Just two months ago, Socialist President François Hollande became the first French president to admit culpability on behalf of the French Republic for a massacre of protesters in Paris.
The move is a highly significant one, with the Algerian Crisis of early 1960s effectively constituting a bitter War of Independence and a state of civil war in France itself.
Estimates are still sketchy to this day, but many historians put the number of pro-independence protesters killed during the brutal suppression of a 30,000-strong crowd in the hundreds of victims – many of whose bodies ended up in the Seine.
The police action was orchestrated by the then prefect of police Maurice Papon. Papon was later convicted to ten years in prison for his part in collaborating with the Nazis in deporting Jews from France during the Second World War.
“On the 17th of October 1961, Algerian citizens who were protesting for the right to political independence were killed during a bloody repression,” reads the historic communiqué from the Presidential Office.
“Fifty-one years after this tragedy, I salute the memory of the victims,” writes President Hollande, who adds that “the Republic recognises unambiguously these facts.”
But the wounds of France’s painful extrication from its colonial past have never healed. Today, the subject of the Algerian Crisis is still taboo and right-wing opposition UMP president Christian Jacob was quick to counter the historical acknowledgement of facts that had been officially ignored for half a century:
“Without denying the events of the 17th of October 1961 or of forgetting the victims, it is simply intolerable to question the State Police and also the entire Republic,” writes Mr Jacob in a communiqué.
“The President of the Republic should specify whether or not his simple and short statement implies responsibility (for the event) for France,” added the UMP deputy.
CAMPAIGN PROMISE“We all know about the very painful elements of our history and none of François Hollande’s predecessors went off on this track of putting the responsibility on the Republic,” said Christian Jacob a little later on, talking to journalists in the corridors of the National Assembly.
“We are in 1961 with a President of the Republic who is General de Gaulle and with a fully-functioning democracy,” he added by way of clarification of his viewpoint.
Another deputy who voiced his dissent at Mr Hollande’s perceived sullying of the French Republic by his words was extreme right-wing Assembly member Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and former leader of the National Front:
“These people who question the French state and its responsibilities aren’t supposed to do that: it isn’t their job. This is no more true of Mr Chirac than it is of Mr Hollande. They don’t have the authority to recognise the guilt or the innocence of France,” said Mr Le Pen on RTL Radio.
François Hollande had made an electoral promise during his successful presidential campaign that he would give official recognition to the events of October 1961 – something that Algeria and many in France had been demanding for many decades.
Up to now, the event had been remembered only through the unofficial resources of folk songs, poems and books (such as the 1984 novel “Meurtres pour Mémoire” by the French novelist Didier Daenickx).