Macron’s remarks on the Algerian massacre in Paris denounced

October 18, 2021 - 21:18

TEHRAN - French President Emmanuel Macron’s denouncement of a bloody crackdown on Algerian Muslim protesters in Paris 60 years ago as an “unforgivable crime” has not gone well, with activists demanding a full apology. While Macron’s remarks are the strongest recognition by a French president of the massacre in which police heavily beat the protesters and threw hundreds of them into the River Seine. The events that unfolded that night have never been legally investigated.

It is widely believed to be the most violent and deadly crackdown of a peaceful protest in post-war Western Europe, yet many in France still refuse to confront it. 

On October 17, 1961, under the orders of then Paris police chief Maurice Papon, police launched a deadly attack on a demonstration by tens of thousands of Algerians protesting against a curfew imposed in the city solely on them.

Macron’s office statement said the march was repressed “brutally, violently and in blood,” adding that some 12,000 Algerians were arrested, many were wounded, and dozens killed.

A statement by the Elysee Palace said, “[Macron] admitted the facts: the crimes committed that night under the authority of Maurice Papon are inexcusable for the Republic.”

However, the statement stopped short of an official apology which has angered many in the country. Historians and activists in France have expressed disappointment that Macron did not go further in his condemnation of the deadly crackdown, the scale of which has been covered up for decades.

French Algerian Rahim Rezigat, 81, who attended an event in Paris by an anti-racism NGO to commemorate that deadly night, lambasted Macron’s remarks saying, “It’s not enough. Macron is playing with words for the sake of his electorate, which includes those who are nostalgic for French Algeria.” 

Critics of Macron’s declaration also say that pinning the blame solely on the city’s police chief Papon is downplaying the state’s role in the massacre.

Speaking to French media, Political scientist Oliver Le Cour Grandmaison, says “believing or expecting others to believe for one second that Maurice Papon could have acted of his own initiative throughout the month of October 1961, and especially on October 17, 1961, and that then interior minister Roger Frey and the entire government headed by Michel Debré were not responsible, is a fairy tale, and a bad one at that.”

Grandmaison added that “we consider that this was a state crime and therefore, we could have expected Emmanuel Macron’s declaration to reflect that. But there was no recognition, no law, no reparations. There wasn’t even a declaration. Macron didn’t speak.” 
(noting that the French President’s remarks were instead issued in the form of a statement by the Elysée)

Gilles Manceron, a historian specializing in France’s colonial history, agrees, “this is a state crime, it is not a prefectural crime. It was a state crime that implicated a number of state officials and General De Gaulle, even though he did not direct the events himself and would also express his dissatisfaction with them, reportedly saying they were inadmissible, though secondary” Manceron told French Media “he didn’t direct the violence and regretted it, but he covered it up with silence. Which contributed to the decades of silence that followed.”

Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France have staged a tribute march in Paris. They called on authorities to further recognize the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives from that period.

“The 1961 Paris Massacre is not an event recognized as a bloody act in the history of the republic.”Earlier this year, Macron announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence from France. Macron’s office said the new procedure was introduced in August. 

The move was part of a series of steps Macron has allegedly taken to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, under French colonial rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.

But Le Cour Grandmaison, who heads an association for the commemoration of the October 17, 1961 events, said the archives are still very difficult to access.

“If you want to access the police archives, you have to ask the police prefecture, who is both judge and party to the events,” he told French media. “Access to archives in France, compared to other democratic countries, is extremely restricted.”

Macron explains that “theoretically, French law dictates that archives should be communicable after a period of 50 years. But when the 50-year period was about to end concerning the archives of 1961, an inter-ministerial directive was issued, saying a specific green light would be needed to open up certain archives, which resulted in access being limited, even though it was permitted by law. Hence the mobilization of historians and archivists and of a certain number of associations which last July led to the highest French court ruling that the inter-ministerial directive of December 2011 was illegal, illegitimate, that it should not have been allowed, and it was canceled.”

The massacre, which took place during the war against French rule in Algeria, was long denied or concealed by French authorities. The first commemorations of the event were organized in 2001.

Despite extensive efforts by the victims’ relatives, French authorities tried to hide the full scale of the massacre for 37 years. In 1998 it acknowledged that only 40 people were killed in the protests.

That prompted the historian Jean-Luc Einaudi to fight and win a legal battle filed in 1999 against Papon, who ordered intervention in the demonstration. Even though it became official that the massacre was intentional, the incident is still treated as taboo in France.

Yasser Louati is the head of the Justice and Liberties For All Committee and has said, “no institution opposed Papon for its decisions. Years have passed since the massacre, and it was never mentioned until the 1980s. Back then, historians like Jean-Luc Einaudi did their job and documented this bloody massacre”. He adds that France does not acknowledge its past, and no president has apologized for French atrocities, while the massacre is still not thought of in schools.

Louati says, “The 1961 Paris Massacre is not an event recognized as a bloody act in the history of the republic. There is a desire to forget or underestimate what happened in October 1961.”

“This massacre deserves a national attribution, a day of remembrance, an official speech from the President because it took place in the heart of Paris, not in a distant province. It was a decision taken on behalf of the French state, and different government agencies did nothing to prevent the incident”.

On October 6, 1961, French authorities imposed a curfew on Muslim Algerians living in and around Paris. Tens of thousands of unarmed Algerians who took to the streets on October 17 to voice their support for independence in Algeria organized a peaceful demonstration when they were subjected to brutal attacks by French police.

Thousands of people were severely beaten and injured, while 14,000 were detained. The exact number of Algerians murdered by French police has never been identified, and witnesses reported hundreds were murdered. They say protesters were also killed in the garden of the Paris police headquarters or subway stations. Some historians put the death toll at over 200; others have suggested nearly 400 were shot by police. Witnesses say some demonstrators with injuries were thrown into the River Seine by the police.

Last year, some media outlets made a request for access to archives about the massacre on its 59th anniversary. Still, it was declined by the Paris Police Department and the Department of Memory and Cultural Affairs, citing COVID-19 restrictions.

French authorities have spent decades keeping a lid on the massacre, but in an era of growing social movements calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, there is mounting pressure for France to accept and act on the atrocities it committed in the past.

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