Thursday, 25 September 2008

History in the News: Orphans of History - their fight for official recognition continues

Soldiers graffiti and engravings on a painting done by harkis, Fort de Cormeilles-en-Parisis.     Photographer : Jean-noël Lafargue. Copyleft: This work of art is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it according to terms of the Free Art License. You will find a specimen of this license on the site Copyleft Attitude as well as on other sites.
Soldiers graffiti on a painting by harkis, Fort de Cormeilles-en-Parisis, France.

25th September 2008: 8th journée nationale d’hommage aux harkis.

by Kathryn Hadley

The first national day of commemoration for the harkis, the Algerian nationals who fought alongside the French during the Algerian War, was celebrated in 2001 under Jacques Chirac’s presidency. It was both a reflection of French attempts to defend its republican ideals of unity and solidarity and of practical concerns for the integration of the harkis into the French national community.

Chirac argued in his speeches at the time that the recognition of the harkis sacrifices, and of some of the shortcomings of French colonial policy, was a question of honour and duty. Following the signature of the Evian Agreements in 1962, approximately 150,000 harkis were massacred by the the Algerian independence force (FLN). The French army was ordered not to intervene and the Gaullist government severely limited the repatriation of harkis back to France.

The decree of 31st March 2003 formally incorporated the journée nationale into the calendar of national commemorative ceremonies. It stipulated that an official ceremony would be held in Paris every 25th September and that the regional prefects were responsible for the organisation of local celebrations in their department.

In previous years, however, there has been very scant coverage of the journée nationale in the national press. This year, news of the programme of celebrations is similarly very difficult to find in both the national and local press. On the websites of three of the biggest national newspapers Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération there is no mention of the journée nationale; nor is there any coverage of the ceremony in Paris in the local Parisian paper Le Parisien.

Abdelkrim Barki, an harki veteran in his 70s, was repatriated to France in 1962. When I interviewed him in December last year, he described the official institution of the journée nationale last year as is ‘que du bla bla'. It appears that this supposed national day of celebration remains a meaningless and empty promise of recognition.

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