the Provence and several other regions of France.
A gentle reminder
On May 1st 1945, demonstrations and rallies are organized in order to remind France of the promises made in return for the contribution to the liberation of Europe. Severe repression follows. Protesters and parties representing the Muslim population decide to repeat their request under the main slogan: “L’indépendance de l’Algérie”, independence for Algeria. The irritated European settlers and the prefect of Constantine (department in eastern Algeria) anticipated what was going to happen. On day D, the prefect orders to shoot all those who fly the Algerian flag. In Sétif, police forces and some of the settlers eventually open fire on the protesters. The scenario is similar in the city of Guelma. East Algeria is set ablaze, people are shot, women raped. Given the ever increasing scale of the protests the French government calls in the army and the air force, which starts to bomb villages. Among the dead are often intellectuals, political party and club members. In the larger villages humiliating scenes are arranged by senior officers of the French army in order to push the population to total submission. One of them, General Duval reported to the French authorities in Paris: “I have given you peace for ten years.” History proved him right in a way, this submission lasted only nine years.
The results of the 8 May 1945 in Algeria? Like in any historical conflict, figures vary. The French government officially speaks of 1700 dead. General Tubert, a member of the investigation commission appointed by the French government, puts the figure to 15,000 victims. The Algerian side speaks of 45,000 dead. Beyond these numbers the French repression produced a shock among the Muslim population that would retain armed struggle for as long as nine years. From this moment however people understood that peaceful protest lead to nothing.
8 May 1945 was surely not joyful for Germany, but neither for a different part of the world.
The French view today
France always ventured to lecture Turkey for not recognizing the Armenian genocide. Shouldn’t France, the “Land of Human Rights”, go forward by recognizing its own massacre? This is not meant to accuse the French people, but rather the politicians and communication experts who play historians and exploit the events for the sake of sheer populism. Those who reflect cannot be fooled.
In the words of the famous Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp, who studied history before joining the Vietnamese resistance: “Imperialism is a bad student who does not retain his lessons.” Words full of wisdom.
Translated from French by Rüdiger Morbach. The original version can be found here:
Boukhari Meraghni – Le 8 Mai 1945 en Algérie