October 29th, 2001

emu

Paris 1961

Saw an interesting documentary the other day. This month the tragedy from 40 years ago in Paris was remembered. According to the official figures 6 people had died. The unofficial figures tell a different story. Witnesses say at least 200 people have died. Somehow the whole story was nearly forgotten.

Paris, 1961. Algeria is struggling for independence, Algerians in the capital of France are having a hard time. At the same time, several of them form a terrorist group and fight the French from within. During a couple of years nearly 60 policemen died in the whole of France. The French government takes away all rights that Algerians have. This is an exceptional measure, as, with Algeria still a colony, all of them have a French passport. They are French citizens. But in reality anybody with a hint of a colour can't gather in the street, can't be outside at a certain time, basically can't do anything apart from work and sleep.

The Algerians decide to have a protest march. Some evening in October 1961 this march will take place. 8 o'clock, the time they are supposed to be inside, the peaceful march starts. Whole families get out in the street to let the world know about their treatment. The march turns out into a massacre. Policemen use the opportunity to do what they have been trying to do for ages: get revenge. On anybody they could lay their hands on. The protesters get surrounded, driven into a certain direction. People get trampled to death, others get hit by the police. If you're unconscious you end up in the Seine.

Afterwards the authorities acknowledge there has been some trouble, give the number of 2 deaths, which changes to 3, later to 6. Nothing really happens anymore. The Algerians are too afraid to do anything, haven't got the power to go against the police, no politicians are interested in what happened, no policeman shows remorse. Half a year later Algeria becomes independent.

Not until many years later somebody starts investigating. He finds out that at a cemetery there are ninety something people buried, under the title 'unknown African muselman'. His discovery still doesn't lead to any outrage. The unveiling of a plaque this month is a step forward. For the first time publicity is given to the tragic events. The word massacre is being used. Still, during the unveiling, conservatives and policemen have a counter protest and sing La Marseillaise. They think the killed policemen should have been included. Others say that at this moment in time (read: after the September 11 tragedy), Muslims shouldn't get any support. A high official was interviewed in the documentary and wasn't impressed. He doubts the number of 200 deaths, that several investigations have confirmed. To him it was all a matter of self-defence.
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