Translated from French by Hicham Touili-Idrissi
This extensive conversation with Daho Djerbal takes us from a personal account of his childhood and teenage memories—of both daily life under settler colonialism and Independence Day in Oran—to a description of several scales of internationalism Algeria has been involved with before, during, and after the Revolution in the Maghreb, the African Continent, the Arab region, and the Third World.
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Daho, you were 17 years old in July 1962. The question I feel the urge to ask you is very simple: could you tell us about your memories of that time?
DAHO DJERBAL: Yes, of course, but there are a certain number of facts that must be put into perspective in order to understand July 1962 itself, because July 1962 is the liberation of something that had been confiscated, and for which an extremely high price has been paid to get out of it. There’s nothing trivial about getting out of a situation of colonial domination, of settler colonialism, separating from metropolitan France, which is one hour away from Algiers by plane. This independence bears particular, singular, and sometimes an exceptional character. I think that putting the event in context is important in terms of the country’s internal history, the history of the Algerian people.
It is important to point out that I was born in Oran, which is the second largest city in the country and Algeria’s most European city. So essentially, as Algerians, we were enclosed in neighborhoods or in zones that were exclusively reserved for Algerians, for “Natives” [“Indigènes”]. I alternate between the terms “Algerian” and “Native” to make it clear that one of the aspects of French colonial policy in Algeria was to deprive us of our citizenship and our nationality. In fact, at the end of the 19th century and during the first part of the 20th century, we were no longer Algerians. Those who were called “Algerians” were the European settlers in Algeria. They were strongly represented in the French National Assembly through the lobby of French mayors from Algeria, and they called themselves “the Algerians.” There was even an Algerianist school that was exclusively European, which embodied one of the moments of Orientalist art. Out of all the generations that graduated from the school, one could count the names of actual Algerians on one hand…