President Macron has officially recognised, on behalf of the French state, the crimes carried out during the seven-year Algerian war of independence. Macron, the first president to be born after the conflict lifted the veil on 56 years of denial.
Macron chose to visit 87-year-old Josette Audin, the widow of Maurice Audin who was tortured and murdered by the French military, as the symbol of Frances acknowledgement of the bloody past. The President gave Maurice Audin’s widow his word that “the only thing” he would do “is to acknowledge the truth.” The president travelled to Josette Audin’s home, a one bedroom apartment in the Eastern Parisian suburb of Bagnolet, where he demanded a pardon for Josette’s late husband. Maurice Audin, a mathematician and communist pro-independence activist disappeared in 1957, where he was brutally tortured at the hands of the French state. Audin was 25 when French paratroopers arrested him on the accusation that he was harbouring armed members of the Algerian Communist party. He was then taken to a villa in El Biar where he was repeatedly tortured.
The president’s acknowledgement of the brutal treatment by the military, to figures like Maurice Audin, and the pain it caused to family members to an extent signify Macron’s acknowledgement of the truth, as he is recognising crimes committed by the French. Benjamin Stora, the head of France’s museum of the history of immigration and expert on Algeria, had advised Macron on the issue. Stora stated that “this declaration will leave an indelible mark.” Visiting the widow of a victim of torture shows a recognition, if not admittance, that the French military used such immoral practices. Historian, Raphaëlle Branche, told Le Monde “It will no longer be possible to deny the systematic nature of torture in Algeria,”
Macron may be presenting a degree of transparency into the past by opening the archives, however, it does little to atone for the actions of the French
He is also opening up the past for academic scrutiny, as he is allowing historians, organisations and descendants of the victims to access the archives to examine France’s records. By opening the archives, he releases the inhumanity displayed by the French Government for all to survey. The President, born after the conflict, has no emotional stake in the war. Macron may be presenting a degree of transparency into the past by opening the archives, however, it does little to atone for the actions of the French or the damage to the community.
Macron has also pledged financial support to the families of the Algerians who aided French troops in the war of independence. Such families have faced poverty and discrimination in France; as a result, the President has pledged 40 euros to a support package. Macron is also granting national honours to more than 20 former fighters. The terror and torture created by the military have undeniably left scars within these communities in France. Questions should be raised, how much money can fix an issue which is so unresolved and ingrained within French identity?
Many accuse President Macron of cherry-picking what to accept of France’s colonial past
These gestures are a step in the right direction but they are a long way from an official apology. Aid, honours and the opening of records feels like the equivalent of putting a plaster on a head wound. Young French Algerians have, to a certain extent, a confused and occasionally angry perception of the war. Their feelings are attributed to the way that the Algerian War is taught in schools – a neutral way with no insight into the human consequences of exile and immigration. Brice Hortefeux, former minister of the interior, wrote that Macron was opening old wounds and that he was sick of the culture of “repentance” for the Algerian war. Evidently, there are divided feelings within France. In the case of the national curriculum, there are steps Macron’s government could take to represent the brutality of the French state. Whilst, there are clearly figure such as Hortefuex who would rather keep the lid tight on France’s colonial past. The inhumanity displayed in the Algerian War, and throughout France’s Empire, has caused deep defining scars. The pardoning of Maurice Audin does to a certain extent demonstrate a form of acceptance of the inhumanity shown, however, many accuse President Macron of cherry-picking what to accept of France’s colonial past. He is yet to reference the 17th October Paris massacre. The massacre saw thousands being rounded up taken to Algeria and murdered, these actions were not formerly recognised until 2011. It is a worrying sign that Macron is prepared to recognise one crime but not the others. Some would argue it highlights that the culture of denial and secrecy still exists within the French government.
The inhumanity displayed in the Algerian War, and throughout France’s Empire, has caused deep defining scars.
Whilst the acknowledgement of Audlin’s death is an achievement, there are further recognitions and penance that can be made. It has to be questioned – why has an official apology not been granted? Yes, an official apology can’t bring back the dead. And no, it can’t un-do the murders or the torture. It certainly can’t heal the inbuilt scars. What it can do, however, is show that France acknowledges its colonial legacy and the pain, suffering and disaster it has caused. The very least the French Government could do is give a formal apology: an official admittance of guilt. The fact that Macron won’t do this, highlights his pledge to “acknowledge the truth” as just an empty promise. Pardonings and aid packages may be a step in the right direction, but they alone are not enough to show heartfelt remorse for the colonial legacy of France.