French president recognises ‘brutal’ rule of Algeria
France’s President Francois Hollande said in Algiers on Thursday that he recognised his country’s century of “brutal” colonial rule over the Algerian people, as he sought to launch a new era in relations.
“Over 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system,” Hollande told the Algerian parliament on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the North African country, to applause from MPs.
“This system has a name: it is colonialism and I recognise the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people,” he said.
In the audience were numerous mujahedeen veterans from the vicious 1954-1962 war of independence that killed an estimated 1.5 million Algerians.
The French president said after arriving in Algeria on Wednesday that he had not come to say sorry for the crimes committed during the colonial period, as some, including a dozen political parties, have demanded.
But he stressed the importance of recognising what happened as a way of beginning a new era in bilateral relations, saying nothing would come from “forgetfulness or denial”.
Hollande referred to specific atrocities, notably the massacre at Setif, where nationalist unrest that broke out at the end of World War II was brutally suppressed by French forces, leaving thousands dead.
“On May 8, 1945, when the world triumphed over brutality, France forgot its universal values,” Hollande said.
The truth should also be spoken about how Algeria gained its independence, “in this war whose name was not mentioned in France for a long time.”
“We have a duty to speak the truth about the violence, injustices, massacres and torture,” he said, adding that doing so strengthened French-Algerians ties.
The French-language Algerian press hailed the visit for turning a page in relations, with the popular El-Watan daily saying Hollande had demonstrated “exceptional lucidity and sincerity, for a French president”.
The two countries are bound together by human, economic and cultural ties.
More than half a million Algerians live in France, and nearly 200,000 Algerians receive French visas every year, but many are also frustrated at not being able to obtain them and seek a better life in Europe.
Hollande promised on Thursday to “better accommodate” Algerians seeking to move to France and to streamline the visa process, saying that doing so was of “mutual interest”.
It is necessary to “manage the flow of migrants” but the demand for visas “must not become an obstacle course, or worse still, a humiliation,” he told the Algerian parliament.
“Rather, we need to ensure that the return trips continue, and are even increased, for students, businessmen, artists, families, in other words all those who drive the relationship” between France and Algeria.
He said France expected Algeria “to open its doors more widely to the French who wish to come to your country,” alluding in particular to former French settlers in Algeria, and the pro-French Algerians, known as “harkis”, who went to France after the war.
On arrival, Hollande was received with full honours by his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and said he wanted bilateral relations to be a “strategic partnership between equals”.
The leaders later signed a declaration of friendship and cooperation, one of six accords inked on Wednesday, including for the construction of a car factory by French vehicle manufacturer Renault near the western city of Oran.
The socialist president, accompanied by a 200-strong delegation including nine government ministers and around 40 business leaders, has been visiting Algeria after a period of lukewarm ties under his rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
His two-day trip to the oil-rich country also comes at a time when the French economy is sorely in need of a boost.
In his address to parliament, Hollande stressed France was ready “to go further” in its co-operation with Algeria in the energy, healthy, environment, construction, and transport sectors.