Mediapart: The general public was already aware of the responsibility of Guy Mollet and Robert Lacoste [Minister for Algeria 1956 1958]1. However, you lead us to understand how François Mitterrand, in uncomfortable ministries (that of the interior and then of justice), had to prove himself that much more, being a man of the Left. He was trapped. Did being a reformist in such posts constitute an aggravating circumstance in the context of a colonial conflict?
"This is pretty much a cultural question that reflects the traditional left-wing attitude in France to the colonial project. Profoundly Jacobin, universalist and assimilationist, the Left, Gambetta, Clemenceau, and even Jaurès in a way - he attacked the inhumanity of colonialism, not its roots - wanted to emancipate the natives at the height of the 3rd Republic.
This history is perpetuated, right to the end. When men such as Mollet or Mitterrand come to power, their ambition is to rectify the colonial project, to really put it into practice so as to realise the equality, integration and assimilation initially promised. But the reality of colonialism clashed with the colonialist dream to bring happiness to whole populations, albeit against their will. The colonialists, whose interests were defended by the parties in power at the time, refused all implementation of a left-wing policy in the matter, from the failure of the Blum-Viollette proposal in 1936 onwards.2 Mitterrand, like Mendès-France, bore the brunt of this, and was accused of trying to sell the empire short.
They neither saw nor understood the competition of a national project on the other side. Indigenous nationalism didn't exist in their eyes."
Mediapart: Wasn't this nationalism considered a religious threat?
B.S.: "There was both the old stereotype, linked to the implantation of Christianity on Islamic territory in the 19th century, and the contemporary issue of international communism, which came to overlap with the former. Nationalist Algerians were seen as Moscows pawns."
Mediapart: The documentary presents Guy Moquet's 1956 declaration3, where he clearly denies the right to equality. The Muslim majority was to respect the European minority. How could he reconcile such a position with the democratic banner he was brandishing?
B.S.: "The French socialists, in the name of their emancipating project, failed to distinguish colonial logic, which, by definition, manufactured inequality. This colonial system remained a blind spot because, in their eyes, the French Republic couldn't but bring equality. That any inequality could stem from France was unthinkable."
Mediapart: Added to this blindness of principle, was the blind eye Mitterrand deliberately turned in order to preserve his political career.
B.S.: "Contrary to Pierre Mendès France, Alain Savary and Gaston Defferre, who behaved like real social democrats."
1: Robert Lacoste, Minister of Algeria 1956 -1958. A proponent of forceful action, he played a principal role in the Algerian War.
2: The Blum-Viollette proposal takes its name from Maurice Viollette, who acted as the French premier and governor-general of Algeria, which was the subject of the proposed legislation, and Leon Blum, who held office as president of France on three occasions. The proposal was introduced to the Popular Front government of France in 1936, suggested that a minority of Algerians obtain full French citizenship, while still allowing them to be subject to Muslim law on some social issues (including marriage/divorce, custody, inheritance). It proposed to offer these benefits to the highly educated, as well as to those Algerian men that served in the French military, with the plan to widen the benefits to other groups at a later date.
3: Guy Moquet is an emblematic hero of the French resistance, executed by firing squad aged 17. French President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially insisted his final letter should be read in every lycée in France on the anniversary of his death. Some commentators disliked what they saw as an example of political dogma, and a number of lycées refused the demand.