Anger as Algerian soldiers confirmed for France’s ‘Bastille Day’ parade
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Three representatives of the Algerian military will take part in France’s “Bastille Day” celebrations on July 14, a decision that has caused anger among far-right groups as well as in the former French colony.
The Algerian contribution to the annual military parade on the Champs Elysées was confirmed this weekend by the country’s chief diplomat Ramtane Lamamra, who insisted that on the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, Algeria’s sacrifice during that conflict should be recognised.
“Algeria will participate in the same way as 80 other nations whose citizens were killed on the battlefields of the First World War,” he told reporters. “Algeria recognises its history and honours its contribution to world freedom.”
In June, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was “nothing shocking” about the presence of Algerian troops in Paris.
The three soldiers will not actually parade down the Champs Elysées, but will be present at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.
Between 1914 and 1918, some 170,000 Algerians, many of them French settlers, took part in the fighting in France. 23,000 of them were killed.
In Algeria, many feel that remembering the First World War alongside France is unacceptable, as many of the Algerians who fought were conscripted by force, often in the belief that fighting would give them citizenships and equal rights with French colonists.
Those promises never materialised.
Bitter legacy of war
But the memory of the Algerian contribution to the First World War is largely overshadowed by the bitter legacy of the Algerian War of Independence.
The conflict, fought between 1954 and 1962, was characterised by brutal guerrilla fighting and the use of torture on both sides.
Issues from the conflict, which led to the expulsion from Algeria of French citizens, known as “Pieds Noirs”, and those Algerians who fought on the French side (Harkis), have never been fully resolved.
France’s far-right National Front (FN) launched a campaign in June to protest against Algerian participation in the parade because of continuously strained relations between the two countries, calling it “shameful” to the memory of France’s war dead.
Some groups representing Harkis living in France, meanwhile, object to the presence of soldiers in France belonging to an army that forced them into permanent exile.
Others have welcomed the decision to welcome an Algerian military presence in France.
“It is a great source of pride for France and for the Harkis,” Mohamed Otsmani, head of the Harki association in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southern France, wrote in the Midi Libre daily. “The two countries must start working together.”
'Crimes committed during the colonial era'
Many Algerians feel that France has not fully apologised for crimes committed during the Algerian War.
“Algerian soldiers should not participate in the parade on France’s national day,” Saïd Abadou, head of the National Organisation of Mujahideen veterans association, told Algerian daily El Watan. “The subject should not even be open to debate until the French recognise the crimes committed during the colonial era.”
“The wounds have not healed,” added retired General Abdelaziz Medjahed. “We don’t understand why France asks forgiveness for the thousands of Jews it deported to Germany during the Second World War, but not for the 45,000 Algerians massacred at Guelma,” he said, referring to a series of attacks by French colonists on native Algerians following a victory parade on May 8, 1945, the day that the Second World War in Europe ended.
The number killed remains disputed, and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has called the massacre the beginning of the French “genocide” perpetrated by France against Algerians.