Last month, Algeria hosted the 19th edition of the Mediterranean Games in the city of Oran. One particular incident that marked this event was when Algerian fans in the stadium— mostly young people—who were watching a football match during which Algeria was playing against France, lacked respect for the French team by whistling their national anthem, La Marseillaise. This incident made the French Ambassador to Algeria, along with his staff attending the event, feel outraged and consequently decide to leave the stadium immediately—before returning at a later stage. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mediterranean, this regrettable act triggered a wave of condemnation in the French media.
In reality, this was not the first time that such kind of acts takes place. Several other similar incidents occurred before. Perhaps the most memorable was the one that happened on the French soil on 6 October 2001, when La Marseillaise was booed and whistled during a France-Algeria friendly match in the Stade de France. To make matters worse, the fans, mostly Franco-Algerian nationals, invaded the playground at the 76th minute causing a great deal of mayhem, a fact that brought the match to a halt.
A psychological reading of this behaviour can be very revealing. The fact of whistling the national anthem of a given country at every occasion signifies a deep feeling of rejection of, if not animosity towards, that country. Then, the question that one may ask is: why do Algerian fans, overwhelmingly of post-independence generations, harbour such anti-French sentiment? Could it be a postcolonial reaction?
As a matter of fact, although the majority of Algerians today were born after independence, they are consciously aware of the significance of the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made and the deprivations they endured so that the present generations could enjoy full freedom. Their perception of French colonialism is that of a cruel and racist system that inflicted a great deal of suffering on the native population of Algeria. Such bleak reality of Algérie française is often learnt about through films, documentaries, history textbooks and even through first-hand accounts from those who had lived the moment. In this regard, documented images of ruthless repression, characterized by violence and Gestapo-like torture in detention centres, along with a denial of the most basic rights to Algerians, were all to contribute to the shaping of the Algerian attitude today towards the former imperial power.
Such widespread feeling, as it seems, is unlikely to change—at least in the foreseeable future—as long as it keeps being nurtured by a hostile attitude emanating from the French side. More precisely, one important element that keeps alive Algeria’s colonial trauma in the minds of many Algerians is the vengeful spirit constantly displayed by some French media which do not miss any opportunity to engage in an Algeria bashing. This is done with the support of the far-right politicians such as Eric Zemmour, leader of the recently-founded Reconquête party, or Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National party, known for their anti-Algeria stance, as well as former settler communities—les pieds noirs—who, 60 years on, still find it hard to come to terms with the fact that Algeria is now an independent nation.
Undoubtedly, the provocative discourse articulated by these anti-Algeria voices in France only fuels the flames of an already strained and unstable Franco-Algerian relationship and, above all, keeps reminding Algerians of a colonial past that was not so clean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that despite having shed the yoke of French rule more than half a century ago, Algeria is still defined by its anti-colonial struggle, a situation that often manifests itself through such incidents as the whistling of the Marseillaise.
Professor. Belkacem Belmekki teaches British and Commonwealth studies at the University of Oran 2, Algeria. He wrote his doctorate thesis on the genesis and development of Muslim nationalism in British India. He has taken part in several international conferences and published many research papers on the subject of the Muslim community in South Asia during the British Raj. He is the author of a book entitled Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Muslim Cause in British India (Klaus Schwarz Publishing –Berlin, Germany) and a forthcoming one entitled Paradoxes of Pakistan: A Glimpse (Ibidem Press – Hannover, Germany) with Professor Michel Naumann. His research mainly focuses on the notion of cultural exclusivism among Indian Muslims in British India. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of the Humanities and Social Development Research (www.ijhsdr.com).