This may seem unrelated to the previous entries but I just wanted to allude to the power early memories have to shape your sense of identity.

I realise that for the longest time, I have been trying to avoid any Pied-Noir flavoured emotion or even anything to do with Algeria, be it pre or post independence. I think that I was basically denying myself a past in order to fit with my present in France.

From the older generation of Pieds Noirs, my uncles, aunts and their friends I got a sense that we were different, but different in a way that honestly, I wasn’t sure I liked very much. No sense of being special except in a bad way.  I felt that I was part of a new class of unwanted citizens, frown upon, segregated, unwelcome and considered as outcasts. We were the living proof that France’s closed-minded and at times racist society was still alive and kicking.

Of course, as a child, I mainly suffered from the fact that I had a ridiculous accent for the Paris suburbs and that I was dark-skinned enough to be stopped by the police on a very regular basis in the Paris subway.

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A while ago, I found this text on a blog.  Because I copied it on a piece of paper in a very old fashioned way and didn’t save anything on my computer, I am unable to acknowledge ownership but it struck me as being so true, I need to copy it again and share it.

“For a refugee there is a very big contradiction, or at least in my case, which is, I don’t want to be here, I want to be in my country.  And a lot of time is spent thinking about this: I am going back, I am going back, and they don’t create the conditions in which to adapt; so it’s a struggle that sometimes lasts for many years.  And the people who have already adapted usually say: “forget about it, this is your country, this is your new home, your new residency is this one”   But psychologically, this is difficult.  One doesn’t want to renounce their past.  One doesn’t want to renounce their homeland or want to accept the reality.  One always want to consider that asylum/exile is a temporary condition.

if I remember well these are the words of a South american exile in London but they brought back memories of these long, long Sunday lunches from my childhood where all the adults endlessly reminisced about “life over there”, as it was in the golden days of their lives.  The same unwillingness to renounce  the past, the homeland or accept reality!  With a difference though, they claimed that this France that didn’t really want them, that they didn’t really like,  was their country and the reason why thy had to abandon they land .  No wonder that with such a “muddled” predicament, peace of mind has not been reached yet.

I recently met a Algerian activist who lives in London.  He has started an association and militates for (more) democracy in Algeria and free elections.  He is a great guy who believes in his country.  He is interested in all these topics that relate to the common identity and history between Algeria and France.

He has written a great article about the Algerian elections published in opendemocracy.net.

http://www.opendemocracy.net/hamza-hamouchene/algeria-and-arab-spring

 I specially like the way he develops his ideas around stereotyping and democracy.  Arab nations are often perceived by the West as being unable, because of their arab-ness, if such a word exist, to access democracy.  This contemptuous attitude is very rarely challenged and it is one of the unequivocal virtues of this article that it addresses it and uses it as a background for his description of the Arab Spring.
He speaks of Algeria with fervour and really manages to engage the reader and make him understand the political situation.   I specially
like the sentence: “Algeria is fine, we don’t need to go down the route of the Libyan disaster, and we don’t want the France we expelled
in 1962 to come back to our country”.

 

It puts the problem of democracy within a larger historical context and rightly alludes to the ghost of colonialism, which didn’t promote democracy in the
country when it could.  To go back to the beginning of the article, I specially like the expression “walk like an Egyptian”.

In 1830, The French invaded Algeria and colonisation began with settlers from France but also Spain, Malta, Italy, attracted by the prospect of a new life.  This diverse group of migrants acquired French nationality and became known as the Pieds Noirs.  Algeria became part of France and the Algerians became second-class non-citizens in their own country.

In 1962, Algeria won its independence after a long and brutal war.  The Pieds Noirs fled on mass, mainly to France, which viewed them as an unwelcome immigrant community.  The Algerians were left in a country in tatters and rife with political instability.

To this day, biased historical positions, distrust and enmity are still the norm.  The relationship between the two countries is tainted by conflicting historical views about their common history, mutual resentment and lack of dialogue.

Hopefully, this blog will contribute to the wider emerging interest in post-colonialism artistic dialogue increasingly taking place between France and Algeria include the pied Noir community in this attempt and work toward a better understanding between people.