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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’amitié du coeur et de l’histoire

by Lucien Degoy

Shared Values and a Shared History: Grounds For a Lasting Friendship Between France and Algeria

Translated Monday 2 July 2007, by Claire Scammell

50 years later, an interview with Mohamed Benchicou, former Managing Editor of Le Matin, on the continued significance of the Audin Affair.

Mohamed Benchicou is the former Managing Editor of the Algerian daily, Le Matin, a newspaper now banned in Algeria. Imprisoned for expressing his opinions, his two year sentence aroused protest from thousands of democrats.

HUMA: As a journalist and activist for democracy in Algeria today, what is your view of Maurice Audin? (1)

BENCHICOU: For those of us who did not fight in the war to liberate Algeria, fifty year-olds in a now independent state, the names Maurice Audin, Henri Maillot, Henri Alleg and Fernand Iveton, take us back to a prestigious past (2). For the generation which follows ours, owing to a policy of historical alienation, to the erasing of memories and to the patriotism knowingly kept alive by the FLN and the Islamo-conservative alliance in power, these figures mean very little and are sometimes not even distinguished from the French occupying forces.

Yet this business of the falsification of history does not only concern Algerians of European origin and those Europeans who fought alongside the Algerian people, but also the foundations of the Algerian Revolution, and notably Abane Ramdane, one of the fathers of the revolution who, from 1954, advocated a multiparty, democratic Algeria and who was assassinated by the military branch of the FLN. For half a century we have been living in an unfinished, persistently military state, facing one putsch after another, a state which is moving no closer to a democratic regime because of the simple fact that we are not in touch with our origins.

HUMA: Audin was a communist; could his vision of Algeria have been heard by the Algerian people?

BENCHICOU: What strikes me is that in the working-class areas, memories of people like Audin, Iveton and others are still retained, protected and kept alive. Although these areas also have been won over by Islamism, protection and respect is still offered to those living there who are close relations of these men. Even though it may not be clearly expressed, there is among these people a sort of implicit recognition for these Europeans, the majority of whom are communists, who fought for the freedom of Algeria. Popular admiration was also raised by the former members of the Jeanson network, the late Jacques Charby for example (3), by refusing to take part in the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Algerian Revolution on the 1st of November 2004, since it’s organiser, President Bouteflika, had put journalists behind bars for their work.

HUMA: As we now talk of a treaty of friendship, what position does the memory of Maurice Audin hold?

BENCHICOU: This friendship cannot come from on high, nor can it ratify any soveriegn whims. It is based on a common history shared by two nations, built around a noble value, liberty, a value which was itself born out of the French Revolution. It is this value which gave birth to such combatants as Maurice Audin, Henri Alleg and those members of the Jeanson network. Our two countries need a lasting relationship, this treaty has to take shape, but it must be built on a common history and not by manipulative political moves, as was attempted by Chirac and Bouteflika. There is a future for a friendship built upon shared values and a shared history.

Translator’s notes

(1) Maurice Audin, an Algerian communist of European origin, was tortured and killed after being arrested on suspicion of manufacturing bombs for the FLN (Algeria’s National Liberation Front), the organisation which took command of the battle for independence from France.

(2) Henri Maillot, Henri Alleg and fernand Iveton, men of European origin who supported the FLN in their goal to liberate Algeria.

(3) Jacques Charby, the French actor and director was a member of the Jeanson network, a group of French men and women who actively supported the FLN during the war.

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