The interview was all the more unprecedented as Benjamin Stora’s report on the memory of colonization and the Algerian war, submitted in January 2021 to Emmanuel Macron, had been freshly received in Algeria.

The historian, who was carrying a letter from the French president, was received for more than an hour Monday in Algiers by President Tebboune, on the eve of the commemoration with great fanfare of the 60th anniversary of the independence of Algeria.

“This is the first time that there has been a substantive discussion” on the Algerian side on these memorial issues since the publication of the report, underlined Benjamin Stora.

The report, on which Emmanuel Macron relied for his memorial policy, does not advocate apologies or repentance, which has been widely criticized in Algeria, especially by veterans’ associations.

Franco-Algerian relations also experienced a major chill when in September 2021, President Macron criticized the Algerian “politico-military” system for maintaining a “memorial rent” around the war of independence.

– “Murderous conquest” –

The interview bears witness to the ongoing warming in Franco-Algerian relations over the past few weeks.

“I think there is a desire to relaunch, I don’t know if that’s the word, but to continue a dialogue,” said Benjamin Stora, noting a “change of tone” between Paris and Algiers.

President Tebboune explained to him “the major importance of a work of memory over the entire period of colonization”, beyond the only war in Algeria (1954-1962), an opinion shared by the historian.

“The war of conquest was very long and very deadly. It lasted practically half a century”, from 1830 to 1871, recalls Benjamin Stora.

It was marked by a “land and identity dispossession” – “when people lost their land, they lost their name” – and by the establishment of a “settlement colony”, with in the end one million Europeans out of nine million people.

So many traumas which persist until today in the reciprocal perception of the two peoples and which “explain the difficulty of Franco-Algerian relations”, he says.

“People don’t know what happened. This is the problem of transmission to younger generations and working together”, underlines Benjamin Stora.

“In Algeria, the accent was placed essentially on the war of national liberation. There was in France as in Algeria an extreme polarization on the unique sequence of the war and even of the end of the war, the 1960s to 1962,” he notes.

Against the backdrop of the “clashes of memorial groups” around the various massacres, the exodus of the black feet, the power struggles within Algerian nationalism.

“We all focused on 1962”, from the Evian agreements in March to the independence of Algeria on July 5, he says. But “we cannot remain prisoner of a single date, 1962, we must broaden the field of reflection”, he considers.

President Tebboune did not return during the interview to the controversial remarks of Emmanuel Macron, who had also wondered about the existence of an “Algerian nation” before French colonization.

The memorial subject could be the subject of future exchanges between the two Heads of State.

In the missive delivered by Benjamin Stora, the French president calls for the “strengthening of the already strong ties” between the two countries and reiterates his “commitment to continue its process of recognition of the truth and reconciliation of memories”. He also mentions a “next” visit to Algeria.