03/18 – The Évian Accords

Popular unrest in Algiers during the Algerian War. (Magnum Photos)

On this day in 1962, representatives from the French government and the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) signed a ceasefire agreement in Évian-les-Bains, thus ending the Algerian War. A result of Algerian frustrations with the French colonial administration, the conflict exploded in 1954 as FLN maquisards (guerilla fighters) launched a series of attacks on French targets. For the following 7 years, battles raged in the cities and the countrysides. Increasingly brutal tactics deployed by both sides intensified the conflict as the anti-war movement grew in urban France. In 1958, a military coup toppled the French 4th Republic government. New president Charles de Gaulle – a hero of WWII – quickly began an effort to end the war in order to reign in government spending and prevent further unrest. In 1962 the conflict finally came to an end, leaving 300,000 dead and 3 million displaced.

A still from “The Battle of Algiers”, a 1966 French film that recreates the Algerian War in a documentary style. The film, which was banned upon release in France, showcases the increasingly brutal tactics used by both sides during the conflict. (Aurora Film Society)

The Évian Accords marked the effective end of the French colonial empire. In 1830, Algeria had been absorbed into the French empire following centuries of partial Ottoman rule. As the empire grew, hundreds of thousands of French (known as pieds-noirs) settled in Algiers and began “Europeanizing” the city. By the end of WWII, Algeria was regarded as more than a colony – it was a slice of France in Northern Africa. The post-war weakening of the European powers, however, coupled with a wave of nationalism sweeping the colonized world, was a recipe for decolonization. Following the loss of French Indochina (Vietnam) in 1954, the French grimly clung on to the belief that they could retain Algeria. The success of the FLN, however, was inevitable: the French were simply not equipped to deal with the strength of the Algerian national movement.

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