(The UN and INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENTS – continued)
"three colors, one flag, one empire"
Ho Chi Minh with French President Georges Bidault
in 1946, following
France's recognition of his Democratic Republic of Vietnam. (A photo from academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu.)
Toward the end of World War II, Charles de Gaulle did not like talk from the Soviet Union and the United States about trusteeships. He foresaw the eventual independence of colonized people, but he considered what France did with its "dependencies" was France's business. He wanted France to bargain with its dependencies on its own timetable and to keep them as tied to France as much as possible. De Gaulle and his Free French still accepted the notion that the French had a civilizing mission to fulfill.
During the war the British let a force of de Gaulle's Free French enter the Syria-Lebanon region, and in late 1943 the French experienced opposition to their presence. In 1945 a clash between Syrians wanting independence and the French erupted in Damascus, with French troops attacking the Syrian parliament building and French aircraft dropping bombs. But it was in vain. The French lost Syria and Lebanon. The Syrians defied the French and created their own army. The UN recognized Syria and Lebanon as independent states and as members of the UN, and in April 1946 the UN Security Council won an agreement from Britain and France to withdraw their troops.
In Morocco, French colonialism was challenged in 1944 when a political party, the Istiqlal (independence) drafted a manifesto. The French responded by arresting its leaders, accusing them of collaborating with the Germans. French troops fired on crowds demonstrating in the city of Fés. France's Moroccan subjects were outraged. France's colonial governor, supported by French economic interests and backed by most of Morocco's European colons, adamantly refused to consider reforms. Official intransigence contributed to increased animosity between the nationalists and the colons and widened a split between Morocco's sultan and the colonial governor (resident general). In December 1952, a riot broke out in Casablanca. In the aftermath of the rioting, the resident general outlawed the Moroccan Communist Party and the Istiqlal. France exiled Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar in 1953 and replaced him with the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate. Nationalists and those who saw the Mohammed V as a religious leader intensified their hostilities against French rule.
Algeria also developed into a problem for the French. Algeria was more than a colony. Legally it was one of France's provinces. It had more people of European heritage than had Tunisia or Morocco. Between 1872 and 1914 Algeria's European polulation had increased from 280,000 to 752,000, engaged in growing wine grapes, wheat alfalfa, citrus fruit and vegetables and in trade. Most Europeans in Algeria were born there and considered Algeria their homeland. They dominated Algerian politics and they were Christian and did not want to lose their power to the non-European, Moslem majority.
A small group of Muslim intellectuals had issued a manifesto back in 1943, calling for an end to Muslim assimilation with France and for an independent Algeria. On May 8, 1945, during the French celebration of Victory Day, in the Algerian city of Sétif, French police tried to stop a procession of Algerians carrying independence flags. The police fired on the demonstrators. A riot followed in which at least 22 died and 48 were wounded. The police action inspired the spread of disturbances to other towns across Algeria for several days, and according to official figures 1500 died – 15,000 according to Muslim figures. France's Communist newspaper joined other Frenchmen in the denouncing the Muslim riots. The Communists were fixated on the struggle against fascism just ended and on the Communist Party's partnership with de Gaulle's provisional government. It denounced the Muslim rioters as would-be sympathizers of Hitler and the Nazis.
Tunisia and Vietnam were also concerns. In Tunisia in 1945 came calls for complete independence, and Tunisia's foremost advocate of independence, Habib Bourguiba, imprisoned by the French in the 1930s, had been released during the German occupation of Tunisia. And now he was drifting around out of reach of the French and speaking up for the cause of indpendence.
The French had trouble with their colony on the island of Madagascar. During the war British forces took the island of Madagascar from Vichy France and delivered it to de Gaulle's Free French. The French were not popular among the people of Madagascar, and on March 29, 1947, with their prestige at low ebb, the French faced an uprising on the eastern side of the island – by an independence movement: the Mouvement Democratique de la Renovation Malagache (MDRM). Support for the uprising spread quickly, the French losing control over a third of the island, with some Malagasians expecting help from the United States. It took more than a year for the French to regain control over the island, while as many as 11,000 Malagasians died in the fighting. The French executed 20 of the rebel military leaders, and 5,000 to 6,000 others are reported to have been tried and sentenced to penalties ranging from brief imprisonment to death.
Back in Tunisia, in 1949 Bourguiba returned to reorganise the independence movement and to resume his contact with his fellow Tunisians by visiting small towns and villages throughout the country. Bourguiba's movement was comprised largely of moderates – people largely from educated and business families who wished for little more than political independence. France's government refused to concede self-rule to the Tunisians and Bourguiba toughened his stand by calling for unlimited resistance and general insurrection. The French found him in January 1952 and imprisoned him again and banned his movement.
The following year the French moved against agitation for independence in Morocco by deposing its leading advocate there, the Sultan of Morocco, Mohammad V. Instead of solving the issue for the French, repression made matters worse for them in Morocco. And repression in Tunisia was making rule for them harder. There guerrilla warfare arose, and during the next couple of years guerrillas in rural areas were winning support from peasants. The independence movement in Tunisia had not only turned violent, it was expanding and becoming more revolutionary. Under increasing pressure in Vietnam and in Algeria, the French felt pressured to let Tunisia go. In 1954 its released Bourguiba from prison and lifted the ban on his political party.
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.