The first episode of the highly informative documentary series ‘The Algerian War’ by Peter Batty, co-produced by Channel One and RTBF, follows the political prelude to the Algerian war, with the mood growing increasingly somber until the moment civil unrest broke out.
The series is widely available for free in French. On DocsOnline however, the series has been subtitled in English
The Algerian War was a momentous struggle for independence from France by Algerian nationalists between 1954 and 1962. This eight-year conflict caused the fall of six French Prime Ministers and eventually the collapse of the Fourth Republic. It returned Charles de Gaulle to power but also almost saw his demise and twice brought civil strife to mainland France, and the fear of a military coup. It resulted in the deaths of at least one million Algerians and the exodus of as many European settlers. It was the last of the old style “colonial struggles” and the first of what would become the widespread wars of decolonization. It also marked the first practical application of what we today call counter-insurgency.
Story part I: The paths of rebellion
The first episode follows the prelude to the war, with the mood growing increasingly somber until the moment civil unrest broke out. The French government’s reply was the ‘policy of integration’, which aimed to provide for equal rights for all. In reality, however, the rebel movements in the countryside failed to see any real advantages to the policy and continued to use violence to achieve independence. The episode begins with an introduction to Algerian history as seen through old photographs and paintings.
About the series
This five-episode series provides a detailed analysis of the Algerian War. Archive images, black-and-white and some in color, complement the chronological account of the war and the decolonization process in Algeria. Prominent figures on Algerian and French side of this complex conflict discuss their experiences and actions. As the series progresses, the mood becomes increasingly dark and the conflict between both sides, as well as between different French factions, becomes more and more intense.
The series is composed of archival film material that was recorded during the war and featured in news reports at the time. Censorship under French rule meant that not everything could be filmed or written, and it should be kept in mind that the task of journalists was particularly difficult for that reason. The authorities arrested and interrogated journalists whose work was viewed as ‘too critical’, implementing the same interrogation techniques that were used on captured rebels. Journalist Henri Alleg recounts his ordeal in the second episode. Fortunately, the documentary makers were able to gather sufficient material to tell the different sides of the story.
The Algerian War began just nine years after the end of WWII. Though the consensus in Europe in 1945 was that the horrors of the war should never be allowed to take place again. Theorists such as French-Martinican Frantz Fanon and French-Tunisian Albert Memmi draw parallels between Nazism and the decolonization struggle. In their view, Algerians were treated the same way minorities had been during the German Occupation. France, a country that suffered immensely under the Nazis, was enforcing the same policies just one decade later.
Philosopher, psychiatrist and author Frantz Fanon, originally from Martinique, was closely involved in the events of the Algerian War. After living in France for his studies, he was stationed as a psychiatrist in an Algerian hospital. After the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954, he joined the FLN and broke with his French background entirely. In his book “The Wretched of the Earth” he discusses the effects on Algerian people, caused by the war and the French torture methods. Besides this, he analyses in depth the process of decolonization. Unfortunately, after its publication in 1961 Fanon died of leukaemia.