France to reckon with Algeria colonial past, won’t apologize

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron wants to take further steps to reckon with France’s colonial-era wrongs in Algeria but is not considering an official apology, his office said.

A report commissioned by Macron, to be published later Wednesday, submits proposals to improve the complex relationship between the two countries, from opening up war archives to holding commemorations.

Macron’s office said there will be “no apologies” but that Macron intends instead to make “symbolic acts” aimed at emphasizing recognition of the harsh colonial reality and helping reconciliation between the two countries.

Macron will take part in three commemoration days by next year, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the eight-year war with France that resulted in the North African country gaining independence in 1962 — after 132 years of French rule.

France will “pursue and broaden” the opening of its archives on the war as work is under way to allow the release of classified secret documents, Macron’s office added.

Amid other actions, Macron wants to honor Gisele Halimi, a French feminist who supported Algeria’s independence and denounced the use of torture by the French military during the war. He will launch the process aiming at burying her at the Pantheon monument in Paris, a resting place for some of France’s most distinguished citizens.

The first French president to be born after Algerian independence, Macron promised to open a new chapter in France’s relationship with Algeria during his term, including facing the countries’ painful history.

In 2018, Macron formally recognized the responsibility of the French state in the death of a dissident in Algeria in 1957, admitting for the first time the military’s systematic use of torture during the war.

He commissioned historian Benjamin Stora last year to assess France’s relation with the memory of Algeria’s colonization and the independence war.

As a presidential candidate in 2017, Macron called France’s colonization of the North African country a “crime against humanity.” That was welcomed in Algeria but prompted angry reactions in France from the right and the far right, which Macron might not want to stir up again ahead of 2022 presidential elections.

Macron, a centrist elected with votes from the right and the left, has not ruled out the possibility of running for a second term.

In his report, Stora noted that the “excesses of a culture of repentance” don’t particularly help with facing the past.

“I don’t know if a speech of official apology will be enough to appease wounded memories,” he said. “In my opinion, it is above all important to improve knowledge of what the colonial system was, its daily reality and its ideological goals and how some in Algeria and France have resisted this system of domination.”

Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said last year that his country was awaiting an official apology for France’s colonial occupation.

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