French President Emmanuel Macron was interrupted Monday by a howling prankster as he apologized on behalf of his country to Algeria’s Harkis.
The woman in the audience accused Macron of “making empty promises” as he pleaded with the community for forgiveness, with the president responding by smiling and clumsily laughing as she reprimanded him.
More than 200,000 Algerians fought with the French army in the war of independence that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war — which was waged on both sides with extreme brutality, including widespread torture — the French government abandoned the loyalist fighters known as Harkis to their fate, despite previous promises that it would take care of them.
Many were trapped in Algeria and massacred as the country’s new masters took brutal revenge, while thousands of others who had fled to France were interned in camps, often with their families, in humiliating and traumatizing conditions.
As the woman – the daughter of the Harki fighter – went on, a visibly uneasy Macron smiled and tried to calm her down. “I hear you,” he said to her, calling for a mutual reconciliation effort.
French President Emmanuel Macron was interrupted (pictured in the Elysée Palace in Paris) on Monday by a howling bouncer as he apologized to Algeria’s Harkis on behalf of his country.
“I want to express our gratitude to the fighters,” Macron said at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace attended by about 300 people, most of whom survive Harkis and their families.
‘I ask for forgiveness. We will not forget,” Macron said, adding that France “has failed in its duty to the Harkis, their wives, their children.”
Addressing some of the dark chapters of France’s colonial past, the centrist president said the government would draft a law recognizing the state’s responsibility to Harkis and the need for “recovery.”
Previous French presidents had already begun to admit the betrayal of Algerian Muslim fighters.
Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande accepted “the responsibilities of French governments in abandoning the Harkis” in 2016.
The meeting took place just days before National Harki Day, which has been celebrated since 2003 – especially in southern France, where many of the surviving fighters settled after the war.
Their political sympathies often lie with the nationalist right, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is the frontrunner among Macron’s rivals in the French presidential election next spring.
Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at a rally in memory of the Algerians who fought alongside French colonial forces in the Algeria War, known as Harkis, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, September 20, 2021
Pictured: Extract from a video of Macron’s speech in which a tearful woman (pictured center) interrupted him, accusing Macron of ‘making empty promises’
Authorities have allowed a number of legal proceedings in the past for the Harki and their families to seek compensation from France.
Prior to the ceremony, Harki organizations had demanded that an official acknowledgment of their treatment be put into law before the end of the year.
“We hope you will be the one to end 60 years of a certain hypocrisy that recognizes the abandonment of the Harkis in speeches, but not in law,” they said in an open letter to Macron.
Macron’s initiative comes more than a year after he commissioned historian Benjamin Stora to assess how France has dealt with its colonial legacy in Algeria.
The report, submitted in January, made a series of recommendations, including the assassination of a prominent Algerian independence figure and the establishment of a “memory and truth commission.”
Salah Abdelkrim (R) receives the ‘Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur’ from French President Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony commemorating the Harkis
Macron has already spoken out about some of France’s unresolved colonial legacies, including nuclear tests in Polynesia, its role in the Rwandan genocide and war crimes in Algeria.
Before the end of his mandate, he is expected to attend ceremonies to mark the anniversaries of two important events that still weigh on Franco-Algerian relations.
One is the brutal repression of a demonstration by Algerians on October 17, 1961 by the Paris police who beat protesters to death or drowned them in the River Seine.
The other is a signing of the Evian Accords on March 18, 1962, which ended the War of Independence.
Grim Fate of the Harkis: ‘Betrayed’ Soldiers Who Fought with France in Algeria’s War of Independence
Pictured: a young Harki in Algeria, 1961
While French President Emmanuel Macron formally apologizes to the Harkis on Monday, the grim fate of the Muslim Algerians who fought on France’s side during their homeland’s war of independence remains a blot on France’s history.
Up to 200,000 Harkis – the name comes from the Arabic word for “movement” given to the mobile units they served in – fought for French colonial power during the French war of 1954-62 with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN).
After a peace agreement granting Algerian independence was signed on March 18, 1962, only about 42,000 Harkis were allowed to go to France, some with their wives and children.
The French government initially refused to recognize their right of residence and many were held in squalid internment camps for years.
In total, 90,000 men, women and children fled. The rest remained in Algeria, where many were massacred.
Harki activists in France who tried to prosecute Algeria for crimes against humanity in 2001 claimed 150,000 were killed.
Despised as traitors in Algeria, the Harkis in France were an uneasy reminder of a painful defeat.
During Algeria’s seven-year war of independence, nationalists revolted against their French colonial rulers and eventually defeated them. There were atrocities on both sides and the conflict left about half a million dead.
Today about 400,000 Harki and their descendants live in France.
Pictured: fighters of the National Liberation Army, photo for postcard by the Ministry of Information of the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic, ca. 1960
They have fought for decades, including hunger strikes and demonstrations, for official recognition of what happened to those left behind in Algeria.
Their integration into France was difficult because they are considered immigrants but are rejected by other immigrants.
Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika compared them to Nazi collaborators during a visit to Paris in 2000.
Although he criticized the conditions under which they were housed in France, he ruled out their return to Algeria.
In September 2001, France held its very first National Day in honor of the Harki.
Right-wing politicians have championed their cause – often during election campaigns – but with few concrete results.
Pictured: A portrait of a Harki in Algeria in 1959 during the Algerian War
In September 2016, Socialist President Francois Hollande formally admitted that France had “abandoned” the Harkis.
“I recognize the responsibility of the French governments in the abandonment of the Harkis, the massacres of those left behind in Algeria and the inhumane conditions for those who were transferred to camps in France,” Hollande said.
Two years later, a EUR 40 million aid package was prepared for them and their families.
In the same year, France’s highest court ordered the state to pay damages to a Harki’s son for damage to his health in the camps.