Algeria welcomes Macron’s admission of France’s role in pro-Algerian activist’s death

In Algeria, Audin’s 50-year disappearance has come to symbolise the brutal nature of French tactics during the independence war.
Sunday 23/09/2018
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves the home of Josette Audin, widow of Maurice Audin, in Bagnolet, on September 13. (AFP)
Airing the truth. French President Emmanuel Macron leaves the home of Josette Audin, widow of Maurice Audin, in Bagnolet, on September 13. (AFP)

TUNIS - Algeria warmly welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron’s recognition that France instigated a “system” that led to torture during Algeria’s war of independence, an admission long sought by Algiers.

Macron also formally recognised the French military’s culpability in the likely torture and death of Algerian communist activist Maurice Audin, who disappeared after French soldiers arrested him in 1957.

Macron met with Audin’s 87-year-old widow near Paris and asked for her “pardon” on behalf of France, a historic gesture aimed at repairing longstanding issues between Algeria and France. Macron also said he would reopen national archives on the war as part of France’s quest to ensure everyone “knows the truth.”

“The president of the republic has decided that it was time for the nation to perform the task of accuracy and truth on this matter,” read a statement by the French presidency following the meeting. “It recognises in the name of the French Republic that Maurice Audin had been tortured and executed or tortured to death by soldiers who had arrested him at his home.”

“If the death of Maurice Audin is the ultimate act of some people, it has nevertheless been made possible by a system legally established, the system of arrest-detention.”

It is under that system that the French government granted the military special powers to undermine the Algerian nationalist movement, of which Audin was a part, in the summer of 1957.

Audin, a mathematician at Algiers University, was a member of the Algerian Communist Party whose leaders and activists played a key role in Algerian nationalism. His home served as a safe house during the war, sheltering nationalists hunted by the French authorities and tending to wounded fighters.

In Algeria, Audin’s 50-year disappearance has come to symbolise the brutal nature of French tactics during the independence war.

Macron’s efforts to come to grips with that legacy were hailed by Algerian officials and nationalist survivors as a “huge step” towards reconciliation, which is key to maintaining the two countries’ cultural, economic and military links.

However, the admissions were criticised by Macron’s political opponents in France who say they betray his lack of patriotism, underlying the competing narratives over the two countries’ shared history.

Algeria has made clear that it will consider France a “hostile power” until the country expresses “repentance” for colonial-era abuses. Algeria has pushed back against a French military presence in the Sahel, and the government has conditioned “full normalisation” with France on its returning war archives and compensating victims of its nuclear bomb tests in the Algerian desert of Reggane.

Previous French leaders have made statements expressing regret over France’s role in the war but none went as far as Macron.

In 2013, then-President Francois Hollande called France’s colonial system “deeply unfair and brutal,” after which Algeria allowed France to fly fighter jets over its territory for the first time to strike jihadist positions in Mali.

In February 2017, Macron, then a presidential candidate, was roundly condemned by conservative and right-wing figures in France after he described his country’s colonial history as “a crime against humanity” during a visit to Algiers.

Still, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called on France to seek a “pardon from the Algerian nation.” “Our people always demand the recognition by France of the sufferings endured during colonisation,” Bouteflika said earlier this month.

Macron’s outreach to Audin’s widow, a French national, won praise in Algeria from government officials and war survivors.

“Since this morning I’m very moved,” said Louisette Ighilahriz, a veteran Algerian independence fighter whose account of being tortured and raped in French military prison was told in French media in 2000. “I find it difficult to hold back my tears. I have been waiting for this news,” Ighilahriz said.

Algerian Minister of Mujahidines (veteran fighters) Tayeb Zitouni said Macron’s recognition of the French state’s role in Audin’s presumed death was a “huge step forward.”

“French crimes in Algeria are denied only by those forgetful and ignorant of history,” he added in a statement.

16