by Aly Jonas

May 8, 1945: Algeria reminds France of its demands on memory

8 mai 1945 :  L'Algérie rappelle à la France ses exigences sur la mémoire

On May 8, 1945 in Sétif, an event supposed to celebrate the victory of the Allies over Nazism quickly descended into tragedy. That day, what should have been a parade like any other, turned into a demonstration for the independence of Algeria, brutally repressed by French forces, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The beginnings of this tragedy date back a few days earlier, on May 1, when the Algerian Popular Party called for demonstrations in favor of independence on the occasion of International Workers' Day. This mobilization gained momentum over the following days, on May 3 in Annaba, then on the 4 in Guelma, in a context where the news of the fall of Berlin into the hands of the Allies still resonated.

On May 8, 1945, in Sétif, several thousand Algerian demonstrators gathered at eight in the morning. But colonial repression did not take long to strike. At 9:25 a.m., Saal Bouzid, symbol of this struggle for independence, was shot dead by a French police officer. His only crime: demanding the freedom of his country and the release of the nationalist leader, Messali Hadji.

This act sparks a rapidly spreading revolt, fueled by decades of oppression and marginalization. The French state responds with blind violence. General Duval mobilizes the air force and the navy to bloodily suppress the uprising. Thus begins one of the most tragic chapters in colonial history, where the brutality of French repression leaves deep scars in the Algerian collective memory.

Nearly eight decades later, during the commemorations of this dark episode, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune sent a significant message, particularly to Paris.

In his remarks, the Algerian president stressed that the memorial file with France would not tolerate concessions or compromise. “The issue of memory will remain at the heart of our concerns until its objective, bold and equitable treatment of historical truth,” he affirmed, emphasizing the importance of this sensitive issue. Although he expressed his desire to move forward into the future in a climate of trust, Tebboune insisted on the imperative of seriousness and credibility in handling this issue.

This message, both firm and conciliatory, aims to remind France of Algeria's expectations on this memorial issue. Among these requirements, the restitution of Algerian archives occupies a central place. Although some documents have been returned, numerous government, colonial, diplomatic and military archives remain in France, spread across several sites. Algiers claims all of these documents, refusing any concession on this issue.

Another point of tension concerns the restitution of the personal effects of Emir Abdelkader, a complex matter awaiting the framework law on the restitution of cultural property in France. This law, initially planned for the spring, will not be examined by the French Parliament until the fall. In addition, it should not allow the return of weapons, which complicates the question of the return of Emir Abdelkader's sabers.

This Algerian presidential message comes in a context where the Algerian authorities intend to firmly reiterate their demands on the question of memory. The next exchanges between the two countries, in particular the planned visit of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Séjourné, to Algiers between the end of May and the beginning of June, will allow him to discuss it with Algerian diplomacy. Beforehand, French and Algerian historians will meet in Algiers from May 20 to 24 to address these questions of restitution within the joint commission.