Tonight I decided to accept an open invitation to the library at Riom es Montagnes – for a reflection on 50 years since the end of the bitter war of Algerian independence.
Historian and ex officer in French army Jean Pierre Gaildraud offered a professional view on what he described both as an acrimonious divorce but also ‘une revolution comme le notre’. With that revolution in Algeria he said came the same excesses as had been seen in France in 1789.
He outlined the impact on French domestic politics making a particular link between the amnesty offered in 1982 to the generals who led the failed ‘1961 ‘putsch’ against de Gaule’s accommodation with the Algerian freedom fighters. He suggest a direct link between the re habilitation of these ‘traitors’ and the growth in National Front votes from less than one per cent to ten percent by the early 1990s. He was really suggesting that this intended act of healing had been construed as a green light for racist views fuelled by the ‘Alstagie’ of colonial myth!
However, he reserved the passion of his presentation to combine his love of the country with his sadness for the way it still suffers from corruption, inequality and bigotry.
His final optimism came in his warm invitation for us all to stay and sleep the night in the library. This was a joke but he used this to illustrate why he has so much affection for a culture where a desire to offer a hand of friendship and hospitality exceeds all practical restrictions.
The events of 1962 may have felt like a divorce in France – I can only see it as a divorce if it was the end of an unequal arranged marriage to which the southern partner had not given informed consent.
However, this divorce still has meaning in France where many towns have streets named ‘le 18 mars 1962’ – the date of the Evian Accord which ended the war. Half a century later, citizens in a small French town would come out of their warm homes on a bitterly cold November night to listen to an analysis of the way the two countries have grown apart!