Algerian independence 60 years ago

Algerian independence 60 years ago

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Today Algeria celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence from France. After a long and difficult war, on July 1, 1962, six million Algerians voted in a referendum for their country’s independence. Two days later, French President Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria’s independence and the Algerian Provisional Government chose July 5 as Independence Day to commemorate the anniversary of the capture of the capital, Algiers, by the French army, which occurred on that day in 1830 .

The event will be commemorated with a large military parade in Algiers, the first in 33 years. The celebrations will be attended by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was already prime minister under the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April 2019 (after almost 20 years in power) after large street protests and the loss of army support.

Algeria became a French colony in 1830: as part of the assimilation policy supported by the French government at the time, it was declared a province of the country. A few decades later, more than a million French and Europeans had moved to Algeria, with distinguished roles and numerous privileges compared to the rest of the Algerian population.

The first pro-independence groups were born, but it was not until the second half of the 20th century that their organization became more homogeneous in struggle with the creation of the Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action and later with the National Liberation Front (FLN), which marked the transition to arming. In the last months of 1954 the first clashes between the FLN and the French army took place, which determined the first phases of the later Algerian war. The FLN had an almost hegemonic role in local politics and a strong influence on the decisions of other parties.

Simultaneously with the beginning of the armed struggle, the Algerians nevertheless declared their readiness to start negotiations with the French government for the independence of Algeria. At the time, the interior minister in France was François Mitterrand – who years later would become President of the Republic – and refused any negotiations. His Prime Minister, Pierre Mendès France, was of the same opinion and did not consider it possible to compromise when it came to “defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the republic”.

French repression was particularly fierce and the conflict grew increasingly violent, especially after the French granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia.

In the autumn of 1956, the Battle of Algiers began, the most famous of the entire conflict: bombs were laid in three locations in the capital, frequented mainly by French colonists. The Governor General of Algeria deployed the army and in the early days of 1957 some 7,000 paratroopers arrived in the city while martial law was declared.

The military initiative was used to win the battle, but the first news of the violence and brutal methods used by the soldiers against the Algerian population began to circulate. It began to be talked about internationally, with many politicians and observers questioning the French occupation of Algeria.

The situation in Algeria was heavily influenced by political trends in France, where a constitutional reform led the country to a semi-presidential system strongly desired by De Gaulle, the protagonist of France’s liberation from the Nazi regime in World War II. As president, De Gaulle was seen as the guarantor of French Algeria, especially by the so-called Pied-Noirs, the French who opposed Algeria’s independence. However, de Gaulle revised most of his positions and began to speak of the need for an “Algerian Algeria” as early as 1960, shortly after he had recognized the FLN as an interlocutor for the independence process.

The Algerian settlers, the army and part of the public opinion in France did not like the opening of a dialogue because after the years of the War of Independence it was perceived almost as a betrayal.

However, the process had already begun: in 1961, a referendum organized in Algiers proved the existence of a majority for Algeria’s self-determination. The French government secretly entered into negotiations with the Algerian interim government, then an upcoming meeting between the parties was announced in April, prompting some anti-independence French generals to occupy some areas of the city to organize a military coup .

De Gaulle didn’t take it well: he said publicly that part of the army was trying to install “insurgency power” in Algeria. The coup failed, hundreds of officers were removed from command, some arrested and others merged into a secret paramilitary organization that carried out attacks in both Algeria and France in the years that followed.

The negotiations with the FLN meanwhile continued, also thanks to the mediation of Switzerland, and had their most important developments from May 1961 with two meetings in Évian-les-Bains in France. In the following year, the delegations agreed on the cessation of hostilities and the future order of the two countries. It was the final step before the referendum in the summer of that year that eventually led to recognition of independence.

Altogether, the Algerian war claimed more than 400,000 lives among the Algerians, almost ten times as many as among the French. It was decades before France officially recognized the acts of violence and abuse committed during the conflict. In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron admitted for the first time that members of the French army were responsible for murder and torture; three years later he ordered the destruction of numerous documents relating to the colonial period in Algeria, including the war.

Algeria is now a democratic presidential republic, although the army continues to have a strong influence on political activities in the country. The constitution provides that parties can be organized freely, but they must obtain authorization from the Ministry of the Interior certifying that there are no discriminatory grounds, whether religious, linguistic or regional. Despite the democratic principles, the country’s politics and structure were significantly determined by Bouteflika’s presidency for almost 20 years.

In 2019, the large protests against Bouteflika, who had been ill for some time, led to the president withdrawing from a candidacy for a new term and then to resigning. In fact, the protests had affected the entire Algerian political system and the inner circle of those believed to have wielded power in the President’s stead in recent years. According to many observers, Bouteflika was run by a very powerful and influential political, military and economic group that still controls the National Liberation Front, the party that has ruled the country since independence in 1962.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was faced with an unstable political situation, has been Algeria’s president since autumn 2019. In early 2021, Tebboune had ordered the dissolution of the lower house of parliament and called elections a year before the end of the legislature. The lower house was elected in 2017 and still consisted mainly of allies of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Algeria has long maintained close ties with Italy, in particular due to the numerous collaborations related to gas exports to our country, with commercial initiatives involving ENI. In recent months, rising gas prices due to the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine have prompted the two countries to sign new deals to increase supplies and reduce Italy’s dependence on Russian gas.