Marseille begins to exorcise its colonial memory


The Algerian riflemen, including Ahmed Litim, paid a heavy price to liberate Marseille (here, during the victory parade, August 29, 1944).

“The name of a hero to replace that of an executioner. » Thursday, November 10, under a summer sun and in front of an audience of young schoolchildren quietly seated at his feet, the mayor of Marseille, Benoît Payan (DVG), officially renamed the Bugeaud school to give it the name of an unknown corporal, Ahmad Litim. The symbol is clear, spelled out in a discourse as lyrical as it is unambiguous.

On the one hand, the reminder of the crimes of the Marshal of France Thomas Bugeaud, colonizer of Algeria, capable of assuming his scorched-earth policy from the rostrum of the National Assembly and the mortal smoking of thousands of people in the caves in the Dahra Valley to break the resistance. The other, the sacrifice of a soldier just over 20 years oldlanded with the troops of General de Monsabert, who fell, arms in hand, on August 25, 1944, while trying to liberate the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde basilica from the Nazi occupants. “A nation to be great must look at its history with lucidity”, assures the 44-year-old city councilor after unveiling the new plaque affixed to the school gates.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers In Marseille, the Bugeaud school will soon be renamed after an Algerian skirmisher

Eighteen months after voting the decision, the municipality has done things in a big way. Ahmed Litim’s sepia military booklet, printed on a large panel, sits in the middle of the courtyard. Explanatory texts recall his commitment and that of the regiments of Algerian, Moroccan or Senegalese skirmishers in the liberation of Marseilles… In this 3e district, one of the poorest in the city, which has welcomed Italian, Armenian and now African immigration in turn, the message carries. In the small assembly, the consul of Algeria in Marseille greets “ the very positive impact “.

Ahmed Litim's military booklet.

“Here as in the country, everyone knows the bloodthirsty past of Bugeaud. Giving the name of an Algerian balances things,” slips the diplomat. A few steps away, the four-star cap of General Pascal Facon, military governor of Marseille and boss of the southern zone, hangs over the heads. “I am here because we honor the memory of a young soldier of freedom, who died for France”, explains the man who led Operation Barkhane in the Sahel. As for the downgrading of Marshal Bugeaud, the soldier, heavily invested since his arrival in Marseille in actions of social solidarity, does not wish to comment on it.

Release of a “Guide to Colonial Marseille”

The need to re-read the colonial history of a city that the chronicler Albert Londres called the “South Gate” is in tune with the times. In the same way as for Paris, Bordeaux, Soissons and before Rouen, Editions Syllepse, associated here with the premises of Editions Transit La Courte Echelle, have just published a Guide to Colonial Marseilles. The 226-page book was written by a group of about ten anti-racist activists who crisscrossed the city for months.

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