French President Francois Hollande said in Algiers yesterday that he recognized his country’s century of “brutal” colonial rule over the Algerian people, as he sought to launch a new era in relations.
“Over 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system,” Hollande told the Algerian parliament on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the north African country, to applause from the lawmakers.
“This system has a name: it is colonialism and I recognize the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people,” he said.
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.
“We have a duty to speak the truth about the violence, injustices, massacres and torture ... Establishing the truth is an obligation that ties Algerians and French. That’s why it is necessary that historians have access to the archives,” he said.
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 recognizing 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 of others hold French nationality, but many are also frustrated at not being able to obtain visas and seek a better life in Europe.
Hollande yesterday promised to “better accommodate” Algerians seeking to move to France and to streamline the visa process, saying that doing so was of “mutual interest.”
Nearly 200,000 Algerians already receive visas every year.
On Wednesday, Hollande was received with full honors by his Algerian counterpart, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and spoke of a “strategic partnership between equals.”
The two leaders later signed a declaration of friendship and cooperation.