Falling short of an apology, President Francois Hollande has acknowledged France’s colonisation of Algeria was “brutal and unfair”.
“For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a brutal and unfair system: colonisation. I acknowledge the suffering it caused,” Hollande told the Algerian parliament on Thursday on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the North African country.
“We respect the act of memory, of all the memories. There is a duty of truth on the violence, the injustices, the massacres and the torture,” he said of the 1954-1962 Algerian war which ended in Algerian independence and France’s withdrawal.
Referring to specific atrocities, Hollande cited the massacres at Guelma, Kherrata and Setif, where nationalist unrest that broke out at the end of World War II was brutally suppressed by French forces, leaving thousands dead.
“On May 8, 1945, when the world triumphed over brutality, France forgot its universal values,” Hollande said.
The truth “must also be spoken about the circumstances in which Algeria was delivered from the colonial system, in this war whose name was not mentioned in France for a long time, the Algerian war” of independence, he added.
“Establishing the truth is an obligation that ties Algerians and French. That’s why it is necessary that historians have access to the archives.”
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said that Hollande’s statement marked a landmark shift in France’s attitude to Algeria by recognising in clear unequivocal terms that the colonial system was profoundly unjust and brutal.
Rowland said Hollande’s statement was met by a rapturous applause and has begun a new chapter for relationships between the two countries, but that there is still room for more development in coming years.
The French president said after arriving in Algeria on Wednesday that he had not come to say “sorry” for the crimes committed during the colonial period.
But he stressed the importance of recognising what happened as a way of beginning a new era in relations between the two countries, bound together by human, economic and cultural ties.
More than half a million Algerians live in France, and hundreds of thousands hold French nationality, but many others are frustrated at not being able to obtain visas and seek a better life in Europe.
|Algerian political analyst Saad Djebbar on the landmark visit of President Francois Hollande in Algeria|
Hollande promised on Thursday to “better accommodate” Algerians seeking to move to France and to streamline the visa process, saying that doing so was of “mutual interest”.
It is necessary to “manage the flow of migrants” but the demand for visas “must not become an obstacle course, or worse still, a humiliation,” he told the Algerian parliament.
“Rather, we need to ensure that the return trips continue, and are even increased, for students, businessmen, artists, families, in other words all those who drive the relationship” between France and Algeria.
Nearly 200,000 Algerians already receive visas every year.
On arrival, Hollande was received with full honours by his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and said he wanted relations between their countries to be a “strategic partnership between equals”.
The leaders later signed a declaration of friendship and co-operation.
The socialist president – accompanied by a 200-strong delegation including nine government ministers and around 40 business leaders – visits Algeria after a period of lukewarm ties under his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.