Redeeming the Past: The 2001 Commemoration of the Paris Massacre of 17 October 1961 Open Access

White, Rachel (2010)

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Redeeming the Past:
The 2001 Commemoration of the Paris Massacre of 17 October 1961

By Rachel White

On the night of 17 October 1961, 30,000 Algerians, including families dressed in
their Sunday best, poured into central Paris from the suburbs to protest the discriminatory
curfew imposed upon them several days before. Alarmed by the large numbers of
protesters and incited to brutality by Paris police prefect Maurice Papon, the Paris police
opened fire on the demonstrators. It is still unknown today how many people lost their
lives that evening and in the following days, but historians' current estimations range
from 32 to 200 deaths. The massacre was an act of police vengeance and retribution for
the FLN assassinations of 29 police officers in the preceding months. Most importantly,
the French state directly contributed to the cover-up following 17 October 1961. In the
first chapter, I present the massacre in the context of the Algerian War (1954-1962) and
the turbulent history of colonization and de-colonization in Algeria. The second chapter
addresses the media reaction in the months immediately following the massacre and the
reasons for the supposed "occultation" of the massacre from French memory. In the third
chapter, I examine the process by which this event returned to the public scene during the
1980s and 1990s.
In the final chapter, I demonstrate the extent to which the 2001 commemoration
for the 40th anniversary of the massacre of 17 October 1961 reflects non-Algerian French
society's attempt to rewrite or revise its own history. The commemoration represented a
step towards an official recognition of the massacre but stopped short of acknowledging
state responsibility or of offering an official apology; president Jacques Chirac made no
official statement for the commemoration. Through a study of the press from the period
immediately following 17 October 1961 and the week surrounding the 2001
commemoration, concentrating on the newspapers La Croix, Libération, and L'Humanité,
I explain how the respective newspapers attempted to justify their actions in 1961 and
redeem their shortcomings through their coverage of the commemoration. Finally, I
frame the discussion of the commemoration in the context of questions of memory and
the limitations of commemorative projects.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Page 1

Chapter 1
A prelude to 17 October 1961: the FLN, the French Police, and a nameless "war"
Page 10

Chapter 2
Immediate Reaction and Eventual Occultation
Page 21

Chapter 3
Anamnesis and the Path to Commemoration
Page 33

Chapter 4
The 2001 Commemoration and Its Implications
Page 41

Page 63

Page 77

Appendix of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Page 80

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