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Algeria celebrates National Day of Memory for the first time

Protestors hold an Algerian flag during a demonstration, in Bordeaux, southwestern France on December 12, 2020 [THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images]
Protestors hold an Algerian flag during a demonstration, in Bordeaux, southwestern France on December 12, 2020 [THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images]

For the first time on Saturday, Algeria will celebrate the National Day of Memory, which coincides with the 76th anniversary of the massacres of 8 May, 1945, when the French colonial forces suppressed a demonstration calling for the independence of Algeria, killing thousands of protesters east of the country.

This comes at a time when Algeria is still awaiting France's apologies for its colonial crimes.

Official ceremonies are scheduled to take place under the slogan "Memory will not Forget" in the city of Setif, which witnessed the colonial suppression of demonstrations demanding Algeria's independence on the occasion of the allies 'celebration of victory over Nazism in World War II.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune issued a decree published in the Journal Officiel D'Algerie, stipulating the celebration of the sad memory: "In recognition of the enormous sacrifices made by the Algerian people in the massacres of 8 May, 1945, and during the independence revolution of November 1954."

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Tebboune considered at the time that what the Algerian people had been subjected to during 132 years of colonialism (1830-1962), including the massacres of Setif, Guelma and Kherrata, are "crimes against humanity" that cannot be subject to the statute of limitations.

The Algerian head of state also announced, on the occasion of the commemoration of the massacres of Setif in 2020, the launch of a national TV channel dedicated to national memory, that will: "Support the educational system in teaching this subject that we want to vividly accompany all generations." The TV channel, which specialises in the history of Algeria, began broadcasting last November.

The National Day of Memory programme includes a conference entitled Colonial crimes in the world: The massacre of 8 May 1945 as a model, in addition to a historical exhibition held by the Mujahid Museum in Setif.

According to the Ministry of the Moudjahidine, a march will be organised in the streets of Setif to commemorate the historic march of 8 May, 1945, heading to the monument commemorating the place of the assassination of the scout, Bouzid Saal, the first victim in the massacres.

On this day, the celebrations of the allies' victory over the Nazis turned into a demonstration calling for the independence of Algeria, during which the protesters were subjected to a bloody frenzy of oppression by the French forces, leading to thousands of deaths.

Crime against humanity

While Algerians confirm that 45,000 people died in the Setif massacre, French historians reported that the death toll ranges from a few thousand to 20,000, including 103 European victims.

Apart from the dispute over numbers, teaching the history of Algeria from the beginning of colonialism to independence, through all the resistance milestones until the liberation war (1954-1962), remains within the state's jurisdiction.

The celebration of the National Day of Memory comes at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron initiated in recent months a series of "symbolic measures" in an attempt to "bridge the memory rift" between the two Mediterranean countries, especially with the upcoming celebration of the 60th anniversary of the independence of Algeria.

Macron commissioned the French historian Benjamin Stora, who specialises in the Algerian war, to prepare a report delivered in January which contained several recommendations in this context. However, the report was not appreciated by the Algerians.

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According to an informed French source: "President Macron's recognition policy will continue, and several recommendations made in the Stora report will be implemented."

The issue of memory remains one of the most important files in the relations between France (former coloniser) and Algeria.

The relations between Algiers and Paris suffered a new blow after Algeria cancelled the visit of French Prime Minister Jean Castex at the last minute, which was scheduled in April.

In the days following the cancellation decision, Algerian Labour Minister Al-Hashemi Jaaboub described France as "the traditional and eternal enemy of Algeria".

Commenting on this statement, Macron, the first French president born after the end of the Algerian war, considers that the will to reconcile between the French and the Algerians is "widely shared", despite the presence of "some resistance" in Algeria.

In February 2017, when he was a candidate for the presidency of France, Macron visited Algeria and asserted in a statement that the colonisation of Algeria is a "crime against humanity" and "real barbarism", which sparked a widespread wave of criticism among the French right against him.

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