French people

Macron commemorates the murder of Algerian demonstrators by the Paris police in 1961


But in a statement released shortly after the ceremony, Mr. Macron’s office failed to do so, instead holding the Paris police accountable and refraining from characterizing the killings as a massacre.

“The crimes committed that night under the authority of Maurice Papon are inexcusable for the Republic”, one can read in the press release, referring to the Paris police prefect who ordered the suppression of the demonstration.

Mr. Macron’s presence at the commemorations comes amid a tense political context ahead of next year’s presidential election: the country’s colonial past in Algeria is a trauma that continues to haunt and shape France, along with nostalgia on the right and the resentment of the large Muslim population.

And they take place against a backdrop of diplomatic tensions between France and Algeria. The Algerian government recently recalled its ambassador after Mr. Macron questioned the existence of an Algerian nation before French colonization and accused Algerian leaders of “rewriting” their country’s history on the basis of a “Hatred of France”.

It was during the Algerian War of Independence on the other side of the Mediterranean that the police killings of Parisian demonstrators took place.

On October 17, 1961, as the eight-year conflict drew to a close, fighters from the Algerian National Liberation Front called on Algerians in Paris to organize a peaceful march to protest the nighttime curfew imposed on them after a wave of murderous violence. attacks on French police officers.

About 20,000 to 30,000 people showed up and the police crushed the march before it could even begin. They arrested 12,000 demonstrators, beat some to death and shot or threw others in the Seine, where they drowned.

For several weeks, unidentified corpses were found along the banks of the river.

In addition to the dozens killed that night, many more were victims of police raids and violence that began in September and continued for several days after planned protests. During this period, historians estimate that the total death toll was 100 to 200 people.

Fabrice Riceputi, an Algerian war historian who wrote on the killings, described the events of October 17 as “a peak in a period of state terror being inflicted on the colonized people”.

But for decades, the French state maintained that the official death toll was only three.

It was only in the 1990s, after the groundbreaking work of French historian Jean-Luc Einaudi, that the extent of police action began to be revealed. His findings were made public in a trial in which it was also revealed that Mr Papon, the police chief, had participated in the deportation of more than 1,600 Jews during World War II.

“From the start, the government has imposed silence,” Riceputi said, adding that he had blocked calls for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the murders, civil cases filed by Algerians demanding justice and access to key archival documents.

But silence was also more widespread: French media largely ignored the events, as did the country’s left-wing political opposition and the government of newly independent Algeria.

Mr Macron’s office statement on Saturday acknowledged this. “This tragedy has long been silent, denied or hidden,” one reads, describing the killings as “brutal, violent and bloody”.

Since becoming president in 2017, Mr. Macron has sought to heal memories of French colonization in Algeria and remedy the lingering effects of the Algerian war.

But recognizing the role of the police in the 1961 massacre also risks sparking explosive debates on police violence and racism in France. High-profile cases of officer behavior such as beating a black radio producer and carrying out discriminatory police checks in recent years have sparked outrage and widespread protests.

The timing of Saturday’s commemoration, occurring the year before a presidential election, was also a factor for Mr Macron. France’s current political climate is dominated by issues of security and cultural identity, and Mr Macron has attempted to appeal to conservative voters who have often been reluctant to make amends for the nation’s colonial past.

In January, his office said there would be “no remorse or apology” for France’s occupation of Algeria.

And last month he asked for “forgiveness” for the abandonment of the Harkis, Algerians who fought for France during the war and often showed strong support for Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far right. , who is a serious challenger to Mr. Macron. in the election.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Mr. Macron observed a minute of silence and laid a wreath near the Seine where police in 1961 threw several demonstrators.