Recognising memories of past perpetrations or not is often an issue connected with responsibility and reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. This has been for a long time an issue vexing French authorities.
In the 1990’s, French government and parliament began to recognise memories related to the colonisation and the independence war of Algeria. Although French authorities had kept silent on those dark events to which many fell victim on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, they started to recognise memories related to Algeria by erecting memorials, opening museums and making laws.
This article aims at elucidating why the French parliament made laws recognising memories related to Algeria. Making memory-related laws, called “memory laws (lois mémorielles)”, is a particular way to France to recognise certain perceptions of the past, and is different from other memory recognitions as it has a binding force.
I thus considered two laws, made in respectively 1999 and 2005. The law passed in 1999, that I will call the “Algerian war law”, replaces the term “the operations in North Africa” with “the Algerian war or the battles in Tunisia and Morocco” in the French legislative lexicon. It officially recognises that the conflict in Algeria from 1954 to 1962 was a war, whereas it has been long reckoned to be a domestic operation aiming at maintaining order. The law enacted in 2005, that I will call the “repatriate law”, pays homage to former French settlers in Algeria for their achievements and emphasises the “positive role of the French presence abroad”.
This study shows that those two laws were made in order to reinforce national cohesion among French people, instead of fostering dialogue between Algerians and French. By examining the wording and the law making processes of the two acts in question, especially the debates conducted at the National Assembly, it sheds light on how French elected representatives tried not to acknowledge France’s responsibility for the damages caused during the colonisation and the independence war and how they attached little importance to reconciliation with Algeria. Both laws indeed do not contain memories of Algerian people harmed under French rule, except some parts of the memory of Harkis, who fought with the French army during the war.
The recognition of memories by official authorities of former perpetrators has significant repercussions and can encourage reconciliation between antagonists. It however tends to avert eyes from victims’memories in France when the past related to Algeria is in question. Issues connected with memory do not only concern relations between France and Algeria, but also involve the larger question of how to remember perpetrations caused by discriminatory policies and how to overcome them to accede to reconciliation between victims and perpetrators.