Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sarko's Non-Lieu de Mémoire

Pres. Sarkozy, visiting Algeria, has reiterated and clarified his refusal to repent. "I am for recognition of the facts" of the colonial past, "not for repentance, which is a religious notion and out of place in relations between states."

He also said that "younger generations on both sides of the Mediterranean are oriented toward the future" and "do not expect their leaders to drop everything else to beat their breasts over past errors and crimes, with respect to which there would be plenty to do on both sides." "To be sure, there were plenty of dark spots and there was much suffering and injustice during the 132 years that France was in Algeria, but that was not all there was."

Sarkozy's position on historical memory is, I think, more deeply considered than his detractors give him credit for. It isn't mere pandering to a part of the electorate but rather a conviction consistent with the president's view of political action in general. Except for the insistence on symmetry in the respective responsibilities of colonizers and colonized, I think it's a defensible attitude.


Mary D. Lewis said...

I agree with you, Art, that Sarkozy's approach to this question isn't one of outright denial of colonial wrongdoing.

But I think that Sarkozy, the master of having it both ways, is doing it here again. He presents himself as coming in friendship, etc., but this is also a subtle attack on Bouteflika, who patently is not of the generation too young to remember the Algerian war, and who last summer chastised French colonialism as "barbarous."

Whatever one may think of Bouteflika's remarks last summer, I give him some credit for keeping his sang froid listening to Sarkozy's performance.

Unknown said...

Hi, Mary
Talk about having it both ways. Bouteflika is as much a master of that art as Sarkozy. He thinks France should apologize for genocide, yet he breaks bread with Sarko and wheels and deals with him about gas and oil rights. It happens to suit Bouteflika's political narrative, as a member of the revolutionary generation, to emphasize the atrocities of the colonial regime against which he rebelled. It happens to suit Sarko's political narrative, as a politician who came of age after all that, to want to turn the page. So they part company on the amtospherics, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, they're on the same wavelength. Politicians deal with interests; the historians can sort out the past. And as the translator of Camus's eloquent essays on the massacres of Sétif, I think I'm as sensitive to the atrocities as anyone, but then I'm also the translator of an anonymous Algerian journalist who was threatened with death by the FIS, so I think I'm entitled to say that there are atrocities over which Bouteflika would also like to draw a veil.

Mary D. Lewis said...

I couldn't agree more that the FLN also has things it wishes to sweep under the carpet. For an illuminating take on this that rightfully looks at *BOTH* French and Algerian "amnesia," I highly recommend the article by University of Michigan historian Joshua Cole, “Remembering the Battle of Paris: 17 October 1961 in French and Algerian Memory.” French Politics, Culture and Society 21, 3 (Fall 2003): 21-50.