France: controversy surrounding a wall dedicated to those lost in the Algerian war

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Sunday’s inauguration of the “wall of the lost, death without tombs in Algeria (1954-63)” is widely criticised by human rights and left wing activists. They claim that the monument is representative of a threat to “national cohesion” in that, it creates a conflict of historical facts.

Last Sunday, A member of the prime minister’s office claimed that it was “a political assumption of history” in what concerns the bloody Algerian war. Secretary of state in charge of war veterans, Alain Marleix, said in an address during the controversial inauguration at Perpignan in the south of France.

Over 5000 persons (mostly repatriated) witnessed this ceremony piloted by the regional UMP (the ruling party) and the “Cercle Algerianiste” an association mostly involved in what is called “Nost-algeria”. Built to pay homage, the wall enumerates the names of three thousands of lost soldiers out of which 400 of them were part of the contingent drafted under the French flag and also the treaty of Evian in 1956. A centre for the French presence in Algeria, projected for 2008, is to be put up next to the wall. The mayor for Perpignan, Jean Paul Alduv, in a declaration in favour of the project said “Showing solidarity, Perpignan could not turn a blind eye on the many lives lost (…) she holds herself responsible to the construction of a monument in remembrance of the unknown soldier”
Initial plans to cover the monument with Citations from Albert Camus and Slimane Benaïssa, were dropped upon the demands of Catherine, the playwright’s daughter. In a letter to the Mayor of Perpignan dated the 15th of November, the co-writer Babor Ghrak states that “peace is not built on partisan basis and above all not with those who continue raging war on memory lane”. As is always the case during memorials surrounding the Algerian War, “the wall of the lost” solidifies this controversy.

« National Cohesion » under Threat

Confrontations by both partisans and non-partisans have been on the rise for several weeks now. About 200 human rights and left wing activists gathered in Perpignan to denounce the accomplishment of the wall while warning against its supposed risks against “National Cohesion”.

Michel Toubiana, president of the human rights league, sees a “blow against togetherness”. He also believes it to be a reincarnation of colonialisation while using the dead. General secretary of the Movement Against Racism and For Friendship Among Populations, Mouloud Aounit, qualifies “the wall” as being dangerous, due to the fact that “it fuels the revenge logic and offers itself to memories of past discriminations instead of appeasing it” he continues. The presence of the french minister in charge of War Veterans at the inauguration was initially not on his official agenda contrary to his presence at the same inauguration at Creteil (a parisian surburb) a week before. He said that there is the need to surmount this systematic confrontation of memorial and strive towards objective construction of true historical facts.

Yet still, enemies of the project deem the “wall of the lost” and the centre for French presence in Algeria as confrontational to history. With these two issues as well as other similar projects foreseen in the South of France “all the ideological ingredients have been laid down on the table to start a new memorial war, to divide and instigate hate and communitarianism”. They claim support for “museums, memorial archives where historical facts are respected: those of colonialists, immigrants and soldiers, as well as the colonised, thus including written facts from Algerian historians”.

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