When François Mitterrand ordered deaths of 45 Algerians

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Mediapart: So how could Mitterrand have, as early as 1965, positioned himself as a champion of the same Left he had betrayed with such blind cynicism nine years earlier?

B.S.: "François Mitterrand pulled off the political coup of toppling from the Left all the moral figures of a camp that he had appropriated with the publication in 1964 of Coup d'État Permanent [Permanent Coup d’'Etat]. Staunch humanists, and Pierre Mendès France first and foremost, lost their credibility in this torrential pamphlet calling for the abolition of the Bonapartist 5th Republic. No enemies on the Left, Mitterrand managed to impose himself thanks to his anti-Gaullist radicalism.

Moreover, François Mitterrand had previously tried to join the PSU [Parti Socialiste Unifié – The Unified Socialist Party].10 But this move was blocked by Michel Rocard, who led the party from 1967 to 1973, or rather, he claims, it was blocked by his friends. As the PSU had played an untainted role in the Algerian conflict, Mitterrand was trying to regain his virginity by joining them. As early as 1962, he had launched manoeuvres calculated to whitewash his past in French Algeria.

Then, when he gained control of the Socialist Party in 1971, he joined forces with the Marxist wing of Ceres [Le Centre d'Etudes de Recherches et d'Education Socialiste, meaning –Socialist Study, Research and Education Centre] run by Jean-Pierre Chevènement and Didier Motchane, before signing the common programme with the Communist Party the following year, once again raking in all members of the Left. The Communists were in no position to draw attention to Mitterrand’'s Algerian past, as their own hands were far from clean. In ten years [1962-1972] Mitterrand had managed to efface his colonial past from the collective memory."

Mediapart: Earlier on you said you don’'t like to mix periods. Nonetheless, it has to be said that François Mitterrand offers a formidable recap of them: the Occupation, the Algerian War, May ’68….

B.S.: "He belongs to an idea of France and its history that is connected to state culture. Hence the fact that he aligned himself with the Gaullist concept that the Vichy episode was a parenthesis, something that had nothing to do with the Republic, which Jacques Chirac put an end to in 199513. Mitterrand didn’t have any grassroots political culture. He knew nothing of social movements, the politics of mobilisation and dissent.

When he arrived at the Elysée in 1981, he prevented political activists, unionists and organisers from acceding to power. Most of his ministers were senior civil servants, who formed the framework of Mitterrand’'s trademark policy. None of the former Trotskyist activists who had joined the Socialist Party was named minister. And it wasn'’t for lack of wishing to. They weren'’t products of the state mould, with its [elitist] grandes écoles, its major institutions, and the appropriate reflexes, codes, methods and practices."

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1: President Jacques Chirac acknowledged France's responsibility in the Holocaust of French Jews on July 16th, 1995, in a historic speech for the commemoration of the massive and brutal French police round-up of (according to official records) more than 13,000 Parisian Jews for deportation to German death camps, July 16-17, 1942. It is commonly known as the "rafle du vel' d'hiv", because the detained were first taken to the Vélodrome d'Hiver cycle sport stadium in Paris, from where they were transported to intermediary camps.

 

English version: Chloé Baker

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