Essay on An Understanding of the Repressive System in Paris and Opposition to It During the Algerian War of Independence

Submitted By petetroiano
Words: 7531
Pages: 31

What do the texts Ratonnades à Paris and Les Harkis à Paris contribute to an understanding of both the repressive system in Paris and the opposition to that system?

The texts Ratonnades à Paris and Les Harkis à Paris are a series of eye witness accounts, testimonies and complaints during the latter years of the Algerian War, when French repression against the Algerian population in Paris was at its absolute peak. The texts illustrate a culmination of the repressive measures that had been in place before the deployment of harkis in Paris in early 1960, and paint a very clear picture of how the nature of this repression changed under the stewardship of Maurice Papon and his auxiliary police force. A racist element came to the fore in French policy, which is reflected the numerous complaints in both texts by Algerians who claim they were systematically tortured and alienated to the very outer bounds of society by the French state. These repressive measures, illustrated in Les Harkis à Paris, provide the blueprint along which the October 17th demonstration occurred, and explains both why Algerians felt the need to demonstrate as well as the reaction of the French police force deployed in the centre of Paris. The issue of opposition is prevalent among both texts, but more so in Ratonnades à Paris, when there is an increased collective realisation what France, and in particular Papon, had come to represent as a result of this repression and that an end to the war was essential to settle French and Algerian differences.

It is crucial to analyse the contexts in which both texts are situated to understand why they were published and what they were aiming to achieve. Upon their release, the effect of both these texts is the publicising of repression suffered by Algerians, but from their own perspective, which provides a version of events very different to that available at the time. This can be explained by the tight control of the French press by the state, which stifled attempts to make Algerian suffering common knowledge, and even went as far as denying it completely. The bataille de l’écrit also helps to explain the significant impact of the texts upon publication, since, at the time, Algerians couldn’t make themselves heard due to the lack of available channels and were afraid to speak up for fear of retrospective punishment. This silence also applies to the media, where newspapers were often seized upon printing anything which implicated harkis or French state officials in illegal forms of repression, and had to report on events in a specific manner to ensure that this didn’t happen. This shows that a very skewed version of events was being moulded by the French state at the time, and thus the publication of these texts is representative of the general desire to reveal what the extent of repression the French state had been engaging, and provide the wider French society with a more accurate description of what had been going on. This covering up of memories by the state points towards a repression of public awareness and memory as well as that of Algerians in Paris, but the Papon trial some thirty years later brought the issue of Algerian suffering and the October 17th demonstration back into the public domain.

Both texts can be considered very useful regarding the depth of rich detail they go into, detailing specific methods of French torture and exactly how Algerians were being marginalised in Paris. However, contextual factors outside these texts can also help to explain the repressive machinery in use and the opposition to it. The role of history and French tradition should not be underestimated, especially the very recent events of World War Two and the consequent German Occupation under which French people suffered greatly[1], something which is often alluded to in opposition complaints in both texts. These events illustrate the immediate parallels between French methods towards Algeria and how they had been the