2022 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Algerian War, arguably the moment that defined the end of France’s imperial ambitions when the state withdrew its forces after almost 8 years of war, and almost a million settlers of European origin fled Algeria for France. It also happens to coincide with the Presidential elections, which take place in two rounds in April. Traditionally, the leading candidates have felt the need to reach out to prospective voters by pronouncing on various aspects of France’s colonial history, and this year is no exception.
On Wednesday 26 January, Emmanuel Macron gave a speech in which he acknowledged a massacre that took place on 26 March 1962 in the rue d’Isly in Algiers, in which 46 French civilians were shot dead by soldiers of the French army, and around 200 were injured. It’s an event that has become emblematic for the settler community, who regard it as a decisive moment that demonstrated that the settlers could no longer be safe in Algeria. As such, many credit it with precipitating the mass exodus to France. Despite the number of casualties, the families of the victims feel that the massacre has never had the kind of official recognition that they sought: they see it as analogous to Bloody Sunday, the infamous shootings that took place ten years later in Derry, and demand a public enquiry similar to that which led to the Saville Report. Macron’s speech, in which he said that the massacre was ‘unforgivable’ for the French Republic and called for a reconciliation with the repatriated settlers, or pieds-noirs, goes some way to acknowledging the long-held hurts but is unlikely to satisfy everyone.
Our colleague, Fiona Barclay, who is a specialist working on representations of the French settlers of Algeria, and who recently published an article on the rue d’Isly massacre, was interviewed on France 24 about Macron’s speech. You can find more of France 24’s coverage of President Macron’s hugely significant speech here.