French President Francois Hollande has recognised “the suffering” inflicted by France’s 132-year-long colonisation of Algeria ended in 1962, exactly 50 years ago, after a bloody war of independence led by the Algerian National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale orFLN). Mr. Hollande, on a state visit to Algeria, was addressing Parliament.

Making a direct reference to the massacre of several Algerians in Setif on 8th May 1945 — the day of the Allied victory against Hitler’s forces — Mr. Hollande said France had “failed to live up to its own universal values”.

“The truth must be told about the conditions in which Algeria freed itself from colonial rule, about this war which has remained nameless in France, the Algerian War,” said Mr. Hollande.

If the two countries were to put their difficult colonial past behind them, they would have to consult archives on both sides, examine massacres committed by both parties to the conflict.

However, the French President used words no French Head of State before him has had the courage to utter: “I recognise here the suffering that colonisation inflicted on the Algerian people. For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a system that was profoundly unjust and brutal,” said Mr. Hollande in a historic speech.

Bedrock of truth

The end of his speech was greeted by thunderous applause and a standing ovation including from several former resistance fighters who are parliamentarians today. Mr. Hollande said he wanted future Franco-Algerian relations to be built on the “bedrock of truth since nothing can be built by forgetting, hiding or denial”. This truth, he underlined, had to recognise that there had been “injustice, massacres and torture”.

This is the first visit to Algeria by a French Head of State in 31 years. The last French President to visit Algeria was another Francois, another Socialist, President Mitterrand, in 1981.

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