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The former Hôtel du Parc, on the shores of Lake Geneva, on the border between France and Switzerland, is the place where, after almost two years of secret negotiations, on March 18 sixty years ago General Charles de Gaulle’s France and the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic signed the historic Evian Agreements, which put an end to a war that began in November 1954.
Algeria had become a French colony in 1830 and, following the assimilation policy pursued by the then government of Paris, had been recognized as a French province. Already in the mid-1850s, more than a million French and Europeans had moved there, occupying positions of privilege and prestige compared to the Algerian majority.
In 1954, the independence movement born after the Second World War organized itself first in the Revolutionary Committee of Union and Action and then in the National Liberation Front (FLN), deciding to move to the armed struggle. From the first day of the conflict, the Algerians still claimed the opening of negotiations without preconditions with the French government and for the independence of the country, but the response of the then Minister of the Interior François Mitterrand was refusal.
On November 12, 1954, the French Prime Minister Mendès-France declared in turn that it was not possible “to reach compromises” when it came to “defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time and they are irrevocably French (…), between them and metropolitan France no secession is conceivable ».
Immediately, the French repression was very violent. In 1956, when France granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia, the most famous of the battles of this conflict began, that of Algiers: three women planted bombs in three different places in the city frequented by French colonists. The governor general of Algeria gave a mandate to the army to use every means and on January 8, 1957 7,000 paratroopers entered the city and martial law was proclaimed. From a military point of view the action was successful, but the news that to win the battle of Algiers the army had operated with brutal methods had great prominence at the international level and began to provoke the questioning of the French presence in the country itself.
At the end of the 1950s, General De Gaulle’s return to the political scene gave a turning point to the conflict. Initially considered the guarantor of French Algeria and strongly desired by the so-called pieds-noirs, the French of Algeria opposed to independence, de Gaulle gradually began to review their positions, coming to admit, in 1959, the principle of self-determination of Algeria and to speak, in 1960, of “an Algerian Algeria”. In November of the same year he recognized the Front as a valid interlocutor.
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This change of position was experienced by the settlers and some of the military circles in Algeria as a betrayal, after the years of hard struggle against the separatists. In January 1961 a referendum organized in the Algerian capital resulted in a majority in favor of self-determination of the country and led the French government to secretly enter into negotiations with the Algerian provisional government. When an impending Franco-Algerian meeting was announced in April, a group of French generals opposed to the plans for independence took possession with the troops of the airport of Algiers, the city hall and the governorate general and attempted to organize a military coup. .
General de Gaulle reported on television that “an insurrectional power” had been established in Algeria. His appeal led to the failure of the coup: hundreds of officers were ousted from command, others were arrested, and many joined the Organization armée secrète, an underground paramilitary group opposed to independence, and de Gaulle who thereafter carried out a series of attacks both in Algeria and in France, and which continued even after the signing of the peace agreements.
Negotiations with the National Liberation Front, with Switzerland in the role of mediator, were reopened in the French city of Évian-les-Bains in May 1961. There were two meetings: the first took place from May 20 to June 13 and the second from 20 to 28 July of the same year. On March 18, 1962, the French and Algerian delegations met again and managed to sign the agreements on the cessation of hostilities and on the future arrangements of the two nations.
On 1 July 1962, six million Algerians went to vote in the referendum on independence: almost all the votes were in favor, and on 3 July de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent. However, the Algerian provisional government chose July 5 as Independence Day, to commemorate the anniversary of the capture of Algiers by French troops on July 5, 1830.
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The war caused more than 400,000 deaths among Algerians, almost ten times those among the French. In 2018 the current President Emmanuel Macron recognized for the first time that members of the French army had been responsible for torture and murder during the war in Algeria and then decided, in 2021, to declassify the documents classified for national security reasons relating to the period prior to 1971, including those involving the war in Algeria.
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