Why failed 1961 coup d'état is still relevant to France today

By Nicolas Lebourg

This spring has inevitably seen lots of attention devoted to the 50th anniversary of the events of May 1968 in France and the accompanying social upheaval. Largely forgotten, however, is another springtime event dating from just a few years before – the failed coup attempt by French generals in Algiers on April 21st, 1961. Yet as historian Nicolas Lebourg points out, the way France's secret services and police handled that plot and its aftermath has important lessons for current events in France.

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For most people, all that they remember of it is President Charles De Gaulle's dismissive reference to a rebellion led by “a handful of retired generals”. But for those on the extreme right still fixated on the Algerian War, the attempted coup d'état or putsch of April 1961 by a number of senior French generals is a source of inspiration. Indeed, in the summer of 2017 a small extreme right-wing group in Marseille in southern France was broken up as it plotted terrorist acts. The group, mainly made up of the sons of gendarmes and police officers, had chosen as its name the 'Organisation de l’Armée Secrète' (OAS), the name of the paramilitary terrorist group set up by extreme right-wing activists during the Algerian War.